As the crisis in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party shows no sign of early resolution, the breakaway New Peoples Democratic Party is reviewing the various options open to them, but returning to PDP does not seem to be an alternative for many in the splinter group. Vincent Obia writes
In the turbulent aftermath of another struggle for internal democracy inside Nigeria’s ruling party, the stakeholders are faced with a lot of hard choices. For 13 years since the return to democracy in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been in charge at the federal level and in most of the 36 states of the federation. But it has been no easy task for one of Africa’s top political parties to be on top of its own internal organisation.
A Party in Crisis
Today, the public image of PDP is largely that of a party in crisis following allegations of widespread abuses that strike at the heart of democracy. New Peoples Democratic Party, a splinter group within PDP, is the latest sign of the crisis. It was formed after a walkout staged by some state delegates, including seven governors, led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, during the special national convention of PDP on August 31 in Abuja. That walkout seems to mark a breaking point in the life of a ruling party that has seen a long bitter struggle over internal democracy, constitutionalism, and due process.
When the struggle first came to the open, during the early period of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, it led to the defection of many founding fathers of PDP – many of who, though, later returned. But now, the party seems left with two options: to reform or relapse. The sounds in the background, however, do not seem like that of a party that is prepared to reform.
Since the birth of New PDP at the height of the irreconcilable disagreements at the August 31 convention, there have been discussions on how to restore unity to PDP. A meeting at Aso Rock a day after the emergence of the faction had in attendance most of the seven dissenting governors of Niger State (Babangida Aliyu), Sokoto State (Aliyu Wamakko), Kwara State (Abdulfatah Ahmed), Rivers State (Rotimi Amaechi), Adamawa State (Murtala Nyako), Jigawa State (Sule Lamido), and Kano State (Rabiu Kwankwaso) and other leaders of the new group.
But that meeting was inconclusive, with the stakeholders deciding to continue the discussions at a future date and at various forums. Many fear that nothing positive would come out of the peace talks.
In recent weeks, New PDP members have faced an onslaught from state institutions. The arrest and prosecution of New PDP members in states are becoming routine. The interim leader of the group in Bayelsa State, Chief Richard Kpodo, has been declared wanted by the police. The interim publicity secretary of New PDP in the state, Mr. Tonye Okio, languishes in police cell in Yenagoa. He was snatched at his Abuja residence on October 26. Members of the group are faced with a similar fate in Gombe and other states.
On October 12, the Adamawa State Governor’s Lodge in Abuja was sealed off by the Federal Capital Territory administration. The compound has since been reopened. But FCT minister Bala Mohammed had stated that the building that had been used by New PDP as a temporary secretariat since last month, when its head office was closed by the police, was sealed off because it was used as an office in a place meant for residential purposes.
But not many people took that explanation seriously. Such government buildings in Abuja and other cities in the country are known to also serve as mini-offices for the state governors and other government functionaries. Many thought it was part of an onslaught against New PDP.
Even when the office had been unsealed by the FCT authorities, the police were said to have massed near the Adamawa State Governor’s Lodge last Sunday on purpose to disrupt a meeting of the G7 governors that was widely publicised to hold there. But the governors said they merely used the venue as a decoy to conceal their real venue.
The situation is getting out of control.
President Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure to heal the divisions in PDP caused fundamentally by his second term ambition. Analysts believe the president’s strategy may be to frighten the New PDP members, whom he perceives to be opposed to his second term bid, into either renouncing their dissenting political stance or returning to PDP. But none of these seems to be an option for members of the splinter group.
A long-awaited plan of the New PDP was expected to emerge at its meeting last Sunday in Abuja. But nothing concrete was announced. In the face of an unremitting offensive by state institutions, leaders of the group may have decided to play their cards close to their chests.
A statement by the national publicity secretary of New PDP, Chief Chukwuemeka Eze, said the meeting reviewed the events since the formation of the group chaired by Abubakar Baraje and commended the “Baraje-led National Working Committee of the party for exhibiting quality and purposeful leadership since their election and urged the team not to relent until Peoples Democratic Party is restored to the right path of democracy and civilised conduct, unlike the draconian style of leadership being exhibited by the Alhaji Bamanga Tukur,” who is the PDP national chairman.
The meeting enlarged the mobilisation/contact committee of New PDP to include sitting and former governors and mandated the committee to explore options available to the group should talks with Jonathan and the Tukur-led PDP fail. It reviewed the peace talks so far and commended the group’s leaders for their mature approach to the dialogue, while lashing out at the president for the alleged persecution of New PDP members in the various states.
Options for New PDP
In reality, however, the New PDP members seem to have reached a point of no return and may never go back to the Tukur-led party. Pointers to this conclusion abound.
Jonathan has shown open indisposition towards the demands presented by the New PDP and the G7 governors in the talks. New PDP has demanded, among others, the removal of Tukur as PDP national chairman; return of PDP structures to the governors in Rivers, Adamawa, and other states where control of the party was controversially taken away from the governors, who are the statutory leaders of the party in the states, going by the PDP constitution; reversal of Amaechi’s suspension from PDP; and recognition of the Rivers State governor’s victory in the March 24 election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
Amaechi had defeated the candidate of the pro-Jonathan governors, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, to emerge second term chairman of NGF, but Jonathan is yet to recognise Amaechi’s victory. Instead, the president has shown apparent endorsement of a parallel governors’ forum set up by governors allied to him and headed by Jang.
On Tukur, the New PDP maintains that he is not qualified to hold the post of PDP national chairman because he is not bona fide member of the party, having not been properly readmitted into the party. But a Federal High Court in Abuja has ruled that the Tukur-led executive is the authentic national leadership of PDP.
Loss of Confidence
Trust seems to have broken down irretrievably between both sides in the PDP crisis, as they continue to dig in their heels and would not shift ground.
Many in the New PDP do not seem to see Jonathan as someone they can trust. They have their reasons. Before the 2011 general elections, the governors were said to have reached an agreement with the president to return all the then serving PDP governors for a second term. That agreement was not fully kept by the president, as he openly campaigned against then governor of his home state of Bayelsa, Chief Timipre Sylva, and backed his controversial exclusion from the governorship race.
In Rivers State, the conduct of the Nigeria Police implicates the federal government as a major player in the crisis in the state’s PDP chapter, which is linked to an attempt to emasculate Amaechi politically for his alleged indisposition towards the president’s second term bid.
New PDP members also allege that before the August 31 special convention of PDP, there was an understanding reached among party stakeholders to return all the key officers of the party’s National Working Committee. The convention had been specially organised to rectify anomalies observed by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the election of 12 of the 16 members of the NWC. But it ended up being a kind of avenue for the weeding out of national officers of PDP perceived to be unfavourably disposed to Jonathan’s second term ambition.
On the side of the president, too, there is fear that giving in to the demands of the New PDP may not fetch him their badly needed support ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
A state of mutual terror pervades the relationship between the president and New PDP, making genuine peace talks difficult.
The concerns in the New PDP camp have been intensified by recent court judgements against the group. A Lagos State High Court presided over by Justice Oludotun Adefope-Okojie had on October 10 dismissed a suit filed by the Baraje-led faction to try to stop Tukur and other co-defendants from parading themselves as National Executive Committee members of PDP. The court struck out the case for lack of jurisdiction. And on October 18 in Abuja, a Federal High Court presided over Justice Elvis Chukwu restrained Baraje and other national officers of New PDP from operating as officers of PDP at any level. The case was brought by the Tukur-led PDP. Besides, INEC recently recognised the Tukur-led party as the authentic PDP recognised by law.
New PDP Weighs Options
The New PDP members are weighing their options and considering their next line of action. Part of their game plan, it seems, is to ensure that PDP never recovers from its present crisis, as that could threaten their political future. The unfavourable court rulings and the position of INEC are, certainly, a setback to New PDP, but the verdicts do not seem to take the wind out of its sails.
New PDP members may, ultimately, join the All Progressives Congress, but they seem intent on doing so as a bloc using the Peoples Democratic Movement. The current disorganisation within PDP is a perfect condition for the success of such a move. Besides, the factional crisis in PDP would provide a legitimate basis for New PDP members in the National Assembly and the states Houses of Assembly to exit PDP without incurring the legal penalty of losing their seats.
Tukur Playing New PDP’s Game
But the Tukur-led national leadership of PDP is unconsciously exacerbating the crisis in the party and helping the plan of the New PDP faction. It is setting up parallel PDP executives in states where New PDP elements are perceived to be in control, thus, limiting the chances of peaceful resolution. On September 16, just a day after a meeting between Jonathan and the G7 governors to try to settle the divisions within the party, PDP’s NWC dissolved the Kano State executive of the party, which was allied to Kwankwaso, and appointed a caretaker executive headed by Hassan Kafayos.
The action of the NWC, which caused much anger in the New PDP camp in Kano State, coincided with the return of Mohammed Abacha, the son of the late military Head of State, General Sanu Abacha, to PDP, which he had left in 2010 for the now defunct Congress for Progressive Change. The changes in Kano State were, certainly, purposed to put PDP in the state firmly in the hands of the state governor’s opponents, a situation that has aggravated divisions within the ruling party in the state.
PDP recently directed party leaders in the zones, states, local government areas, and wards to establish disciplinary committees in accordance with its constitution, in what is widely viewed as a scheme to get rid of the New PDP elements from PDP at all levels. But a statement by the PDP national publicity secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, said the action was in line with the “focused determination of the national leadership of the PDP to ensure discipline and loyalty at all levels.”
PDP’s Divided House
But the Tukur-led PDP also does not seem to be very united. There are indications that some people within that fold may still move at the last minute. And there are those among Jonathan’s supporters whose stance on the intraparty crisis seems equivocal and nobody knows how they are likely to react as the troubles of the party continue to unfold. One of them is the PDP Board of Trustees chairman, Chief Anthony Anenih, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
It appears Anineh is still aggrieved over the humiliation he suffered at the last governorship election in Edo State on July 14 last year following the defeat of the PDP candidate, General Charles Airhiavbere, by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the former Action Congress of Nigeria, which is now part of APC. Anenih may be feeling that if he had been supported by the federal authorities under Jonathan, there is no way he would not have won his constituency.
Such feeling might have prompted his attitude at the outbreak of the New PDP protest, when the BoT chairman came out openly to say that the G7 governors had genuine grievances that have to be addressed. It would appear as if the Jonathan people are going into this battle with a divided house. Anenih had in a statement on September 3 stated concerning the governors, “I believe some of them have genuine grievances, but I have hope that once the grievances are addressed they will come back. I am happy that the PDP has an internal mechanism for effective conflict resolution, and, at the end of the day, the problems will be addressed and the PDP will come out of the crisis stronger.”
Before the crisis that blew up at the PDP special convention, Anineh had also tried to calm frayed nerves in the party when he initiated a tour of the states where the party had problems. But it appears there are hardliners in PDP putting a bit of a damper on Anineh’s approach towards resolution of the PDP crisis, and he may not be happy with that.
Moreover, no one is sure about the role of former military president Ibrahim Babangida, Obasanjo, and former military Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Obasanjo had tried to initiate a reconciliation move between the Jonathan and the G7 governors, but he withdrew after the president showed disinclination towards that effort.
The New PDP leaders have also been dropping hints lately that some five more governors may join them.
Weapon of Force
Whichever way it goes, Jonathan’s electoral fortunes would be affected by the moves of the New PDP. He may secure the PDP presidential ticket, but winning the votes in the states where PDP is doing battle with New PDP would be difficult.
PDP currently governs 23 of the 36 states in the country. Seven of the 23 states are governed by governors allied to the New PDP. Add this to the 10 APC states and it can be appreciated why achievement of the president’s second term ambition would not be an easy ride. However, it remains to be seen if he can consolidate his position between now and 2015.
The major weapon at the president’s disposal now is the coercive apparatus of the state – the Nigeria Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and, maybe, the courts. These are already being deployed against perceived opponents of the president in many states. But this could cause the president to further lose the aces in terms of popularity, constituency, etc., especially with the worsening economic conditions and the incidents of corruption involving operatives of his government.
Religion and Tribe
As yet another way of circumventing the consequences of the New PDP challenge, Jonathan may also want to play religion and tribe. Many believe his recent Jerusalem trip with a large entourage of supporters may be part of the search for an alternative base following the troubles with his present social base. The president may be seeking to appeal to the Christian community.
Ahead of 2015, the president’s men have tended to throw him up with clannish predispositions, what with the bellicose comments of some leaders of his native Ijaw. But with that approach seeming to run into a crisis because of people’s reactions, the president may be playing up religious sentiments, as a Christian president, possibly, in the believe that APC may field a candidate like General Muhammadu Buhari.
On the whole, the New PDP members are up against some major difficulties ahead of 2015, as PDP applies both conventional and unconventional methods to deal with the challenge posed by the group. They know it and have vowed to stay the course. But the New PDP members also know that taking the easy option and returning to the PDP may eternally ruin their political careers. They face a tough test of the strength of their political resolve. Only time will tell how far they can go.