The recently resolved protracted leadership crisis that rocked the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party, PDP, for more than a year was understandable. Nobody will throw stones at fruitless trees. Because of the comparative advantages of the erstwhile â€˜biggest party in Africaâ€™ over and above other parties, including the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, the PDP has passed through the furnace and storms. According to its leaders, this baptism of fire has enabled the party to navigate its path through leadership turbulence to emerge stronger, better, more focused and deeply united.
More than any other political party in the history of Nigeria, the PDP enjoyed a wider spread across the six geo-political zones of the federation. It has solid structures to command easy win in electoral contests. That was why the conflict of interests for the soul of the party was fierce. It is a well-known fact that the PDP lost the presidency in 2015 largely due to its internal problems. For instance, without the â€˜New PDPâ€™ faction that included five governors and some influential National Assembly members that defected to the APC, it would have been impossible to oust the party out of power.
Lack of good media relations, which the then opposition party appropriated to its advantage, was another factor that bruised the party beyond immediate recovery. Who is to blame for this? I will drop this laxity at the door steps of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He laid the foundation for impunity by choosing which court orders to obey. He didnâ€™t care a hoot about building good media relations for the party simply because he was in power. The â€˜I donâ€™t care attitudeâ€™ became entrenched such that when the party really needed media support, there was no fraternity within the fourth estate of the realm to side with it in moments of crisis.
In retrospect, before Obasanjo was thrown to jail under the guise of a phantom coup by the Gen. Sani Abacha military junta in 1995, he never associated with the leaders of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, peopled by progressive minds, leaders of thought, and political movements across the country; the coalition was led by the late Chiefs Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Anthony Enahoro. The coalitionâ€™s leading light also included Pa Abraham Adesanya, Bola Ige, Solomon Lar, Ayo Adebanjo, Ebuti Ukiwe, Alani Akinrinade, Lulu Briggs, Abubakar Rimi, Bola Tinubu and many other dignitaries too numerous to mention. Even Prof. Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, Mike Ozekhome and Beko Ransome-Kuti were all allies of NADECO. Obasanjo never associated or tagged along with them but these same people championed the national and international clarion call for his release.
At the dawn of a new political dispensation in 1998 after Abacha and M.K.O Abiolaâ€™s sudden but mysterious death, the coalition transited to a political party, which is the PDP. However, the Generals had proposed Obasanjo as the candidate in whom they were well pleased; thus Obasanjo was offered the presidential ticket on a platter. It is this same PDP that he almost ran out of town after enjoying presidential power for eight uninterrupted years. His confidants said he did what he did because the PDP leadership under Jonathan was planning to expel him; so he pulled a fast one on them.
Obasanjo/Jonathanâ€™s face-off was the kernel of the crisis that almost buried the PDP. This started with Obasanjoâ€™s 18-page open letter to Jonathan, which contained a litany of allegations spanning abuse of office, poor handling of issues of governance, ethnicity, desperation for second term in office, anti-party activities, among others. I think underestimating Obasanjo and his caustic tongue was a regrettable mistake made by Jonathan and his handlers; this eventually led to the loss of power at the centre by the PDP.
Frankly, Obasanjoâ€™s factor resonated in the defeat of his erstwhile party. The five governors, National Assembly members and party chieftains that defected to the APC received Obasanjoâ€™s nod before they did, as the former presidentâ€™s Hilltop mansion became a Mecca of sorts, where homage-paying political pilgrims streamed endlessly for consultation. He openly identified with the APC and worked assiduously for it to the detriment of the platform that gave him the presidency for eight years. The sole reason Obasanjo went this far was to prove a point to Jonathan; the interests of the nation, her people, and the party do not matter when Obasanjo is at war.
When Senators Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfiâ€™s struggle for control of PDP escalated, Obasanjoâ€™s regular â€˜death sentenceâ€™ pronounced on the party at every public appearance further drown the interest of the party in the heart of its members; and this stimulated the exit of a quantum of its members on a daily basis. When Sheriff visited Obasanjo for consultation on the PDP crisis, his response was that the party was a â€˜dyingâ€™ baby. In 2015, he had asked his local party chairman to publicly shred his membership card as a mark of disrespect for the PDP. All these crystalized into giving the party a bad image. I believe Obasanjo could still have fought Jonathan, orchestrate his defeat like he did without destroying the party.
After Obasanjo had done his worse, the task of rebuilding the â€˜dyingâ€™ PDP started in earnest following the loss of the presidential election to the coalition of opposition parties renamed the APC. The war against corruption targeted at the officials of the ousted PDP administration further slowed down the rescue mission. In the process, more members jumped ship into the ruling party ostensibly for â€˜safetyâ€™ and â€˜soft landingâ€™ in case of any probe. Consequently, the voice of opposition was silenced! Nobody wanted to be hounded into detention or get media trial or be haunted by the Directorate of State Security Service, DSS and the almighty Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. For those who chose to remain in PDP, mum became the word.
However, Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State took up the gauntlet. He found allies in Femi Fani-Kayode and Reno Omokiri. The trio, led by Fayose, were always on hand to respond to allegations and put the government on its toes over its actions, inactions, and statements. Fayose especially offered more than the APC had bargained for.
Fani-Kayode wonâ€™t let the oligarchy get away with any sinister motives, moves, and clandestine sectarian agenda. Omokiri often debunked the APCâ€™s inaccuracies with facts and figures. In recent months, not much has been heard from Alhaji Lai Mohammed. This implies that Fayose et al have successfully overwhelmed the propaganda machinery of the APC; no thanks to Senator Bola Tinubuâ€™s â€˜Siddon lookâ€™ posture in recent times, an action which has mellowed the media fireworks of the ruling party.
Perhaps due to strategic reasons, Fayose and Nyesom Wike led a few others to lure Sheriff to assume the vacant position of PDP chairman following the resignation of Alhaji Adamu Muazu after the electoral defeat of the party. The immediate outcry and massive disapproval of the choice, which reminded the party that Sheriff groomed the Boko Haramists as political foot soldiers before they became a security issue, necessitated his removal. Apparently feeling used and dumped, Sheriff then became a thorn in the flesh of the ailing party. That was how the issue degenerated to a legal battle from the high courts through to the Apex court, which eventually returned the party to the real custodians. It is victory at last for PDPâ€™s combatant soldiers, especially Fayose and Fani-Kayode. The Supreme Court judgment was victory for every loyal member of the PDP. Starting with the governors, federal lawmakers, BOT, NEC, and party members. I think Fayose and Fani-Kayode in particular should be commended for their doggedness and resolute determination despite intimidation, harassments, and name-calling by those who see them as irritants.
These are once-upon-a-time, dyed-in-the-wool Obasanjoâ€™s boys who are back on the trenches trying to effect a serious repair work to undo the havocs wrecked by their erstwhile political godfather. Whether or not they will succeed, time will tell.
â€“â€“ West writes from Lagos.