What’s in a Name?

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Following the debate in the Peoples Democratic Party on the desirability of a name change as part of its rebranding efforts, Onyebuchi Ezigbo reviews the pros and cons of the proposition

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) no doubt bestrode the political landscape of the country like a colossus for more than a decade and half. Within this period, the party presided over governance at the centre, and to a large extent, governments at the state and local government council levels. The party still takes the credit for helping the country to successfully transit from the military regime to civilian rule in 1999.

Though some people might hold different view, PDP has also helped to build a virile democratic culture in the country by establishing several institutions that are today being relied upon to defend and protect democratic governance in the country. Virtually more than half of the politicians that have either ruled in the past or are in government at the moment can trace their roots to the PDP.

In the last few years, the party had witnessed serious downturn in its affairs. It not only lost the presidency in the 2015 election but also lost many of its key members to the APC. But it appears the worst days of the party are over and things seem to be looking up for the PDP under the new national leadership headed by Uche Secondus.
Despite the initial disagreements that trailed his election at the national convention of the party, Secondus appeared to have weathered the storm and is moving on with plans to reposition the PDP as a potent force in the 2019 election.

First, the leadership has been able to reconcile most of those who protested the outcome of the elections at the last December convention of the party. Of particular mention is the mending of fence with a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, which many see as very critical to placating whatever ill-feeling that the South-west stakeholders of the party may be harbouring as aftermath of the convention.

The Secondus-led PDP leadership has also moved a step further to rebuild the party structures across the country and further unified the party by reaching out to many of its leaders and stakeholders. Only recently, the party has been talking with some of its former members in various parties to negotiate their return to the PDP.

Forming Broad Coalition
In the bid to actualise its dream of staging a brilliant come back to power, PDP is rebranding and refocusing on its ideals as well as mission. Efforts at forming a broad-based coalition are already on and the party has made serious overtures aimed at negotiating the return of some of its former members, who left for other parties. But one issue that has continued to crop up at the various meetings to woo back key members is the conditions to the PDP.

Many of those, who had expressed interests in returning to the PDP, had also given conditions that the party should be purged of the ills of the past. Everyone kept insisting that the party must not allow impunity and money politics to rear its ugly head again in a rebranded PDP. Also, in pointing to the way forward, speakers at a recent colloquium organised by the Secondus-led National Working Committee had sounded a note of caution that the calibre of candidates in the 2019 elections would probably determine the fortunes of the party.

They were emphatic on advising that the party should do its home work and access the best material the country could offer in order to present to Nigerians a credible alternative to the APC. But Secondus had assured that based on the new thinking, PDP would insist on fielding popular candidates for elections and that money will not be a deciding factor any longer.

As part of the new thinking, he said the party was developing an initiative that could lead to a broad-based coalition, bringing persons and groups with new ideas. Perhaps, it was in keeping with this promise that the party last week set up a 22-member committee to work towards for a new coalition that would unseat the APC in the 2019 election.
The 22-member committee known as the Contact and Integration Committee is headed by the former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke. The main task of the committee will be to reach out to all political stakeholders, including top members of the All Progressives Congress, who are interested in seeing that the present crop of leadership in the country are swept out of office to enthrone good governance.

According to the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, “The committee will be reaching out to all political stakeholders that are dissatisfied with the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and are prepared to have an interface with the PDP with the hope of forming a coalition that would edge out this government through the instrumentality of the ballot box”.

Other members of the Contact and Integration Committee include Senator Ibrahim Tsauri (Secretary), Governors Ayo Fayose, Darius Ishaku as members; Senator Joshua Lidani, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Senator Ibrahim Kazaure, Chief Austin Umahi, Mrs Erelu Obada, Hajia Inna Ciroma, Amb. Kema Chikwe, Hon. Emmanuel Enoidem, Amb. Aminu Wali, Dr. Mohammed Haliru Bello, High Chief Tom Ikimi, Senator Ben Obi, Dr Babangida Aliyu, Gabriel Suswam, Senator Abdul Ningi, Hon. Ajibola Muraino, Alhaji Ibrahim Hamza and Moses Clopas Zuwegho.

According to the party, the new committee will lead the way in the effort to galvanize democratic forces to oust the APC and would engage in all forms of legitimate talks to form a coalition ahead of the 2019 general election. Also, the committee has as part of its terms of reference, negotiating on issues relating to power sharing and distribution of offices among the coalition parties and groups after the election must have been won.

It is why observers feel the new PDP national leadership should consider this aspect very important and will need to draw guidelines and rules of engagement in order to avoid the experience of the APC, which failed to manage the varying interests after its victory in 2015.

Suffice it to say that this will be second time the opposition will set up a committee of this nature. The first one that was headed by one of its founding members, Prof. Jerry Gana was established by the National Caretaker Committee in the wake of the long drawn leadership tussle in 2016.

At that time, the Jerry Gana-led committee met with various political associations and interest groups some of which canvassed alliance and outright merger. But the leadership of the party turned down offers for merger, which would lead to changing its name, preferring instead that other parties get subsumed under the PDP structure. However, under the new push for a coalition, the PDP contact and integration committee has been mandated to negotiate with all interest groups and to also consider request for alliance and merger.

One of the critical issues that the committee will be seeking to address is whether or not the call for the change of the party’s name should be heeded. Those who are urging for a change in the name are hinging their argument on the fact that the name of the party has been soiled by previous operators of its affairs and that it would be a hard-sell to ask Nigerians to embrace it once again.

Another reason given by those canvassing this agenda is that a change in name will give those willing to join forces with the PDP to dislodge the APC in 2019 a good reason to come in. There is also the argument that some of the parties talking merger with the PDP did not want to collapse their structures without having a new name. But those who are opposed to this school of thought and are bent on going on with the name said that there is nothing wrong with the name.

When the issue of name change was brought up at the party’s last National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting last month, it was quickly dismissed by a majority of the members. Some leaders of the party, who bared their minds on the issue, believed that the proposal to change the party’s name might be fifth columnists’ agenda designed to throw up fresh crisis in the main opposition party.

It is pertinent at this point to consider the pros and cons of changing the name of PDP. First among the factors to be considered are the election timetable and the often cumbersome process of effecting change in party name as contained in the nation’s Electoral Act. Second, the timing of such an action is a serious factor considering that the next general election is around the corner, less than nine months from now.

Apart from the rigorous procedure to approve a new name, there is the fear that the party may risk plunging into another controversy and possibly another round of litigation by divergent interests. Another point is how to sell the new name to Nigerians within the short period of time left before the election kicks off in February, 2019. No doubt, the name, PDP has now become a household name among Nigerians and is almost indelible in their minds.
The party can boast of structures not only in various units and wards but even in the remotest locations of the minds of its supporters. It would be very difficult, therefore, to attempt to erase that now and replace with a new name just few months before the election.

As it is, the party does not have the luxury of time to contemplate changing its name now. Although PDP may be unable to completely run away from its past, it can however identify those lofty ideals and achievements recorded in the past and build on them as well as use them to reshape its future.