With its fate somewhat hanging in the balance, not many options can aptly soothe the discomfort being experienced by members of the new Peoples Democratic Party in the All Progressives Congress. That its members are unhappy with the way they are being treated is stale news. However, what nPDP members do going forward, is the issue now on the card. Not only have these nPDP members officially reported their displeasure to the highest authority in the APC, they have also held series of meetings with certain key stakeholders, both in the party and government, hoping there would be some form of ‘common sense reset’ that would ultimately take into account, the state of things and their larger implications as the nation approaches 2019 elections. Unfortunately, nothing seems like it. A recently refuted report that President Muhammadu Buhari had ruled out the possibility of meeting with the nPDP because it was a party affair had further damaged the hitherto high spirit behind the reconciliatory moves before it was eventually dismissed as emanating from the opposition within. Even at that, the possibility of an auspicious future in the APC by members of the nPDP is sheer sarcasm and their chances of being accorded any recognition commensurate with their much-touted stake in the party appear to be shrinking by the day. Perhaps, the luxury of time is no longer with the nPDP and so, the time for its members to take their chances might just be now especially, with their increasingly attenuating options, writes Olawale Olaleye

Last Monday’s reports by some major national dailies (excluding THISDAY) that President Muhammadu Buhari might have ruled out the possibility of meeting with members of the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), who had openly and officially expressed their dissatisfaction with the way they are being treated, both in the party and government, was not a palatable piece of news.

Although this erstwhile bloc of PDP that later aligned with the APC in the twilight of 2013, to oust the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, had recently pulled out of further discussions with the APC hierarchy, following attempts to link Senate President Bukola Saraki to a recent robbery in Offa, Kwara State, by the police, it was not completely averse to a reopening of talks if the intention would be noble.

However, as it appears, the situation is daily becoming impossible for the nPDP members, not because it could not call the bluff of the APC and its government, but because they seem wary of being labelled “desperate” in their mere pursuit of justice and are therefore inclined to exploring all the possibilities of a genuine resolution of their differences before taking a stand.

Now, the time to take a stand is nearer than even a majority of their members could ever imagine. With the factors of time, sincerity to respecting understanding and the individual career of their members, the next few weeks remain critical for the nPDP members, within which a lot has been penciled to change.

Flash Back to 2013

Like a déjà vu, the nPDP members might be walking a familiar path. The group, in the countdown to the 2015 polls, had staged a disruptive walkout at the PDP special delegate national convention in August of 2013 and went ahead to christen their group the “new PDP”. In all, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, seven governors of the PDP, lawmakers and their supporters walked out of the convention venue of the PDP, a move that naturally deepened the crisis in the then ruling party.

The governors, who walked out of the PDP convention were those of Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Rivers, Adamawa, and Kwara states, even though Jigawa and Niger governors didn’t eventually join the APC. They left the Eagle Square immediately for the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, where they addressed a press conference to detail the reasons for their action.

Since that Eagle Square drama, the fortunes of the PDP depleted and the power game heightened, resulting ultimately in the ouster of the party in the 2015 polls.

But, what was the problem then with the PDP? First, the governors and other top-notch party members, aggrieved with the PDP wanted then chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, out of the way, because according to them, he was running the party as personal estate. It was a tough decision for the party leadership and Jonathan, but eventually, he gave up the post and a new leader, Adamu Mua’zu, a former Bauchi State governor, stepped in.

The other issue they fought was the eligibility of Jonathan to continue in office. They all reckoned his failure in terms of capacity and alleged that corruption had skyrocketed in his time, such that a majority of his cabinet members had become a law unto themselves. They also fought the fact that Jonathan had an understanding with the party leadership to not seek re-election, which was one of the reasons he was believed to have fallen out with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who stood for him in 2011 on the understanding that he would run for just a term.

With these, the groundswell of opposition against Jonathan increased and it was clear that except in the event of a miracle, he was going to lose the election and he did. Although the difference in the votes despite Buhari’s alleged popularity, cult following and APC’s acceptability was not impressive as many had expected, the Jonathan era was however rested with a combination of factors.

Between 2013 and 2018

Five years after some of the events that upstaged the Jonathan presidency were conceived and executed – similar developments appear to be building up in the countdown to 2019, in a sense that underscores the current thinking that history might repeat itself in 2019, if some of the threats staring the APC in the face are not contained. Some of the actors that made it possible for the APC to upstage the PDP are back in the same situation that prompted their choices in 2013.

However, while ultimately, the reason for leaving the PDP in 2013 was because they were all against the decision by Jonathan to return to office, which generally united everyone, the situation is not the same now. Today, while they are all still crammed together under the guise of nPDP, their individual challenges in their respective states differ and could make a common ground a little bit difficult.

The other difference between then and now is the factor of time. When they pulled out of the PDP in 2013, they had clearly almost a year and a half to plan and prosecute their strategy. But election starts next February, meaning between now and then is less than eight months. That may not be sufficient to unsettle the APC in a sense even though it is not outright impossible since 24 hours is a long time in real-time politics.

Again, regardless of the misgivings about the Jonathan administration, he was liberal and tolerant of the opposition to the extent that they could coalesce against his government and even upstage him. Buhari has not shown to be that magnanimous. With the way and manner, he has gone against the opposition, both within and outside the party, Buhari might not tolerate them any close for the kind of freedom they savoured under Jonathan. That is one difference between then and now that cannot be thrown aboard.

Their Grievances

The indication that all was not well with the nPDP as an integral part of the APC followed a four-page petition signed by one of them, Alhaji Kawu Baraje and a former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, dated April 27, 2018.

The petition, which was addressed to Odigie-Oyegun stated: “We the members of the All Progressives Congress, who moved over from the Peoples Democratic Party to form the APC before the 2015 general election in Nigeria, are desirous of strengthening our party especially now that new party congresses have commenced and the convention and another round of general election are imminent.

“Obviously, this cannot be achieved without addressing fundamental issues, which we wish to raise in this letter. We, therefore, wish, with due respect, to restate our expectation then and now that the APC we all laboured to build would be one united, inclusive, cohesive and progressive party devoid of divisions, factions, cleavages and tendencies.”

But he was quick to note that while it was a fact that those, who moved over from the nPDP to form the APC contributed immensely to the electoral victory being enjoyed today, their sacrifices had not been acknowledged or appreciated, given how they have been so far treated by the party leadership and government.

“These efforts, contributions and sacrifice were made in spite of the fact that the presidential ticket was taken by the erstwhile Congress for Progressive Change, and the Action Congress of Nigeria blocs of the party. It is a matter for grave concern that His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has never publicly acknowledged our efforts.

“At this stage, we would chronicle a few grievances, which if addressed will lead to a harmonious APC, where justice, equity, fairness and peace will reign and enable APC avoid rancour, reinvigorate the pace of national development and face the 2019 general election as one united party.”

Listing their grievances, he cited the non-inclusion in the Federal Executive Council, no significant patronage and appointments into executive positions in various government agencies, marginalisation, unkept promises and general lack of consultation, non-recognition and even persecution of former nPDP members and leaders by the party and the government.

“There is an inadequate reflection of programme and policy contributions of members of the former New PDP bloc in the running of the government. Our belief is that it does not augur well for our party if a section of it feels that it is being treated as an outcast and meddlesome interlopers in the party they rightly belong with the legitimate expectation to be treated with justice both in the running of the party and the government.”

While requesting an urgent meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari and the party executive leadership to find lasting solutions to the issues, because according to them, it was necessary “to prepare the party as a fighting force to deliver more pungently on its manifesto and face the 2019 general election with even greater commitment.”

Although the meetings so far held did not yield significant results before the group announced a pullout following the linking of Saraki to the Offa robbery, the fact that the situations in the respective states of members differ from person to person makes peace a lot more difficult, because the situations have been subsequently coloured by local politics of supremacy.

The situations in Kano and Bauchi States, for instance, suffice. In Kano, for example, where former governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and his successor, Abdullahi Ganduje have elected to go for broke is a bit critical and any genuine resolution might be a hard nut that can hardly be built into consideration within the larger concern.

What also obtains in Bauchi, where the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and his governor, Mohammed Abubakar, have become sworn enemies, cannot directly be located within the larger discontent except for where it can be deduced that they are drawing strengths and support from the government at the centre.

A gamut of these factors combined has made the plight of the new PDP members more intricate than it currently looks, thus making any reasonable and sincere reconciliation or appeasement of the nPDP members more impossible, coupled with the time factor.

Options Before Them

Without telling, it is increasingly becoming impossible that the options before the nPDP members are many, more so that time is particularly a major dictator. It is not difficult to decipher that the nPDP are merely being tolerated, both by the party leadership and government. It also goes without saying that the president has not and may not actually forgive them with the way Saraki and Dogara emerged leaders of both chambers of the National Assembly, a factor believed to be responsible for how they have been so far treated.

If this is true and given the natural disposition of the president, who is said to hardly forgive those who trespass against him, then, this won’t go away. It, therefore, means that the longer they stay in the APC, the more their members would be ill-treated especially, that the president does not think he needs them to come back, albeit such thinking can only come from sheer illusion.

But the fact that Buhari looked away in 2015 and let them have their way with the leadership of the National Assembly and even determined those who became the principal officers to the chagrin of the APC leadership is not going to happen again in 2019. A clear indicator was the way Buhari single-handedly dictated the choice of a former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, as the national chair of the party, against all known rules and regulations guiding such a process of choice.

What this means, in essence, is that he would never allow the duo of Saraki and Dogara emerge again as heads of the legislature, even if he feigned to have stayed away. In addition, he would not allow any of their members come close to his government, thus, depriving them of any sense of belonging in the party and government, worse than what they currently experience.

But in embracing what appears the only option before them, they must also be very technical in their analysis of their options. Guiding them would be such questions as: is Buhari still popular? Is he beatable with the right candidate and sincere cooperation of all the opposing forces? How much damage can their exit cause the APC? Is their analysis of current geopolitical standing at par with their choice? Can they pull it off like they did in 2015?

The questions are of course endless, but with these few examples, the nPDP members can have an idea of what presently lies before them as they ponder their choices, knowing full well that their career is at stake in the event of any miscalculation.

Factoring the ‘Other Deal’

There is a trending speculation. It is that some foot soldiers of the president in the APC have been discussing the possibilities of many deals with the opposition, in their desperation to secure another term for the president. One of such deals is that they will allow the PDP governors to maintain their states with the understanding that they will deliver at least 30 per cent for the president. This deal is said to be applicable mostly to the South-South and South-East states.

In the heart of this deal, sources hinted, are two prominent characters: a former governor of one of the oil-producing states, who was very popular for having allegedly transformed his states in an uncommon fashion and a sitting governor of another oil-producing state, who is believed to hold the key to the heart of the PDP.

There is also another leg to the deal and that is, the government would not tamper at all with the states if the PDP will allow it to have an input in who becomes its presidential candidate. That way, the APC would have influenced the choice of a weak candidate that will merely be a walkover for the incumbent in the election.

Arriving at the deal, sources said, became inevitable with the constant harassment of some of the PDP top-notchers, at the state and national level, thus compelling a compromise meeting that it (APC government) would keep the security agencies off their back once an understanding is reached.

But another very important source in the PDP said whilst that might be true, it would be foolhardy for anyone to think the PDP governors and others said to be discussing with the APC would not have a Plan B in the countdown to 2019.

To be sure, the source added, “Do you think if in their calculation our people are sure we will win the presidency, they will still go ahead with such a plan? No! While I do not doubt the possibility of such a deal, because this is politics and the time has come, our people are not stupid not to have pondered the likelihood of a Plan B, which might be the joker.”

In the final analysis, the nPDP gambit is not unexpected. Its members have been pushed to the very limit, with their options daily attenuating, because they do not have the luxury of time anymore. Therefore, while it is a most difficult gambit for them, the election is equally going to turn out the most impossible for the APC, its incumbency weight regardless.

If you doubt these by any measure of considerations, then, yesterday’s outcome of the party’s national convention should allay any such contemplations. Why? This is because the exercise went according to the sole plan of the ’owners of the party‘ without yielding a bit to those who had hitherto alleged alienation in the party. What this means, therefore, is that the option before the nPDP is one. It is, however, up to it to either stay back and lick its wounds or move on by taking its chances.

But while none of these is cast in stone, it is not out of place to give the new Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a chance as he has promised to re-order the party and have things done properly. He didn’t forget to allay the fears of the aggrieved members, when he promised to look into their case.

Put differently, that sounded like some breath of fresh air. But can it sufficiently address the staggering discontent? Perhaps, it is a question answerable by time.