As PDP Gropes for a Bearing Post-2019


Sunny Ogunbiyi

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has tasted the sweetness of victory as well as sourness and loneliness of defeat. At its peak, the self-styled biggest political party in Africa, wielded so much influence that its former National Chairman, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, boasted that PDP would rule Nigeria for 60 straight years. But out of share power-drunkenness that bred impunity and loss of focus, PDP was bundled out of Aso Rock 2015 after only 16 years. PDP also became a minority in the National Assembly (NASS) and left with 13 states as against 28 it controlled in 1999.
To compound matters, its National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, resigned, while many party chieftains began to defect in droves to the All Progressives Congress (APC) even before President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration.

2015 Post-election Comeback
Despite the odds, PDP showed political sagacity in a battle of survival that returned it to reckoning sooner than expected. In this quest for revival, the PDP NASS Caucus was outstanding. For example, the one-day retreat organised in Port Harcourt by the Forum of PDP National Assembly Member-elect ahead of the inauguration of the 8th Assembly, which drew resource persons from other democracies like Ghana with vast experience in ruling parties becoming opposition and also bouncing back to power was a major launch pad. As stated by former Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Organising Committee, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, the retreat, which was graced by party chieftains led by Prince Uche Secondus, was for soul-searching, self-reconstruction, and capacity building for robust and purposeful opposition.

A salient takeaway came from the then Minority Leader of the Ghanaian Parliament, Hon. Osei Kyei-Mensah. Speaking from Ghanaian experience, Kyei-Mensah, who is now the Majority Leader following New Patriotic Party’s return to power, said PDP’s greatest hope of comeback lay more in its NASS caucus.

A key gain from the retreat as captured in the communiqué was the decision of PDP NASS Members-elect to stay together, negotiate together, and speak with one voice in the election of the leadership of the 8th Assembly. This paid off as PDP’s block votes played decisive roles in the emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki, Ekweremadu (of PDP), and Yakubu Dogara as the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, and Speaker, respectively, contrary to APC wishes. That masterstroke also became a backbreaker for APC. It triggered sequence of events that eventually resulted in the massive defection of APC lawmakers and chieftains such as Saraki, Dogora, Senator Musa Kwankwanso, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, and Governor Samuel Ortom etc. to the PDP in 2018.

The PDP Post-Election Review Committee chaired by Chief Ekweremadu to unravel the factors responsible for PDP’s 2015 electoral misfortune and proffer solutions and a roadmap going forward was another milestone move by PDP leadership. After dissecting issues around party structure and administration, party finance, legal framework, primary elections, conflict resolution, campaign organisations, campaign finance, Election Day activities, etc. and how each had impacted PDP, especially in the 2015 general election, the panel recommended biometric membership registration, self-funding (as opposed to governors/godfathers funding), direct primary, etc. these would address the impunity, injustice, lack of internal cohesion and transparency diagnosed as PDP’s major undoing.
The recommendation to zone PDP’s 2019 presidential ticket to the North to assuage any ill feelings over perceived breach of PDP’s zoning principle was outstanding and accounts for the return of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Saraki, Kwankwanso, Tambuwal, and northern presidential hopefuls and political titans.

Unfortunately, although the PDP heeded the Committee’s position on transparent presidential primary, it soon returned to old ways that deflated the gains and momentum of the Port Harcourt convention. Experienced stakeholders, especially those who salvaged the party post-2015 were immediately sidelined upon Atiku’s emergence. For instance, Sule Lamido, Ekweremadu, Ahmed Maikarfi, were completely sidelined, including from the Presidential Campaign Council, while avoidable issues arose between the party leadership/Atiku and the South East Governors and party leaders. A bitter Umar Danjani, Lamido’s aide, who wondered whether the presidential campaign was for returnees alone, said that “If people like Sule Lamido are sidelined, then definitely Atiku should forget about winning the presidential seat”.

Mismanagement of Post-2019 elections
The PDP has not impressed in the management of its post-2019 elections fortunes and misfortunes. Not only has it not taken stocks, many believe it was unable to make impact at the inauguration of the 9th Assembly not just because it had a little less numbers than in 2015 or due to the desperate moves of the Presidency/ruling party, but also mainly because it was badly organised going into the inauguration. Unlike 2015 when its NASS Members-elect from day one, PDP’s approach in 2019 was so lackluster, non-proactive, and non-purposeful. The ranks of its NASS Members-elect were like sheep without shepherd. In one instance, the impression to members was that they could vote according to their consciences. In another breath, PDP endorsed Senator Ndume and Hon. Umar Bago at the eleventh hour when most PDP members must have committed themselves to aspirants.

Also, when Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo) had withdrew from the Deputy Senate President race due to APC pressure, PDP Senators-elect, acting on the party’s directive to choose one of their own, endorsed Ekweremadu in protest of APC’s insistence of Senator Ovie Omo-Agege despite his alleged role in the invasion of the Senate by armed hoodlums. However, the result showed that all PDP votes didn’t go to him.

Furthermore, whilst the party favoured Kingsley Chinda, Chukwuka Onyema, Yakubu Barde, and Muraina Ajibola as Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Minority Whip, and Deputy Minority respectively, overwhelming majority of its members teamed up with other minority parties to elect Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, Hon. Gideon Gwani, and Hon. Adesegun Adekoya as Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Leader, Deputy Minority Whip, and Deputy Minority Whip, respectively.

111 out of a total of 147 opposition lawmakers in the House signed the letter to the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, endorsing them. They argue that Order 7 Rule 8 of the House Standing Rule, which provides that “Members of the Minority Parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip”. They also assert that it is in line with convention, noting that besides APC’s in 2015, no party leadership since 1999 had ever forwarded names of Minority/Majority leaders to the Speaker or Senate President except as elected by lawmakers among themselves. Although PDP NWC explained that Chinda and others were endorsed at its 1st July meeting with PDP House caucus, the party’s letter forwarding their names to the Speaker was written on June 21st and received by the Speaker’s Office on June 26th well ahead of that meeting. Besides, leaderships of the other minority parties in the House have berated PDP sidelining them.

The party has come hard on its NASS Caucus over perceived insubordination. While former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara-led Committee is probing the voting pattern during the inauguration, a BOT Committee headed by former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, is looking into the House leadership matter. Not done, PDP NWC sat over the House issue and slammed one-month suspension on Elumelu and others for inability to honour its invitation, although the invitation came less than 24 hours to the meeting.

Time to put PDP’s house in order
While PDP leadership appears genuinely incensed, there is also allegation that PDP’s disappointing outing during inauguration of 9th Assembly was choreographed at it’s highest echelons to edge out some key PDP chieftains in NASS and weaken them ahead of 2023 elections, while the attempt to impose Chinda, National Chairman’s fellow Rivers man, as Minority leader, was in consolidations of the plot to hijack PDP.

Whatever be the case, PDP doesn’t have the luxury of time to dissipate on self-mortification and recriminations. It needs to return to its 2015 recovery manual. PDP needs stocktaking on 2019 elections to determine where it succeeded, where it failed, and what could be done better to reposition the party and possibly reclaim power in 2023.

Worst for PDP, its NASS Caucus, which remains its most critical single block as opposition is presently divided and unfocused, despite pretensions to the contrary. Lack of leadership and focus was displayed to the world in how the PDP Senate Caucus behaved like a branch of the APC during the ministerial screening, aka Bow and go. PDP caucus leadership kept praising nominee after nominee instead of putting hard questions to determine their suitability.

Indeed if things are left the way they are with the PDP NASS Caucus, the members will likely start defecting to the APC or other political parties in a short while. PDP needs to grab the opportunity of the two-month recess to immediately hold a retreat with its NASS Caucus, for unless the PDP NASS presence is refocused, the party can as well forget 2023. The PDP leadership needs to wake up and steer the PDP away from the dangerous road it is presently traveling; and in doing so conciliatory, rather than its current headmaster approach, is important to win the confidence of all members and have everyone on the same page for a vibrant opposition.