PDP and the Myth of Sisyphus

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SATURDAY PERSPECTIVE

By Dapo Adebayo

In Yoruba cosmology, when a man suffers a chain of misfortunes, he must have offended someone or the gods, who now placed a curse on him. Therefore, exclamations like “whom did I offend?” is common.

However, we are not alone. In the Greek mythology, Zeus (king of the gods), slammed an infinite punishment on Sisyphus, a Greek god, for his trickery and bad ways. In Homer’s “Odyssey”, Odysseus gives an eyewitness account of Sisyphus’ travails in the Hades: “Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus, as he wrestled with a huge rock with both hands. Bracing himself and thrusting with hands and feet he pushed the boulder uphill to the top. But every time, as he was about to send it toppling over the crest… the pitiless rock rolled down. So once more he had to wrestle with the thing and push it up, while the sweat poured from his limbs and the dust rose high above his head”.

Today, there are many reasons to believe that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is under the same fate. Each time PDP make progress, sometime happens, and they backslide.

At birth in 1998, PDP cut the image of a sure-footed and broad-based political organisation that would deepen democracy in post-military Nigeria. Why not, given the role of PDP’s progenitor, the Dr. Alex Ekwueme-led G34 in sacking the military. But despite Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s good qualities, his military mentality stultified democratic cultures in both PDP and Nigeria.

In the bid to enthrone a rubberstamp parliament, Obasanjo ditched Chuba Okadigbo, the more popular candidate for Senate President and settled for Evan Enwerem, considered more amenable. The presidency moved in with carrot and stick to secure the cooperation of All Peoples Party (APP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), and some PDP elements to defeat Okadigbo seen as independent-minded.

In the fratricidal political war that ensued, Okadigbo’s loyalists rallied and impeached Enwerem a few months after, while the Presidency mobilised its foot soldiers to sack Okadigbo just a day after he feted Obasanjo to huge dose of pounded yam at Senate President’s Mansion in August 2000. Pius Anyim’s romance with the Presidency didn’t also last as he fought for survival till the last day. In the House of Representatives, Obasanjo’s favourite, Salisu Buhari, was impeached and replaced with Umar Ghali N’Abba, who moblised the parliament to resist civilian dictatorship.

With the smooth emergence of the Presidency-anointed Adolphus Wabara after the 2003 elections, PDP faithful heaved a sigh of relief. But the Sisyphean syndrome set in again. Obasanjo sacked Wabara in a national broadcast in 2005 even before the legislature could deal with the bribe-for-budget scandal. It was later alleged that Wabara’s real sin was his closely guarded presidential ambition, who himself allegedly nursed a Third Term ambition. Wabara was forced to resign and face corruption charges of which he was instructively acquitted in April 2019. To cut a long story short, Obasanjo’s Presidency churned out five Senate Presidents and two Speakers. This, coupled with the war of attrition between Obasanjo and his influential Vice, Atiku Abubakar, left PDP seriously polaralised.

Meanwhile, apart from Solomom Lar, it is doubtful that any other National Chairman enjoyed a full tenure. Although Sunday Awoniyi was more popular, Barnabas Gemade was bulldozed in as Lar’s successor. Gemade, too, was replaced with Audu Ogbe, who was forced to resign for criticising Obasanjo’s handling of Anambra political crisis. Ahmadu Ali was conscripted to prosecute the 2007 election that enthroned Musa Yar’Adua. Vincent Ogbulafor, Yar’Adua’s choice National Chairman, was forced to resign and charged with corruption after Yar’Adua death. It was alleged that his was his closeness to the Yar’Adua cabal and disposition to the North retaining power for another four years after Jonathan must have completed what remained of Yar’Adua’s first tenure.

Ironically, even Okwesilieze Nwodo, handpicked as Ogbulafor’s successor, was sacked willy-nilly at PDP 2011 national convention. Bamangar Tukur, brought in  by jonathan after Haliru Bello’s and Kawu Baraje’s stints in acting capacities, set out like the Lord of the Manor. He picked quarrels with the governors and once locked out some NASS leaders at his residence. But when matters came to a head, Tukur was thrown under the bus. But by then, PDP was already mortally wounded.

Undoubtedly, PDP’s greatest undoing was the willful breach of the zoning principle. Instead of ensuring that power returned to the North in 2015 based on the understanding brokered between Jonathan and Northern leaders ahead of the 2011 elections, PDP allowed itself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter of defeat. The impunity was such that the party printed only one presidential nomination form- for Jonathan. They expectedly lost to a combination of its big-headedness and Northern conspiracy.

PDP, nevertheless picked up their pieces after the 2015 defeat. They lit the political firmament with the stunt that threw up Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as presiding officers, and produced Ike Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President. Nigerians watched in admiration as PDP provided a vibrant opposition despite political persecution of opposition leaders.

Sadly, as children of Sisyphus, this curse would not easily go away. Governor Nyesom Wike and one or two of his colleagues, recruited Ali Modu Sherrif as National Chairman against all protests and wise counsels by other party leaders. It took a vehement fight-back by the likes of Ahmed Maikafi, Ekweremadu, David Mark, Ayo Fayose, and even Wike himself, etc. to wrestle the party back from Wike’s friend-turned-foe. Sherriff largely cost PDP the Ondo and Edo gubernatorial seats, no thanks to Jimoh Ibrahim.

PDP bounced back. Many heavy weights, who dumped the party, returned. Everything looked set for the party to reclaim power in 2019, especially with the credible presidential primary that produced Atiku and worsening economy under APC. But, the myth of Sisyphus was at work again. The momentum generated by Atiku’s emergence as flag bearer was so much that he and his handlers carried on as if they had already won the election. Although Peter Obi’s choice was good, Atiku’s subterfuge in the matter rankled many. Atiku also snubbed senior party men, who held the party from collapsing and rebuilt it into a viable platform, in the constitution of the Presidential Campaign Council. Ironically, the likes of Gbenga Daniel, who became Atiku’s new henchmen, would not even tarry till the hearing of Atiku’s petition before dumping him and the party.

Today, the PDP is obviously still under the Sisyphean influence, very much unlike 2015 when they quickly got their arts together. The party leadership is deliberately instigating a Minority leadership crisis, thereby undermining its most potent force as an opposition. The attempt to impose Kingsley Chinda and three others as Minority leaders contrary to provisions of the Constitution and Order 7 Rule 8 of House Standing Rule was opposed by majority of the minority lawmakers, who endorsed Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and three others.

Although PDP BOT set up the Iyorchia Ayu-led Committee comprising Mark, Wabara, Ibrahim Mantu and Austin Opara to look into the matter, some members of the NWC sat on the same case and summarily suspended the Elumelu team for one month. PDP also set up the Tom Ikimi Committee to investigate the matter and turn in report in two weeks. In addition, NWC set up the Wabara Committee to investigate why PDP lawmakers failed to cast a block vote as they did during the inauguration of the 8th NASS in 2015.

None of the three reports have seen daylight more than three months after. Instead, Nigerians watched in shock as Governor Wike descended on the Ayu-led BOT Committee, describing it as the most corrupt Committee in PDP’s history. Consequently, Secondus has refused to table the three reports for consideration and settlement of issues in party interest. Instead of showing leadership, Chinda and his co-travellers have been officially appointed as Caucus Leaders and Caucus Whips, thus creating confusion and introducing terms unknown in NASS parliamentary vocabulary.

The intents of this contraption crystalised in the statement issued by Chinda and his co-travellers badmouthing the Supreme Court and listing justices the CJN must conscript to hear Atiku’s appeal. Advertently or inadvertently, that statement gave the impression the learned Justices are PDP sympathisers.  The spirit and letter of that statement cannot be mistaken as Chinda, who represents Wike’s Constituency, is not yet known to muster the courage to oppose the views of his principal, Wike, who ironically was among the first to congratulate Buhari on his victory over Atiku at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal level. And whatever shreds of doubts as to the intents of the Chinda-led group’s statement and Wike’s congratulatory message was laid to rest by Wike’s failure to congratulate Buhari after Supreme Court’s judgment as well as Secondus/PDP’s watery reaction to that travesty of justice. A case of mission accomplished?

As if APC’s misgovernance, impunity, and our dying national economy are not enough for the PDP to fight, the PDP National Chairman and his puppeteers have turned the barrels of gun on their own, creating opposition for the opposition. 

The National Publicity Secretary not only affirmed the unparliamentary Caucus Leaders and Whips titles bestowed on Chinda and three others, but also the continued suspension of the democratically elected Minority leaders. This is an overreach that defies the Nigerian Constitution, PDP Constitution, House Rule, and parliamentary conventions. And to think that this is the same party and Chairman that chastised APC for so many breaches of the independence of the legislature in 2015, leaves one perplexed.

Secondus should cast his mind back to the politics of his emergence as National Chairman in 2017. His candidacy was strongly opposed by many party chieftains and faithful because he served in various capacities in successive PDP leaderships that ran the party aground and out of power. Many yearned for fresh hands, a clean break from a better-forgotten past. They also accused him of being Wike’s stooge. Some founding members like Jerry Gana, Tunde Adeniran, etc. left. Unfortunately, going by the way he has managed the PDP so far; going by the handling of the NASS issues, those naysayers appear justified. The party is literarily dying under his watch today and the culture of impunity and impositions is re-entrenched.

Instructively, Secondus has nothing to lose should the party eventually die. He has been part of PDP leadership since 2008 when he was elected National Organising Secretary and has enjoyed the best of the party, whether it is affluence or influence. 

So, elders of the party should wake up to their responsibility of exorcising the PDP of the curse of repeated history if the party hopes to remain relevant or regain power. Otherwise, I see them becoming irreversible children of Sisyphus.

––Adebayo writes from Ado-Ekiti.