The removal of Iyorchia Ayu as the National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party has not only aggravated grave concerns about the future of the main opposition party, but also threatened the country’s democracy with the dwindling role of a viable opposition, Gboyega Akinsanmi writes.
Just after the conclusion of the 2023 elections, a fresh crisis struck the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) last week. It is obviously an offshoot of its perennial internal conflict, largely traceable to the political intrigues that preceded and followed the aftermath of its National Convention held on October 31, 2021 in Abuja.
But the latest crisis came to public knowledge on March 26 with the resolution of the PDP Igyorov Ward Executive Committee, Gboko Local Government Area, Benue State to suspend the PDP National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu. This brought Ayu to the club of the party’s sacked leaders caught in the web of the unending quest of its gladiators to control its national structure rather than build a viable opposition.
At least, 12 of the 17-member executive committee ratified a claim that Ayu engaged in anti-party activities in contravention to Article 59(1e) of the PDP Constitution. In its resolution, also, they ratified another claim that the PDP national chairman reneged its financial obligation to pay or remit his membership dues at the ward level consistent with Article 8(10) of the PDP Constitution.
Specifically, the article mandates all registered members of the party “to pay their monthly subscription fees at the ward level, which must be reflected on their membership cards, and where a member consistently fails to pay his subscription fees for six months, such membership will be deemed to have lapsed.”
The dust raised by Ayu’s suspension had hardly settled when a litigation sprang up to further seal the resolution of the ward executive committee. The litigation was filed before a Benue High Court and founded on the resolution that suspended the national chairman first for engaging in anti-party activities and also reneging his financial obligation.
Consequent upon these claims, on March 27, the court granted an ex parte application, which restrained Ayu from “parading himself as the PDP national chairman.” This added an entirely new dimension to the party’s intra-party conflict in the post-election era when all hands should be on deck to reconcile all its warring factions.
Armed with the court ruling, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) promptly effected a minor change in its rank on March 28. In compliance with the ruling, it appointed its Deputy National Chairman (North), Alhaji Umar Damagum as the acting national chairman pending the determination of the suit, which the court deferred till April 17.
On his part, however, Ayu has not given up the fight. Already, as confirmed by his Special Assistant on Communications, Mr. Simon Imobo-tswam, Ayu has approached the Benue court to challenge the resolution that penalised him for violating the two provisions of the PDP Constitution.
But why is the PDP perennially afflicted with internal rift? Or why have its leaders failed to work out a common ground not just in the interest of the party, but also of the country’s budding democracy? There are post-election and pre-election dimensions to these questions, which the party’s leaders have decisively failed to nip in the bud.
First, some analysts explained the latest crisis on the post-election decision of the NWC that suspended the party’s prominent members in quick succession for not supporting the party during the 2023 elections, a decision that further deepened the party’s internal crisis rather than resolving it.
On March 23, for instance, the NWC, then before Ayu’s abrupt removal, controversially suspended former Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose; erstwhile President of the Senate, Chief Ayim Pius Ayim; former Commissioner for Education in Benue State, Prof. Dennis Ityavyar and one of its active chieftain in Zamfara State, Dr. Aslam Aliyu.
However, the gale of suspension did not just start on March 23. The test case started with the suspension of former Enugu State Governor, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani on January 20 and consequent expulsion on February 11, a fortnight before the last senatorial election in which Nnamani himself was a promising candidate.
Second, other analysts believed that the latest crisis took its root in the pre-election dynamics that spurred five aggrieved governors – Mr. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Mr. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Dr. Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State – to create G-5 due to Ayu’s refusal to resign from his position as a condition to support the party’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
The governors then argued that the North could not produce the national chairman and at the same time its presidential candidate, which they believed, breached Article 2(d) of the PDP Constitution. The article seeks “compliance with the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of the country …”
All these unresolved issues viciously triggered the post-election crisis that aggravated the internal rift that finally axed the national chairman. Wike, as a result, is already rejoicing without taking cognisance of what PDP’s dwindling strength means for the country’s democracy.
Rather, Wike ascribed Ayu’s fate “to the works of God.” In specific terms, he observed: “All those people who were plotting evil against us, they are now the ones suffering it.” Other members of G-5, especially those who were suspended and lost elections, are heaving a sigh of victory that Ayu, their perceived common foe, has been removed.
Did Ayu actually run foul of Article 59(1e) of the PDP Constitution that precluded all the party members from engaging in anti-party activities? Did he also fail to perform his financial obligation as enshrined under Article 8(10) of the PDP Constitution. These are the questions most of the party’s founding fathers never asked before the fall of Ayu.
With respect to the first question, the Igyorov Ward Executive Committee, in a resolution read by its Secretary, Mr Vangeryina Dooyum, claimed that Ayu worked against the success of the PDP during the general election. The committee further alleged that Ayu did not even vote during the governorship election, which the PDP lost to the state’s candidate of All Progressives Candidate, Rev. Fr Hyacinth Alia.
While the committee did not make public evidence of offences committed by Ayu, are its claims sufficient grounds to establish anti-party activities against him? Does Ayu possess gubernatorial powers that he can leverage to win elections for his party whether in his ward or local government? Are G-5 governors not more culpable of anti-party activities than Ayu given their tacit support for the opposition presidential candidates of their choice?
The second question borders on Ayu’s non-compliance with Article 8(10) of the PDP Constitution. The later part of the article unequivocally declares that where a member consistently “fails to pay his subscription fees for six months, such membership will be deemed to have lapsed.”
The committee specifically cited its extant records to buttress its resolve that Ayu actually breached the provision of the party’s constitution. Ayu has not personally disputed this claim, which forms the second ground the committee relied on to oust him. But he has approached the court mainly to challenge his removal. If perhaps he has not been fulfilling his financial obligation to the party, Ayu has obviously ceased to be a member of the PDP in line with Article 8(10).
This is truly a slippery provision, which according to analysts, most party chieftains and national officers at different levels neither pay sufficient attention to nor really know it ever exists. But with the escalation of PDP’s internal rift, what does it mean for the party in particular and democracy at large?
Obviously, analysts are unanimous about its interrelated consequences for the polity. On the one hand, they argued, the failure of PDP’s leaders to resolve its internal conflict will further decapitate the capacity of the party to the role of a viable opposition that often oils the wheel of every democracy.
On the other hand, they claimed, Nigeria risks the rise of an autocrat if a viable opposition is not available, especially now that the PDP has failed to position itself for this role.