In spite of several moves to reform the opposition party ahead of future elections, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is still troubled as it continues to fight for its future, writes Assistant Editor ‘Dare Odufowokan
For a party that once prided itself as the largest political party in Africa, the current state of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the eyes of most observers within and outside its fold, is nothing to be impressed about. The party was still reeling from its 2015 election defeat when it was inflicted with another electoral blow last year when it once again suffered humiliating defeats in the hands of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidates at the presidential and national assembly polls, contrary to the permutations of PDP chieftains.
Following the crushing defeat of 2019, many are skeptical that unless the party carries out a serious reform of its structures and policies, it may never return to winning ways. Several have spoken out strongly on the need for reforms, with the PDP’s Board of Trustees recently declaring that the party “will undergo serious reformation in a bid to reposition it and once again make it attractive to Nigerians.”
Speaking recently on the state of the party, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar urged members of the party to concentrate on strengthening the PDP before the 2023 elections. “Our preoccupation at this point in the PDP should not focus on elections, but on rebuilding and strengthening our party for the challenges ahead of us,” Atiku, who was the party’s presidential candidate in 2019, said in a tweet recently. He said resources should be channelled towards bolstering the PDP structure, which has weakened consistently since it lost the presidency in 2015.
Recommitting himself to earlier promises to reform the leading opposition party so as to reposition it, the national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said he is committed to implementing reform agendas that will take the party to new height. He reaffirmed his faith in the strength of the party even as efforts are on to appease all aggrieved leaders of the party. He said he is still committed to the three Rs which formed the major plank of his campaign when he sought to be elected as national chairman. “The national chairman alongside other leaders will reform, rebuild and retake power for the party.
“The challenges are many but the chairman is in full consultation with key stakeholders to address all outstanding issues,” the statement said. Admitting that the party under him is passing through difficult times, Secondus believes strongly that the various organs of the party are strong enough to resolve all knotty issues. “The NEC, the Board of Trustees, the NWC, the Governors Forum and the Reconciliation committees are all working to address ongoing challenges. As a team player, the chairman assures party members that reconciliation is upper most in his agenda,” the statement noted.
Revealing some of the party’s plans for the future recently, its Board of Trustees chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, said the party will soon commence a high level consultation and search for credible candidate to fly its flag for the 2023 presidency. Walid, a Second Republic Senator who made this known while speaking with newsmen in Kaduna, also hinted on the possibility of the PDP dumping its famed zoning arrangement when he said every interested and eligible member of the party from any part of Nigeria was free to aspire for the presidency on its platform.
“On the presidential candidate, the National Working Committee, in consultation with all relevant organs, will reveal the plan about our presidential candidate. If Atiku wants, he has the right to do so and other people have the right to do so. Do you think it’s only Atiku that wants to contest?” I don’t think there is anything wrong to allow anybody from any zone to show interest, but our collective decision will bring out an agreeable candidate,” Senator Jibrin said.
But as focus rapidly shifts to 2023 general elections, there are signs that the PDP, like all other major political parties, is gradually being engulfed by more politicking than reforms. Talks about who will emerge as the candidates of the party for the elections and where such persons will come from seem to have overshadowed discussions about reforms within the party. Expectedly, the various scheming appear to be pitching people and groups against each other within the opposition party. This, pundits say, will make meaningful reforms difficult.
To start with, observers of the internal politics of the PDP recently expressed concern over what they dubbed the subtle struggle within the party by some aggrieved chieftains to edge out Secondus. Party sources told The Nation that the national chairman may lose his job due largely to his inability to convince some prominent chieftains of the troubled party of his loyalty to them. “Secondus’ problem is actually with those who made him chairman. He needs to convince them more than he has ever done of his loyalty to them,” a source said.
The Nation gathered that following the outcome of the 2019 presidential primary election of the PDP supervised by Secondus, many of his main backers were left surprised and this created doubts in their minds regarding the roles played by Secondus and others. “The emergence of Atiku Abubakar as candidate contrary to the expectations and projections of some chieftains who felt they had Secondus on their side remains a big issue. And it is this issue that may soon cost him his position as the race for the 2023 ticket heats up,” another source added.
It was gathered that Secondus may face votes of no confidence from some major organs of the party as prelude to his eventual removal soon. “Late last year, he was lucky to escape a similar situation when he hurriedly left a meeting of the BOT. If he had returned to the meeting, he would have been embarrassed by a landslide rejection of his leadership. Earlier this year, another effort was made to have many of his executives in the NWC to turn their back on him. That effort is still on and may soon yield results,” our source claimed.
Also said to be fuelling the move against Secondus is the failure of Kingsley Chinda, his kinsman from Rivers State, to emerge as the minority leader in the House of Representatives despite enjoying the support of Governor Nyesom Wike. “Many people in Wike’s camp are of the opinion that Secondus as the national chairman of the party failed to push the candidacy of Chinda the way he ought to do. And when the issue became a crisis, the way it was handled by the NWC made Secondus’ role more suspicious.
“And if you consider the fact that it is this very camp that championed his emergence as PDP’s chairman, you will understand what it is for them to be angry with him. Wike is a major financier of the party who has been finding it difficult to have his ways since Atiku emerged as the PDP flag-bearer last year. And allegations that Secondus shifted loyalty to the former vice president have refused to go away, allegedly straining relationships between him and chieftains in Wike’s camp.
But supporters of the national chairman insist his critics are unfair to him. “Wike and the NWC supported Hon. Chinda to be named minority leader. They never backed Ndudi Elumelu. And when Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila named Elumelu into the position, the party kicked. Elumelu was even suspended for going against the party’s wishes. So, how on earth can anybody accuse him of working against his kinsman? Those who want him out are just looking for excuses. This whole thing is about 2023 and his refusal to endorse somebody,” he said.
In the midst of the uncertainties over the fate of Secondus, media reports quoted Jibrin, chairman of the PDP’s BOT, as alleging threats to his life allegedly because he refused to support a proposal that will see PDP’s presidential ticket automatically going to Atiku in 2023. The BOT boss alleged that some individuals believed to be supporters of the former vice president are after his life over his failure to openly declare that the ticket will be given to Atiku. This development has currently divided party leaders down the line, sources claim. “I have received calls from some people threatening my life over my coming out not to mention that the presidency of this country be zoned to the Northeast.
“They were saying that I am a traitor, that I should have come out to say that it is only Atiku Abubakar, that because I said that Atiku was already overthrown by the Supreme Court. They said for that, I should say Atiku is the man. That I won’t do because I am a leader. I have to make a lot of consultations, the National Working Committee have to make a lot of consultations, our governors have to make a lot of consultations, then the NEC had to take decision. And they should not forget the party has a Constitution and a guideline which says that there must be a primary for whoever wants to contest. We have not even discussed about zoning, so why are some people so concerned about the presidential ticket being zoned to a particular zone?
“About three people went to Wadata Plaza and demanded to see the Chief Security Officer, Munir Yerima. When they were there, Yerima rang me asking where was I and I said I was in Kaduna. Then he said some people wanted to talk to me and I said let me talk to them on phone. He said they were intermediary between me and some party people; that they said I have gone astray and if I didn’t recant they would hold a major demonstration against me and they would arrange bandits to deal with me wherever I go. So I told the man to go and do whatever he wanted to do that I’m equal to the task. Then I realise it’s not only a major demonstration but they may be planning to assassinate me. They said I should say Atiku is the man that I want because I am a leader,” Jibrin alleged.
Although Atiku’s camp is yet to react to the allegation officially, many allies of the former presidential candidate have accused the BOT chairman of acting a script ahead of 2023. “All these are part of the plot to stop Atiku in 2023 and pave the way for an ambitious governor to snatch the ticket cheaply. We wonder why people are afraid of open contests. They tried it in 2019 and failed. Now they are looking for an easy way out. Senator Jibrin shouldn’t have done this to himself. With this, he has shown to the whole world that he is unfit to lead the eminent persons in our BOT,” a chieftain of the party from Kaduna State said.
The Nation gathered that efforts are currently on by party leaders to wade into the matter as Jibrin and Atiku are known allies. The BOT chairman supported the former vice president for the party’s presidential ticket in 2019 and worked hard alongside others during the campaigns and general elections. It would even be recalled that his open support for Atiku’s candidacy pitted him against other members of the party, including Governor Wike, in the run up to the party’s primaries in Port Harcourt last October. “It remains unclear what led to this disagreement between them,” a source said.
To further compound the problems within the party and make the efforts towards reforms more cumbersome, the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, during the week, rejected the offer of the PDP leadership to intervene in the faceoff between him and his Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake Dickson, over the disputed Soku oil wells ceded to Rivers State by the Federal High Court. An obviously angry Wike said there is no premise for the intervention by the PDP leadership, since the Federal High Court has finally adjudicated on the matter. He also accused Dickson of selling out the PDP in Bayelsa State during the last guber poll in the state.
“I don’t know why they are interceding. They have no power to resolve the issue of oil wells. Secondly, the matter has been determined by a court of competent jurisdiction. Anybody who is not satisfied should go on appeal. Are they interceding on behalf of someone who betrayed the party? They know that Governor Dickson betrayed and sold out the party. They know that during the 2019 election in Rivers State, what happened in the state. That Dickson worked with my opponent. Throughout that period, the national chairman himself knows that people were calling from all over the country to know the situation. Dickson never called one day.
“This was because of his alignment with the opposition. I can show proof that Dickson has already made up his mind to go over to APC. I am not going to sit down with anybody to discuss anything as it relates to Governor Dickson. I have no business with Governor Dickson. In fact, Governor Dickson ought to have resigned from the party by now. So that leaders of PDP in Bayelsa can rebuild the party. The national leadership of the party should know that the only option left for PDP to be strong in Bayelsa is for Dickson to leave the party,” he said.
Accusing the leadership of the party of failing to act when it mattered most, Wike said the party’s intervention is no longer needed given the damage already done by the Bayelsa State governor. “Where was the party when Dickson sold out? Why couldn’t they come out to speak out? Governor Dickson, you have killed our party in that state. What is anyone wading in for? I am not going to be party to that and nobody will stop me. The party would have waded in when they saw fraud. That Dickson was killing the party in Bayelsa State. He has achieved his aim by making sure nobody comes after him as he leaves office in February 2020. Do you know the effect of APC winning Bayelsa State? And they are talking of wading in,” he lamented.
Although Dickson will soon step down at the expiration of his second term in a matter of weeks, observers say the escalation of his faceoff with Wike may spell further trouble for the PDP in the south-south region. “Forget all the noise, Dickson is not leaving the PDP even after his governorship. And he is not someone you can push over politically, especially in the Niger Delta. So, if Dickson and Wike will continue to fight in the zone, what do you think this will do to the PDP as a party? This is another big problem the party must find a way of solving if it intends to retain its hold on our zone. And by the time you add the serious disagreement among members of the House of Representatives, majority of who are from the south-south, over the leadership of the party’s caucus in the House, you will understand the enormity of the crisis we have on our hands,” a chieftain of the party from Delta State said.