From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Year 2021, was a turbulent one for the Peoples Democratic Party( PDP). From the crisis at the national secretariat to the defections of two governors to the rival All Progressives Congress ( APC), as well as the depletion of its ranks in the National Assembly, it was all together, a troubled year for the major opposition party.
For the greater part of the 2021, crises arising from a tussle for party structures in state chapters ahead of the 2023 general elections, kept PDP leaders and its members on the edge.
While the PDP managed to pull through, many of its leaders were seriously bruised politically, in the power play, that characterized the tussle for supremacy by gladiators in the opposition party, ahead of the next general elections.
The year opened with the immediate past PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus, battling to retain his seat as leader of the opposition party. Towards the end of 2020, the cloud had already started gathering for the former opposition party leader.
In December 2020, Secondus had made spirited efforts to stave off the opposition to his continued leadership of the PDP by an influential leader of the party, albeit unsuccessfully.
Daily Sun had reported, in January, about a grand plot to oust the former PDP chairman from his coveted seat, before the expiration of his tenure.The plot by the anti-Secondus group, it was gathered was to replace him with an acting chairman or replace the entire NWC with a caretaker committee.
Expectedly, the Rivers-born politician fought tooth and nail to save his seat. Severally, the Board of Trustees (BoT) passed vote of confidence on the party leader, as a way of strengthening his hands in the battle for the leadership of the opposition party.
However, the crisis in the PDP came to the open on August 4, when seven deputy national officers tendered their resignation. Same day, former national youth leader, Sunday Ude-Okoye openly called for the resignation of the erstwhile PDP chairman.
Ude-Okoye, who had stormed out of a meeting of the PDP National Working Committee(NWC) confirmed to journalists, in Abuja, that there was a crack in the party’s leadership.
According to him, the former party was allegedly not managing the party well.
“Today( Tuesday) I have asked him(Secondus) in our NWC meeting to resign his position as the chairman of this party because he cannot lead this party to victory.”
However, Secondus, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media, Ike Abonyi, said it was more a case of the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob.
Nevertheless, PDP elders, consisting of governors, BoT members, National Assembly caucus amongst others
quickly intervened and brokered a peace deal on August 10. At an enlarged meeting of the party leaders on that fateful day, it was resolved that the NWC be allowed to serve out its tenure, while the national convention to elect new NWC members be brought forward from December to October.
Consequently, the former party chairman was mandated to call a meeting of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) within a week to kickstart plans for the October convention. But the NEC meeting was never convened.
The former chairman’s traducers, infuriated by his failure to convene NEC within a week, as resolved by party stakeholders, went for his jugular. In a twist, a Rivers State High court on August 23 suspended Secondus from functioning as the leader of the opposition party, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The Secondus camp took their case to the court. First, they obtained an interim injunction from a Kebbi State High Court mandating the former chairman to resume office as leader of the opposition party.
But as the former PDP leader made to resume office, a Federal High Court in Calabar, issued another order, barring him from presiding over NEC meeting. And the party moved on, with erstwhile deputy national chairman(South), Elder Yemi Akinwonmi as acting chairman.
The Rivers High Court later affirmed Secondus’ suspension from the PDP on September 10. Expectedly, the embattled party leader took his case to the Court of Appeal.
Regardless, he lost at the appeal court. While the PDP went ahead with the national convention, where it elected new party officials; Secondus, who has taken his case to the Supreme Court, watched from the sidelines.
The outgoing year witnessed the depletion of the ranks of the PDP Governors Forum and the party’s caucus in the National Assembly. On May 20, the Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade defected to the APC.
The Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, followed on June 29, alongside with members of the state House of Assembly and five members of the House of Representatives from the state. Regardless, the deputy governor, Gusua refused to join the defection train.
Nevertheless, the defection of the two governors, reduced the number of the PDP Governors Forum from 13 to eleven. Besides, several members of the PDP also dumped the party for the APC in the course of the year.
However, party leaders accused the Federal Government of allegedly intimidating PDP governors and leaders to join the ruling party.
Apparently frustrated by the development, former Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu, said there was need for a law compelling elected public officials to vacate office, once they ditched the party on whose platform, they were elected.
“ I will love in the future to see either a constitutional provision or in our electoral law to say if a party elects you to a particular office, give you a mandate, president, governor, national and state assembly member, councilor, chairman of a local government, that if for any reason you don’t want to go with that party, then you should resign. But not to defect with the mandate,” Aliyu told journalists, in Abuja.
Failed reconciliation efforts
Also, in the outgoing year, efforts to resolve the crises rocking various state chapters of the PDP, failed substantially.
The opposition party had entered into 2021, with crises in 12 of its state chapters. The states included Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa, Kano, Cross River, Ebonyi and Edo states.
Similarly, the South West chapter of the opposition has been torn apart by a battle of supremacy between Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde and former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose.
Secondus had told journalists in December 2020, that one of the priorities of the opposition party in 2021 would be to firm up the reconciliation process in its various state chapters.
“We also intend to finalise the peace and reconciliation process within the party with a view to entering the general election as one united and focused political family,” he had stated.
The PDP had, last December, set up a Reconciliation and Strategy Committee to reconcile all warring factions in the party. The committee was headed by former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and has as members former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, former Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke among others.
Regardless, the committee failed substantially to broker peace among most of the warring PDP members, as crises still persist in at least nine state chapters of the opposition party.
The states currently buffeted by crisis are Edo, Anambra, Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Niger, Kebbi and Kano states, as well as the North West zone.
In Edo State, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki is locked in a supremacy tussle with the PDP national vice chairman, Dan Orbih for the control of the party structure in the state, ahead of the next general elections.
Similarly, in Ekiti State, party members are divided between the former governor, Ayo Fayose and his former deputy, Senator Biodun Olujimi.
In Niger State, the former governor, Babangida Aliyu is up against the immediate past PDP national financial secretary, Abdulahi Mai-Basira.
In Lagos, the PDP is torn between Chief Olabode George and Deji Doherty. While in Oyo State, the opposition is fictionalized between Governor Seyi Makinde and former leader, House of Representatives, Mulikat Akande-Adeola.
Also, in Kano, former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso is squared up against former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aminu Wali over control of the structure of the party in the state. The Kano crisis, sources said has stalled efforts to elect a substantive Zonal Working Committee (ZWC) for the North West PDP.
In the Anambra, Osun and Kebbi chapters of the opposition party, it is an uneasy calm as PDP chieftains battle for supremacy.
Loss of Anambra governorship poll
Also, in 2021, the PDP returned empty handed from the Anambra governorship contest. The opposition party had hoped to win the poll, so as to re-assert its supremacy in South East politics, ahead of the 2023 general elections. However, it came a distant second, trailing behind the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which won the poll.
Pundits say the PDP’s loss of the Anambra governorship poll for the fifth time in 18 years is traceable to the intractable in-fighting in state chapters of the opposition party.
The party, preparatory to the nomination of its candidate had cleared a total of 16 aspirants to participate in the primary election. They include Obiora Okonkwo, Uche Ekwunife, Chris Azubogu, Winston Udeh, Tony Nwoye, Valentine Ozigbo, Godwin Maduka, Godwin Ezeemo, Emeka Etiaba, Chidi Onyemelukwe, Ekwochi Genevieve, Ifedi Okwena, Ugochukwu Uba and Walter Ubaka Okeke.
However, few days to the June 26 primary, some aggrieved party members in the state got a court order sacking the entire PDP leadership of the state.
The order also nullified the election of the ad-hoc delegates, who were to participate in the primary to elect the PDP candidate.
Pronto, the PDP national secretariat resorted to the use of statutory delegates to choose its governorship candidate in Anambra. Unfortunately, the outcome of the exercise was marred by controversy.
The party had accredited a total of 218 super delegates to participate in the governorship primary. At the end of the exercise, Ozigbo polled 62 votes to clinch the PDP. Obiorah Okonkwo, who came second scored 58. However, the votes did not tally with the number of accredited delegates; as there was a deficit of 17 votes. Regardless, the party could not give convincing account of 17 votes.
From thence, it became a tale of woes for the opposition. Firstly, exasperated by the outcome of the governorship primary, most of the gubernatorial aspirants, who participated defected to other political parties.
Secondly, the issue of who is the PDP authentic candidate became a subject of litigation, as a faction of the party had nominated Senator Ugochukwu Uba as its governorship candidate.
However, the apex court resolved the issue in favour of Ozigbo few weeks to the November 6 contest. Eventually, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in the last Anambra governorship contest.
A silver lining
After Secondous’ ouster, the PDP governors had taken over effective control of the opposition party. Apart from determining the zoning of party offices, the governors also decided who filled the various positions.
In their determination to ensure that their preferred aspirants emerge, the governors had championed for all the elective positions. Consequently, several eligible aspirants were shut out from the last national convention, to the chagrin of many shareholders.
However, a silver lining emerged for the opposition party with the successful conduct of its national convention, on October 30. Nevertheless, the road to the convention was tortuous.
Prior to the convention, PDP leaders were apprehensive that the judgment by the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, in the appeal filed by Secondus, would throw spanners in the works. Luckily for the opposition party, his former chairman lost out at the Appeal Court.
After the convention, the losers retreated to nurse their loss, while the new PDP leadership is promising to give the party a new lease of life.