Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) has not left anyone in doubt about its desire to return as the ruling party in the country. After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the Presidency and majority of seats in the two chambers of the National Assembly, the opposition party has its gaze fixed on the 2023 general elections.
In the aftermath of the affirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress ( APC) as winner of the 2019 presidential election, the PDP has said it will reposition itself, to make it more formidable in the 2023 polls.
However, ahead of the next general elections, the major opposition party is faced with an uphill task. The challenge is how to effectively manage the conduct of its ongoing congresses, and disagreements arising from them, so that the exercises do not tear the opposition party apart ahead of the next general elections.
The party is presently in the process of conducting congresses in the 26 states, where the tenure of the State Executive Committee ( SEC) is expected to elapse on May 10, as well as zonal congresses in the six geopolitical zones.
The states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo and FCT. Others are Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kastina, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba and Yobe states.
The congresses in Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Zamfara, Anambra, Lagos, Kwara, Kebbi, Kogi , Adamawa and Borno states are expected to hold between next year and 2022, when the tenure of the present crop of executives will elapse.
Already, the party has held local government congresses before the exercise was suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept the country on the edge.
The ward, state and zonal congresses will be followed next year with a National Convention, where new members of the opposition party’s National Working Committee ( NWC) will emerge, which will superintend over the nomination of PDP candidates for the 2023 polls.
Expectedly, the congresses have already pitched leaders of the party in the affected states against themselves as they battle for the soul of the party in their respective states.
Analysts say the tussle for the control of the party structures in the states is exacerbated by the fact that whosoever controls the party machinery is likely to have an open hand in the nomination of candidates for the 2023 polls.
Prior to the commencement of the congresses, the chairman of the PDP BoT , Senator Walid Jibrin and the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal, had admonished the party leadership to ensure a level playing field for all the contestants.
Jibrin, while speaking at a recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the party, “ had said: “May I therefore advise that the approved guidelines must be seriously adhered to in other not to fall into a dangerous situation that affected APC in Zamfara State. The congresses must be free, fair and very transparent in all levels. Registered members must be allowed to exercise their democratic rights at all levels as enshrined in the party’s constitution. “
Tambuwal, who is also the governor of Sokoto State, added that the world is looking unto the opposition party to deliver credible congresses across the 26 states.
According to him, “chairman as we go into congresses, we are appealing that we shall be all inclusive in whatever we are going to do. We shall be transparent and be accommodating and be free and fair in the conduct of the congresses. The world is watching us. And expecting us to build on what we have started with our last convention in Port Harcourt.
“Free, fair congresses that will engender leadership of our party from the grassroots to ward level, to local government level and to state level will strengthen our party.”
Jibrin’s admonition is instructive. The controversy over the control of party structure by All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains in Rivers and Zamfara in the run-up to the 2019 general elections had cost the party dearly, as it robbed them the opportunity of fielding candidates in the two states during the last general elections.
Battle ground states
The admonition by the BoT chairman to the PDP leadership to ensure a level playing field not withstanding, many congresses so far conducted have been trailed by controversies, thereby deepening the crisis in some of the state chapters.
From Kastina to Kano, Ekiti to Ogun, the battle for the control of party structures is threatening the cohesion of the opposition party.
Though tension is mounting in virtually all the states, where all the congresses held, Adamawa, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Imo have turned to be the battle ground as contending forces are pitched in a titanic battle for the soul of the PDP in the affected states.
Incidentally, the tussle is more intense in states where the PDP is in opposition. It is an indication that if the major opposition party does not quickly put its house in order in the concerned states, its dream of putting up a strong showing in the states will be in jeopardy.
In Ekiti, tussle for the control of the state PDP is a straight fight between the former governor, Ayo Fayose and his erstwhile deputy Biodun Olujumi.
Similarly, in Ogun State, forces loyal to Senator Buruji Kashamu has drawn the battle line with the PDP national secretariat over the leadership of the opposition party in the state. The PDP had prior to the 2019 general elections expelled Kashamu from the party.
However, a faction of the Ogun PDP loyal to the former senator are locked in a bitter feud with another faction of the party led by a former member of the House of Representatives, Ladi Adebutu.
In Adamawa, a former PDP governorship aspirant, Dr Umar Ardo recently announced a parallel party structure in the state. The Ardo faction of the party, which is christened Reformed PDP has reportedly commenced registration of party members in the North East state.
Also in Cross River State, the state governor, Ben Ayade is reportedly on a warpath with his predecessor, Senator Liyel Imoke and members of the National Assembly from the state over the control of party machinery in the state ahead of the 2023 polls.
Similarly, in Enugu State, the camp of the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, is locked in a cold war with the former deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu over the 2023 general elections in the state. Ekweremadu is speculated to be interested in becoming the next governor of the state.
Daily Sun gathered that though the congresses so far held in the state had seemingly gone well, all is not well in the Enugu PDP as the gladiators are plotting on how to gain the upper hand in the internal politics of the opposition party, ahead of the next general elections.
The situation is not different in the Kano and Nasarawa states chapter of the PDP, where the contest for the party structures have resulted in litigations and suspension of party leaders.
There are fears that these crises could lead to factionalisation of the opposition party in some of these states. Already, some of the panels sent by the National Working Committee ( NWC) to superintend over the congresses have been accused of bias.
Analysts say PDP’s major challenge is how to be able to manage the disagreement arising from the congresses, so that it does not tear the party apart in the affected states in the run-up to the 2023 general elections, thereby affecting the opposition party’s electoral fortunes in the next poll.
In the past, intra-party squabbles arising from tussle over the control of party structures have led to the PDP losing elections in some of its strongholds in the past.
For instance, the PDP’s loss in the last Bayelsa State governorship election, before the Supreme Court nullified the candidacy of the APC candidate, David Lyon, was attributed to infighting within the party.
Also, in 2016, the opposition party’s loss in the Ondo State governorship poll was largely attributed to the struggle for party machinery between former Governor Olusegun Mimiko and Jimoh Ibrahim.
Similarly, the PDP’s loss in the 2016 Edo State governorship election and the 2019 general elections in Lagos State was attributed to internal wrangling.
Though the PDP has been able to conclude the congresses in Edo State, after initial hiccups, preparatory to the conduct of the nomination of the party’ s candidate for the gubernatorial election in the state scheduled to hold later in the year, analysts say it is not yet Uhuru for the opposition party in the South South state.
Recall that in 2016, all was well in Edo PDP, until after the gubernatorial primary poll, where some party leaders alleged foul play and left the party to strengthen the hands of the APC in the main election.
However, it is not clear what the PDP national leadership is doing to address the situations in the states. Efforts by our correspondent to speak with the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan on the issue was unsuccessful as he did not respond to repeated calls to his mobile phone.
Analysts say, judging from past events, how far the PDP will go in the 2023 contest will to a great extent depend on its ability to conduct generally accepted congresses and address complaints satisfactorily.