By Sunday Ani
As the 2023 general election inches closer, there seems to be an uneasy calm in the main opposition party in the country, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This follows pockets of internal crises bedeviling the party in various states, and even at the national level. The crises vary from state to state but have generally led to the defection of some key PDP members including incumbent and former governors, former National Assembly members and other bigwigs in recent time. Analysts believe there is a high probability of more prominent members defecting to the ruling party if the trend is not promptly managed by the PDP. The crises cut across almost all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
Part of the problems of the PDP, many argue is also the overbearing influence of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike on the party. Wike has been accused by some leaders in the South-South zone of hijacking the party. This, according to some analysts, almost led to the defection of the Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, but for the quick intervention of his Bauchi State colleague, Senator Bala Mohammed. It was gathered that the Cross River State PDP crises started when all organs of the party were taken away from Ayade at the state, local government and ward levels, with alleged financial support by a governor from the Niger Delta region. Although the Bauchi governor brokered peace and prevailed on Ayade to rescind his defection plans, recent developments have shown that all is not yet well as rumours of the governor’s possible defection are still strong in the public domain.
When the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi left the PDP for the APC, citing injustice to South East by PDP as one of the reasons for his action, many dismissed him. The governor had alleged that the party had been unfair to the zone, despite having the late Vice President Alex Ekwueme as a foundation member. “I am not driven by selfish interests, but we need to protest against marginalisation. We have benefited more from the APC government. I didn’t start this protest today. I have no regrets. In life, you have to be courageous,” Umahi had said.
But, the governor’s argument did not sink well with some people. They would rather he told such tales to the marine as they saw a man fighting for personal, selfish interest as against the public interest he was mouthing. Gov Umahi had specifically said he left the PDP because of the party’s glaring unwillingness to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the South East zone.
Today, political analysts are beginning to align with Umahi’s prognosis, following the recent pronouncement by the 2019 Elections Review Committee set up by the party to assess its performance in the last general election. The Committee, under the chairmanship of the Bauchi State Governor, had urged the leadership of the party to allow interested party members to vie for the 2023 presidency, irrespective of their political zones. Although the party has said it was not bound to abide by the committee’s recommendation, and that it was still considering whether to zone its ticket to the South or throw it open to all the zones in the country, analysts believe that any attempt not to zone the ticket to the South would signal a death knell on the party.
They perceive the Committee’s advice and the subsequent clear lacklustre attitude of the party to come clean on which zone would fly its flag in 2023 as a clear confirmation of Umahi’s fears.
The development has heightened tension in the South East zone of the party. Amid rumours of possible defections if the zone fails to secure the party’s presidential ticket, a group of eminent South-Easterners under the auspices of the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, recently warned that it would mobilise the people of the zone to oppose the PDP if the party failed to stick to its constitution which provides for a rotational presidency.
In the South West, the party has also been embroiled in crises for some time now. The dramatis personae in the fray are the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, and the current governor of Oyo State, Ayo Makinde. Watchers of political events said their struggle for the control of the party in the zone was linked to the prospect that the next president could come from the region after eight years of a president from the North.
But, with the outcome of Monday, April 12 congress, peace seems to have returned to the party. The congress, earlier slated for Saturday, April 10, as in other zones, was later rescheduled to Monday, following disagreement over the choice of Ibadan as the venue. It was eventually held in Osogbo, the Osun State capital. The contest saw Makinde’s candidate beating Fayose’s anointed to emerge as the zonal chairman of the party, and with Fayose’s alleged acceptance that Makinde is the party leader in the zone, many believe that peace may have finally returned to the party in the zone.
Also, all is not well in the North Central states of Plateau, Nasarawa and Niger, where various crises ranging from suspension of members to litigations against the party by some aggrieved members have been the singsong. But, all that has been resolved, according to the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibril, who commended the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, the only PDP governor in the zone, for ensuring that peace returned to the party in the three states. Ortom’s peace move ensured that suspensions were lifted on some members, while all pending court cases were also withdrawn, paving the way for peace in the party in the zone. After the congress, Gov Ortom said the party had resolved to end god-fatherism and imposition of candidates, as well as avoid all the mistakes of 2015 and 2019 that gave APC victory.
In the North West, the story is not any different. The power tussle between the former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aminu Wali, seems to be tearing the party apart in the zone. Kwankwaso is accusing the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, of meddling in the affairs of the party in Kano State, with a view to whittling the Kwankwasiya influence in the state ahead of the 2023 presidential election. This led to the unsuccessful conduct of the Saturday, April 10 North West zonal congress in Kaduna State, as supporters of Tambuwal and Kwankwaso clashed and destroyed ballot boxes even before voting could start, forcing observers and other officials to flee the scene in Kaduna State.
But, according to the Media Sub-Committee Chairman of the congress, Abdulrahman Usman, the fracas was caused by delegates from Kano State over who would emerge as the PDP chairman in the zone. In the same vein, the Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, was conspicuously absent at the congress. His absence, observers believe, might not be unconnected with the crises rocking the party in his state, which has heightened the rumour of his imminent defection to the APC. The alleged crisis has equally led to the defection of a former commissioner in Zamfara State, Sanusi Maradun, from the PDP to the APC.
Analysts agree that defection has always been attributed to the alleged marginalisation or imagined divisions or crises, even when in actual fact, issues of managing the huge egos of party stalwarts, personality clashes, and power tussle are always responsible; none of these factors is at play in Zamfara State PDP. “So, who is pursuing Matawalle from the party? Why does he want to leave the party,” they queried.
In the last few months, a handful of key PDP stalwarts have joined the ruling APC. Such figures like former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel; former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; Yakubu Dogara joined earlier; former PDP national chairman, Barnabas Gemade; former senator, Isa Misau of Bauchi State; and a serving senator representing Adamawa North, Ishaku Abbo. Also, on the list of defectors are current members of the House of Representatives, Datti Yako of Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State; Ephraim Nwuzi of Omuma Federal Constituency, Rivers State; and David Abel of Sardauna Federal Constituency in Taraba State; as well as former Special Adviser on Political Matters to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, among others, readily come to mind.
To douse the growing tension in the party, restore peace and forestall further defections, and possibly get ready for 2023 elections, the party recently set up a reconciliation committee. The Committee, headed by the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had already swung into action by visiting former President Goodluck Jonathan in his residence. Recall that Jonathan was equally rumoured as planning to defect to the APC having been promised that its presidential ticket would be reserved for him if he crossed over.
With the pockets of crises in the party across some states in the country, coupled with the dilemma as to where the party would zone its presidential ticket in 2023, analysts are of the opinion that the development, if not handled properly, could signpost a very poor outing for the PDP in 2023, particularly the presidential election.
However, some party leaders who shared their opinions with the Daily Sun are quite confident and optimistic that the PDP would surely overcome whatever problems bedeviling it at present to emerge victorious in the 2023 elections both at the state and national levels.
One of such optimists is the Lagos State PDP Chairman, Deji Doherty, who said peace had returned to the south west zone of the party after its congress on Monday, April 12.
He promised that the Lagos chapter of the party would work in unity with those that have won the zonal congress, stressing that the outcome of the congress would unite the party in the zone more than even before.
Another PDP chieftain in Lagos State, Prince Aderemi Adeshina, also stated that with the internal reconciliation currently going on in the party, there was no cause for alarm as far as success in the 2023 election is concerned.
“Internal reconciliation is seriously going on in the party and once the party leaders and elders are able to reach a final conclusion by giving every individual member his rights and dues, things will be okay definitely. So, I don’t entertain any fear as to what will happen in 2023.
For the PDP chairman in Anambra State, Ndubuisi Nwosu, the party has demonstrated the highest level of internal democracy and that is why every set of interest group has been trying to prove its mettle within the party.
He commended the party leadership for its transparency; a position he said has ensured peace in the party. The Cross River State chairman of the party, Edim Inok, also agreed that there were pockets of crises in the party but assured that the leadership was handling them and that all issues would be resolved before the 2023 elections.
Indeed, it is a festival of crises for the PDP, but how the leadership navigates it to a safe harbor, like the saying goes, lies in the belly of time.