By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has inadvertently fallen into a relapsing mode. Its dwindling fortune is painfully taking a new turn for the worse. The distress signs are too obvious to deny. And unless there is a genuine introspection on the past activities that brought about the current schisms within the fold, this giant behemoth might just be heading for its terminal end.
Some political pessimists had, in fact, predicted this dismal spectacle soon after its crushing defeat in the 2015 general elections, hinging their bleak prognosis on two major premises. One is that a political party that cannot sustain and maintain its success in power will be very unlikely to survive as an opposition.
Secondly, as a child and victim of circumstance, PDP was not conceived as a conventional political party, but a coalition of big people and power brokers whose influence and authority have now become so conflicting and intense that it could no longer guarantee its stability.
It is against this background that some pundits see the gale of defections that now plagued the party as a symptom rather than the real problem. In a normal clime, democracy thrives on competing ideological persuasions. But in Nigeria, political evolution since 1999 has been essentially characterized by a challenge of striking a delicate balance between the common good of the people and the desire by the state actors for self-actualization. That is the unsavoury scenario the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has always capitalized on at the approach of any general election by poaching the key elements of the opposition party.
Originally formed as a mere vehicle to capture power, APC is cut out to do just that. And for as long as it remains in power, it will continue to play on the internal dissension within the opposition to get more converts, building mutually contradictory elements that will make the polity unstable in the long run.
Predictably, with the reckless manner with which the opposition members are now cross-carpeting; Nigeria may be ultimately tending towards a one-party system. Already, the opportunity available to the electorate to choose the best candidate in a multi-party democracy is being impaired by the dwindling fortune of the PDP as a virile opposition. The distressing decimation of the party started about six months ago when Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State announced his decision to pitch tent with the APC, claiming to protect the interest of the Southeast in the 2023 presidential race as his reason for the defection. The governors of Cross River and Zamfara states, Prof Ben Ayade, and Bello Matawalle, respectively followed suit in one quick succession.
Not surprising, despite the perceived failure of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, especially in the areas of security and economy, the APC leadership has been basking in the euphoria of the wind of defection, saying the party “is becoming more popular because of its impressive performance record and commitment to good governance.”
President Buhari, in a message delivered on his behalf by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the defection ceremony organized for Matawalle in Gusau, said: “I’m proud of your timely and wise decision to join the governing party and our doors are wide open to other politicians who believe in our vision to rebuild Nigeria.
“Your voluntary decision to join our party confirms the fact that our agenda for good governance is the only reason Nigerians are getting attracted to the APC because the other alternative didn’t work.”
But in a quick response, the PDP said that it remained unmoved by the recent wave of defection by some governors to the APC, insisting that it would reclaim the country’s number one seat in 2023.
At a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, the national chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, said: “We stand here to state clearly that we will form the next government come 2023 because of the masses, not the governors who are leaving the PDP.
“I have never seen a country where you have an economic crisis, and insecurity, then the ruling party goes poaching governors. It is a shame that all the governors left for fear; they were intimidated by the instrument of the government of the APC.
“They are going after our governors, but we are going after the masses of this country, the people who are suffering under this government. And that is the difference.”
Also, the Spokesperson for the party, Kola Ologbodiyan, while dismissing the insinuation that the party had relapsed into distress in an interview said: “I want to make it clear that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not in distress. The unfortunate situation in which the nation has found itself is such that whereas while the PDP was in government, it thrived on social justice, fairness, equity and gave abundant room to the opposition to thrive. Unfortunately, we have a situation on our hands as Nigerians in which a ruling government is harassing and stifling the opposition. It is in that circumstance that those who are not strong-willed, even though they are governors, are now submitting to the harassment of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That is the situation in which PDP has found itself.
“However, it is imperative to state that in spite of all this, the PDP remains unintimidated. Playing marriage game, claiming that we have this number of governors will not help APC at the end of the day because the power lies with the people. Going by intelligence we have gathered, the leaders of our party are being intimidated, they are being harassed to join the APC. The attempt is to muzzle the opposition party; the attempt is to ensure that Nigeria returns to a one-party state. And this will be catastrophic for our democracy.”
In its present circumstance, blaming the external forces for the harvest of losses the party has recorded is surely not the solution to the problem at hand. Doing so will be rather self-defeating as it implies that the leadership has not come to terms with the fact that the problem has more to do with the internal power squabbles than the machination of the outside forces.
It has more to do with an inherent contradiction among the centrifugal forces that make it impossible for the party to evolve a genuine democratic ethos that can guarantee stability within its fold and the nation at large.
Even in the conventional warfare, you cannot leave your flank open to the enemies and expect not to record some casualties. Though this is not a war situation, to stay afloat as an opposition necessarily requires a proper understanding of the strategy of the enemy.
In this case, PDP should blame itself for providing a fertile ground for the APC to poach its members.
As at the last count, the figure of APC senators in the red chamber stands at 71 as against 66 initially sworn-in during the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, while the PDP number slides from 44 to 37 following the latest defection of Muhammad Hassan Gusau from Zamfara State. He joined Senator Peter Nwaoboshi from Delta State, who had earlier dumped the party on account of his disagreement with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
The House of Representatives has not been spared of this unfolding spectre either, as the wind of defection continues to gather momentum by the day.
Only last week, the PDP lost two of its members to the APC namely Hon Legor Idagbo and Michael Etaba from Cross River State. The lawmakers gave the crisis rocking the state leadership of the party as their reason for their defection.
Such leadership crisis is not peculiar to the Cross River State chapter of the party alone. There is hardly any state now that does not have one crisis or the other to grapple with. From Anambra to Delta State, from Lagos to the far-flung North eastern state of Adamawa, etcetera, crises abound in one shape or the other. At the height of the intrigues that plagued the party, Secondus as the national chairman only narrowly managed to survive the proverbial banana peels.
Those who wanted him to go had hinged their action on the alleged inability of his leadership to address the divisive tendencies in the troubled states. Though Bukola Saraki-led reconciliation committee subsequently set up to mediate and reconcile the warring factions at different levels did the best it could do, the effort met a brickwall.
According to some concerned stakeholders, what made the committee’s task so difficult was over ambition of the gladiators. One of the founding members of the party and a former Minister of Transport, Ebenezer Babatope, expressing his concern over the trend said: “Defection of those governors is based on personal ambition for power; it is not based on principle at all. They are over ambitious. Either they want to be presidential candidates or whatever. For instance, it was a tug of war to have the man in Zamfara installed as governor of the state. His defection is a surprise to anybody who has been following the politics of Zamfara State. Maybe he felt it will be surer for him to return to power by joining the APC, especially knowing that the man who won the election and the INEC announced was an APC man.
“The other people from the Southeast may have also felt that this is a time for them to be presidential candidates. So, the people who have defected are people who want to perpetrate themselves in power. They are the people who want second term at all costs.”
Reacting further to the allegation of intimidation and deliberate move by the ruling APC to muzzle the opposition, Babatope disagreed, saying “I don’t know what facts are available to Secondus, but I think we must hold these governors responsible for their actions and inordinate ambition for power. That is what says it all.”
Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun, who is also a founding member, identified absence of political ideology as a major reason for the ease of defection.
He argued: “For me, there is no reason that is morally sound and socially responsible for this movement. It is an unfortunate trend and it doesn’t augur well for our democracy. Though there is freedom of association, but I think it has to be controlled.
“There are two major causes for the defections. One, political office has become too lucrative, it has to be reviewed. Two, there is no particular party ideology upon which individual participants can be indoctrinated to develop into patriotic and nationalistic outlook.”
However, while urging the PDP to remain calm, he predicted the inevitable fall of the APC based on the assemblage of strange bedfellows.
“The receiving party that is tending towards a one-party state is now like an amalgam of strange bedfellows with different characters. So, naturally, it will wear out to the extent that those who left for a new forum will find their new abode very strange and inconvenient. It happened in the recent past when many people left in annoyance and came back with the same annoyance. The PDP should remain calm and reorganize itself to become formidable again,” he advised.
On his part, Chekwas Okorie chided the PDP for being responsible for its woes, adding that what it had witnessed so far might just be a tip of the iceberg.
His words: “There is nothing like the ruling party muzzling the opposition. I made the prediction when Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State defected to APC. In my commendation to him, I said his defection would trigger a gale of defections in favour of the APC. So, what is happening now is what has been predicated and more will still happen. As we all know, most of the PDP members are used to being in power and many of them cannot withstand the pains and rigours of opposition. By the time we get to the 2023 elections, PDP will be a shadow of itself. So, the lamentation they are making now is not the answer, the answer is to look inwards to know why the party does not hold much prospect and make it attractive again.”
As a way for the PDP to shore up its general acceptance, Okorie advised the leadership to zone the presidential slot to the Southeast in 2023.
“There is no single project they started and completed in the Southeast within 16 years of the PDP in power. So, why will anybody want to look in that direction except for a very critical policy decision, like zoning the president to the Southeast? Otherwise, this will just be the beginning of Tsunami defection.”
Though 2023 is still far away, the stage may have been set for the usual realignment of forces for the ultimate realization of personal ambition of the state gladiators. The months ahead will determine the shape of political contest in the next general elections.