Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, on Monday, December 3, in Sokoto State, North West Nigeria, kicked off the party’s bid to return to power after what many regard as its disastrous outing in 2015.
The choice of Sokoto State is understandable. It is the only state in the zone with a PDP governor. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) declaration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the 2015 presidential election formally ended the PDP’s unbroken 16-year rule, many pundits believe that PDP’s epochal defeat was the cumulative result of a long journey into impunity and injustice that gradually, but steadily took the better part of the party starting from former President, Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime.
The party’s precepts and internal democracy were gradually thrown overboard, while many founders of the party including the late former Vice President, Chief Alex Ekwueme, late Chief Solomon Lar and late Chief Sunday Awoniyi were sidelined and ill-treated.
However, there are some who also believe that the divisive events around the nomination of PDP’s presidential candidate for the 2011 presidential election played a larger part in the eventual fracturing of the party, ahead of 2015.
The Struggle for 2015
Following the death of President Umar Yar’Adua, the North believed it deserved another term based on the party’s zoning principle. They reasoned that Obasanjo, a Southerner, did two terms. The North, through the Adamu Ciroma-led panel, selected former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to slug it out with the then President Goodluck Jonathan at the primary election. He was dubbed Northern consensus candidate. But Jonathan prevailed with 2,736 votes, while Atiku got 805 votes.
However, at the fence-mending meeting convened at the Aso Villa to assuage the feelings of the North, sources close to the meeting revealed that, the late Chief Samuel Ogbemudia, who spoke for the Niger Delta, pleaded that their son, Jonathan, be supported for a single term, while power returns to the North in 2015.
But in the build-up to the 2015 polls, signs began to emerge that Jonathan would want to seek a re-election. Signals that Jonathan wanted a second term predictably upset the North, with Atiku and six other PDP governors breaking away at the party’s special convention in 2013 to form the New-PDP (nPDP). Former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, was the only Southern governor among them. Five of the governors and Atiku later merged with the APC.
Whereas a few voices of reason warned of the wider implications of the implosion while the crisis lasted, sycophants around Jonathan at the time, urged him to call the bluffs of the aggrieved members.
Grandstanding at the PDP presidential primary, party chieftains assured Jonathan of a walkover re-election. Yet as Jonathan recalled in his recent book, “My Transition Hour”, many party chieftains, who promised millions of votes in the North could not circulate his posters in that region, let alone campaign for him. PDP eventually lost the presidential and majority in the National Assembly.
Predictably, many party chieftains, who promised Jonathan landslide victory, could not even wait for Jonathan’s handover before dumping the PDP. On April 8, 2015 alone, Senators Bello Tukur, Ahmed Barata; former Deputy Senate Majority Leader, Jonathan Zwingina; former Minister of External Affairs, Idi Hong; and Sadiq Haske, defected to APC in Adamawa State.
The imposition of the former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sherriff, as the National Chairman by two governors elected on the party’s platform despite spirited resistance by people like Prof. Jerry Ghana and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the party’s highest political office holder at the time, Daily Sun further learnt, worsened PDP’s miseries. Sherriff’s stint proved disastrous as predicted, as they were in and out of court for almost one year before the party got respite from the apex court.
Rallying the opposition
It was in the state of disarray occasioned by 2015 defeat that the party’s loyalty of PDP’s National Assembly Caucus was most pronounced. In particular, many believe that PDP owes so much to Ekweremadu for its survival of the turbulent years.
The first smart move was the one-day retreat by the Forum of PDP National Assembly (NASS) Members-Elect at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt on June 1, 2015.
Leveraging on Ekweremadu’s international exposure as the Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, PDP NASS members-elect brought parliamentary leaders, particularly from Ghana, with elaborate experience in relapses from ruling to opposition party and springing back to power, to share their experiences managing the change from ruling to opposition party.
And Ekweremadu, who spearheaded the initiative, espoused that much in his message to the gathering when he said “when the music changes, the dance steps also change, hence we thought we should come together to learn and properly rehearse the new dance steps of opposition before we enter the village square.
“From the United States of America to the United Kingdom, and Ghana, among so many others, the Members of Parliament have always been the springboard for their parties’ return to power each time they suffered defeat.”
Ekweremadu, Saraki as APC nemesis
A major outcome of that Port Harcourt retreat, Daily sun gathered, was the decision to go into the election of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly with one voice. This paid off as they exploited APC’s vicious contests to elect Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate president, Ekweremadu as his Deputy, and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of House of Representatives. Indeed, many attributed APC’s eventual fracture to this masterstroke.
Saraki and Ekweremadu’s emergence, APC’s failure to manage its 2015 electoral successes is considered by many as APC’s major nemesis. In particular, the implications of Ekweremadu’s re-emergence were not lost on the ruling party.
In 2011, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had also formed an alliance with some PDP ‘rebels’ to elect Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker in 2011, defeating PDP’s anointed candidate, Adeola Akande. Tambuwal remained a pain in the neck of Jonathan and PDP until he formally defected to the then opposition, APC, in October 2014.
Ironically, APC’s spokesman at the time, Lai Muhammed, who once lauded Tambuwal’s headship of a chamber of the parliament, where his party was not in the majority, describing it as a sign that Nigeria’s democracy was growing, turned round in 2015 to insist that Ekweremadu’s election as Deputy Senate President was an “aberration and dangerous.”
On his part, Senator Chris Ngige reasoned that “the PDP in the South-East will have oxygen to breath from since they now have the highest ranking person in Nigeria coming from the South-East, that disadvantages us and puts us in a difficult position”, adding, however, that “there are many ways to kill a rat”.
From then on, Ekweremadu faced what many regard as perceived political persecutions, including arraignment over alleged forgery of Standing Rule, raid on his official guest house, siege to his official quarters, investigation by the EFCC, and orchestrated media trials. Many believe all these were meant to force him to abandon the PDP and betray Saraki. But the Enugu-born politician would, however, not budge.
Pundits reason that, had Ekweremadu defected to the APC, PDP would have collapsed like a pack of cards, lacking in a rallying figure and symbol of hope.
The PDP Post-election review panel
Also, not a few have cited the PDP Post-Election Review Panel, otherwise known as the Ekweremadu Panel, as a key factor in the party’s revival. The committee’s wisdom in zoning the presidential ticket to the North to “assuage any ill feelings in the zone over any perceived breach of the party’s zoning principle”, was to play a vital role in retaining northern PDP chieftains and luring back the defectors, especially those of them, who nursed presidential ambitions.
Against this backdrop, therefore, many party faithful and political analysts have been rankled by the alleged alienation and mistreatment of Ekweremadu and other party bigwigs in the key decisions in the party since after the Port Harcourt convention, which produced Atiku as the presidential candidate. PDP governors and leaders have lamented their exclusion in the nomination of Atiku’s running mate, while sources close to Ekweremadu confirmed that he only read about the constitution of the Presidential Campaign Council on the pages of newspapers. He was neither consulted nor assigned any role.
Again, only recently, former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, speaking through his aide, threatened to withdraw support for Atiku’s presidential bid. He alleged sidelining from the 2019 preparation, observing that those of them who remained in the party to weather the storm have been left in the cold.
Meanwhile, many are already worried by the optics of the absence of all South East PDP governors, Senator Ekweremadu, and PDP leaders in the zone during Atiku’s recent visit to Enugu. But impeccable sources said these party leaders were only informed less than 24 hours to the event as a mere fulfilment of all righteousness.
Consequently, Daily Sun gathered, Ekweremadu and PDP governors not only visited Buhari to discuss South East development, they were also visibly absent at the recent formal turbanning of Atiku in Yola as Waziri Adamawa, an event that also coincided with his 72nd birthday anniversary.
Expectedly, there are insinuations that these recent moves must have panicked Atiku and the PDP, and may have informed the fence-mending shuttles by Atiku, Saraki, and the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, and Senator Ike Ekweremadu, and ex-Governor Sule Lamido, among others after needless and prolonged grandstanding.
Regardless, it appears there is more work to be done. But one thing is clear, how sincere these PDP leaders perceive Atiku’s sudden rapprochement and how he is able to win back their confidence and get all hands on deck would make or break PDP’s hope of returning to power in 2019.