By CHIDI OBINECHE
it all began like a patient going through the slow pangs of death. From a vibrant, boisterous stature some two years shy of two decades ago, it reached its nadir shortly after the 2015 general elections in an epic portrait of the time honoured maxim that “empires rise, empires fall”, or the biblical injunction that admonishes on orderly nature and passage: “There’s a time for everything; a time to be born, and a time to die”. At the height of its glory, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP approximated everything under the sun that is huge, octopal, and unconquerable. Thus, there were self assigned aliases like the “behemoth”,” The largest party in Africa,” “Humongous umbrella that contains everybody”, among many others. Basking in that stature, controlling the Federal Government, 28 out of the 36 state governments at a time, and over 87% of members of both arms of the National Assembly, it effortlessly had its way in everything, running ram shod on the sensibilities of the people and the nation.
Like bees to honey, masses of the people gravitated towards the party. Retired military generals, retired bureaucrats, captains of industry, the ordinary man in the streets, all made the PDP their abode. The other parties, even when they proliferated to an all time 65 cringed and took the lowly bath of the hornbill. The party was literally swimming in wealth and rocked with so many intrigues and schisms as a huge body is wont to. The conventions and congresses of the party were like a national orchestra, which shook the very foundations of the state and enthralled the people. It was PDP versus PDP all the way. In all its strength, it lacked any discernible ideology, cruising in a rainbow admixture of all persuasions; throbbing with ever present implosion, home for the left and right wing ideologues, and the liberal democrats. The very first president it produced in 1999 Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who left power in 2007, in an exasperated fit of rage left the party in early 2015, stoking the entrails for its defeat in the elections that year. After more than a year in limbo, the former president sent nerves on edge on Friday, August 6, 2016, when he was sighted at the Yar’Adua Conference Center, venue for the inauguration of the party’s inauguration of its Convention Committee. Debunking insinuations that he was staging a comeback to the party, the irrepressible ex-military General described the PDP as a dying party, which is gasping for breath. He said in a swift rebuttal: “If I quit a party when it was alive and seemingly united, how could I go back to a now divided, factionalized party, gasping for breath.” When it bubbled, stalwarts of the party enlivened the political space with pulsating boasts. Foundation national chairman of the party, the late Chief Solomon Lar had described it then as a “mass moving organization for national transformation.” His successor Senator Barnabas Gemade aptly ascribed to it the awesome power of omniscience when he said “this is the only party in Nigeria. There is no imitation; none like it. It has a large bowel that can swallow others. It can also bury them.” And indeed it did severally. Then came the third national chairman Chief Sylvester Ogbulafor. Who boasted that “the party will rule for 60 years.” Chief Audu Ogbeh , now a chieftain of its conqueror, the All Progressives Congress, APC , and current minister of Agriculture, who was the party’s 4th helmsman dismissed it “as a party lacking in democratic credentials and basking in self- flagellation.” Elections into public offices were in the words of former Ogun State governor Otunba Gbenga Daniel “mere rituals” as the outcome was easily predictable. And the music and dance rolled on. In the ensuing years, attempts by many disenchanted politicians to find a soothing wedge to the ‘roller coaster’ PDP through alliances and mergers proved futile, and almost always ended up buoying up its awesome resume.
The road to Golgotha
The many crises in the party, especially ahead of the 2015 presidential elections, which led to the exit of six of its sitting governors signposted the earliest warning that the party was on the road to Golgotha. Waiting to annex them into its fold were an ever expanding army of deserters of the party, a coterie of bigwigs of other parties with failed and stilted ambitions, and an armada of pent up and frustrated politicians. It was a coalition that gave little hope, but in time proved very potent and fatal. Wife of former president Goodluck Jonathan dismissed them as “moving to a rickety bus that will never get to its destination.” The oyster was the asphyxiating desire by these politicians from the northern flanks of the nation to stop the re-election of Jonathan at all cost. The impetus was to restore the presidency to the, north, which was cut short by the unfortunate death of Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010. The anvil was the iron cast will of the vast majority of Nigerians to effect a change. A fierce battle of wits, engagement, and electioneering raged on all fronts. At the last count, it was too late for the octopus, the behemoth, the largest party in Africa. It lost. And the gradual death set in. Bamanga Tukur, was forced to eat the humble pie as national chairman in a deft move by the putsches to force a more pliable person at the top. His successor, former Bauchi State governor, Adamu Muazu was also forced to quit and his deputy, Chief Uche Secondus took the reins of power. It was obvious that the party was wallowing in a shadow of itself. He was buffeted with legal cases and eventually he bowed out. Like the doomed Sisyphus in the Greek myth, former Borno State governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was drafted in. And the party has never been the same ever since. It has cascaded from the sublime to the ridiculous, in a mad race of death. A national caretaker committee hurriedly raised to douse the raging inferno, which is chaired by former Kaduna State governor, Ahmed Makarfi is bogged down by a torrent of court cases and factionalization. PDP has weaned itself of all the pristine vestiges that put it on top and steadied it in power. And most of all, it has lost its voice, its cohesion, and pride. It has descended to the lowest abyss in crass shame and dirt. A member of the Board of Trustees, BOT of the party, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, however, sees the plunge as temporary, optimizing that “the party will rise again.” A national chairmanship aspirant, Chief Bode George insists that “we will reclaim our position in power if a man with the capacity to harness and unite the various stakeholders in the party under one umbrella is chosen to lead it.” He emphasized that the only ingredient needed to drive the party back to power is for all to eschew bitterness and rancor, sheath vaulting ambitions and understand that the enemy is not only the APC, but also within the party.
Another presidential aspirant and media mogul Chief Raymond Dokpesi also believes that he alone has the capacity to bring back its glory, while urging members to look ahead and vote for him in the forthcoming national convention of the party. “ We will not allow the PDP to die. It is against the dreams of the founding fathers of the party. Those who are thinking that the present challenges confronting the party will lead to its death are dreaming. We will confront these challenges, and like we had done in the past triumph over them. I have what it takes to galvanize the people and bring back everybody into our fold. There is no setback in the real sense, if we unite for a common purpose.”
Dokpesi continues: “The Federal Government is chasing and hounding our people, and some are really terrified. There is no better time to show love and commitment than now. Those who are defecting now should have a rethink because 2019 will soon come and I know with the performance of the APC government, the people will put us back in power.” Jonathan, at a meeting with members of the Board of Trustees, BOT of the party last week pledged his all to end the siege on the party. He said: “This should not be beyond us, but I believe that collectively, we can resolve it. Any sincere PDP member should know that the PDP is bigger than an individual. And many members have sacrificed their interest for the party.”
Altogether, there are about 15 court cases seeking to stop the forthcoming national convention of the party. Article 10 of the party’s constitution, which deals on the exclusive resolution of internal matters has since been jettisoned for litigations. So many committees have been set up for reconciliation but each of them failed. Several meetings of rival factions have been held to no avail. Confused, and jittery, the party now looks up to Jonathan and the founding fathers for peace and survival. Visits have been arranged for that purpose to rescue it. Of the three presidents it produced during its 16-year long reign, only Jonathan, who is at best lukewarm, and has never attended its activities, is still with the party. Only one former vice president, Namadi Sambo ,who has also shown apathy to the party is still a member. Abubakar Atiku has since joined the APC. As the party prepares for its forthcoming national convention in Port Harcourt in the midst of threats from its rival group led by Sheriff, the time for healing and reconciliation is now. A slip will be too costly, and perhaps inexorably pave the way for a slow, painful death.