Nigeria: Can the PDP Reinvent Itself?

Notwithstanding the fact of the former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus’s avowal not to throw in the towel, in form of withdrawal from court, of the case instituted over his unlawful removal, the leadership of the party appears to have moved on; basking in the euphoria of their new-found consensus that threw up Iyorchia Ayu as the new chairman of the embattled party. With Ayu’s emergence, the chieftains of the former ruling party are not only thumping their chests, they are expressing optimism about their possible comeback in 2023. I do not know whether they can match their words with action, or whether the electorate will accept the party back, for it is still quite early in the almost two-year marathon race to the election in early 2023.

But there are cogs in the wheel of PDP’s progress, some surmountable, some unfortunately not. The zoning conundrum on its own is a national problem, but even more so with the PDP, a party that once signed up for zoning in its constitution. The party has a plethora of candidates mainly from the North–former Vice President Atiiku Abubakar, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state, ex-Senate President Bukola Saraki and from the South, Governor Nyesom Wike, ex-governor Peter Obi and Senator Ekweremadu. When Ayu emerged as chairman of the party, the party was not categorical about zoning, as there were talks that as an Atiku person, he will ensure the former vice president who still has his eyes on the balls, emerges as the party’s candidate, against the background of the Southern governors’ declaration not to support any party that fields a candidate from the North.

To zone or not to zone is not the only issue for the PDP. There is the incumbency factor., which in its heydays, the PDP used effectively to sway votes. As a populist, the Buhari factor is still very strong in APC despite accusation of his mismanagement of our diversity and the country in general. As an old horse in the game of politics, the PDP knows the power in incumbency and is expected to contend with it too from APC before it can have any chance of going far. The power of incumbency has ensured the gale of defections to the ruling party, with at least three serving governors and several ex this and that, all of whom were anointed at the presidential Villa with photo-opportunity with President Buhari and ‘Governor-General’, Mai Mala Buni who has been ‘winning souls’ for the APC. How PDP hopes to beat this masterstroke-strategy by Buni’s caretaker committee beats my imagination. However, where voters are discerning and do not do blind following, anything can happen.

There is also the Tinubu factor. The super godfather who made Buhari’s victory possible in 2015 because of the merger and his huge war chest is in the eye of the storm. His ambition is a make or mar situation for the APC depending on where the pendulum swings. If he does win the party’s ticket and a northerner emerges in PDP, can he survive the onslaught of the North’s population advantage? And if he picks a Northern Christian as a deputy (which is how it should be), can he still command votes from the Muslim North? Meanwhile, a Muslim/Muslim ticket a la Abiola/Kingibe era of 90s is not likely to fly in the face of today’s reality of the country’s polarisation and toxicity of religion and ethnicity in national discourse. This complex situation in APC can be a political capital for the PDP, if they manage their own internal conflicts well.

Ordinarily the main contenders (Wike, Tambuwal and Saraki) under the PDP have advantage of age, but in an event that Atiku emerges, he may have the teeming Nigerian youth, who have been clamouring for the young to run, to contend with. If only they realise it, the youth hold the ace in who becomes president. By 2023, Atiku will be 76 years. Yet, the party could spring a surprise by rallying round some dark horses and wild cards yet unknown.

Without as much work toward the herculean task ahead, the PDP might just be jubilating in vain. The preponderance of opinion may not favour APC which is is seen to have underperformed. There is general disenchantment with the present government, which was so promising, but has since deviated and failed to deliver on their promise of revamping the economy, securing the nation, and stamping out corruption.

Besides, the APC is incapable of putting its house in order and faltering and fumbling to the dissatisfaction of its admirers and the general populace. The state congresses which held last weekend is yet another evidence of possible internal implosion after reported irregularities, irreconcilable differences and wrangling here and there, which have further polarized and widened the gulf among party chieftains, who have been at each other’s throats.

Already there are reports that Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbosola, Senator Ibikunle Amosu who are from states with controversial congresses may lose out, if the party hierarchy (national caucus) in Abuja decides to pitch tent with the governors’ state EXCOs and where applicable the most senior political office holders in non-APC states.

In Ogun state for example, a faction loyal to Amosun held their congress at the palace of Alake of Egbaland and elected Chief Derin Adebiyi while the faction loyal to Governor Dapo Abiodun held theirs at the MKO Abiola’s stadium and elected Chief Yemi Sanusi. The rivalry between the senator and the governor dated back to 2019 when then outgoing Governor Amosu handpicked Adekunle Akinlade to run under the Allied Peoples Movement, other than their party, APC, but his candidate lost to Dapo Abiodun, the current governor with slim margin. The congress showdown is a mere extension of the deep-seated animosity between the duo.

The same scenario played out in Kano where two chairmen representing Governor Abdullahi Ganduje and Senator Ibrahim Shekarau emerged differently. In Lagos state, Cornelius Ojelade and Sunday Ajayi emerged from Governor Sanwo-Olu’s and Lagos4Lagos group respectively. The same story of parallel congresses occurred in Osun, Kwara and many other states.

The president who is the ‘party leader’ going by Nigeria’s special arrangement, is a bit detached and does not call warring parties to a roundtable for amicable resolution of crises. The result is the messy congresses witnessed all over the country last week. Therefore, while incumbency can be an advantage, it can work against a party, as can be gleaned from what is happening to APC and what happened to PDP in 2015.

It is equally easy to notice the weaknesses of the party in government than the one in opposition.

Warts and all, if the APC does not and cannot put their house in other, PDP can cash-in on this weekness to outshine the APC. All these are in the realm of ifs, but since a day, not to talk of over a year is long in politics, time will tell, which between the two leading parties have the effective resolution mechanisms to manage their conflicts.

For the PDP, this is the time to go back to the drawing board, instead gloating over resolution of minor issues.


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