The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) might have died on the day it celebrated the 15th anniversary of its creation on August 31, 2013. On that day, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the governors of Niger, Babangida Aliyu; Sokoto, Aliyu Wammako; Jigawa, Sule Lamido; Kano, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; Adamawa, Murtala Nyako; Kwara, Abdulfatah Ahmed; and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi walked out of the Special Convention of the PDP – not to defect, but to constitute an alternative faction of the PDP. It was a masterstroke as by claiming to remain members of the party, they could continue to accelerate the rot within the party and jump out at the appropriate time. The splinter group emerged in protest to the presentation of a ‘Unity List’ at the special national convention of PDP in Abuja, which allegedly left out the names of some supporters of the seven governors from contesting. As the chairman of the Convention Electoral Committee, former Senate President Ken Nnamani, announced the names of candidates for election at the convention, which excluded most of the names of allies of the Northern governors and that of Dr. Sam Sam Jaja from Rivers who was to contest for the office of the deputy national chairman, the governors stormed out of the convention venue. They drove straight to the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Conference Centre where they addressed a press conference.
They reconstituted themselves into the “New PDP” and named Kawu Baraje as their acting National Chairman, with former PDP Deputy National Chairman Sam Jaja, the deputy national chairman, while former Osun State governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who had just been removed as PDP National Secretary on the orders of the court, as national secretary. In the press conference, Baraje castigated “the increasing repression, restriction of freedom of association, arbitrary suspension of members and other such violations of democratic principles by a faction of our party led by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.” Baraje identified violations of the PDP constitution, committed by the Tukur leadership, to include change of the date for the special convention from July 20 to August 31 without reverting to the National Executive Committee of the party, recognition of Tony Nwoye as PDP’s governorship candidate in the November 16 election in Anambra State, despite the position of INEC and the courts that Andy Uba was the duly elected candidate, expulsion of a national officer of the party, Sam Sam Jaja etc. Also speaking, Atiku Abubakar said the happenings in PDP were, “Sad because the party we conceived in 1998 to be a rallying point for all Nigerians, to be a source of unity, to be a party that will fulfil the aspirations of Nigerians, has today be dragged down by people who don’t even understand what party politics is all about.” This creation of a significant splinter group within the ruling party was a significant step in eroding its strength and effective national spread. The attempt by Chairman Bamanga Tukur to cripple the strength of the governors on behalf of his principal, Goodluck Jonathan produced the effect of precipitating a full-blown revolt. The splinter group eventually worked with other opposition parties to form the APC and the rest is history.
Maybe we should actually trace the real death of the PDP to its extreme arrogance, most eloquently expressed during the party’s 10th anniversary in 2008. The then Chairman of the party, Vincent Ogbulafor informed the nation with braggadocio that: “The PDP will rule Nigeria whether they like it or not, for not less than sixty years.” If the party is guaranteed to rule for sixty years then definitely the party had no need to by nice to its leaders, members and voters. On that day, the party gave itself the right to act with both impunity and full rascality. Talking of excessive rascality, its most graphic expression was what came to be known as the “Audu Ogbeh Affair”, which might be considered the real date the PDP died.
The then Chairman of the PDP, Audu Ogbeh, had resigned from the party effective February 28, 2005. It turned out he was forced to resign at gunpoint on the orders of the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo. His crime was that he had sent an honest and responsible letter warning President Obasanjo to avoid the politics of gangsterism following the implication of security agents in bombing, arson and shooting geared towards removing the then Governor of Anambra State by force. He was trying to play the role of a responsible party Chairman, which was to ensure that the party is of good behaviour so that it can maintain and grow its popularity and legitimacy. It was in this context that he wrote a letter to President Obasanjo on December 6, 2004 and it is worth quoting his words extensively.
“Mr. President, I was part of the second republic and we fell. Memories of that fall are a miserable litany of woes we suffered, escaping death only by God’s supreme mercy. Then we were suspected to have stolen all of Nigeria’s wealth. After several months in prison, some of us were freed to come back to life penniless and wretched. Many have gone to their early graves un-mourned because the public saw us all as renegades. I am afraid we are drifting in the same direction again. In life, perception is reality and today, we are perceived in the worst light by an angry, scornful Nigerian Public for reasons, which are absolutely unnecessary. Mr. President, if I write in this vein, it is because I am deeply troubled and I can tell you that an overwhelming percentage of our party members feel the same way though many may never be able to say this to you for a variety of reasons. But the buck stops at your table and in my position, not only as Chairman but also as an old friend and loyal defender of your development programmes which I have never stopped defending, I dare to think that we can, either by omission or commission allow ourselves to crash and bring to early grief, this beautiful edifice called democracy. On behalf of the People’s Democratic Party, I call on you to act now and bring any, and all criminal, even treasonable, activity to a halt. You and you alone, have the means. Do not hesitate. We do not have too much time to waste.” Excellent advice; brave advice; and the outcome was that Audu Ogbeh was thrown out and returned to his life of penury. God bless him.
Some of my readers would at this stage be wondering just how many times did this organism called PDP die? Don’t organisms only die once and they are gone forever? Not at all, says Professor David Easton in his exposition of systems analysis of political organisms. Political organisms, he explains, are open and adaptive systems that process inputs and outputs, producing legitimacy and support or illegitimacy and repulsion. Systems endure because when they are performing very poorly, they can learn from their mistakes and revive. The tragedy of the PDP has been its refusal to learn from its mistakes, and assumed as Ogbulafor asserted, that under any conditions, they would still be able to rule for sixty years.
The fact of the matter is that the narrative of the death of PDP began at its birth at its Jos Convention, when one Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as its presidential candidate. In his acceptance speech, Obasanjo offered the conquered Alex Ekwueme the Senate presidency. He simply assumed that when he becomes president, he could make anybody he wanted Senate president. Alex Ekwueme declined the offer, but Obasanjo on being elected president immediately declared himself LEADER of the PDP who could do with the party what he pleased. He did as he pleased and the party went into gradual decline, culminating in its ouster from power on March 28, 2015.
It is important, at this point, to recall that the PDP has an illustrious history and emerged out of the political class that was engaged in the difficult struggle against the Abacha dictatorship. It was formed from the G-18 northern politicians under Solomon Lar and the G-16 southern politicians under Alex Ekwueme, bringing together the Peoples Democratic Movement of the former allies of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua such as Atiku Abubakar and Ango Abdullahi, the All Nigeria Congress of Sunday Awoniyi and Adamu Ciroma, the Social Democratic Party of Solomon Lar and Abubakar Rimi, and Alex Ekwueme’s People’s Conservative Forum to ensure that a democratic Pan-Nigeria party would lead the country into the Fourth Republic. They went to a bankrupt farm and picked a man with no shoes – sorry, no money – called Olusegun Obasanjo, paid his debts, made him our President and he turned them into his boys. Now that a new party is coming into office, it must not repeat the mistakes of the PDP. For the APC to grow as a democratic governing party, it needs a revived and democratic PDP to act as an effective opposition that would check the excesses of the new rulers, which believe me, would happen.
Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD.