The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has set up a special committee to define its future identity. But the question over this development is whether it is the beginning of an end to the party which dominated Nigeria’s political landscape since 1999 until its defeat in the 2015 general elections by the All Progressives Congress (APC), ONYEKACHI EZE reports
If the statement of the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Makarfi, at the inauguration of a special committee of the party, is anything to go by, then there is some element of truth in the stories making the rounds about the future of the party.
Makarfi had told party members that “In politics, you don’t remain docile and inactive; you don’t remain cornered so that you will not be tossed around t the whims and caprices of anybody.”
He equally reminded them that “time is going, a lot of things are happening and our men and women, are on their own beginning to do all sorts of meetings.
However, if you don’t bring all your flocks together to talk as one family, before long, a good chunk of them would have gone on their own, because nobody will remain inactive for forever.
“The strategy is how to come back to power in 2019 through every democratic means. It is an inter-party affair because even as caretaker committee, we get approached by various groups and we felt that it is not the few of us that should be talking to this people.
The committee may seem large but its responsibilities are wide and huge.”
The media have been awash with reports of plan to float a new political party by aggrieved members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and some PDP members, who have their eyes on the presidency but feel that they present arrangement may not allow them actualize their ambitions. “There is no pretence about it; a new party is coming up in 2017.
Some members of the PDP and APC who are planning to field a candidate for the presidential election are behind it,” a source within their camp told New Telegraph.
The source added that “the arrowheads of the new party are likely not realise their ambitions if they remain in both parties because the political equation will work against them, so that is why they are coming together to form a mega party that will give the APC and PDP a run for their money.”
It was also gathered that the plan for a new party would not have been muted if not for the belief that President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to take another shot at the presidency at the end of his present tenure.
Though the president has not spoken of a second term, some chieftains of his party are already flying the kite in that regard. Former governor of Sokoto State, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, who recently revealed the second term agenda for Buhari, said the president needs to rule beyond 2019 to address the rot in the country.
“To me, President Buhari must be allowed to rule beyond 2019 to address the numerous challenges bedeviling the country. Four years cannot be enough to address the rot done to the country in the last 30 years.
We cannot expect miracle from the president in view of the enormous damage done to the country, he needs to be given opportunity to be around beyond 2019,” he said.
Former Zamfara State governor, Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, who spoke in the same vein, averred that “anybody that expects or wants Buhari to be there in four years and leave is not thinking properly. The problems with Nigeria won’t take four years to solve.
If we really want change from him, we should make up our mind that he being there for eight years, would make that difference. I mean it. He needs eight years.” When asked if such comment means that the lobby for Buhari’s second tenure has started, Yerima, said:
“My brother, no doubt, it has started, I can assure you. No need hiding it.” National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, apparently confirmed the second term bid, when he told New Telegraph in a recent interview that the party’s leadership will do everything possible to ensure that the president contests the 2019 presidential election.
His words: “I will pray, fast to God that Buhari agrees to contest in 2019. If he contests, Nigeria will be better for it. “My prayer is that we can get Buhari to re-contest in 2019.
We don’t know his mind yet, but I will do anything in my power to ensure that he re-contests in 2019. Why? He is the only one who has the moral front and the courage to make the changes that Nigeria needs.
“We need more than four years to get this country to subscribe to a new morality, a new ethic and turn its back on corruption of the very type we are trying to uproot now.”
When asked if he is convinced that the APC would win the election given the disenchantment over the party at the moment, Odigie-Oyegun said: “Of course, APC will win.”
While the pro-Buhari elements are perfecting strategies to launch his second term bid, some prominent members of the PDP members who confirmed plans for the formation of a new party are of believes that it is only through such alliance that the opposition political parties cast wrest power from the ruling party in the 2019 general elections.
Former governor of Ebonyi State, Dr. Sam Egwu, who confirmed the move, attributed the realignment of political forces to the lingering crisis in PDP. Egwu, who is the senator representing Ebonyi North Senatorial zone said:
“One thing I believe is that in as much as I know that forming a new party may be a good option because of the situation we have found ourselves in our party and it may be difficult to come out of it in the near future, the formation may not be the best option.
“Let me tell you, this agitation for formation of new party is not only in the PDP, it is also in the APC where some leaders are not happy the way they are being treated.”
Among those being wooed to join the move to for a new party are top politicians in the South- West, who played key role in the emergence of Buhari as president but have been sidelined.
“The arrow heads of the new party are reaching out to some legacy members of the APC, especially those of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), who worked for the Buhari presidency but have not been carried along in the distribution of appointments.
“Also being wooed are some members of the party in the National Assembly, who belief that they are currently being persecuted by the presidency, apparently for defying the APC directive on the leadership of the legislature,” a source said. PDP has been embroiled in leadership crisis since May this year.
This has factionalised the party between the Makarfi-led caretaker committee, which was set up on May 21 at a National Convention in Port Harcourt, and the other faction led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. Sheriff, a former Borno State governor, was brought in as national chairman in February to serve out the tenure of the North-East, which started in 2012.
The tenure was supposed to end that February but was extended by three months to enable the National Working Committee (NWC) then headed by Sheriff to conduct a National Convention and handover to a new NWC. This turned out to be the PDP Achilles heel!
Sheriff refused to relinquish the national chairmanship position, and with the support of other former NWC members, he has continued to lay claim to the seat. But leadership crisis is not the only problem facing the party.
Since it lost the 2015 general elections, the PDP and some of its leaders have been objects of attack and ridicule by the APC led Federal Government.
A number of its leaders have been arrested and charged to court for corruption. This has further smeared the image of party, leading to calls for the PDP to change its name so as to appeal to the electorate in 2019.
This has been on the card even before the swearing in of Muhammadu Buhari as president on May 29, 2015, although it has been constantly denied by PDP members.
Then it was reported that PDP was planning to merge with the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), Kowa, Hope Party (HP) and others to form a mega opposition party to challenge the APC. While some members of the party, including Israel Ebije, media aide to former Niger State governor, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, said the word ‘PDP’ has become toxic to Nigerians and will be counterproductive to continue to be used as a viable opposition party, Chief Olisa Metuh, the immediate past National Publicity Secretary of the party, disagreed.
Ebije had noted that “PDP may go and a new party may emerge, that is the way to go.” But Metuh ruled out any change of name for the party, as he maintained that “PDP is still a truly national political party with strength and spread enough to regain pre-eminence.”
He added: “We have a name, tradition and values. Sixteen fruitful years as the guardian of Nigerian democracy cannot be nullified by the reason of temporary setback. We shall rise beyond all and regain our rhythm.
“Our colour remains green, white and red and power still belongs to the people. And to assert that we are proud of the successes of our successive leaders in taking Nigeria to its present height is an understatement, which the passage of the next four years under the APC will certainly prove.
“We, therefore, call on all our members to ensure that they are not in any way distracted but remain focused as the unity, cohesion and regenerative capacity of the PDP is very much intact, election loss notwithstanding.”
Metuh however, said the doors of the party are open to welcome other political parties wishing to merge with it. Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin also said PDP is not planning to rebrand, take up a new name or merge with any other political party. But the intractable leadership crisis has left PDP to a near comatose.
The call for a brand new party is resonating once again. The crisis in the ruling APC is also giving it impetus. Some leaders of the party, who felt marginalised, are reported to have started reaching out to PDP leaders to form a new party.
Makarfi, inadvertently alluded to this when he told PDP leaders at the inauguration of the special committee last week that there have been approaches by various groups to the caretaker committee for alliance “and we felt that it is not the few of us that should be talking to this people.”
The committee, christened Strategy Review and Inter-Party Affairs, which has over 115 members, was therefore told to “explore strategies to engage all possible allies with a view to building positive relationship in overall interest and in furtherance of democracy in Nigeria.”
It is also expected “to consider recommending strategies to reposition to party,” as well as “to recommend necessary amendment to the party’s constitution.”
The committee has a founding member of the party, Prof. Jerry Gana as its chairman and it has three months to complete its assignment. Indication to the formation of new party had emerged last year when a PDP chieftain and former Kano State governor, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, reportedly hosted a meeting of PDP bigwigs in his house where the idea to float a new political party was discussed.
Though Shekarau’s media aide, Sule Yau’Sule, declined to comment on the purpose of the meeting, a close aide of the former Minister of Education admitted that there was plan “to rebrand and weed out bad eggs in the party and it is the process that will lead to the formation of a new party.
He said: “Initially, we had two options, that is, whether to rebrand the PDP or form a new party. Arguments are in the favour of the formation of the party, hence the resolution of our bigwigs.
The direction now is the formation of a new party but we will definitely draw for the resources of the PDP to make headway.” Political activities for the 2019 general elections are likely to pick up by 2017.
And for PDP to make any impact it has to strategise and reposition itself by next year. This informed the charge Makarfi gave the Gana committee.
According to him, the membership of the committee “may seem large but its responsibilities are wide and huge but you must break into sub- committees, talking to different groups. It is also the role of the committee to advice on how to make the party stronger and better.”
Makarfi said the number of the committee members was expanded from the initial 85 with over 30 persons to accommodate all interests that were omitted even as he apologised to all parties who attended the botched inauguration of the reconciliation committee, explaining that the problem started when a faction demanded the reduction of the number of committee members from each faction from 14 to six.
He said, “We said that we cannot do so because the caretaker committee represents organs of the party. If the organs of the party make nomination, we cannot on our own make changes.
There is nothing personal about it; we believe we cannot alter it because we do not put the names.” The chairman of the Strategic Review and Inter-party Affairs Committee, Prof. Gana, pledged that the committee would work on the reference given to it. He added that the PDP would not die but come out of its challenges stronger and better.
The PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, Senator Jubril, expressed hope that the committee will present recommendations that would be acceptable.
Why the Gana-led committee is expected to swing into action immediately, the question being asked by many is: Will PDP be strong again to bounce back to power in 2019?