IS IT POSSIBLE TO RE-INVENT THE PDP?
In 1998, thirty four distinguished Nigerians (politicians, Businessmen and retired soldiers) gathered to lay the foundation for the party that latter emerged to be called the Peoples Democratic Party( PDP). This group known as G-34 metamorphosed from an original G-18 which was formed to oppose General Sanni Abacha's move to succeed himself, pushing for a return to true civilian democratic rule. Among these men were Alex Ekwueme, Bola Ige, Jerry Gana, Adamu Ciroma, Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Sule Lamido and Elder Awoniyi and others, some of whom are late now. They were soon to be joined by men from other political groups, such as Atiku Abubakar who came from the Peoples Democratic Movement( PDM). Subsequently they were joined by a number of retired Military Generals including Ibrahim Babangida who succeeded in attracting General Olusegun Obasanjo to join them, whom they eventually elected as their presidential Candidate for the 1999 elections.
The PDP enjoyed a lot of support at inception and became very popular. The calibre of its founding fathers, the broad membership ethnic base cutting across all the Regions and zones of Nigeria, coupled with its democratic promises and the Right of the centre economic slant all combined to help it win the 1999 General elections, beating the All peoples Party( APP) and the Alliance for Democracy( AD). In 2003, it also won the elections as Obasanjo was returned with a massive 61.9% of the popular votes. In the Legilslative elections, PDP won 223 seats in the House out of 360, while it won 79 out of the 90 seats in the Senate. In 2007, PDP won again, increasing its control of the house to 260 and senate to 85. President Yar'adua could not complete his first term as he died early in 2010, making way for Dr Goodluck Jonathan the Vice President to become the President. A major crack occurred in the PDP in 2011as Goodluck Jonathan stood for elections for a four year term, after completing Yar'adua's term. A significant number of PDP members crossed over to the Action Congress of Nigeria( ACN). The North did its best to stop Jonathan from becoming President, after completing Yardua's term. Indeed he was nearly stopped from becoming acting President when it was clear that Yar'ardua's health could not let him continue in office. Jonathan's struggle to become acting President, then President( to complete Yar'ardua's term) and then to seek a full 4-year term severely strained the party.
The demand by some of the Northern members of PDP that the North should be allowed to complete its 8-year term, led to internal sabotage within the Party. But when Jonathan decided to seek a second term in 2015, the division in the party enlarged drastically. And when they could not stop him, an internal revolution occurred causing a fission of the Party to form the "New PDP ". The "New PDP" eventually merged with the Action Congress of Nigeria( ACN) to form the new mega party, All Progressives Congress( APC) which swept PDP out of power at the last General elections in 2015. With a margin of 2.6 million Votes, President Muhammadu Buhari of APC defeated the incumbent , Dr Goodluck Jonathan of PDP. Thus after sixteen years in Power, PDP moved from the ruling party to the opposition party.
Beyond the all-consuming determination of the North to produce the President, which first led to the crack in the party, and latter anti party activities of most of the Northern political leaders in PDP, other factors contributed to the fall of PDP.
Among these factors is impunity within and without the party. A party that was founded on democratic principles began to impose candidates and force its ways. Next was arrogance,being in power for so many years gave the party leaders a false feeling of invincibility and they began to behave as if Nigerians had no other choice. Indeed, it did not seem to care or worry when hordes of its membership began to defect to other parties .The third was that the party went cold on fighting corruption. Though it pursued fairly aggressively, the economic program of Privatization and deregulation, which took power and discretion away from public servants as a way of minimizing corruption, and introduced some electoral reforms that minimized electoral corruption( Jega & Card reader for example) pmany Nigerians still felt that corruption was proliferating. Fourth was that the party became incapable of disciplining its members. No where was this incapacity so visible as in the Presidency. Poor performance was tolerated and many public servants were treated as untouchables. Fifth, the party seemed to have lost any ability to resolve conflicts as it seemed to move from one crisis to another in many States. Up till date, Anambra State runs parallel party leadership. Lastly, the Party became a party run by geriatrics. Men over 80 years old ran the party at different levels and men and women were being recycled as if the Party was short of younger and fresher faces. I believe all these factors combined to humble the party at the 2015 elections.
But the worsening economic condition of Nigeria since the last one year, the slow pace of action by the APC Government and the outright repudiation of some of the promises it made to Nigerians have begun to make Nigerians see PDP in a better light. If a pool was taken today , it is certain that PDP would do better than it did this time last year. Therefore one would have expected that the PDP would seize the moment to reinvent itself. In the last week or so the PDP has been having series of congresses starting from the Ward to the LGA and to the State, which hopefully should culminate in a National convention. But it disappointing that we can not see any effort to transform or to cause change in its structure, format or content. First, the media is full of reports of many States and Zones condemning the Ward congresses. We hear of claims and counter claims of no elections or rigged elections and the imposition of candidates by some power brokers. I know that it is in the DNA of Nigerian politicians in whatever party to reject any election they did not win, but I would expect that by now, PDP should have set up a very transparent system that would make its internal elections less contentious. After many years, they should have evolved a better system of internal democracy. At the least, they should have a robust post election appeal structure which should enjoy the confidence of most members, as well as post election reconciliation mechanism. It was embarrassing to see party founders like Jerry Gana and Ibrahim Mantu appear on Television criticizing their congresses and telling the whole World that the congresses were rigged or manipulated and asking for their outright cancellation. Could the Party after 18 years and several cycles of congresses not have perfected a system of handling internal party disagreements without dancing naked in the market place?
Second, it seems that the Party is yet to learn its lessons, in the choice of its leadership. A Party that hopes to make any impression on Nigerians in any subsequent election can not present a tainted Leadership. The Bible said that in the time of ignorance,The Lord winked but no more in the time of knowledge. The Present APC government has raised the issue of ANTI-CORRUPTION very high and seems to have sufficiently painted the PDP government and its leadership with hard brushes of corruption and inefficiency. Though some of the allegations are yet to be proven in the Law Courts, but the truth is that in the court of Public opinion, they have already been convicted as charged. As they say in advertising, perception is reality. Let it be known that PDP can not cut any ice with any tainted leadership as it moves to 2019. If I should advice, I would suggest that they make a deliberate search for a new crop of leaders who have no form of baggages at all- political, financial, military, moral or corruption. APC won the last elections, essentially because they fielded a man that was generally perceived to be 'Pure'. I said perceived.
Third and related to the above, PDP if it hopes to make any impact in 2019, must as a matter of urgency retire most of its present crop of leaders. Many have been recycled so much that that there is a belief that they have nothing new or good to bring to the Nation. Many have too many baggages and many are out rightly too old- either by chronological age or by political age. Some were ministers or parliamentarians in the first Republic! Some campaigned for for Abacha to succeed himself! PDP should learn from the political developments in the UK and USA and usher in a regime of young, bright and untainted political leaders. I believe they have them in the party, but because they are not desperate to hold offices and may not want to manipulate and lobby, they are overlooked.
Finally my overriding point is that Nigerians are happy with the emergence of two major parties in the country which gives them a choice. The predominance of PDP in the last sixteen years, seemed to have denied Nigerians that luxury. With the emergence of APC in the last two years or so, Nigerians now have an alternative and could appropriately respond to the impunity and arrogance of PDP. This has also introduced reasonable competition among the parties, which should be to the advantage of the electorate. I believe that Nigerians will be happy to have an opportunity to make that choice in 2019, especially given the performance of APC thus far. That is why PDP must do its utmost to reinvent itself. If at all possible.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR