5 May 2015

Does The PDP Have A Future? - by Bayo Olupohunda

After 16 uninterrupted years at the commanding height of federal power, losing the presidency to the opposition All Progressives Congress has sent the once powerful Peoples Democratic Party into disarray. The aftermath of the loss has triggered a massive defection of the party’s members to the APC; a move analysts consider may mar the future of a party that once regarded itself the biggest in Africa.

There is no doubt that the loss of the presidency had dealt a blow to a party that had also once boasted it would rule the country for 60 years. Nothing symbolised the PDP’s fear and shock at losing its grip on power than the frustrated outburst by its agent, Godsday Orubebe, at the presidential collation centre in Abuja. As the reality of an impending defeat stared the party in the face, Orubebe’s outburst captured the mood of the PDP members nationwide. The outburst, which had the potential to ignite widespread violent reaction, was quickly doused by the calm demeanour of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, and President Goodluck Jonathan’s timely concession of defeat to his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari.

Several weeks after being defeated at the polls, it appears it will take the PDP a long time to recover. Immediately after the elections, some party members began to jump ship. Going by what has happened so far, the future seems bleak for the once formidable party. Apart from losing the presidency, the party also lost control of the Senate. The feat also happened after 16 years of a majority rule at the Upper House. At the National Assembly election, the APC took 64 out of 109 senatorial seats. The APC secured majority power in the Senate with at least 60 seats, marking the first time the PDP didn’t hold federal legislative leadership since the end of military rule in 1999.

The APC also swept through the senatorial election with an outstanding number of seats in the North-Central, North-West, North-East and South-West states. There is an ongoing argument about how the new majority will shake up the leadership configuration in the eighth Senate, which will be inaugurated in June. The sitting Senate President David Mark will lose his seat to an APC member after eight years of calling the shots in the upper chamber. The APC members will also replace the current Deputy Senate President, Majority Leader and Chief Whip. Prior to this, the APC only had 41 seats in the Senate compared with the PDP’s majority of 64 seats. With the defeat at the presidential and National Assembly elections, the PDP had attempted to regroup for the governorship and state assembly elections.

But its efforts to salvage what’s left of the shredded umbrella were too little too late with the APC sweeping the governorship and state assembly polls in a majority of the states. In its quest to regroup and assert some influence for the future, the party had also hoped to win key states like Lagos, Kano, Rivers and others crucial to its survival. While it won in Rivers, it again lost in Lagos – a feat it has been unable to achieve in 16 years. With the loss of Lagos, the future of the party may be in a serious jeopardy.

The pedigree of Lagos would have been critical to the PDP’s funding and survival. The argument for a Lagos in the hands of the PDP is supported in the way the state had been crucial to the survival of the opposition. As an opposition stronghold, Lagos without doubt has been the centre of opposition politics which provided the lifeline needed for sustaining other opposition-controlled states at the time a former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, held sway in the state. During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s years at the saddle, he had unsuccessfully wielded the federal might to wrest control of Lagos from the Alliance for Democracy. Had the former president been successful, that would have signalled the end of opposition politics. The victory of the APC was made possible because the opposition held on to the state. The PDP may have been a formidable party yet it never won Lagos. For the first time in the Fourth Republic, an opposition party is in control both at the centre and in an important state like Lagos. This new configuration may make life difficult for the PDP as it seeks to rebuild from the ashes of a most devastating electoral defeat.

In the last few weeks since the PDP’s defeat, the party has been searching for answers. There have been a lot of excuses and blame. Interestingly, many within the party circles have been bold enough to look inwards. Strangely, President Jonathan, who is the major victim of the party’s defeat, appears to still be in denial about why his party lost woefully. Speaking recently, Jonathan questioned Buhari’s victory and attributed his loss to rigging by the rival party. Conversely, some elements within his party have blamed his aides while the party chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, is being forced to resign for his alleged role in the party’s loss. While I think the President missed the point, the truth is that the PDP’s defeat was long in coming.

In the 16 years that the party has held sway, its unassailable success at every election has become its albatross. At a time, just by being a candidate of the PDP made one electable. Then, internal democracy was jettisoned. Party chairmen were changed at will. Imposition of candidates was rife as the party’s flag was presented to the highest bidder. The crisis in the party which began under Obasanjo blew out in the open under Jonathan. The PDP Governors’ Forum crisis split its ranks into two warring camps. The ensuing crisis led to the implosion at its convention in 2013 when some influential members and governors walked out to form the “New PDP” which later merged with the APC.

Now that the dominance of the party has been halted, it will be interesting to see how it will rise from the ruins of defeat to snatch victory in future elections. Unless something dramatic and drastic happens, I do not see how the APC will relinquish power after 16 years in the shadows. With the despondency that greeted its loss at the polls, it may take a while for the PDP to recover. How it re-organises in the coming years to provide the needed opposition will determine the future of this democracy.

In an animated discussion with friends after the PDP’s defeat, I had posited that the party needs to reform itself from within. It needs credible party stalwarts to bring back and reconcile disgruntled members who left the party in anger. For many years, the tendency for a few influential members, especially overbearing governors under President Jonathan, who lorded it over others, killed the camaraderie and bred disgruntled elements within its fold.

For example, I consider the emergence of the PDP Governors’ Forum as one of the factors that led to the near death of the party. A situation where a few governors, especially under Jonathan, considered themselves sacred cows alienated other members. While some left, others stayed and worked against its success. To be candid, the role of governors like the boisterous Godswill Akpabio and a retinue of president’s aides polarised the party.

As Nigeria consolidates its democracy, it has become imperative that a vibrant multi-party system is crucial to its survival. That is why a party like the PDP must reform and provide the much needed opposition. It will be interesting to see how the party responds to its new role as an opposition party.

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