By Tonnie Iredia
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has served as Nigeria’s main opposition party since she lost the 2015 presidential election. Before then, the party had formed the federal government of the country for 16 years from 1999-2015.
Against the backdrop of the failure of the current ruling party, the All Progressives Congress APC to meet the expectations of some Nigerians, there were hopes that the PDP might return to power.
But only last week, one of her activists in my neighbourhood expressed pain that his party was no longer her vivacious self. In his words, ‘PDP has been on auto pilot mode’ in the last six months.
No one should misunderstand my friend; he was not referring to the autopilot system that is used to control the path of an aircraft without a human operator.
He was only trying to describe a phenomenon that functions without thinking about what it is doing or without making a conscious effort to act. The rest of our discussions forms the content of this article.
Apart from across-the-nation sentiments about seasonal rotation of political positions, PDP is probably the only party that specifically provides for zoning in her constitution.
Surprisingly, when some of the leaders saw the need to break the provision, they took no step to appropriately amend that aspect of the constitution. Rather they went ahead to throw the presidential election open whereas it was specifically zoned for the 2019 contest.
Of course, clumsy arguments such as calculating the duration of certain office-holders or that zoning was not cast in iron are not viable defences to constitutional breaches.
As a way out, the party purported to have set up a zoning committee as if that was a necessary procedure for rotation. In addition, it was clear that the unwieldy committee could never have done justice to the subject.
At the end of the day, the same area to which it was zoned four years earlier was formally given a chance to participate in the 2023 contest thereby hurting some feelings.
As if working to the answer, a decision on zoning was not made until after many aspirants from different zones had been allowed to pay huge sums to procure nomination forms. Everyone knew that the party had gone beyond a level where she could stop persons who already had nomination forms.
Unfortunately, rather than calm frayed nerves, the PDP moved on to the next stage with some injuries that became exacerbated by the election of an aspirant not from the South as canvassed by the majority of PDP governors but from the North.
The hopes of those who thought the candidate that emerged would take steps to unite the party, were dashed as the naming of the running mate which was expected to be done by the candidate was again subjected to two unnecessary committees.
The one that was to advise the candidate having found an opportunity to function like 2022 party delegates poorly handled it by making their choice known to the world at large.
The second committee which was reportedly set up to screen less than 5 PDP governors who are well-known to themselves and to the candidate was patently unnecessary.
All it achieved was to make the energetic Nyesom Wike and his supporters to feel humiliated thereby increasing the number of aggrieved party members.
It would have been a win-win situation if the candidate had personally handled the subject, by making his choice to the understanding of others.
The entire story depicts a new Atiku quite different from the master-strategist I knew as Vice President in the Obasanjo administration. One can only hope that some praise singers and hangers-on have not cornered him.
Whatever the situation, he needs to quickly take control from the autopilot and stop all those who have a private agenda.
Candidate Atiku should not allow a repeat of the type of intervention by former Niger state governor Babangida Aliyu which virtually complicated negotiations and unity in the party.
As one can see now, such careless talks have widened the gap and turned government house Port Harcourt into Nigeria’s political Mecca that is now open to all politicians who are anxious to woo a hitherto inviolable party man.
Any person who canvasses the idea that Wike is dispensable is working for Atiku’s opponents. The same is true of the argument that the man is ungovernable.
He was Chief of Staff to a former governor to whom he showed no insubordination, he was Minister of state for Education without fighting the main Minister.
He was later mandated to take control of the same Ministry and never gave the president cause for regret.
The aggressiveness portrayed by him as governor merely underscores his capacity to fit into every new role.
The issues that some party members are using to challenge PDP’s cohesion exceed the candidature of the president and his vice.
A good example of poor handling of party matters is easily seen in how the party performed at the recent Ekiti governorship election.
PDP had no business allowing a contentious primary election that drove away Chief Segun Oni to another party while front-runners like Senator Biodun Olujimi who stayed back were pushed into the fringes of the party with suppressed anger.
The case of Oni was particularly unwise because he had become a sought-for political aspirant in the state. A special report by some analysts had indeed revealed that Oni was more the candidate to beat.
This has been confirmed by the fact that he left the PDP to a less-known Social Democratic Party SDP, yet garnered more votes at the election than the PDP candidate.
To make matters worse, the national body of the PDP virtually abandoned their candidate during the election.
The usual presentation of flag to the party’s candidate was not done just as the practice of a mega rally a few days before the election to boost the chances of the party and invigorate her members did not also happen.
There was an unconfirmed rumour during the election that a grant from the party headquarters to the state branch was not delivered in full making state party executives to return the money.
Even if the only interest of the PDP is next year’s presidential election, it is obvious that the party’s candidate can only do well in Ekiti if the state branch is viable. PDP’s lukewarm posture seems to confirm the charge that she is on autopilot mode.
This becomes more obvious when it is realized that APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu that the PDP mocks as weak put up a strong showing along with governors of the party from different states who added ample elegance to the mega rally of the eventual winner of the election.
It is obvious that all is not well with the PDP.
For example, some members from the Southern zones may work against the interest of the party if the North schemes to hold-on to both the presidential candidate and national party chairmanship positions.
Already some leaders in the South are waiting anxiously for Iyorcha Ayu to step down as he once promised now that the North has produced the presidential candidate. This has to be resolved without delay if the PDP wants a united national party.
It makes very little sense to continue to argue that such primordial issues are no longer relevant in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity like Nigeria where now and again, centrifugal forces keep stretching the nation to breaking point.
Atiku Abubakar must rise up now to save his party if he intends to successfully wrestle power from the incumbent APC.
On the basis of first things first, he has to remove his party from autopilot mode and take control of fence-mending to create a formidable team by stopping pockets of crises.
For instance, although the government of Edo state was formed by the PDP in 2020, the party has since remained an atomistic entity that is permanently at war with itself.
But if however, the PDP is complacent. about taking over government at the federal level in 2023 she should endeavour to at least help deepen Nigeria’s democracy by remaining a daunting opposition that can put the ruling party on its feet.