John Alechenu takes a look at some of the issues responsible for the existential threat to Nigeria’s two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party and attempts being made to contain the critical issues.
Exhausted after several failed attempts to defeat the behemoth which the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party had become after 14 years at the helm of affairs in Nigeria, three leading opposition parties namely the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and aggrieved members of the PDP came together to form the All Progressives Congress in February 2013.
Foremost leading opposition figures especially Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), coming together to wrestle power from the PDP was an idea whose time had come. While they were putting heads together, the scramble for power among leading figures in the then ruling PDP was nearing its peak.
A power rotation agreement reached among PDP power brokers during its formative years was on tenterhooks. The unwritten agreement to rotate power between northern and southern Nigeria which began with a southerner, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, who ruled for two terms of four years each, saw him handing over to Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner in 2007.
Yar ’Adua’s sudden death barely after two years in office set off a chain of events which eventually led to the PDP suffering its first major defeat in 16 years, the opposition pulling off an unprecedented win over a ruling party in Nigeria.
A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Abdullahi Jalo, succulently captured the situation.
He said, “There was a time in this country that all you needed to do was to fight for the PDP ticket. Once you get it, the party would do the rest. Power got into the heads of a few leaders who then decided to play God.
“Internal democracy became the first casualty because a few individuals sat and decided who got the ticket and who didn’t. Popular candidates who were not sponsored by power brokers were dumped for unpopular candidates who were handpicked by some party leaders. Of course, Nigerians took notice. Then came the bigger issue of zoning and rotation.”
Perhaps the PDP’s greatest undoing was the breach of its unwritten power rotation code. A former Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, let the cat out of the bag when he announced to the world that the then President Goodluck Jonathan agreed to complete Yar Adua’s remaining two years and contest only the 2011 presidential election and hand over to a northern candidate in 2015.
Jonathan denied the existence of such an agreement and he challenged those claiming otherwise, to produce documents to support their claim.
This angered most northerners within and outside the party who felt it was the turn of the north to rule. Four governors and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as well as several others formed the new PDP and joined the ranks of the APC.
A combination of factors including Jonathan’s failure to curb rising insecurity and several policy slips -including an unpopular fuel price hike, sealed his fate in the run up to the 2015 elections.
With Jonathan out of the way, the sharing of the spoils of the victory almost became APC’s albatross.
The party proved incapable of managing its success, a power struggle ensued. The new PDP bloc led by the then Senator Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar and Yakubu Dogara came together to defeat the preferred candidates for the position of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The battle line was drawn. The Tinubu-led ACN bloc felt the then National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, was not decisive enough to deal with the rebellion in the National Assembly, so they hounded him out of office. He was succeeded by a fellow former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole. Under his rule, the party degenerated into chaos. At some point, three persons laid claim to the chairmanship position when a court granted an order restraining Oshiomhole from parading himself as national chairman.
With the party failing to inaugurate its Board of Trustees because of infighting, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), stepped in.
He presided over a National Executive Committee meeting where the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee was sacked and, in its place, the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee was set up.
It was given the mandate to reconcile aggrieved members and organise a national convention within six months, it spent six months and got the nod for another six months, still no convention.
To its credit, the Buni committee attracted three serving governors from the PDP and several other politicians into its fold. However, a Supreme Court judgment in the Ondo State governorship election which two former National Legal Advisers of the party argued called to question the legitimacy of the Buni committee has set the party on edge. Muiz Banire (SAN) and Babatunde Ogala (SAN), both former national legal advisers to the party, cautioned against the party going ahead with its planned activities with Buni at the helm of affairs because they argued that based on the judgment, it was unconstitutional for Buni, a serving governor to perform the functions of the party’s National Chairman. However, other senior members of the party, Niyi Akinjide (SAN) and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), both disagreed arguing that there was nowhere in the judgment where the Buni committee was declared illegal.
An Abuja-based lawyer and former National Secretary of the Labour Party, Kayode Ajulo while commenting on the issue, said “The APC is working on a tight rope. It will be walking into a booby trap if it continues to act as if the Supreme Court judgment on this issue doesn’t matter.”
The Secretary of the CENCPC, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, told The PUNCH, “All these grumblings you are hearing about our party are all part of the 2023 general elections. There are people who out of fear of losing want to cause trouble but we as a responsible party have assured all our members that we will be fair to all.
“If you are popular, go home and help build the party from the grassroots, when the time comes, we will provide a level playing field for everyone.”
Several aggrieved party members have since filed suits challenging the legality of congresses conducted by the party under Buni’s watch. The outcome of these legal tussles will likely have an effect on the party’s fortunes going forward.
The situation is not any different in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party where party leaders are at one another’s throats over the control of its structures. Only on Tuesday, the PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus survived what many analysts described as his biggest political battle yet since assuming office over three years ago. His former political ally turned foe, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike who is said to be nursing a 2023 political ambition, wants him out.
Party insiders note that Wike and his loyalists are of the view that should Secondus get a second term as national chairman, their ambitions would suffer great harm. The loss of three serving governors, several Senators and members of the House of Representatives under the watch of Secondus hasn’t helped matters.
After a series of meetings and intense lobbying, party leaders at the highest levels decided to save the Secondus and by extension the party from avoidable chaos by working towards a smooth transition.
One of the promoters of the National Consultative Front, a new political movement, Olawale Okuniyi, is of the view that both parties have failed to live up to expectations as such, it was time for a third force to give Nigerians a better alternative in 2023.
He said, “Both the APC and the PDP have within the last 22 years shown an unbelievable lack of capacity and unwillingness to respond to our socio-economic and political challenges. We have what we need as a nation to succeed but the worst of us more often than not make it to the top, this is why the NCfront has brought together patriotic Nigerians to provide a credible alternative to the rot which the APC and the PDP have come to represent.”
A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, noted that it was possible for a third force to make an impact in 2023.
He, however, said “While it is possible, it is highly unlikely. The APC is trying hard to reinvent itself as a party to beat, anchoring its strength on the political structures of the old north while distancing itself from the political influence of the Southern political war horse, Ahmed Tinubu.
“If it succeeds, all kinds of political alliances will be formed. If it fails it would be reduced to its Congress for Progressives Change core and become irrelevant.
“The PDP on the other hand has wasted so many opportunities to bounce back into reckoning. The squabble over the mundane has dealt the party a huge blow. It is only hoped that it can dust itself up and play the kind of opposition politics that will help it warm its way back into the hearts of Nigerians.”
Will either of the parties make necessary adjustments before 2023 or will Nigerians be forced to seek for alternatives only time shall tell.