Published On: Sun, Jul 29th, 2018

2019 Firefight: PDP plots for the top job

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Since bounding back from its protracted internal crisis after its defeat in the 2015 elections, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has not hidden its intention to upstage the ruling party and return to power. Most Nigerians had doubted such possibility soon after losing power but All Progressives Congress, APC seems to have lost all sense of direction and purpose.

Uche Secondus, PDP Chairman

Its incompetence, nepotism and dictatorial inclination make Nigerians nostalgic of the PDP and poised to give the APC the PDP treatment. Also its internal contradictions which stalled its national convention for almost three years became the albatross and millstone that may have eventually drowned it. After its june congresses the APC simply imploded.

But the PDP has also done its home work. As the ruling party for 16 years, PDP remain the main party in the country because of its solid machinery and experience in party politics. It lose in 2015 was its own making; with another candidate it could have swept everything. The PDP had stoked the fire in the APC by opening the door to their disgruntled and disaffected members.

In fact PDP owes its current fortunes to the political sagacity and foresight of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki who maintained a bridge head in his old party although an APC stalwart. By aligning with the PDP to gain ascendancy in the senate, he was assuring his political future and that of the PDP. It was a master stroke.

Suddenly what APC and most informed observers had feared had come upon the party, and it appears the end is near. Last week, Nigeria witnessed monumental shift in its political equation. The simmering crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) finally came to a head and the outcome is what has been anticipated for weeks: a wave of defections from the party to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

No doubt, PDP has become the beautiful bride going into 2019, but the million dollar question remains: can the party be able to accommodate divergent interests of its new entrants and present a formidable force ahead of the all important polls in 2019?

Before Friday’s dusk brought an end to what could very well be the most eventful week in recent political history, the APC had lost two of its governors: the Sokoto governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Samuel Ortom of Benue, both of whom defected with the entire paraphernalia of government in their respective states, including, as was the case in Benue, all the local government chairmen. And Kwara state governor, Abdulfatai Ahmed, may soon join he bandwagon.

Senate President Bukola Saraki

Yet their defections had come on the heels of earlier exodus of 15 APC senators and 37 members of the House Representatives to the PDP, in a move that saw the party lose its majority status at the upper legislative chamber. And it will definitely get much worse for the ruling party.

Both the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and a number of other senators as well as governors, particularly Kwara governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, are only marking time in the party. They would, from all indications, announce their own defections in the coming days.

Compelled by the urgency of the situation in the aftermath of the senators’s defection on Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari hosted the remaining APC senators on solidarity visit at the presidential villa, but the meeting, according to sources achieved little like the others before it.

“Some of the senators who went to see the president on Wednesday are planning their own defections,” an R-APC source noted. “The meeting doesn’t change anything. They will defect, that I can assure you.”

The APC is shaking from its very foundations. Apart from having to contend with the wave of defections, the party is also battling internal contradictions. The tough-talking National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has since taking office, succeeded in creating more problems than he has been able to solve.

He is at loggerheads with the president’s ministers, particularly the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige whom he had threatened to expel from the party over his failure to constitute the board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

The chairman had threatened that, “If the minister refuses we will suspend him from the party. You know we must return to internal discipline.

“For me it is the height of mischief for any minister, you cannot purport to be honourable minister and you act dishonourably and nobody is greater than the party.

“And if the President condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party. And when we expel the minister we will prevail on the president that he can’t keep in his cabinet people who have neither respect for his own decisions nor have respect for the party.”

His comments did not go down well with either the president or his cabinet. But the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has typically dismissed the suggestion of such as fake news.

In Lagos, the decision of the state’s three senators to reject Buhari’s appointment of the APC National Legal Adviser, Muiz Banire as head of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) is symptomatic of the deep divisions within the party in the state.

In most other states, the story is similar and is, in fact, what is partly fuelling the defections. The APC is a party in disarray, and the mass disaffection with the Buhari government has only helped to compound its case. The party’s promise of change has gone awry.

Atiku

On the ascendancy, the PDP has ample opportunity of cashing in on the failings of the APC to return to power. But a lot will depend on how it would manage to accommodate the divergent interests within it and work in unison ahead of the 2019 polls.

Already, cracks are emerging. The Adamawa State born former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar remains thus far, the front line contender for the party’s presidential ticket. But former Kano governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a political top notch in his own right who was part of the APC senators to defect to the PDP last week, also has his eyes on the ticket.

Kwankwaso is insisting that the party’s flag bearer must come from one of the three K-states of the North West: Kaduna, Kano or Kastina if it wants to win in 2019 – which indeed, is another way of saying that he should be the candidate if the party wants to win. This position automatically disqualifies Atiku who is from the North East and may therefore not stand.

Yet, both are not the only ones. Original members of the party such as Gombe State governor, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo; former Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi and former Jigawa governor, Sule Lamido are equally in contention.

A PDP source told BusinessHallmark that there is already a disagreement between the new entrants and the original members of the party over the choice of presidential candidate, with those who never left to join the APC insisting on producing presidential candidate.

Moreover the new crowd from APC is coming with promises of automatic tickets for them in PDP and this may upturn the apple-cart and may start a reverse defection and exodus from the PDP to APC as short-changed party members seek platforms to realize their ambitions..

President Buhari

“Those who never left the party are arguing that one of them be elected candidate for presidency as reward for their loyalty,” the source said. “But the others are dismissing the argument.

“Part of the conditions Kwankwaso gave before returning to the party is that the presidential candidate must come from his side. That will of course, not be acceptable to Atiku and others.”

Mr. Taofic Gani, the Lagos Publicity Secretary of the party admits that such disagreement has already started and that the party may have a hard time managing same, but expressed confidence that at the end of the day, the urgent need to remove President Buhari and save the country from “this cankerworm” would bring everyone to an agreement.

“The ambitions are certainly going to clash. Yes, as a matter of fact, it is already clashing,” he said. “But the common enemy now is Buhari. So, I see a situation where the need for us to remove this cankerworm would compel everyone to bury personal ambitions and work together.”

The spokesperson cautioned that it’s not time yet for the PDP to celebrate because according to him, things can still change.

“We are not going to celebrate yet because we still have long months to the elections and things can still change. There may still be further alignments.

“But I think what is essential, and is the common denominator, is that this country is failing. I don’t want to be too critical to say that the country has failed under this APC, and particularly by the leadership of President Buhari.

“The key thing for everybody is that we must make sure that Buhari does not return. As a matter of fact, if the APC can toe the line of common sense and not play Buhari, they might even work for him to lose the election.

“But for a fact, I am telling you that he has already lost the election.

“For us in the PDP, we are going to do all we can to manage whatever will come out of their joining us because they are also coming with their own demand.”

Nonetheless, a chieftain of the party in Ebonyi State, Chief Abia Onyike insists that the concerns about clash of interests should not arise because what is taking place is a coalition.

Onyike who is a senatorial aspirant described the defections as a welcome development because according to him, such is what is needed to remove the incumbent.

“It’s a very positive development because to remove a dictator like Buhari you need a very cohesive opposition front, which is what they are doing. It’s a merger, a coalition of several political parties. And of course, it is coming on the heels of the division in his own political party,” he said.

“You need all the forces, including other popular democratic organisations within the society to be in alliance, so that you will have a popular democratic movement to push him out power.”

But the ruling party’s Chairman in Enugu South, Comrade Kevin Ezeoha believes that the party has nothing to worry about, as according to him, those who are leaving have no political structure on ground.

“We are not worried. These people that are defecting don’t have anything even in their place. They don’t have structure,” he said.

“The defectors from the National Assembly are people who rely on their governors to give them tickets, but because they know that nobody will give them ticket anymore, they are defecting, so we don’t have to worry about them.

Reminded however, of the prospect of the Senate President, Saraki who has a strong political base in Kwara defecting, he dismissed the lawmaker as a “confused man” who doesn’t know what he wants.

“Saraki is a confused man, he has been so since his emergence as the Senate President. Even now, can’t you see that he is a confused man who is still confused as to whether to dump APC for PDP or not. We are not worried.”

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