After suffering factionalisation and defections to the opposition All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party is now fighting back with some of its leaders, including President Goodluck Jonathan, going round the country to persuade stakeholders to return and to welcome back defectors to the fold
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb. 24, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE race to 2015 general elections is gathering momentum. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, are now doing everything possible to get the electorate to their sides. But having boasted that it would be in power for 60 years, it appears the PDP is coming to realise that its tall ambition may be a farce after all. First, the party has been battling with internal crisis, which has led to defections of some its members to the APC. Second, the emergence of the APC itself as a strong opposition party seems, to be a real threat to the ruling party as the new party seems to be enjoying support across the country. Third, the APC is also proving to be a formidable opposition by keeping the PDP on its toes by criticising every bit of government’s anti-people policy, which was not the case in the past. All these seem to have made the PDP embattled on many fronts as warning signals continue to sound that it may perform below par in the coming elections.
But the party is not willing to accept it as fait accompli. Since his appointment as the national chairman of the PDP in January this year, Adamu Mu’azu, former governor of Bauchi State, seems to have brought relative peace to the party. Indeed, there has been no more report of inflammatory remarks from the party leadership or report of conflicts in the party. Instead, Mu’azu has been holding out the olive branch to aggrieved members and appealing to them to return to the fold. The national chairman has also been going round the country, quietly talking to the party stakeholders.
Perhaps, to further cement the gains made by the party leadership as well as instil confidence in his government, President Goodluck Jonathan apparently succumbed to pressures when he announced the sack of four ministers from his cabinet on Wednesday, February 12 barely 48 hours after the resignation of Mike Oghiadomhe, his chief of staff. The affected ministers were: Stella Oduah, minister of aviation; Godsday Orubebe, minister of Niger-Delta affairs; Caleb Olubolade, a retired captain and Police affairs minister and Yerima Ngama, minister of state for finance. The president’s action was said to have been influenced by many reasons including his 2015 re-election ambition. Besides, two of the ministers were said to have been portraying the Jonathan administration as corrupt. For instance, Oduah had caused public outcry after a scandalous purchase of two bullet-proof cars for N255 million became public knowledge. Her case became complicated by her alleged unilateral removal of the desk of the State Security Service, SSS, from airports. This was said to have angered the president who felt that she had arrogated to herself the powers of the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.
Similarly, Orubebe was said have angered the president with the way he had been handling the ministry. The former minister was said to have failed to convince the president on how he spent the billions of naira appropriated and released to his ministry for a number of projects, especially the East-West road, a major artery linking the states in the West to the East and the South–South. Orubebe had promised to deliver the road before the end of this year, but observers said, from the pace of work in the past one year, it was an impossible task to accomplish. This was said to have angered the president. The Jonathan government had wanted to use the East-West road project to woo the people of the Niger Delta and some parts of the South East to support his re-election bid. Besides, the former minister was said to have been having a cold war with Edwin Clark, President Jonathan’s political godfather.
Apart from that, some PDP members also accused Orubebe of putting more energy and commitment to his gubernatorial ambition in Delta State than his ministerial assignments. Olubolade is another person with a gubernatorial ambition. His sack shocked many people because of his closeness to the president, but the president’s decision was said to have been supported by the PDP hierarchy because of Olubolade’s ambition to contest the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. As for Ngama, he was said to have been sacrificed for political exigencies. According to sources, the president had to sacrifice him because of his recent association with Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, a former chief security officer to late General Sani Abacha, former head of state. The president, it is believed, would want to win Yobe State with Al-Mustapha serving as the arrowhead in the state.
To fully get the PDP campaign underway, the president was also said to have told the remaining ministers that they should be ready for more shake-ups. Sources said the president was only interested in those who would help him to further his ambition and not those who would become a political liability to his administration.
Little wonder that the president is leading the assault PDP’s survival strategy aimed at regaining the party’s popularity in the build-up to the 2015 elections. On Saturday, February 8, President Jonathan personally led the party’s delegation to Sokoto State to formally welcome Attahiru Bafarawa, a former governor of the state, who defected from the APC to the PDP. Speaking at the grand reception organised for him, Bafarawa assured Jonathan of his support if he decides to contest in the 2015 presidential election. The former governor said his defection to the PDP was based on the popular decision and instruction of his supporters and that the people were solidly behind a Jonathan-led government, even in the wake of criticism. “Mr. President, I don’t want to tell you much story but as far as Sokoto is concerned, you can go and sleep. We have been winning elections but it is unfortunate that we were rigged out. Today, the PDP is back and strong. Mr. President, forget about those who betrayed you – you were not the first victim, I was the first. Anybody who is today in the National Assembly from Sokoto State rode on my political goodwill to his present position,” he said. Bafarawa said he decided to join the party without a single serving Councillor or elected member but with supporters who would deliver the state to the PDP in 2015. In return, President Jonathan commended the people in the state for their support and love for his administration. He urged them to embrace the PDP as the only true party that would not discriminate among Nigerians. “Today, PDP is the symbol of democracy in Nigeria. That is why all Nigerians including those who are in partisan politics believe in PDP. It is the party that has never changed like other political parties. They are still in metamorphosis, but PDP is stable,” he said. Jonathan said the visit was not for political campaign but to reassure PDP followers that the party was still united and formidable.
The president’s visit to Sokoto State has been regarded as one of the strategies to lessen the effect of defection by Governor Aliyu Wamakko of the state to the APC. But Muktari Shagari, deputy governor, has refused to follow his principal to the rival party, thereby making Sokoto as the only state in Nigeria that is currently being administered by a leadership operating on different political platforms. Earlier in his remarks, Shagari urged the president to vie for the 2015 presidential election, adding that the people of Sokoto would want him to continue the good work he had done in the state. “Sokoto is a home to President Jonathan. It is the state that believes every Nigerian has the right to aspire to any political position regardless of his region and religious background,” Shagari said.
He also enumerated projects done in Sokoto State under the Jonathan administration, including the N1 billion given out as relief funds to flood victims, the establishment of Almajiri Model School and construction of the Sokoto-Kontagora road, among others.
The event was attended by top government officials and members of the National Working Committee of the PDP. Among those at the event were Namadi Sambo, vice-president; David Mark, Senate president, governors Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Ibrahim Shehu Shema (Katsina), Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and former governors Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano), Abdul Kadir Kure (Niger) and Mahmuda Shinkafi (Zamfara).
Others were Mu’azu and Kema Chikwe, a former minister of aviation.
According to the party hierarchy, the next port of call for the party ‘s road show would be Kano State, where Shekarau would be formally welcomed to the PDP. Shekarau, a founding member of the APC, defected to the PDP last month. Hassan Kafayos, chairman, Caretaker Committee of the PDP in Kano State, said the party was set for a grand reception for Shekarau and others who recently defected to the party. Kafayos said Shekarau was a household name in the current political dispensation in the country, and that he was a politician who traversed the vast region of opposition until he saw the guiding light that showed him that the right party he should belong is the PDP. Addressing members at the party’s secretariat in Kano on Wednesday, February 13, Kafayos noted that the defection of Shekarau to the PDP would not only strengthen the party in the state but also at the national level.
Gambo Sallau, former speaker of state assembly, who declined to follow Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso to the APC, in his speech, enjoined the new party members to be honest assuring that they would enjoy their stay in PDP. Farouk Iya Sambo, a former state PDP chairman during Kwankwaso’s 2011 campaign and former commissioner for education, who recently resigned instead of defecting to the APC, is one of those to be formally welcomed to the party.
But ahead of the planned reception, the former governor has been campaigning for the PDP. After he had met with Sambo at the Presidential Villa on Thursday, February 6, Shekarau said that he would campaign for Jonathan to be re-elected Nigeria’s president if picked by the PDP as its presidential candidate. “I am prepared to campaign for the PDP. And whoever turns out to be the candidate of the PDP at any level is my candidate… I have never subscribed to the argument of localising the Presidency to a particular region. If you had followed my arguments and my presentations or debates in the presidential election, I said so. My concern is what do we do to get the right leadership regardless of where it is coming from?” The former governor assured that the PDP would remain strong in Kano despite the defection of the incumbent governor to the APC. “His (Kwakwanso’s) defection cannot kill the PDP. Those current with situation on the ground knew that the governor of Kano had long before now, been out of the PDP. What he is running is Kwankwasiya, a cultism kind of a group,” he said, adding: “PDP has always been there, so what we are doing is that we are now joining the PDP and his group has gone into the APC. We shall see whether we are the ones on ground or the Kwankwasiya APC.” Since Shekarau joined the PDP, reports said no fewer than 15,000 former supporters had followed him to the party.
While the PDP was still savouring the defection of the two former governors, another former governor from Imo State has joined the party’s train. The news about the defection of Chike Udenwa, former governor, Chris Anyanwu, a serving senator and Mike Ahamba, SAN, and lawyer to General Muhammadu Buhari, an APC leader, was announced on Thursday, February 13. President Jonathan is to lead the leadership of the PDP to receive the defectors in Owerri, the state capital on Friday, February 21. Longers Anyanwu, chairman, Imo State Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, who is also the chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the rally where the defectors would be received, disclosed this to journalists in Abuja on Thursday. Apart from the notable personalities, he said ,there were about 10,000 other indigenes of the state who, he said, were going to leave the APC to join the PDP. Anyanwu said the rally and the visit of the president would provide an opportunity for him to showcase the achievements of SURE-P in the state. Anyanwu said: “Also, the 3,500 SURE-P beneficiaries who have embarked on a massive clean-up of Owerri city and other metropolitan cities of the state, will be paraded to welcome the president and his encourage. Also on hand to welcome President Goodluck Jonathan are the collaborating 650 Presidents of Town Unions in Imo state who have acclaimed SURE–P as the initiative to reduce crime by creating employment..”
Anyanwu said: “This is to show the world that the PDP in the state has been repositioned and all the founding fathers and members who left the party are gradually coming back. Udenwa was a former governor of the state, but later defected to the APC, while Senator Chris Anyanwu was first elected a senator on the platform of the PDP, but later defected to APGA, but all of them will on February 21, formally return to the PDP.
If SURE-P has secured the PDP followership in Imo State, it has not been clear as to what prompted the boost in the House of Representatives when the party’s former members who defected to the APC in the House returned to its fold on Tuesday, February 11. The party reclaimed the majority leadership of the House following the defection of five legislators from the APC. The APC had claimed the majority in December last year after the defection of 37 PDP members into its fold, giving it a total of 172 legislators. With the latest development, however, the membership of the APC has dropped to 168 while that of the PDP increased to 178 . The defection of another member of the PDP to the APC also on Tuesday has not in any way changed the situation.
Apparently irked by the new turn of events against it, the APC leadership has accused the PDP of offering large sums of money to legislators to stave off more defections to the opposition party. According to the allegation, the financial inducements were between $20,000 and N150 million depending on the calibre of the targeted politician.
Apart from money, the legislators, who were mostly from the north, were also said to have been offered governorship tickets, automatic tickets for re-election into the National Assembly, input into the emergence of PDP executives at the ward, local government, constituency/senatorial district – as may be applicable, among others.
The PDP has since denied the alleged inducements. Olisa Metuh, publicity secretary of the party, said on Thursday, February 13, that it must have been a figment of the APC’s imagination. But Lai Mohammed, his APC counterpart, has insisted that money has been changing hands to facilitate the defection. “We shall produce evidence at the appropriate time,” Mohammed said in an interview.
According to sources close to the Presidency, one of the measures being put in place to get support for the party from the South-West is by allocating the position of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria or the comptroller-general of the Nigeria Customs Service, to the zone. Proponents of the idea argue that it would go a long way in countering the allegation of marginalisation being levelled against the Jonathan administration by the people of the zone. The party hierarchy said that it knew that the president’s victory in the 2011 presidential election was based on his popularity, but with the alignment of forces against the PDP in the South-West, the party would need to work very hard.
Despite its gains in some states, the party may also need to work very hard in Kwara State where the battle between the PDP and the APC seems to have narrowed down to family squabble. It is common knowledge in Kwara State both Bukola Saraki, former state governor, and Gbemisola Saraki, a former senator, don’t see eye-to-eye in political matters. They split during the last election when Bukola insisted that the sister would not succeed him as the state governor. Gbemisola, who later contested the governorship race on the platform of the Alliance Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, in 2011, returned to the PDP recently and has since been the arrow-head of the party in the state. Speaking at a rally recently, she assured that the PDP, more than before, had a greater chance of winning the next election, because, according to her, the current state of things have not made indigenes of the state happy. She promised that the APC would be taught a bitter political lesson by the PDP in 2015. “I am particularly worried by the level of despair among the youths. We are playing with our future if we cannot create conducive avenues for the youths to positively deploy their creativity, passion and energy,” she said. According to her, the situation has become so bad that many people have abandoned the trades they spent years to learn while Okada and Keke Napep provide the people daily source of income.
Apart from winning back defectors, the PDP has succeeded in splitting the rank of elders in the north. Tanko Yakassai, former National Assembly adviser to former President Shehu Shagari and now leader of the Northern Elders Council, NEC, has recently dismissed insinuations that the group was being bankrolled by the Presidency to be able to canvass for support of the north ahead of the 2015 elections. Yakassai insisted that members of the NEC were working for the interest of Nigeria and not that of any individual or group. The elder statesman said that he was too big to be used by anybody to advance a selfish political interest and described those making the allegations as enemies of progress and unity of Nigeria. “I don’t belong to any political party in Nigeria and don’t hold any membership card. That is to show you that I left partisan politics more than 12 years ago. What I am doing now is to achieve peace in Nigeria because we are concerned about the threat to the corporate existence of the country. If we allow a few reckless but vociferous elements to cause trouble in the land, it is the ordinary Nigerians, who would be the worst hit. Why should we keep quiet and allow a few troublemakers to cause havoc for the majority? he asked.
But the PDP also has some sworn-enemies who have refused to accept its appeals for reconciliation. Prominent among them are former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar, his former vice-president. Apart from writing to ask President Jonathan to honour his promise not to contest the 2015 presidential election, he has also severed his relationship with the party until all matters relating to his grievances are settled. Although Mu’azu visited him in his home in Abeokuta, Ogun State in January, it appears the matter has not been resolved. Bloomberg, a news media in London, capital of the United Kingdom, quoted Obasanjo on Tuesday, February 11, as saying that he was against President Jonathan because he only promised to spend one term in office. “President Jonathan said, not only once, twice, publicly, not only inside Nigeria, outside Nigeria, that he would have one term, and said that to me. One of the things that is very important in the life of any man or any person is that he will be a man or a person of his word. If you decide your word should not be taken seriously, that’s entirely up to you,” Obasanjo said. The interview was said to have caused some stirs in the PDP camp, especially in the Presidency, but the latter was said to have decided not to honour the former president with a reply. But there has been speculation that Obsanjo could be working with a group of people to scuttle Jonathan’s second term bid, which seems to be apparent, but yet to be announced.
On the other hand, Metuh reacted to the criticism of the party by Abubakar on Monday, February 10. The PDP spokesman called on the opposition parties to proffer solutions and alternatives rather than constantly condemning the ruling party’s policies and programmes. “While we concede to the inalienable rights of individuals to associate with any political party of their choice, we advise that they should proffer solutions and alternatives rather than engage in constant condemnation,” Metuh said in a statement. Metuh also said that while the PDP recognised the right of citizens to hold opinions and identify with their choice of political platforms, it found it difficult to understand the bitterness against it by some members of the opposition. He said that such bitterness became more worrisome when former PDP members spoke negatively against the party they had greatly benefited from. He wished Abubakar and other PDP members, who recently defected to the opposition well and prayed that they would find it in their hearts to accord the PDP due recognition someday.
Abubakar had said in an interview that the removal of Bamanga Tukur and the appointment of Mu’azu as the PDP national chairman would not resolve the crisis in the ruling party. “The problems of the PDP are now national problems, beyond the capacity of one man. I tried as an individual to tackle it from within the fold, it did not work. I am not ashamed to tell you that. My APC idea is to stop the PDP from continuing to be Nigeria’s problem,” Abubakar said.
Be that as it may, the PDP appears to doing everything possible to stay in power but whether the Nigerian voters are convinced that it is the party that can improve their lot is another matter. As for now, the race seems to be getting more competitive as both the ruling party and the APC are engaged in a battle of wits. Only the fitter will survive.