It was a revolt by a section of the hierarchy of the ruling political party with the hallmarks of a palace coup in a military regime spiced with slight modifications. The element of surprise quite all right, but no early morning broadcast nor secrecy.
When the zero hour came, it was in the glare of the public, comprising delegated members from all branches in Nigeria attending a supposed special national convention. How special indeed, so special to deflate the erstwhile seeming invincibility of those, in the leadership, who, all along had been within and outside the rules, calling the shots.
That was the shock that rocked the People’s Democratic Party, perhaps, to eventually fast-forward the regularly predicted parting of ways for the political incompatibles. It is two years to 2015 and the row over Goodluck Jonathan’s constitutional right to contest for second term is the bone of contention. As they go, at least, in Nigerian political history, civil wars within political parties are not necessarily strange. Indeed, the first recorded major crisis was in 1953 with the “Sit-tight ministers” episode in Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). This was followed in 1958 by the “Zik Must Go” challenge in the same party while Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group was disrupted with its own crisis in 1962.
From the beginning to the end, both Zik and Awo came forward as masters of their respective destiny, either by emerging tops or eventually surviving the adversary. It must of course be conceded that there is no basis for comparing the NCNC and Action Group to this PDP or raising Goodluck Jonathan to the leadership level of Zik and Awo who were natural and widely accepted leaders. For example, since the emergence of the new PDP, leaders of the old PDP have not only been left gasping for breath but also forced to be suing for peace, a sign of being dazed. Also, there has been no outpouring of support by the often-touted ordinary sympathizers of the party for President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP national chairman Bamanga Tukur or the party’s Board of Trustees Chairman, Anthony Anenih.
Instead, so damaged is the remnant PDP that even overtures made by the leaders for reconciliation are contemptuously shunned with conditions stipulated to be met. In 1953, when NCNC federal ministers defied party’s directive to resign in protest against the colonial government’s proposed constitution for Nigeria, they (the ministers) were openly supported by Professor Eyo Ita who was leader of Government Business in eastern region on the platform of NCNC. The party and floor members made Eyo Ita to face a “no confidence” motion (equivalent of impeachment) which he lost in eastern house of assembly. That ended Eyo Ita’s political career as he was defeated on the platform of his newly formed political party in the consequent general elections.
Nnamdi Azikiwe’s acquisition of powers to pick the party’s national officers after he might have been elected national president in 1957 reverberated a year later in the “Zik Must Go” challenge led by K.O. Mbadiwe. That was eve of pre-independence elections. Other party members supported Zik as they went to the country for the campaigns. Mbadiwe and his supporters failed to win a single seat on the platform of his newly formed party, Democratic Party of Nigeria and the Cameroon (DPNC) in the 1959 federal elections. Zik was at least lucky to be around on both occasions to fight off his challengers.
For Awolowo, the challenge to his leadership was more daunting. When he was leaving as premier of western region for federal house of representatives in 1959, the question of his successor in the west was one of the causes of the crisis in Action Group in 1962. As Awo himself later confirmed, he preferred Tony Enahoro who served under him as minister of information and home affairs. But once party members voted for Chief S.L. Akintola, that choice was accepted by Awolowo. Somehow, the recrimination and other issues like the correct direction for the Action Group on the national scene further separated Awo and Akintola, leading to declaration of emergency to ease the violence on the floor of western house of assembly in the failed bid to impeach Akintola as premier on the platform of Action Group.
Other events followed to handicap Awolowo, not the least of which was the treason trial. The subsequent imprisonment completely put him out of the way. But instead of losing the challenge to his leadership, ordinary masses, in unsolicited support, kept the fight going for him with violent protests all over western region for some four years until he was released by General Yakubu Gowon in August 1966. His challenger, Chief Akintola, at the end of six months emergency rule, was returned to office as premier of western region in January, 1963. SLA, as he was fondly acclaimed, formed a new political party, United People’s Party and instantly formed a coalition with the west opposition of NCNC led by Remi Fani-Kayode. That turned out to be a ruse to attract many of Awolowo’s supposed supporters to defect to Akintola’s party.
That done, Remi Fani-Kayode overnight, collapsed the NCNC and all the party’s members in western house of assembly (except one who stood on principle) into a single new party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), led by Chief Akintola. The only NCNC member who remained in opposition was Chief Richard Akinyemi (Idoani, Owo consituency). Chief Akintola remained premier, Remi Fani-Kayode was compensated with the newly-created post of deputy premier. The government survived till October 1965 when elections were held. The results were hotly challenged by voters who rioted until the army coup of January 15, 1966. Unfortunately, Chief Akintola was one of the civilian victims.
Today, Goodluck Jonathan is not in such strong position like Zik and Awo. Neither is the PDP, especially the old one, stripped of its weapon of state coercion, as strongly entrenched among the people as the defunct NCNC and Action Group. That should explain why, since the eruption of the PDP crisis, Goodluck Jonathan and all those around him have been on the defensive. Obasanjo, for example is suddenly a peacemaker, although suspected to be sympathetic to the New PDP. He must also have found Jonathan to be vulnerable in the present crisis. Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the preferred choice of Obasanjo for post of the party’s national secretary before he (Obasanjo) was rubbished by Jonathan in south west zone, is the national secretary of the new PDP. Obasanjo’s absence from the convention was also noticeable. Too much of a co-incidence!
The normally crafty Tony Anenih in crisis situations is today virtually conceding everything, if only he can be believed. Easily, he confirmed that some of the governors have genuine grievances. Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi? And then the offer to reconcile with the erstwhile irreconcilables? Is it not the fact today, that solely because of this crisis, the only qualification for the party’s newly emerging elders is to have been alienated and possibly humiliated in the past? Olusegun Obasanjo? Ibrahim Babangida? Bernabas Gemade? Solomon Lar? Ahmadu Alli? Vincent Ogbulafor? Okwesilieze Nwodo?
Goodluck Jonathan is clearly hanging on the ropes as a result of series of surprise blows. First, his countenance does not show that he ever knew in advance of the plot to splinter the party or the timing. Third, what message does he get from the large gathering at the launching of the New PDP, only a few hours (or minutes) after the walk-out from his own convention? What challenge does he think he faces from the large number of senators and House of Representatives members who have already declared for the New PDP? The greater worry for Goodluck Jonathan should be members of national assembly sympathetic to the new group but yet, for strategic reasons, remain at their posts. The momentum so far is such that Jonathan must not slip, banana peel or not. Or he will easily be impeached. After all, for now, he may not be able to claim total support of all Bayesla State members of national assembly.
For both the new and the old PDP, the picture towards 2015 is that of a do or die battle. For Jonathan, he portrays 2015 as the oxygen of life while the New PDP’s challenge to stop Jonathan from contesting in 2015 is portrayed as a mission from God. In return for Jonathan’s offer of reconciliation even through Obasanjo and Tony Anenih, the response is contemptuous rebuff, a feeling of commanding strength. Why not? The new PDP succeeded in stopping the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the party’s consensus automatic presidential candidate for the 2015 elections, the main purpose known to only Jonathan and his strategists.
Hence, the New PDP stipulated four conditions which are as good as meeting him only to wish him farewell. First, national chairman of the old PDP, Bamanga Tukur must go. Second, Goodluck Jonathan cannot contest in 2015. Third, Jonathan must keep away from the authentic Governors’ Forum and thereby stop harassing Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Fourth, Jonathan should stop harassing state governors and their supporters with interrogations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Except for self-serving purposes, Jonathan and the state governors in particular should find no problem with the last two conditions. As long as no state governor feels guilty of committing any financial crime, what does it matter if Jonathan intimidates with EFCC? The chances are that serving state commissioners or civil servants like permanent secretary or accountant-general would have been complicit in the alleged commission of financial crime by the state governors. These are the aides of the state governors intimidated by the EFCC on behalf of Jonathan. Nigeria’s peculiar situation is that on suspected financial crimes by public office holders at all levels, who can be immune to such allegations? It is therefore naive and indolent of state governors if, till now, they don’t have their own list of financial criminals at federal level. Every immunity lapses after public office. Aides of state governors picked up by EFCC on suspected financial crimes should make such information their main statement to the EFCC and refuse to co-operate further as well as offer to be tried strictly on that statement.
On his part, President Jonathan must ask himself why, either by accident or by design, only those state governors opposed to his second term are being harassed impliedly or directly by the EFCC. Why should the authentic Nigerian Governors’ Forum be so important to Goodluck Jonathan? For his 2015 ambition? Maybe his PDP’s Governors’ Forum? Is Jonathan aware that APC (comprising ACN, ANPP, CPC and APGA) also has members among the Governors’ Forum? Is he going to compel them to deliver votes in their states for him, provided he contests in 2015 in view of the ever changing political situation in Nigeria?
The demand by the New PDP that Jonathan should forget 2015 may not be tenable. If Jonathan decides to contest, that is his right under the constitution. We must allow the law and constitution to operate. If Jonathan, despite overwhelming contrary opinion in his party, decides to contest, there is a proper procedure to stop him, in the absence of a court decision. The way out is to ensure he loses the primaries elections. By splintering the party, the New PDP already shows its strength, which before now, Jonathan probably underestimated.
Obafemi Awolowo was on record that without the support of the electorate, in this case, angry party leaders in the constituencies concerned, no rigging can be successful. The defunct Social Democratic Party in 1991 recorded such protest votes against the party’s candidate in Lagos State, Yomi Edu. Governor Michael Otedola won the election on the platform of National Republican Convention. There is no way Jonathan can win in 2015 without the support of the New PDP.
On his part, Jonathan must also desist from antagonizing any potential challenger within his party. Both Nigerian constitution and the constitution of any of the registered political parties uphold the right of any citizen to vie, within the party of his choice for any elective office. Power changes human beings. Why suddenly has Jonathan developed the arrogance that only he and nobody else must challenge him for his party’s candidacy in 2015? He is engaged in do or die battle not to be stopped in 2015. Yet, in a simultaneous do or die battle, the same Jonathan not only wants to stop, but goes after anybody challenging him. That is self-centred.
One of the causes of the splintering of the party into the New PDP and Old PDP was the allegation that President Jonathan is violating an undertaking he gave in 2011 to contest for only one term. It is up to Jonathan to relax into private moment and decide to keep or violate the undertaking, if he ever gave such. Otherwise, given the history of the PDP as founded in1998, Goodluck Jonathan, if he reneged on the undertaking to serve only one term, would only be following the established pattern. Obasanjo gave a similar undertaking in 1999 to his northern sponsors to serve for only one term ending in 2003. When the moment came, he pleaded to contest for a second term. If only he stopped there. The same Obasanjo even tried to start a new two-term tenure of eight years in 2007 but for nation-wide opposition. If they allowed Obasanjo to renege on his undertaking, Jonathan should also beg, instead of bludgeoning potential rivals.
The New PDP demands that Bamnga Tukur must go. How? Can Jonathan sack him? That will be against the party’s constitution. But the same Goodluck Jonathan deliberately, on each occasion, created compelling circumstances for the successive resignation of Vincent Ogbulafor and Okwesilieze Nwodo to resign as national chairmen of PDP when the party was intact.
In this crisis, two men are unenviable for the fight on their hands. President Goodluck Jonathan and party chairman Bamanga Tukur. Meanwhile, Nigerians must watch out for kingpins of the New PDP, who will soon fall for money and return to fold.