With due apologies, let me borrow the above headline to address a worrying phenomenon in the Nigerian polity regarding the main opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It was former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who posed a similar question in 2014, a few days to his exit from office. He had asked at a ceremony, where he gave account of his eight years’ stewardship, if Anambra State was cursed or the cause. After outlining his achievements in office in eight years, he concluded that the state was not cursed, but rather that the people were the cause of whatever problems that troubled it.
Looking at the things that have happened in and with the PDP since 2015, one is persuaded to ask the same question: Is PDP cursed or the cause? This question has become pertinent because a once mega political party, which was larger than life and whose former official boasted would be in office for 60 years, is gradually becoming an insignificant fraction in Nigeria’s political space. Political developments in the country are causing the demystification of the PDP, a once strong political giant that produced in office such statesmen as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and many others.
In 1999, the PDP was easily the dominant political party in the country. With supporters across the country, from the South-East to the North and South-South, the PDP dwarfed the other two earlier prominent parties, All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Not even the collaboration of the APP and AD in the presidential election of 1999, which saw them presenting a joint presidential candidate, could shake the PDP. In the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections, the PDP won the presidential polls and majority seats in the state governorship and National Assembly elections. It was easily the political party of choice, the political party to beat and the darling of many politicians.
However, in 2015, the bubble burst and decline set in. The PDP started becoming a shadow of itself. It not only lost the presidential election to the All Progressives Congress (APC), even though it had an incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, but also could only win a little above 10 state governorship elections. The APC dominated the polity and became the ruling political party. The 2019 elections also saw the APC winning the presidential election and the majority of governorship seats.
The fall of the PDP in 2015 did not really come as a surprise. Despite the conspiracy against the party, which transcended the country’s borders, it was apparent that the PDP mismanaged its success and goodwill. The political party’s leadership, at a time, became arrogant and played God. The PDP was also plagued by imposition of candidates at elections. The political party deregistered some of its members, especially those who opposed the intolerant disposition of the powers that be in the political party. There was also lack of internal democracy and flagrant disregard for the principle of collectivity in the PDP. All these became the Achilles heel of the PDP and brought about its political decline.
Incidentally, despite the shortcomings of the PDP and its top members, many Nigerians still see it as a good alternative in the polity. With most Nigerians having reservations about the performance of the APC in government, the PDP should have, ordinarily, been a rallying point of opposition. Unfortunately, the political party has not been able to get its act together or live up to expectations. Happenings in the political party have, however, proved that the PDP is not cursed, but that its members are the cause of its misfortunes. The leadership of the PDP seeks only to attract applause without showing tact and depth in the art of opposition. Top members of the PDP do not look beyond their nose. They think about themselves, instead of the success of the political party. They have proved, most times, to be selfish, self-serving, egoistic and myopic.
It is really a pity that a political party, which stands a good chance of coming back to power, if it puts its house in order and there are credible elections, would prefer to be in reverse gear, moving backward. The “disloyalty disease” in the PDP is so contagious that its members keep leaving and reducing its political strength. In the last four months or so, three governors elected on the platform of the PDP have dumped the political party and defected to the APC. It started with Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi. Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State followed suit thereafter. Recently, Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle of Zamfara State dumped the PDP for the APC. Senators of the PDP in Zamfara and other states have also defected to the APC, with indications that many more would also dump the political party as the 2023 general election draws near.
The plague that has befallen Nigeria today, manifesting in rising cost of food, spike in cost of fuel, spiralling expenditure on fuel subsidy, scandalous exchange rate, monumental corruption, high unemployment, worsening insecurity and frightening division among ethnic groups, came upon the country owing to PDP’s failure, caused by the selfishness of its former members. The world over, one has never seen a political party where its members would work against it the way PDP members did in 2015, for instance, and beyond. Five sitting governors of the PDP defected to the APC prior to the 2015 elections in one fell swoop. Some of those who remained in the party pretended to be with it but actually worked for the opposition APC. The palace coup against the PDP worked, but today the chickens have come home to roost. The majority of those who spearheaded the PDP’s downfall have tasted the bitter pill. They now know the mistake their selfish moves was.
The current defection of PDP governors to the APC is a repeat of what happened in 2015. It is outright sabotage. The PDP has to make hay while the sun shines. It is, therefore, heart-warming that the political party has gone to court to challenge the defection of Governor Matawalle. This is a fight the PDP must wage and follow to the end. Although the law is silent on the conditions on which a governor could leave his political party for another and still retain his office, it, however, expressly stated that defection of a lawmaker is only permissible when there is internal crisis in the political party. If we take this as a benchmark, it means that Governors Umahi, Ayade and Matawalle have breached the law.
For the avoidance of doubt, there is no crisis in the PDP, which the three political defectors could have used as reason for joining the APC. Besides, Governor Matawalle came to power with a Supreme Court judgment saying that, since APC did not participate in the election, by virtue of the fact that the political party did not comply with the law in nominating its candidates for various offices, the PDP and its candidates (Matawalle and others) were winners of the elections. If Matawalle became governor because he was a candidate of the PDP and if APC was ruled out of the election that produced Matawalle, why then should the same governor take the mandate of the PDP, as pronounced by the Supreme Court, to the APC, which, legally, was disqualified from the 2019 elections? Besides, since the Supreme Court had established that it is a political party that wins elections, why would it be legal that a governor who comes to office on the ticket of a particular political party would defect to another political party and retain the position? These are the things the courts should decide.
The PDP should not only fight to reclaim its mandate from Governor Matawalle, but it should also, using the instrumentality of the law, seek to take the legislative seats of the senators of Zamfara State who also defected to the APC. It should also sue Governors Umahi and Ayade for defecting to the APC while holding onto the mandates won on the platform of the PDP. Unless such a legal battle is fought to a logical conclusion, politicians would continue to flirt from one political party to another while in elective office. No doubt, with political parties not rooted in ideology or philosophy, defection of politicians would always be there. However, it must be established that anybody dumping a political party under which he or she was elected to office should relinquish his or her position and seek re-election to the same office on the platform of the new political party. Doing otherwise is mandate theft.
The PDP members as a people need repentance and redemption. Political parties and their members should not shoot themselves in the foot. What is happening in Anambra State is one of the ways PDP destroys itself. First, one man has imposed a particular candidate for his selfish interest, not considering if the person would win the election or not. This is what happened in 2017 and the PDP lost the governorship election. Second, some party members have picked a parallel candidate and are using the courts to cause confusion. It is indeed a puzzle what PDP members do. The question is: Are the so-called PDP members, from the leadership to the least, really serious? Owing to PDP members’ iberiberism (foolishness), apologies to Senator Rochas Okorocha, the APC has become a star and is increasing in stature. However, all those who believe in democracy must resist the plot for a one-party state.