There are growing concerns among party stalwarts that, in the bid to accommodate all interests, party leadership may give undue advantage to the returnees.
Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in a celebratory mood for most of last week. For the party, the week was perhaps one of its best weeks in recent times. It was a week it will relish for very long time.
It was a week many of its former members, who had defected to the all Progressives Congress (APC) returned to the fold.
It began last Tuesday when the Senate President, Bukola Saraki announced his resignation from the APC and returned to the major opposition party. He was followed by the governor of Kwara State, Abdulfatah Ahmed, and members of the Kwara State House of Assembly.
The influx of defectors into the PDP continued on Wednesday with the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, alongside majority of members of the state assembly, also ditching the APC for the opposition party. The Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, Alhaji Ahmed Ibeto also rejoined the party. Ibeto, had defected to the APC in the build up to the 2015 election as a sitting Niger State deputy governor.
The mass return started penultimate Tuesday, when 15 senators and 32 members of the House of Representatives elected on the platform of the APC defected to the PDP, before the National Assembly hurriedly adjourned for its annual recess. Among the 15 senators are former PDP National Chairman, Barnabas Gemade and the former Kano governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso.
After the federal lawmakers, the embattled Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom also announced his return to the opposition party. He rejoined the party with majority of the state legislators.
Like the story of the biblical prodigal son, the PDP called a feast last Wednesday to celebrate the return of its prodigal sons. Excited by the turn of events in
the polity, the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus paid glowing tributes to the defectors, describing them as “heroes, who have decided to leave the ruling party to stand with the people.”
The joy of the opposition party is understandable. On August 31, 2013, seven of its governors namely Chibuike Amaechi, Rivers; Kwankwaso, Kano; Ahmed, Kwara; Aliyu Wamakko, Sokoto; Murtala Nyako, Adamawa: Babangida Aliyu, Niger and Sule Lamido, Jigawa, alongside former vice President, Abubakar Atiku and other PDP top shots staged a walkout at the party’s convention in Abuja. They later announced the formation of a splinter group known as the new PDP.
One year later, five of the governors, with the exception of Aliyu and Lamido, and some members of the National Assembly, including Tambuwal, who was the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, dumped the PDP for the then newly formed APC. That was to be the beginning of a downturn in PDP’s political fortunes, leading to its loss in the 2015 general election.
The nPDP had joined forces with the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Congress for Change (CPC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and a splinter group from the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the APC.
The depletion of the ranks of the PDP continued after the 2015 general election, with many more members of its members joining the APC.
In the wake of the new round of defections, former President Goodluck Jonathan said the PDP defectors would come empty handed. Jonathan, who was receiving the report of his campaign organisation for the 2015 election had said: “these people, who are running – some of them are already cross-carpeting, they will come back with empty stomachs… “
True to Jonathan’s words, the defectors are returning, some with a tale of woes. Addressing the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP last week, the Benue governor, who has been in the eye of the storm recently, said his sojourn in the ruling party impoverished him.
Ortom said “I am happy to be home. For obvious reasons I have to take a journey. But in that journey I had too much travail. I became poorer and all I took along with me were destroyed.”
The new challenges
There is no doubt that the recent defections into the PDP have given the opposition party a big boost in the run-up to the 2019 general election. For instance, the entrance of Saraki and 15 other senators had elevated the PDP to the status of party in the National Assembly, as it has put the control of the upper chamber in the hands of the party. The defections have increased the number of states controlled by the PDP from 11 to 14.
However, the defections have also thrown up a new challenge for the opposition party, as it has equally raised the stakes in the contest for PDP tickets for various positions in the 2019 general election, as the new members would have to compete with the old for party tickets.
Already, there are growing concerns among party stalwarts in the last couple of days that, in the bid to accommodate all interests, the party leadership may give undue advantage to the returnees. Also, there are fears that recent defections may trigger crisis in some states, particularly in Benue, Kwara, Sokoto and Kano states chapters of the PDP.
Prior to Ortom’s exit from the APC, 13 governorship aspirants in the Benue State PDP at a press conference in Abuja, had kicked against his rejoining the opposition party, warning that it might be counter-productive for the party. The aspirants, who feared that the governor would be handed the PDP ticket for the 2019 governorship in the state, said they have toiled endlessly to rebuild the party in Benue since 2015, and would not accept any attempt to “unilaterally” handover the party structure to the governor.
Specifically, the Benue State PDP candidate in the 2015 governorship election, Terhemen Tarzoor, warned that there would be consequences for the opposition party if Ortom is brought back to the party.
He said:”We are not opposed to anybody coming into the PDP. But we are concerned about the character and value d of person coming in, because we want the PDP to claim victory again. So, we cannot afford to sit here fold our hands and see someone of negative values coming in.
“This is somebody that has not paid salary for more than one year, four months. And the Benue people are not happy. The national secretariat in their decision taking; should they go with a philosophy of not recognising that all politics are local; we also have the capacity of saying no, enough is enough. I can tell you it is not a threat. It is a promise. “
Also, Saraki’s return to the PDP is generating misgivings among chieftains of the party in Kwara State chapter, with many of the leaders threatening to dump the party.
Therefore, analysts say the greatest challenge before the party at the moment is how to effectively manage the interest of the returnees and that of the old
members without a backlash, especially in Benue, Kwara, Sokoto, and other states where some big wigs from the APC might be joining the PDP soon.
Luckily for the PDP, things appear different in its Kano State chapter, where former Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who is also a former governor of Kano State, calls the shot. Against predictions that Kwankwaso’s return will precipitate a crisis in the party, as the former and Shekarau are not known to get along politically, there appear to have been relative peace there.
It was speculated that the former Education Minister might dump the PDP once Kwankwaso returns to the party. Surprisingly, both men seem to have agreed to bury the hatchet, after their meeting last week.
However, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan told Daily Sun that there is no cause for alarm. He said the party would ensure that new member of the party are not short-changed.
Ologbondiyan further told Daily Sun that the party has designed a power sharing formula between the old and new members, so as to accommodate every interest. However, stakeholders in the affected states will sit together to agree on the workability of the formula.
According to him, “in states where you have governors joining the party, the formula is 60/40. That is the template. The working is dependent on states. It is dependent on the discussion with stakeholders in the state. The party brought that template to guarantee a peaceful resolution of crisis that might likely come up.
“Normally, as you know, in some parties, when a governor joins them, they collapse the entire structure and give 100 per cent to the governor. But the template that the party has brought up is 60/40. But even that is not imposed by the National secretariat. It is not imposed by the National Working Committee.
It is an arrangement that will be taken to the states, for the state to work with. Every politics as they say is local. Stakeholders of the respective states are provided the opportunity and the privilege to work out the suitability of the 60/40,” the party’s spokesperson said. Regardless, former National Chairman of the PDP, Ahmed Makarfi said the party in its bid to accommodate the entrants, must ensure it does not give them undue advantage over the old members.
“Some people, when you pinch them, they will run to another party. When the going was tough, I stayed on. But you accept them into your house and give them your guest room. Next, they take the master bedroom. Next, they drive you out of your house. We must not allow this nor give undue advantage to them so that we do not alienate our people, “Makarfi said while addressing party chieftains in Lokoja last weekend.
Saraki is not oblivious of the apparent resentment for him and other returnees to the PDP. Speaking at the PDP NEC last Thursday, the Senate President appealed to the stakeholders to accept them whole heartedly.
“I want to appeal to all of us, all of you who are here, to please receive us from the bottom of your hearts not only here but down to our local government and wards, many people who will join… because it is easier here in Abuja. But when we get back to our constituencies, please, let us continue to open our arms and receive the numbers that will give us victory come February 2019 because it is for a better tomorrow for the lot of Nigerian people,” he begged.