Ahmed Makarfi, PDP Chairman
By Emeka Alex Duru
Is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), drifting to internal crisis again, even before the battle line for 2019 politics is officially drawn? This is the question trailing uncertain developments in the party, currently.
Rising from the July 12, 2017, Supreme Court resolution of the 14-month leadership crisis that had earlier polarized it into Alli Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi factions, PDP, had sold the impression of an organisation that had learnt its lesson.
Attitude of high officials of the party, as well as the harmony in the conduct of its activities at national and state levels, also lent credence to the assumption.
In Anambra for instance, the party had conducted its primary for the November 18 governorship election in a manner that was devoid of acrimony that had appeared to be its lot.
Though there were disagreements by some aspirants over the emergence of Oseloka Henry Obaze as the governorship candidate of the party, the protest did not get to the level of parallel bodies as the situation had been in the past.
In other States where factions had existed, the Makarfi national leadership, had stepped in, to restore levels of understanding. With the relative air of understanding prevailing in the party, the leadership began to taunt the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), with a quit notice in the next election.
It even advertised intentions at wooing some key members of the APC to its fold ahead of the election.
Apparently concerned with the growing understanding in PDP and aware that it has really not kept faith with its pre-election pledge of better life to Nigerians, APC has been considerably jittery at the resurgence of the leading opposition party.
Danger not averted
However, certain developments in PDP in the last couple of months, are perhaps, unwittingly sending the signals that the party may not have actually got its acts together in its agenda at wresting power from APC.
There are in fact, fears that ahead its December 9 National Convention, PDP may run into another crisis that may see it limping into the 2019 general elections on fractured limbs.
Fayose flies the kite
The emerging trend of uncertainty began to take shape on Thursday, September 28, when Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, declared his interest on running for the presidency on the platform of the party.
The governor, who made the declaration in Abuja, had vowed to beat the President, Muhammadu Buhari in a free and fair election, stressing that he was in the race to win and be sworn in as the next President ‎ of the country on May 29, 2019.
Fayose emphasised that his aspiration was without prejudice to the party’s position on the post, adding that since the North, which the PDP had zoned the position to, had not expressed interest in filling the slot, the party would not be waiting perpetually from chieftains from the region.
PDP fights back
Though the governor tried to make light of his ambition by stressing that it was not without prejudice to the position of the party, PDP leadership, according to TheNiche investigation, did not take kindly to the move. At the Abuja headquarters of the party for example, the thinking was that the declaration by Fayose, which many, though, saw as a bargaining chip for the vice presidential ticket, could embolden other members to embark on similar exercise and in the process, put the party’s office sharing formula in jeopardy.
The leadership, had since 2015, settled for the north to produce its next presidential candidate. At its meeting on September 12, 2017, it had also tacitly endorsed the understanding when it conceded the national chairmanship to the south.
For Fayose who had been part of the decision to spring up afterwards to announce his presidential ambition, that amounted to an ambition taken too far.
PDP thus, advised the governor against his aspiration, reiterating that its flag bearer for the 2019 election will come from the North.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, in an encounter, maintained that the policy of the party on the zoning structure, remained intact. “The highest organ of the party, which is the national convention, zoned the presidential ticket of the PDP to the North. That has not changed. The same national convention zoned the position of the national chairman to the South. The convention has yet to change any of these two. Those decisions are binding on all members of the party. Nobody can alter these decisions”, he said.
The North on the offensive
The north is equally not taking the matter lightly. On Tuesday, October 10, 2019, top leaders of the party from the region insisted that there is no going back on the approved zoning arrangement for 2019 election which cedes the presidency to the North and party chairman to South.
They also warned Fayose and others who might want to toe his line to desist from playing spoiler’s game, adding that the zoning of the presidential ticket to the North by the 2015 national convention, remains sacrosanct.
The governor is yet to rescind his decision, at least, publicly. And he may not, given his antecedents in stubbornness, especially when he is convinced of an action.
Return to the past?
The fear among members and concerned analysts, is that the issue, if not properly handled, may open another gate for dissension in the party.
The dangers involved are many. If Fayose, or any other member from the south picks the ticket, it would result to the crisis of confidence that cost PDP the presidency in 2015. The argument was that while running for the office in 2011, former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s deputy, had pledged to do only one term in office, after which power would return to the north.
But by 2015, the promise was not kept, as he went for re-election that cost him support from even PDP members in the north. Observers saw the protest vote against Jonathan as accounting for Buhari’s massive votes from the north, aside allegations of rigging in some instances.
It is insinuated that in the event of the north being denied the PDP ticket again, the same voting trend would be repeated.
On the other hand, there are fears that if Fayose is not adequately managed in a way he would not feel to have been hushed out of the race, he and his supporters, may create situations that may cause some stress to the party.
Enter the South West challenge
Fayose’s declaration is not the only pressure on the fragile harmony in the party. The insistence by the South West on producing the national chairman of the party, is another issue the PDP is seriously confronted with.
Going by the party’s advertised zoning arrangement, the office is open to all the geo-political zones in the south, just as the presidential ticket is not restricted to any particular bloc in the north.
But the South West, is not amused by the prescription. Party chieftains from the zone argue that it remains the only area that is yet to produce the chairman of the party, either in interim, acting or substantive position, since its formation in 1998.
According to the analysis, the south east had produced Dr. Alex Ekwueme (interim chairman at formation), Okwesilieze Nwodo, Vincent Ogbulafor. North Central had had Late Solomon Lar (Interim), Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh, Ahmadu Alli and Kawu Baraje. North West had produced Haliru Bello, Maikarfi. North East had had Bamanga Tukur, Adamu Mu’Azu and Sheriff, while the south-south had produced Uche Secondus in acting capacity.
South West, on account of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency (1999 – 2007), has not had shot at the office. Members from the zone, are therefore arguing that denying them the post, would amount to chiseling them out of the party. Some have even threatened mass exit if they fail to clinch the post.
In similar stead, South-south members of the party, are interested in the position, stressing that the Secondus era was merely in acting capacity, which did not allow the zone consummate the office effectively.
Even the south east, though assumed to be in hot consideration for the vice presidential slot, maintains that it has not got its fair share from a party it has invested so much on. The zone is also angling for the office of the national secretary of the party, which the south-south, is equally understood to be interested in.
“That is the challenge currently facing us. Nobody, no zone, seems ready to give in or shift for the other. Everyone is insisting on what he believes should come to him. It is like the so-called national cake syndrome, where nobody bothers on how to bake the cake but rather on what his share should be. I am afraid that if the trend continues, it will affect the fortunes of the party in 2019”, lamented a national committee member of the party, who did not want to be mentioned.
Followers of developments in PDP, identify this unyielding stance of the members and zones in the party as its bane. But not much seems being done to arrest the trend.