PDP: New questions, worries and hurdles

Ali Modu Sheriff

Everything pointed to the final resolution of the leadership squabble in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on a positive popular note. The apex verdict that restored Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s national caretaker committee as the authentic leadership of the party was remarkable. It was like a return of democracy to the country.

But while the scuffle lasted between the caretaker committee and the party’s erstwhile acting national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the organic structure of PDP was gravely tested and its foundations tried. Having survived what could be considered its worst nightmares since 1998, PDP seems to have been given a breather and reprieve to answer new questions, worries and hurdles placed on its path to emerge as a truly national political party in the mould of the African National Congress (ANC) in line with the dreams of its founding fathers.

Charting a new direction for the party requires great insight, tact and diplomacy. There is no gainsaying the fact that the 2015 electoral loss, which denied PDP the presidency that had been the clearing house for disputes, led to the internal haemorrhaging that confounded the post-defeat leadership troubles.

In looking to the future, PDP has to look back on its troubadour in the past 18 years, study the many reports of reconciliation committees ranging from Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Senator Ike Nwachukwu and Ike Ekweremadu recommendations.

Central to this search for answers to the new questions is the issue of membership and leadership selection. Founding fathers of the party articulated the rotational arrangement as an internal mechanism to contain the mutual suspicion and delicate ethnic politics of the country. But leaving the arrangement more or less as a gentle man agreement, rather than etching it in its constitution provided the leeway for the eventual breach that gave vent to the tragic tremor in 2015.

PDP has therefore need to review its constitution and ensure that its provisions are not only in tandem with modern realities, but also able to grapple with institutional quakes that might chance on the structure at any moment. The party’s national convention would present one of the new questions and hurdles that could convince Nigerians that the erstwhile largest political movement in black Africa has learnt useful lessons from its fall and ‘civil war’.

Convention Conundrum
Tentatively, PDP has scheduled its national convention for October 2017. Coinciding with Nigeria’s independence anniversary month, the convention holds a lot in store in for the party. This is because conventions, whether mini or main, had always provided opportunity for vexed stakeholders to spill bile in complaint against the way things are run in the party.

However, being the first renewal convention, how the caretaker committee empanels the convention committee, as well as, the caliber of individuals to be appointed would give a clear indicator as to whether the party is inclined on a revival bend.

Would the party put forward new recommendations for the constitution review and possible ratification during the convention? What happens to the provision about the length of time of membership of the party before a party faithful could aspire for election on the platform? Under what circumstances could waiver be granted and by which authority? Should state governors have the last say on the nomination and election of party functionaries? Does a candidate require state or zonal endorsement to stand for election into party offices? In the event of incapacitation or resignation of a member of national working committee, how would his/her replacement come?

The foregoing may fall within the old questions that have troubled the minds of PDP faithful, but they have become very relevant in the light of the party’s recent struggles. During his stint as national chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, had tried to modernise membership through online registration, but the then President Goodluck Jonathan was hemmed in by state governors to recant the process.

In the absence of a presidential father-figure therefore, PDP should use the forthcoming national convention to engrain the supremacy of the party and ensure that the party’s leadership, including the Board of Trustees, NWC and NEC, reserves the final word on how the party is run. Such situations that tie the national chairman’s fate to the whims and designs of the President or state governors should be done away with.

It is instructive that Sheriff had continued to wave the banner of internal democracy as basis of strengthening the party. All indicators point to the fact that the bane of PDP, including rigging, violence, impunity and illegal substitution, was traceable to imposition of candidates be it at the NWC, SWC and particularly during general elections.

Next to the question of strengthening the leadership structure of the party is the issue of use of delegates during nomination of presidential, governorship and other candidates for election. Guided by what transpired in the recent Osun West bye election when aspirants sacrificed their ambition for the benefit of one, PDP should create the enabling environment for the people to decide on the candidates. That would be the single antidote to rigging, money politics and violence. Also, zoning should be spelt out even in states.

Political Solution
Prior to the Supreme Court verdict, many stakeholders of the party had espoused the belief that only a political solution would solve the nagging questions in PDP leadership. Although the Makarfi national caretaker committee has maintained that the judicial position was a no victor, no vanquished testament, the real test of the spirit of reconciliation would not only be seen in amnesty, but also how the NCC absorbs the inputs of the Sheriff group.

In upholding the spirit of accommodation and harmonization of positions, the Governor Seriake Dickson committee’s recommendations would serve useful purpose. The propositions contained in the Dickson committee report, especially as they concern consultations and dialogue leading up to the national convention, are worth implementing.

The reconciliation committee believes that only such consultations and dialogue could ensure a transparent and inclusive convention that produces credible national officers. In doing this, PDP leaders should recognise that unlike what obtained before 2013, there is an equally robust political party that is on the saddle.

Part of the imperatives of political solution entails non discrimination against those that sided with Sheriff during the legal tussle. But it would be against the spirit genuine resolution of the division for candidates to be allocated on the basis of cleavages. Equal opportunity should be granted for the emergence of candidates on the basis of merit.

Merger, Name-change, Returnees
One issue that stakeholders have failed to agree on, while in court was the question of other political parties fusing into PDP. The challenge which the apex court ruling throws up in this direction is that unlike when it was embattled, the party stands on a solid ground to negotiate the entry, as opposed to merger of PDP and other like-minded political groups.

Negotiating on the basis of strength would entail that such political understanding may be contracted on PDP’s terms. But the snag would be the growing clamour for name change being advanced by some members of nPDP, who in the course of the buildup to the 2015 election said a lot of unprintable things about the party. They claim that returning to the same party with the same name and slogan would leave a dent on their moral and political standing, stressing that the ruling party has done enough damage on the image and reputation of PDP.

But while it is generally agreed that PDP needs to open its doors to widen its membership, there are die-hards, especially people like Walid Jibrin, who insist that there is nothing wrong with the name, pointing out that if the members are able to purge themselves of those things that alienate the party from Nigerians, PDP would bounce back to reckoning.

However, what happens to the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) would be the first headache of the party. Sources hinted that although APDA was raised as a standby platform, its name was suggestive of an inclination towards name change in PDP.

Those who confided in The Guardian about the likely impact of the favourable apex court ruling on the future of PDP said in a bid to accommodate estranged members and forge a new and bigger political grouping, a Peoples Democratic Alliance (PDA) may emerge in the long run.

In the light of the foregoing, it is obvious that PDP leaders have a lot of work before them before the October national convention. Whether a galaxy of 36 stars encircling a big tree would replace the umbrella, the symbol of PDP, is left to be seen. But the journey to the future is as delicate to the resurgent PDP as its troubled past.

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