PDP: Out of power, coming out from the brink

Ali-Modu-Sheriff-1The biblical term “little mercies,” which also finds usage in some motherhood and social justice books is not readily applied to politics.

But, in Nigeria’s new season of strange party politics, the term can be applied to the now-improving destiny of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the former leading party defeated at the 2015 general election, which was so stunned, confounded and unnerved by the defeat that it seemed lost for what to do or whether it could survive again.

Since then, terms such as “PDP is finished” “PDP is dead” “APC has nailed PDP coffin” “PDP can’t win election in this country again” “don’t kill the PDP” “APC will wipe PDP out” seized the airwaves.

It is the way of the politics in Nigeria: except that the 2015 polls had produced and injected a new novelty: the novelty of a party in the centre of power, and its incumbent President, defeated in an election they organized.

In about nine months now, things are no longer as people had thought of them with the All Progressives Congress. Meanwhile, for the PDP; from one leeway here, a new lease of life there, to an unexpected lifeline yonder, the party, a former self-proclaimed largest political party south of the Sahara, has been welcoming strings of good graces.

These “little mercies;” so-called because PDP never thought those possible; neither could its rival APC had wanted them to happen that way, has in net effect, placed PDP on a pedestal to fight back from the brink.

And so last week, the party leaders began coming out from supposed hideouts. Ali Modu Sheriff seems last-minute pep. The PDP people are coming out. Its national secretariat, the famous Wadata House, in the federal capital, Abuja, has buzzed alive with scores of individual and group visit.

Lucky draw of a goner

The controversial selection of Sheriff as PDP caretaker chairman for three months has turned out the latest of the PDP good fortune.

Last month’s morale-boosting victory of Senator David Mark – his fourth consecutive return to the Senate – along with the Sheriff’s selection looks potentially stabilizing for the quaking party.

Mark’s re-election was not necessarily about his being a prominent figure in the PDP, a two-Session President of the Senate (upper chamber), whose career, both in the party and at the Assembly, had set him apart as very influential and popular both in the party and in the Assembly.

It was that he had initially won his Benue South Senatorial district election, only for it to be overturned at the tribunal, which ordered a repeat.

The race then quickly took on a Goliath and David coloration, whereby his opponent, Mr. David Onjeh of the APC, is David and Mark, Goliath. This David, as the re-run election came to show, had no catapult! Mark won again. He went to church to celebrate; PDP took to the streets in jubilation.

Then, the surprise choice of Sheriff. PDP governors were the masterminds, along with the party caucus in the National Assembly. Protesters included some Board of Trustees, nascent groups like The Rescue Group, PDP former Ministers and individuals like Femi Fani-Kayode, who had directed the re-election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan – whom President Buhari defeated in the 2015 polls.

Ironically, the shock, the hullabaloo and the vitriol Sheriff’s coming provoked among the PDP’s rank and file, which raged much of the last two weeks, has turned a needed noise to show that PDP wasn’t dead after all!

Suddenly, an optimistic note has risen in the party. It was left in the lurch. A modicum of public attention (not acceptability) is reverting and redirecting to them. They had run this way and that way; some posing as “rescuers” and others claiming to be “redeemers,” promising to die for the party. By last weekend, all that appeared to be changing.

Another irony of Nigeria’s politics – successor government ending up doing much worse than the one it replaced – may already be coming to the fore, judging by the din of public criticisms and complaints against the nine-months-old APC administration.

The Judiciary’s interventions

There were the post-election lawsuits over the two oil-rich states of Rivers and Akwa-Ibom. The PDP won them. It shocked the APC. The APC had openly bragged, believing that the power of incumbency entitled it to the states.

And the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun’s expressed shock at the Supreme Court ruling drew for the party even more criticism and opprobrium.

Odigie-Oyegun said: “I still find the judgment on Rivers State governorship election totally astonishing. There is something fundamentally wrong in the judiciary.

“We have lost very important resource-rich states to the PDP. No matter how crude oil prices have fallen, it is still the most important revenue earner for the country.

“There is obviously something fundamentally wrong with Rivers State, which needs to be investigated and addressed.”

While the APC raised hell against the highest court in the land whose decision is final, the Judiciary itself and its defenders took their usual position in such circumstances – that the Judiciary “must not take on the coloration of whatever may be popular at the moment,” being the guardian of rights and “must tell people things they often don’t want to hear” (apologies, Justice Rose Bird of United States of America).

Politically speaking, the Supreme Court judgments on Rivers and Akwa Ibom governorship were like applying the break to hurricane APC.

Having beaten an incumbent that had ruled for 16 years, the new wonder-kid was quickly getting accustomed to the winner- take-all approach. The APC has emerged not averse to acquisition of maximum power.

President under political pressure

Had the PDP lost Rivers and Akwa Ibom, it would have been politically catastrophic for the party. A loss would have drained it of virtually everything to stand on. Remove the South-South states, and all others are “ordinary.”

Being the party that controls the centre, the APC can carry on. But as Odigie-Oyegun has mourned, the party will shoulder on without a strong foothold on the oil-rich South-South in 2019.

The PDP has all the South-south states minus Edo. It also has the South East states minus Imo. In the North, the PDP was almost thrown out but for Gombe and Taraba in the Northeast.

Sheriff (PDP’s acting chairman) who hails from Borno in the Northeast, coming in at a crucial moment is a plus for PDP. Pressure will however, be on him to play fair.

He had quit the APC to which he was both one of the founding fathers and Board of Trustees chairman. His determination to prove a point or make a difference within three months will be under constant scrutiny.

Whether he would propel the PDP to approach 2019 polls with strengthened hands is something of great interest as the party moves to come out from the cold.

But he is not saddled with the problem Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu had as the PDP election-time chairman, who quit after the party lost. For the election of Buhari as President was a Northern project – and every Northerner irrespective of party – was to key into it. If Mu’azu campaigned for Jonathan, he did not show it!

To approach 2019, Buhari confronts a dilemma from his flagship campaign promises: pursuing his security operations and anti-graft war as he is doing and, in the case of the Southeast and South-south, risk alienating the zones the more.

He may succeed in curtailing the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOD) led by detained Nnamdi Kanu and check pipeline vandalism and other forms of economic sabotage of Niger-Delta militants.

The zones may remain unimpressed. In 2015, they backed their son, Jonathan, whom they appear to still feel loyalty and commitment to.

However, as it is now increasingly being speculated, the President might decide to do one term. If that were to happen, it would change the political equations.

For example, part of the speculation is that, for the North to put in at least 12 years into its Presidential run, Buhari should groom a younger northerner to succeed him, who could then do two terms – a Mandela option that has been on the cards well before 2015.

In 2019, the Presidential contest has been set aside for the North as the PDP already offered its ticket in advance to the region.

This makes Sheriff’s job somewhat cut out: there is no point sabotaging PDP; he gains nothing from that: he would work hard in three months to make a mark and improve his image and acceptability.

And he could simply go ahead to work for re-kick-starting PDP with the old National Party of Nigeria (NPN) formula, with — an Dr. Alex Ekwueme (VP) and Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye (party National Chairman).

The man, Ali Modu Sheriff

He is known as “SAS.” His cars had dedicated number plates, as in “SAS 1” or “SAS 2.” He was quite a colorful politician, very popular among his colleagues.

One of the then “younger Turks” of the military Generals’ experimentation in politics, he was in Gen. Babangida’s “little-to-the-left” and “little- to the- right” party formation– in turns joining the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) and under late Abacha United National Congress Party (UNCP) –one of the “five fingers of one leprous hand,” as the late Chief Bola Ige tagged Gen. Abacha’s parties, which he (Abacha) had compelled to proclaim him as “sole candidate” for presidential election that would have held in 1997, but didn’t.

SAS, drawn from Senator Ali Sheriff – like a symbol of his two times in the Senate and as a two-term governor of Borno State, indicates that he is among the most experienced and privileged, and a contemporary of the big politicians still strutting their stuff around.

May be, the PDP needed one with his grit, his survival instincts – the very stuff that has kept him in circulation – to set sail again.

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