The decision three years ago by some opposition parties to merge for the 2015 presidential election put paid to the ambition of the Peoples Democratic Party to rule for 60 years.
The merger of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Congress for Progressive Change, Action Congress of Nigeria and a section of the All Progressive grand Alliance, APGA, led to the formation of the All Progressives Congress over one year before the 2015 general elections.
For a party that led Nigeria since the restoration of democracy 16 years ago, playing the opposition became a strange role for the PDP.
Indeed, shortly after PDP’s defeat by the APC in the March 28, 2015 presidential poll, the then spokesperson of the latter, Lai Mohammed, mockingly asked his counterpart in the PDP, Olisa Metuh, to come for a six week “crash course” on opposition information management.
“Metuh will need training to effectively carry out his new, tough task,” Mr. Mohammed said. “It is now obvious that he needs to understand that for him to succeed in his new role, he must be credible, empirical, more sophisticated in language use and very passionate, in addition to being able to operate on a lean or zero budget.”
At first, the PDP showed signs of adjusting to its new role as an opposition party. One of the first major gathering of the party faithful after it lost the presidential election was a retreat in Port Harcourt, where it discussed its future as an opposition party.
Mr. Metuh had used the occasion of the retreat whose theme was “The role of the opposition in facilitating development and good governance,” to assure the party’s supporters that the PDP was not weak by its apparent lack of “action” at the time.
He said PDP leaders were simply giving the new president and his party, time to settle down. He stressed that the PDP would periodically assess the performance of the APC administration so that “Nigerians on their own will decide which party is best to progress democracy in this country.”
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who also spoke at the retreat, vowed that PDP members in the National Assembly would hold the APC accountable to its campaign promises.
While recalling that the APC promised the release of the Chibok girls, the creation of two million jobs every year, among many others, he said, “The PDP lawmakers in the 8th National Assembly should hold the ruling APC accountable on each of its campaign promises.”
Loss of steam
To be sure, the PDP started strongly by always “checking” on the APC administration. Mr. Metuh would issue a statement or address a press conference on policy matters almost on daily basis.
Apart from Mr. Metuh, other outspoken members of the PDP, including a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, former presidential aide, Doyin Okupe, and the Governor of Ekiti state, Ayodele Fayose, variously voiced opposition to the policies and programmes of the Buhari administration.
The PDP spokesperson explained that the party would not attack the personality of Mr. Buhari and would “work” with the government in the fight against insurgency in the north east zone.
However, along the line, the opposition party lost steam, no thanks to the alleged involvement of some of its leaders in corrupt practices, which the Buhari administration vowed to tackle.
Mr. Metuh, who should be the arrowhead of the opposition, became one of the accused. He was alleged to have received, from the office of the National Security Adviser, N400 million from the $2.1 billion originally meant for arms procurement to fight Boko Haram. The money was allegedly diverted and used to prosecute the 2015 presidential campaign for President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. The scandal has since been referred to as #Dasukigate by Nigerians.
His arrest and subsequent arraignment over the allegation has dealt a serious blow to the PDP’s ability to check the government of the day and make its positions on national matters known.
Unlike the then ACN which criticised the Goodluck Jonathan administration when it increased fuel price in 2010, the PDP, as Nigeria’s main opposition party, virtually kept mum when the Buhari-led APC government increased the pump price of petrol to N145 from N86.
The opposition party, perhaps dazed by the corruption allegations against its leaders, and internal wrangling, could not even issue a statement either in condemnation or support.
The only notable voice from the PDP that kicked against the fuel price was Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State. Even so, he did not speak officially for the party because it was not his job to do so.
Mr. Fani-Kayode, another outspoken member of the party, who could have kicked against the increase, is currently in detention and battling to save himself from the allegation that he, as spokesperson of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation, benefitted from the #Dasukigate scandal.
It is therefore safe to assume that many PDP members are unable to voice opposition to the APC government because of the fear that the ongoing corruption probe will soon get to them.
Perhaps, one other factor responsible for the lacklustre opposition role is the in-fighting among members of the party. At present, the PDP appears to have three factions with each claiming control of the party.
There is a group backed by the governors elected under the platform of the party. This group has former Kaduna governor, Ahmed Makarfi, as caretaker chairman.
Another group comprises of some members of the immediate past National Working Committee and is led by former Borno Governor, Ali Sheriff. A third group comprised mostly of founding members of the party and recognizes a former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, as chairman.
The leadership crisis is so intense that the party could not do an assessment of the Buhari administration as its clocks one year in office.
Should the crisis persist, it is unlikely that the once vibrant PDP would effectively be a check on the APC-led federal administration.
Worse still, the other opposition parties appear to have gone into oblivion, leaving the APC to govern unchecked.
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