In the last 10 months, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Nigeria’s main opposition party, has grappled with a lingering leadership crisis that has defied solutions.
The party on May 21, 2016 split into two factions at its national convention in Port Harcourt, following the sack of the National Working Committee led by Ali Modu Sheriff and its replacement with a National Caretaker Committee chaired by Ahmed Makarfi.
Since the crisis broke out, different courts have given varied judgements with the Sheriff group winning some and the Makarfi faction emerging victorious in others.
The crisis deepened when the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, delivered a judgement on February 17, recognising Mr. Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State and senator, as the authentic chairman of the party.
The various organs and most members of the party kicked against the judgement. The Makarfi faction proceeded to the Supreme Court, which heard the matter for the first time last Thursday.
Attempts by some prominent members to resolve the crisis, including former President Goodluck Jonathan intervene have so far been futile. The farthest both groups could go at a meeting brokered by Governor Seriake Dickson on Thursday was to agree to a “cease fire” and stop making public statements on the crisis.
Will the crisis break the 19-year-old party which ran Nigeria for 16 year under three presidents – Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan? Judging from its past, that is unlikely.
In nearly two-decades of its existence, PDP has devised ways out of upheavals that have threatened its survival, and four of such spells of crises have stood out.
Power tussle between Obasanjo and the founding fathers of PDP
In 2001, barely two years after it formed government at the centre, the PDP experienced its first major crisis that shook then ruling party to its foundation.
Crisis broke out after the party’s national convention where Barnabas Gemade was elected the national chairman.
A chieftain of the party, Sunday Awoniyi, had sought to be elected national chairman but the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, favoured Mr. Gemade, currently a senator. The party was sharply divided as some of the founding fathers who queued up behind Mr. Awoniyi, one of their own, resisted the choice of Mr. Gemade.
The crisis lingered for months. In June 2001, Mr. Awonyi and seven others were expelled from the party for “anti-party activities”.
Those sanctioned were former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, former governor of the old Borno State, Asheik Jarma, former governor of the old Gongola State, Bamanga Tukur, and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Don Etiebet. They were all members of the party’s Board of Trustees.
Three national officers of the party were also fired. They were the National Vice Chairman, South-South, Marshall Harry, the National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Ibeshi, and his deputy, Gbenga Olawepo.
While Messrs. Ume-Ezeoke, Awoniyi, Etiebet and Tukur were expelled for allegedly hobnobbing with some new political groups in the country, the national officers were sacked for purportedly sponsoring publications said to be injurious to the image of the party.
However, after about one year, the new party’s leadership under Audu Ogbeh recalled the expelled party leaders, hinging its decision “on the need to begin the formal process of healing all wounds inflicted on its members nationwide as a result of past crisis.”
Mr. Awoniyi did not return to the PDP, as he and members of his faction floated a new political association called National Frontiers.
Among those present at the first meeting of the new political group, were Mr. Ume-Ezeoke (protem chairman), Abdulkarim Adisa, Nsikak Eduok, Isa Mohammed, Sule Ahmed and Yohana Madaki.
Paul Unongo, Kenny Martins, Kabiru Gaya, Idongesit Nkanga, Musa Musawa, Ibrahim Kefas, Mohammed Anka, Jani Ibrahim, Anne Obi, Tanko Ayuba, Sa’ad Brinin Kudu, Ben Apugo, Yahaya Mahmud, Ibrahim Hassan and Femi Okuroumu were also at the occasion.
Messrs. Ume-Ezeoke and Etiebet were later to become the national chairmen of the All Nigeria Peoples Party at different times, while Mr. Tukur returned to the PDP years later to become its national chairman. Mr. Harry also joined the ANPP before he was murdered in Abuja.
In 2002/2003, the PDP was again divided following the power struggle between Mr. Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The major cause of the crisis was the second term ambition of Mr. Obasanjo. His deputy was interested in succeeding his boss.
Mr. Atiku had become very powerful in their first term. He was not only overseeing the economy but also controlled the PDP structure. At the time, Mr. Obasanjo, a retired army general, was literally ruling from the air as he was always travelling abroad in search of elusive investments.
As a result, Mr. Atiku became close to the party’s governors and its other chieftains. The governors wielded enormous power thus making it possible for them to dictate the direction of the then ruling party.
Indeed, it was speculated that the former vice president who had strong political structure recommended Audu Ogbeh to the president to succeed Mr. Gemade as the PDP national chairman.
When Mr. Obasanjo, encouraged by some party chieftains, including Tony Anenih, suddenly realised he was gradually losing political influence to his deputy, he sought to take control of the party. By this time the 2003 general elections were drawing close.
To ensure he secured the party’s ticket, Mr. Obasanjo, literally “begged” the vice president and the governors led by former Delta Governor, James Ibori. After securing the ticket, the embittered president attempted to replace Mr. Atiku as his running mate. His effort was thwarted by the governors and some other prominent members of the party, some of who threatened to dump the party.
Some years later, Mr. Ibori, later convicted and jailed for fraud, told the media that his corruption problem started when he said Mr. Obasanjo was “not sellable, electable and marketable” in 2003.
Even so, because of Mr. Obasanjo’s new grip on the PDP, some of the party’s chieftains who were no longer comfortable in the party, left in frustration. Among them were Jim Nwobodo and Ike Nwachukwu, who went to contest the presidential election on the platforms of the UNPP and NDP, respectively.
A former Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, also quit the PDP to join the ANPP where he became running mate to Muhammadu Buhari in the 2003 election. Also, Habu Fari and some of his associates left for the NDP.
Solomon Lar/Shuaibu Oyedoku “rebellion”
Although it has faced and survived crises in the past, the Solomon Lar/ Shuaibu Oyedoku crisis threatened the party’s existence the most.
In June 2006, the then ruling party split into two when some members led by its pioneer National Chairman, Solomon Lar, announced a parallel national executive committee to take over the running of the party from the then national chairman, Ahmadu Ali.
The splinter group, which claimed to enjoy the support of 17 out of the 36 state chapters and FCT as well as some stalwarts of the party, also opened a parallel national secretariat in the Mabushi area of Abuja.
Leaders of the group consisted mainly of national officers of the party during the leaderships of Barnabas Gemade and Audu Ogbeh as chairmen of the party.
The group announced the setting up of a National Interim Management Committee (NIM) with Mr. Lar as the national leader to take over the running of the party.
Other members of the NIM were Ibrahim Safana (Deputy National Chairman, North), Shuaibu Oyedokun (Deputy National Chairman, South), Orji Nwafor-Orizu (National Secretariat), Umar Kareto (National Treasurer), E.C. Akpbobi (Deputy National Secretary) and Abass Aidi (National Financial Secretary).
Others were Inuwa Labaran (National Organising Secretary), Emmanuel Ibeshi (National Publicity Secretary), Bala Dada (National Legal Adviser), Innocent Agbo (National Auditor), Chika Ibeneme (National Women Leader), and Aminu Ahmed (National Youth Leader).
The group also appointed some national vice chairmen is some zones. They included Ahmed Song (North East), Mutawallin Hadejia (North West), Abiola Morakinyo (South West) and Sam Eke (South East).
Other officers appointed were Bode Ojomu (Deputy National Publicity Secretary), Bashir Sheriff (Deputy National Auditor) and A.A. Okara (Deputy National Financial Secretary).
Mr. Shuaibu, who had served as deputy national chairman of the PDP before the crisis, told journalists that the new executive was formed because the Ali-led NWC had been declared illegal by the court.
He directed the sitting national officers to vacate their offices and hand over to the directors in their various departments.
He noted that out of the 34 founding fathers of the PDP, only three were still in the party and that “others had been chased out by those elements who were beneficiaries of the G34.”
Mr. Oyedokun further contended that the party officers led by Mr. Ali were purportedly elected by affirmation in a method that was strange to its constitution.
One of the first actions the faction took was to nullify the expulsion of a former governor of Anambra State, Chris Ngige, and the suspension of a former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye.
It also said it would set up the State Interim Management Committee of the party.
The Ali-led group said the splinter group acted to weaken the party and jeopardise its fortunes in the 2007 polls.
The party survived the division because it was in power at the federal level and in most of the states. The party subsequently resolved the crisis and went on to win the 2007 with a common front.
Atiku/Five Governors “Revolt”
On August 31, 2013, another major crisis erupted in the PDP, splitting it into two.
During the party’s special national convention at Eagle Square, Abuja, some party chieftains, including seven of its 23 governors, left the event and addressed a press conference where they announced the birth of the New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP).
The governors were Rabi’u Kwankwaso (Kano), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Chibuike Amaechi (Rivers), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Sule Lamido (Jigawa) and Babangida Aliyu (Niger).
Party chieftains who floated the new faction were former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former acting National Chairman of the PDP, Kawu Baraje, a former Osun State Governor and former National Secretary of the party, Olagunsoye Oyinlola.
Mr. Baraje, who spoke for the group, said they struck to salvagethe party from those who had hijacked it.
The splinter group subsequently opened a new secretariat in the Maitama District of Abuja.
Five of the governors, except Messrs. Lamido and Aliyu, dumped the party for the APC, which had been birthed a few months earlier following the successful merger talks by some opposition, namely ACN, CPC, ANPP and a section of APGA.
Some members of the party in the Senate and the House of Representatives, including current Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, were some of the PDP legislators who defected to the APC.
In December 2013, in one fell swoop 37 members of the lower legislative chambers defected to the APC while Mr. Saraki and 10 others followed suit. The senators were Umaru Dahiru, Magnus Abe, Wilson Ake, Bindow Jubrilla, Danjuma Goje and Aisha Jummai-Alhassan. Others were Ali Ndume, Shaba Lafiaji, Abdullahi Adamu and Ibrahim Gobir.
One major outcome of that crisis was the loss of the power at the centre and in some states by the PDP to the APC. Former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP was defeated by the Muhammadu Buhari of the APC in the 2015 presidential poll.
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