The crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is showing no sign of abating, less than four weeks before the campaigns begin for the 2023 General Election. The crisis has become intractable, showing every effort being made to resolve it as belated – like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Roots of the crisis
The crisis started between the winner and runner-up in the PDP presidential primary over the pick of the running mate. It is now forcing the party to focus on a single issue rather than preparation for the forthcoming polls: the lack of regional balance in power sharing in the party.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike was angry that Atiku rejected him as his running mate. He has now latched on to that issue because it also captured his explanation for his loss in the primary.
Let’s remember that the PDP found itself in this lurch by abandoning its principle of power sharing and rotation among the constituent parts of Nigeria. That principle had played a key part in the formation of the party.
When politicians representing the mainstream political groups from most parts of the country got together to form the party in 1998, it was at a time Nigeria was groping out of a 13-year military interregnum that had accentuated a perception of a northern monopoly of political powers in the country. The three military dictators after the 1983 overthrow of Second Republic President Shehu Shagari were all northerners and the annulment of the 12 June, 1993 presidential election by one of them had led many southerners to conclude that a section felt entitled to perpetual rulership of the country.
The 1994-95 national constitutional conference convened by Sani Abacha aimed to disabuse that perception when it agreed on some novel recommendations for power sharing, including the rotation of the presidency between North and South over a period of time. But the 1999 Constitution promulgated by the regime of Abdulsalami Abubakar, the military successor of Mr Abacha, omitted that provision, instead leaving it to the political parties.
The PDP, which began inadvertently when a group of 36 prominent politicians published a letter rejecting the charade for the transmutation of Mr Abacha into a civilian president, shortly before the sudden death of the dictator in 1998, made power-sharing at all levels a core principle. It further recommended zoning of political offices to ensure even-handed distribution of political offices at the federal and subnational levels.
The northern leaders of the party also agreed to allow the South to take the first turn on the presidential seat in the 1999 elections. This led the presidential hopefuls from the North to suspend their aspiration and leave the field in the first PDP presidential primary held in Jos, Plateau State to their southern rivals.
Since Olusegun Obasanjo won that primary and the general election in 1999, the PDP had rotated its presidential ticket between North and South. It was in pressing for the continuation of that arrangement that the southern zones last year pushed the office of National Chairman of the party to the North, with Mr Ayu taking it as the consensus candidate.
However, the party subsequently persuaded itself that it was not yet the turn of the southern zone to produce the presidential candidate, even though the last candidate of the party was from the North and the man the party seeks to replace in 2023 is also from that region. That is the root of the current crisis.
With the emergence of Atiku again as the candidate, his region now holds not just the national chairmanship too, but also the chairmanship of the two other key organs of the party – the Board of Trustees (BOT) and the Governors Forum.
At their meeting with Atiku in London penultimate Thursday, Mr Wike and his friends said Mr Ayu must give up his seat as a condition for them to negotiate with him for their support in the presidential election. More so that Mr Ayu had in an interview on Arise Television, shortly after his emergence as chairman, said he would not hesitate to give up the position should the party nominate its presidential candidate from the North.
Atiku and Ayu’s journey together
The condition placed Atiku in a dilemma. To be sure, he and Mr Ayu are allies and the chairman is committed to his victory next year. They were together in the Peoples Front of the Shehu Yar’adua political family from where they moved into the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the short-lived Third Republic, before also moving together into the SDP. Both of them were in the G-36 that formed the PDP.
In the first administration of the party under President Obasanjo, Atiku was vice president and Mr Ayu a minister. And when Atiku was kicked out of the PDP in 2006, Mr Ayu accompanied him into the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on who’s ticket Atiku ran in the 2007 presidential election. They had also been together in the All Progressives Congress (APC) before retracing their steps back to the PDP.
It is not clear what role Atiku played in the emergence of Mr Ayu as the national chairman last year. But there is no dispute that Atiku was Mr Ayu’s horse in the presidential primary of the party. Mr Wike has said it was his bias that allowed Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, to withdraw and endorse Atiku just before voting started at the party’s convention in Abuja on the night of 28 May , a development in Mr Wike’s view that tipped the poll in Atiku’s favour. Early morning the day after the event, Mr Ayu had rushed to Mr Tambuwal’s home in Abuja to thank him for tipping the scale so decisively, declaring the governor the “Man of the Convention.”
Lesson of history
There is no doubt that Mr Ayu is Atiku’s man. But does that mean he can make the chairman resign without fuss, even if he wants to do so? Political arithmetic does not always add up.
President Obasanjo put Barnabas Gemade and Audu Ogbeh, both ironically also from Benue State as Mr Ayu, into the same office. But they did not kindly oblige him even as the sitting president when he asked them to resign.
And why should Atiku want a loyal ally to quit a key party position and be replaced with the candidate of a bitter enemy at such a crucial time? History does not suggest that would be a wise thing to do.
After winning the presidential ticket in a cliffhanger primary election of the SDP in Jos in 1993, Moshood Abiola did not think it wise to grab everything through the momentum of his own victory. The Yar’adua group, which had somehow snatched victory from the jaw of defeat by aligning with Mr Abila at the last minutes in the presidential primary votes, eventually put Tony Anenih on the party chair and also grabbed other key party positions.
Mr Abiola would rue that mortal error in the crises that followed his victory in the general election. Mr Anenih would later take his party leadership to negotiate away the mandate of Mr Abiola and endorse the formation of the Interim National Government that Mr Babangida left as a Trojan horse when he stepped aside under massive pressure on August 26, 1993.
Some newspapers also reported that Mr Wike and his friends made other demands at their London meeting on 25 August , including that Atiku serves a single term, allowing the Wike camp to produce the leadership of the Senate and ministers for some key portfolios.
On first consideration, those demands appear excessive and humiliating to Atiku. An observer looking at them said Mr Wike was shaking hands with Atiku with a clenched fist, while another said the group was deliberately making impossible demands.
But those, in the view of this reporter, are easier to accede to for Atiku than the demand for the sacrifice of Ayu. This is because fulfilment can only come in the future if Atiku wins. And if that happens, the situations of both camps would have also changed dramatically. Now, Atiku is negotiating from a position of weakness. By June next year, if Atiku wins, Wike and his friends will be former governors and their current advantages over Atiku would have evaporated and their positions reversed.
More so, that the agreement includes that Atiku serves only one term. What that would mean to him is that they are no longer going to be useful to him after the election, as he would have to look elsewhere for support should he be seeking a second term. So, why fulfil an agreement they obtained from him under duress?
History again points in this direction. After some of those who had backed Mr Obasanjo in 1999 shown him signs that they were not keen on his reelection, he turned to the same Mr Anenih, his minister who had by then become his “Mr Fix it,” to cobble together a new coalition. That new coalition eventually helped him to crush the opposition to his re-nomination in the PDP in the 2003 primary.
Atiku had been part of that opposition and was to be its main beneficiary after the key actors had considered and dropped Second Republic vice president, Alex Ekwueme. However, Atiku wavered on the eve of the convention and instead extracted a pledge from Mr Obasanjo to retain him as his vice president. He too has lived to regret that faux pas.
Mr Obasanjo had negotiated with Atiku from a position of weakness at the primary. But their positions became reversed after their reelection and the president showed no mercy in dealing with his disloyal deputy. The judiciary and the media eventually saved Atiku from removal from office.
Both sides in the PDP crisis are familiar with all those events and would have drawn appropriate lessons from them. That is why the crisis in the party is intractable. The chord of trust is broken and any hope of full reconciliation from this point may be wishful thinking.
Anyway, Mr Ayu has vowed not to resign. Did he speak after consultation with Atiku or did he choose to take the matter out of the hands of the candidate?
Whatever his declaration has forced party leaders across the country into coming out to declare their positions on the issue. According to newspaper reports, the state chapters are divided. While some, especially in the South, think the party cannot go into the election with a lopsided leadership structure, others have said there is no time before the elections to tinker with that structure. The crisis is believed to be delaying the announcement of the party’s presidential campaign council.
The National Executive Committee and National Working Committee of the party are expected to meet on Thursday to seek closure on these issues. But Mr Wike and his friend governors may not be attending the crucial meetings. On Friday, they jetted out again to London to resume their consultations.
Different sources have named different personalities that they may be meeting this time. Mr Ayu will fight to keep his job at those meetings. But his governor will not be around to help him as Mr Ortom has said he is on a two-week vacation and will not be returning home to Nigeria until the middle of September.
What next for Atiku, Wike?
That leaves us with the question of what next for the two sides? Ironically, for Atiku, the biggest problem Mr Wike is causing him is not allowing him to concentrate on other huge threats to his success in the election, in the forms of Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).
Both men until this election cycle were in the PDP but have now opened their own shops. As acknowledged by a former acting national chairman of the PDP, Ahmed Makarfi, any vote recorded by those two candidates is a vote taken away from the PDP. The former Kaduna governor stated this while urging his party to seek bringing those two back into its fold before the poll, realising that a divided opposition hardly prevails in general elections.
For Mr Wike and his friends, how can they hurt Atiku next year without hurting themselves and their associates? Governors Ortom of Benue and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia are PDP senatorial candidates. Seyi Makinde of Oyo is also seeking reelection on a PDP ticket. Like Mr Wike, the hand-picked governorship and legislative seat candidates of the governors are also running with the tickets of the party. Their self-interests thus dictate that they can not go all out to undermine their party’s presidential candidate or even be lukewarm to his efforts.
It has been said that the angry governors may campaign for and fund only their candidates at the state level, but that alone will rub off on their party, as the presidential election holds on the same day as the National Assembly polls. They also know that the outcomes of those polls may affect the fortunes of their candidates in the governorship and state House of Assembly elections, which hold two weeks later.
That should offer Atiku some comfort.
A former Kano State governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, formally returned to the PDP on Monday, three months after he defected to the NNPP from the APC.
He was received at a public ceremony in Kano by Atiku, his running mate, Rivers State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa; the national chairman, Mr Ayu; and other party big names.
Mr Shekarau said at the event that he would drop the senatorial ticket that was given to him by the NNPP for the 2023 election.
The development continues the revolving movement of the former two-term governor who is currently the senator for Kano Central District, having been elected in 2019 on the ticket of the APC.
He defected from the APC in May over the alleged sidelining of his group by Governor Abdullahi Ganduje. That defection had ended his second appearance in the APC, being one of the leaders that formed the party in 2013. But shortly after the party absorbed a breakaway group from the PDP, Mr Shekarau stormed out after the new party handed over its structure in Kano to then Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, who was one of the five governors who had arrived from the then ruling PDP.
Mr Shekarau was immediately appointed minister by then President Goodluck Jonathan who expected much from him in the populous Kano State as he prepared for his reelection bid. However, Mr Shekarau fled the PDP and returned to the APC in 2018, after Mr Kwankwaso had made the same trip in the opposite direction.
It was thus surprising when Mr Shekarau decided in May to team up in the NNPP with the man who had been his reason for the numerous flip-flops in his political career. Mr Kwankwaso had only weeks before joined the NNPP to run for president on its ticket. Both men had been political adversaries since Mr Kwankwaso redeployed Mr Shekarau as a permanent secretary in the state civil service. The latter later unseated the governor in the 2003 election and Mr Kwankwaso did not get a second term until Mr Shekarau concluded his own in 2011.
Atiku and the party chieftains who received him on Monday spoke of their expectation of Mr Shekarau to help the PDP and its presidential ticket retake Kano State next year. But Mr Shekarau did not win in the state for himself or his party in two attempt, until he returned to the party of President Buhari and won the senate seat he now holds.
In 2011, while leaving office as governor, Mr Shekarau took the ANPP presidential ticket abandoned by Mr Buhari. But he came a disappointing fourth in the election with only 2.4per centt of the votes, behind Messrs Jonathan and Buhari and Nuhu Ribadu of the then ACN. In that election, he also came a distant second in his home Kano State, behind Mr Buhari.
Four years later when he joined the PDP, the party polled just over 200,000 votes to the nearly two million votes polled by Mr Buhari in Kano. However, after again changing parties with Mr Kwankso for the 2019 elections, the latter led the PDP to shave off over 400,000 from Mr Buhari’s take in the state.
After his latest defection, some of his associates in Kano told journalists that they would not be following him into the PDP. A member of the House of Representatives (Karaye/Rogo federal constituency), Haruna Isah Dederi, said the associates had resolved to remain in the NNPP.
Commenting on the development in an interview with Daily Trust newspaper, a political analyst, Abbati Bako, warned that his constant defection may cost Mr Shekarau his popularity.
“First of all you have to understand that defecting from one party to another is not good in any political democracy because ideology is the most important element. In advanced democracies, you cannot see this kind of political shenanigans, one member moving from one political party to another.
“Our politicians should understand that ideology is the most important element of political democracy. Malam Ibrahim Shekarau’s defection from one party to another is not a good omen for his political career. It will reduce his political integrity or popularity in political democracy.”