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October 4, 2023
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PDP crisis: Can Damagum save its soul?

Nigeria’s contemporary democracy is unthinkable without political parties. It’s unsurprising that party crisis is attracting a lot of attention. Since the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999 after the military interregnum, Nigeria’s democracy has continued to face multidimensional crises triggered by overzealous and ambitious politicians. Many of these politicians have since assumed the status of nothing works unless they have directed or they are in it.

Democracies are expected to remain the world’s wealthiest societies open to new ideas and opportunities. It is the least corrupt and the most protective tool of individual liberties. People around the world prefer democratic ideals to any other form of government where honest elections, free speech and accountability are the main characters.

There should be effective legal constraints on the police,M military and other institutions of authority. In Nigeria, the values embodying the beauty and tenets of democracy like the right to choose leaders in a free and fair election, press freedom and the rule of law are under assault and have continued to be a dominant discourse even after the just concluded general elections.

The wound of losing an election to assembled and merged politicians from other wards of opposition to form the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is still itching deep into the souls of the PDP. The party has since not been without crisis.These crises have further eroded Nigeria’s democratic standards than at any other time in memory. It has damaged the party’s international credibility as a champion for the restoration of democratic institutions, good governance and human rights. It is no longer news that internal wranglings in the party was the reason it lost the presidential elections in 2015, 2019 and 2023.

The PDP constitution

The PDP Constitution in Chapter One, Section 7(3)(c) states “in pursuant of the principles of equity, justice, and fairness the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices, and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committees at all levels”. The emergence of the G-7 in 2015 led by Atiku Abubakar and most recently the G-5 led by the Governor of Rivers state Nyeson Wike are all attributed to the PDP’s inability to respect its constitution. Lack of adherence to the rules and regulations of the party are cited as the key hurting components.

There is a distinction between an organisation with a constitution and constitutionalism and an organisation with constitution without constitutionalism. The ongoing crisis within the PDP in the last eight years is a justification of the saying that the party is an organisation with a constitution without constitutionalism. The constitution of the party is the fundamental to protect its sovereignty. It prescribes the rights, responsibilities,obligations and duties of members. It distributes, secures and limits authority and powers, aggregates and articulates aspirations and interests. It outlines procedures for actions and inactions and sanctions defaults.

Historically, the PDP is preoccupied with the problem of power, particularly the power of those who would rule, especially when that rule might be arbitrary to the party. Constitutionalism could be understood as the expression of a set of abstract moral principles. It suggests certain principles of right and justice which are entitled to prevail on the basis of their own intrinsic excellence, altogether regardless of the attitude of those who wield the physical resources of an organisation. De Smith & Brazir2 state that constitutions are primarily about political authority and the location of power, conferment, distribution, exercise and limitation of authority and power among the agents of a state.

The zoning brouhaha

The zoning bruohaha has continued to keep the party far away from the corridors of power at the center since 2015 when former President Goodluck Jonathan lost to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. It was this principle that gave birth to splinter group of the G-7 Governors of Adamawa, Kwara, Sokoto, Jigawa, Kano, Rivers and Niger states led by the 2023 presidential candidate. The G-5, also known as the Integrity Group, is led by the Governor Wike with both being responsible for the party’s failures on both occasions.

In 1998,the Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme and a group of patriotic Nigerians came together (G34) to form the PDP. Their objective was to build a national political movement where peace, unity, fairness, equity and justice are the centerpiece of government.

The group noted that ever since Nigeria adopted the presidential system of government virtually all the leaders of the country – President Shehu Shagari, Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar – were from the North. This informed the Provisional Military Council under General Abubakar, who was overseeing the final implementation of the transition from military to civilian governance, to insist that the next national leader should come from the South.

This brought President Olusegun Obasanjo and on completion of his tenure, Obasanjo insisted the North should have the slot despite suggestion of a single term of four years to pave the way for late Dr. Alex Ekwueme from the South-east.The move was proposed by the PDP governors led by Delta and Bayelsa states governors, James Ibori and Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieseigha, respectively. After Obasanjo’s third attempt failed, he insisted on the North despite the likes of Donald Duke and Peter Odili equally contested the party’s primaries along side the Late Umaru Musa Yar’adua.

The zoning arrangement was jettisoned after a court ruling in 2010. This argument was the reason the party lost an election and eight years later, it is still an issue. The first was truncating the zoning arrangement to pave the way for Presiden Jonathan to contest and the recent was more of an expediency arrangement against the zoning principle. Many southerners are not comfortable to have another northerner after eight years of President Buhari.

The G-5 demand for Senator Iyorchia Ayu to step aside as PDP national chairman for a southerner failed until the recent court ruling restraining him from parading himself as the national chairman. The G-5 grouse was that the North cannot have concurrently the presidential candidate and the party’s national chairman. Though, other factors like the ethnicity and religious bigotry pushing by the likes of Samuel Ortom of Benue played out, the fact remains that breach of the zoning principle is the reason the party arty lost elections in 2015, 2019 and 2023, respectively. Some PDP members worked against the party’s victory. But Atiku Abubakar himself said Peter Obi overstretched his chances in his traditionally strongholds like the SE, SS and some enclaves in the North.

It is high time Governor Wike and Atiku understood that the party is supreme and its constitution is above their personal ambitions. No doubt, the internal frictions, name calling are more self serving than the collective interest of the party and its members. This conflicts became clear after the PDP’s national convention, Wike’s action is a deviation from his earlier stand on the party that made him..Many left the party before and after the 2015 presidential election but it is standing firm and strong despite the hitches.

The court order restraining Ayu from parading himself as the national chairman after a purported vote of no confidence is a clear indication that all is not well with the main opposition party. The appointment of Ambassador Umar Damagum, deputy national chairman North as acting national chairman pending the outcome of the court ruling speaks volume that the crisis in the party is not over despite losing the presidential election. This is no doubt the beginning of the journey of 2027 even before the President-elect Asiwaju Bola Ahmad Tinubu takes his oath of office on May 29. Damagum has proven that he can reform the party by giving it surprise and first presidential victory in Yobe state. He ushered in real change in the entire Nigeria where a volunteer/POS operator defeated a 6th timer and speaker of Yobe State House of Assembly.

With Damagum as acting national chairman, the reconciliation process should be immediately initiated and let everyone assume his fall back position as a means of repositioning the PDP in the interest of peace and unity.In achieving this daunting task. The likes of Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed CON (Kauran Bauchi) who is the most experienced second term governor left in the party should be appointed co-chairman of the reconciliation committee. Apart from having been a senator, he was minister of Federal Capital Territory and subsequently governor of Bauchi state. Bala Mohammed contested the party’s presidential ticket in the 2022 national convention.

The likes of Governors Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa state whose election is still hanging and Ademola Adeleke of Osun state will play critical roles in rebuilding the PDP. Kauran Bauchi presently is a political lion that will be leading the army of sheep in this struggle to bring the party back to live. The party must return power to the electorate. This is the strategy that favoured Governor Bala in Bauchi despite the gang up against his second term bid. This must be replicated at the national level. Damagum can rescue the PDP if given the chance. Unless he listens and works with other team players, the PDP’s glorious days of 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 will be history.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via [email protected]

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