PDP Rebranding: Doubtful Contrition Amid Daunting Challenges
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has not hidden its serious efforts to overcome the agony of its recent defeat by the conglomeration of erstwhile opposition parties under the common platform of All Progressives Congress (APC). The party has not only mooted the idea of bending backwards to right the many wrongs that dogged its glorious 16 years in power, influence and affluence, it has embarked on an electronic membership registration which it botched earlier. There are other revisions but the Senator Ike Ekweremadu review committee set out what the party considers as the articulate road map to wean the party into the hearts of Nigerians once again.
Last week’s “One-Day PDP National Conference” held in Abuja, November 12, 2015 provided what could be described as the first bold step by the erstwhile ruling party to look its pitfalls in the eye as a political party. However, the general impressions about the conference is that PDP appears too much in a hurry to regain power that it does not seem to have taken serious thought about its organisational structure and philosophy of function.
The first sign that PDP is making frenzied haste to regain its perch at the top of Nigeria’s polity came barely few days to the one-day conference. Chairman of the 53-man conference committee, Aleogho Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, sought for the forgiveness of the geopolitical north for the party’s sin against it by denying it the presidential ticket for the 2015 general elections. He did not stop there. The conference committee chairman also apologised on behalf of PDP to Nigerians for not meeting their yearnings and aspirations during its 16 years in control of federal political power. While indicating that the party was remorseful and full of contrition, Dokpesi assured that PDP was “ready to mend fences” adding that that was why the national conference was organised to review “all issues affecting the party’s operations.”
Dokpesi noted that the Ike Ekweremadu report revealed that “there was no internal democracy, there was impunity within the party and there was no level-playing ground for members of the party”, stressing that that prompted the apologies. Some of the acts of impunity by the party, the conference committee chairman pointed out, included the infringement on the zoning principles and deviation from the visions of its founding fathers like Adamu Ciroma and Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Specifically Dr. Dokpesi acknowledged that fielding the former president Dr. Jonathan for the presidential election was wrong, contending that the party “ought to have allowed the northern part of the country to complete its term when former President Umaru Yar’Adua died in 2010.”
But Dokpesi’s apology suggested a lack of coherence within the party and revealed the internal contradictions that precipitated its failure at the polls. Being the chairman of the conference committee, was it within the ambit of the committee to render the apology? And having rendered that apology, was there any way the party rebuked or reprimanded the leaders especially members of the National Working Committee (NWC) for losing sight of the ingrained vision of the party and leading it to a woeful defeat at the hands of a fledgling makeshift platform? Again, would it not have made more sense, if the party had commissioned an independent committee of experts to research into the fall of PDP and come up with its findings and recommendations? That way, at least, it could not be seen that the same fault lines that wrecked the party still exist within the membership of PDP. That is what Dr. Dokpesi’s contrition without restitution left in the minds of many Nigerians.
That may also have been the reason why the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, rose to denounce the apology, describing it as the personal views of its national conference committee chairman. Denying that Dr. Dokpesi was a member of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), Metuh maintained that the apology did not in any way represent the official position of the PDP. Rebuffing any regret, which the apology might have conveyed, the publicity secretary noted that the choice of Jonathan as candidate in the 2015 presidential race was approved by the NWC. The party’s NEC and the national caucus of the party, he added, also ratified the decision. “How can you regret a decision taken when everyone was there, the NWC, NEC and the national caucus? The Constitution of the party allows a sitting president the chance to exercise his personal right to run for a second term if he so desires,’ Metuh narrated, adding that nobody was coerced into supporting the position.
Despite Metuh’s spirited explanations, a cross section of party faithful believe that some members of the NWC did not rise to the demands of their office to give an impassioned report, showing that the balance was skewed against the party in the last election. “What some of them did was to paint a rosy picture before the then President only to position themselves for campaign funds, knowing that there was fear,” said a top notch PDP stalwart. The source, which confided in The Guardian shortly after the conference, said that unless a clean sweep is made of all those who worked one way or the other to sink the party during the next convention, the party’s stay outside the foci of power would be long. He regretted that some state governors either out of fear or plain political naivety were planning to defect to APC. That apprehension may have also informed Dr. Dokpesi’s explanation that the 2015 national conference with the theme, “PDP and the Sustenance of Democratic Ideals in Nigeria”, was packaged to “re-invigorate, re-engineer and re-structure the PDP into a veritable instrument for driving national growth, development and representation.” The conference committee chairman explained that the prevailing situation in Nigeria “clearly shows that mere change of government is not what the people want but a chance to participate more actively in governance.” He expressed the hope that the leadership of PDP would reposition and empower the party to enable it bounce back to power in 2019 and deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. Sounding as one abreast with the failings of the party, Dopkesi declared: “A leader is not just the one sitting on top of the pyramid looking down at his followers and barking instructions to them, a leader is the one that sees as essential the grooming of those at the lower levels of the pyramid for an effective succession implementation scheme.”
How far the conference would succeed in rebranding and reinvigorating its structures for responsible performance would be seen in the days before and after its national convention next year. In the communiqué after the conference, signed by the party’s National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo, PDP noted that the objectives of the conference were to take stock of the party’s performance at the 2015 Presidential and general elections and reflect on the future with a view to providing better options for the Nigerian electorates. The Conference, which Oladipo said was in keeping with Article 33 (5, 8) of the PDP Constitution, was attended by party leaders and key stakeholders, including, founding members, serving and former elected and appointed officers on the platform of the party at all levels, as well as, youth and women leaders across the country.
The conference noted that PDP inherited an authoritarian polity, a huge foreign debt overhang and decaying national infrastructure alongside low national morale among other national challenges. It also noted the country’s unprecedented 16 years of sustained democratic governance under the PDP, stressing that the period was “characterized by unhindered personal freedom, respect for rule of law and absence of political prisoners, liberalization of the political space, Freedom of Information Act, which gave rise to good and accountable governance, as well as transparent and accountable electoral process, which led to credible, free and fair elections in the country.” Without excusing its failure at the poll on those “difficult circumstances in the country” the conference noted that successive PDP governments at various levels assiduously and effectively implemented progressive people oriented development policies.
Some of these policies, it said, included the development of institutional framework to fight corruption and corrupt practices, like the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission) and EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission). Other achievements recorded by PDP, which the conference acknowledged include, “unprecedented revolution in the communication sector, which propelled Nigeria to the 21st century; negotiating and effecting an $18 billion foreign debt write-off; establishing the Excess Crude Account and Sovereign Wealth Fund for future generations of Nigerians, thereby making the future more secure; unprecedented infrastructural development in all sectors of the economy; stabilizing the Nigerian banking sector during the period of global economic meltdown when banks in developed economies were collapsing and increased access to quality education at all levels to Nigerian youths.”
The conference also noted that the enhancement of the capacity of Nigerian farmers through easy access to farming inputs and direct financial support for higher productivity was achieved during the party’s stay in authority. It said the party deserves kudos for the formulation and implementation of strategic policies, which strengthened the national health system as manifested in the increase in life expectancy, decline in maternal and infant mortality and containment of life threatening diseases such as polio, HIV and AIDS and the Ebola virus disease, among others. The conference said it was on record that PDP administration grew the Nigerian economy to the status of the largest in Africa and one of the fastest growing in the world.
Resource persons at the conference were Prof. Alphonsus Nwosu, Ambassador Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN) and Prof. Dakas J. Dakas. The conference observed that PDP was established to restore democracy and rule of law in Nigeria and usher in the Third Republic and reaffirm that federalism bequeathed by the founding fathers of the country remains the only acceptable form of government, adding that the party came on board to accelerate national development, protect the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of Nigerians.
Consequently, the party resolved that to “sustain these ideals in the face of diminishing quality of democratic governance under the increasingly fascist APC regime”, it shall continue at all levels to ensure credible, robust and issues-based opposition, while promoting harmonious relationship among all people and ensuring that citizens’ confidence in democracy does not wane.
And in keeping with its desire to bounce back, the conference called for the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Ekweremadu Committee Report, especially those relating to zoning, internal democracy, e-registration and the restructuring of the party at all levels, with a view to giving PDP back to the people.
Perhaps, in a bid to further sharpen its strategic communication as the main opposition party, the conference called on the international community to note the growing impunity, abuse of power, constitutional infractions, violation of human rights, selective war against corruption, clamp-down on the opposition, divisiveness and overall high-handedness of the ruling party describing those as “tendencies that pose great threat to our democracy and unity as a nation.”
It also condemned “the growing authoritarianism of the APC-led federal government” citing instances of selective application in the fight against corruption targeted at opposition elements and perceived opponents of the regime. The conference also “rejected the current manipulation of the judiciary and security forces by the APC-led federal government in its desperate bid to subvert the sovereign will of the people and forcefully take over states genuinely won by the PDP in the last general elections”, so as to impose a one-party state in Nigeria. The party therefore enjoined the new INEC leadership to assert the independence of the electoral body by resisting all external influences and ensure free, fair and credible electoral process in Kogi and Bayelsa states and in future elections. While insisting that the PDP will not accept any results that do not reflect the true wishes and aspirations of the people, particularly in Kogi and Bayelsa states, the conference participants resolved to further expand the inclusion and the role of youths in party programmes and policies. The conference noted the need for the party to “develop roadmap for a vibrant youth participation and support concession for electoral contests” and urged all organs of the party to commence preparations for the National Convention scheduled for March 2016 and in the preceding congresses at the zonal through states, local government to ward levels.
Chairman of the review committee and Deputy President of Senate, Ekweremadu gorged on the APC federal government regretting that after ascending to political power “on the wings of propaganda”, the party has found that propaganda could not help it fulfill any of its campaign promises. Alluding to the unilateral actions of President Muhammadu Buhari, he noted that APC was taking Nigeria back to the pre-democratic era. And weaving an analogous scenario to when the founding fathers of PDP waged principled battle against military dictatorship, the Senator said: “Our great party men and women stood up when it mattered most to oppose anti-democratic forces, human rights abuses, inequity, injustice, and despotism. It is safe, therefore, to say that we are back in the trenches for democracy because credible and responsible opposition is an essential, indeed indispensable component of thriving democracy and good governance.” He rated the ability of PDP to bounce back highly, stressing that evidence abound that “APC won by promising much more than they could deliver, hoping to deliver less.” While dropping the hint of the possibility that Nigerians would soon be fed up with APC dubious tactics, Ekweremadu tasked his party to set up a shadow cabinet to hold the APC accountable, insisting, “the ruling party must always be put at the mercy of the truth. That is the job of the opposition: to confront errors with the truth; to stand up for what is right; to offer constructive criticisms of the follies and errors of the ruling party; and to proffer better ideas for moving the nation forward.”
Earlier, in his “Message of Hope” to the conference, the Acting National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, reminded participants, founding fathers and elder statesmen, that “this is yet another demonstration of your abiding faith in the house you helped to build.” While commending the Deputy Senate President, Senate Minority Leader, House of Reps Minority Leader, Governors and members of the National and State Assemblies, for displaying “uncommon loyalty, commitment and courage in the promotion and protection of the party’s interests during these trying times”, Secondus noted that as laudable as the conference is, it “is part of the soul-searching and reconciliation process.”
The Acting National Chairman stated that in spite of its disappointing loss in the 2015 general elections, PDP should draw energy for a rebound from “our proud heritage” noting that “ours is the Party that in 1998 rose to the occasion to recreate our civil political institutions, to reconcile the diverse people of Nigeria for unity and brotherhood and proposed an agenda, a manifesto that provided hope in the power of the people to build a prosperous industrial democracy.” He recalled that it was that agenda and hope that “gave us resounding victories in the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections and we subsequently consolidated our presence in the 9,572 electoral wards, 774 Local Governments and in all the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory.”
Secondus added that as the ruling party, “we expanded the frontiers of liberal democracy in our country and as a national Party, ensured that we removed most of the fault lines that divided our diverse peoples” stressing that without doubt, “we have equally laid a solid foundation for a modern industrial economy.” His words: “The point of celebrating our past successes and legacies at this time after the disappointing loss at the 2015 elections is to remind us that we have a proud heritage and that there is the probability that we can re-enact those successes in the future.”
The chairman explained that it was in the drive to chart the way forward that NEC empanelled a Post-Election Review Committee, which returned a far-reaching report on how to reposition the party. “As you may be aware, NEC has adopted the report with few amendments and the NWC has commenced its implementation including preparing the framework for constitutional amendments to effect those proposals,” he said pointing out that “in our bid to consolidate the practice of internal democracy, we ensured that we conducted free, fair and transparent primaries for the up-coming Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.” He said that helped the party to effect reasonable reconciliation after the primaries. “We have kick-started the Biometric Membership Registration for the PDP in Edo State,” he said adding that the nationwide exercise will soon commence. “You will agree with me that this is the way to go in an IT (information Technology) driven world. It is the way to go if we seriously want to return the party to the people; and get the Youth to participate actively… Above all this is the surest tool for guaranteeing internal democracy and implementing the Direct Primaries option we are proposing to introduce. In short the Biometric Membership Registration is the most effective strategy that can finally remove the phenomenon of Godfather in our party’s lexicon.”