From the brink of a canyon of strife and furnace threatening to consume and burn it into ashes, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) returned battle-ready to reclaim power it lost in 2015 from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2023 general elections.
Basking in the euphoria of the success of its recent national convention during the inauguration of the newly elected National Working Committee (NWC) on December 10, the party’s new National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, boasted that the PDP was now the party to beat in the forthcoming polls and was certain to dislodge the APC.
With public disenchantment with the Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s perceived mismanagement of Nigeria’s diversity, its underperformance in critical sectors of anti-corruption crusade, security and economy and reign of impunity in the last six years, Ayu was sure Nigerians would reject APC and vote in the next elections. According to him, APC’s only legacies in its twilight are two economic recessions and a sluggish Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of below two per cent. Add to this the nation’s total debt of over $90 billion, and an exchange rate regime that has depreciated N324 against the US dollar.
The PDP’s hectoring is not without basis. Apart from the shortcomings of the ruling party which has rendered it vulnerable, it is the only opposition party with formidable structure, spread strength and resilience capable of giving APC a run for its money and popularity in the elections. Other political parties have either fizzled out or merged with others.
Although it almost recently threw this advantage, carefully built in its 16 years in power away to internal squabbles, it came out of its last national convention, against all odds, without rancour and put to rest speculations that it was having the final gasp of death!
Apparently, the outcome of the convention is giving the APC also enmeshed in serious leadership crises from the state to the national levels a lot of jitters on which direction to go.
Before the PDP’s latest twist of fortune, it had been engulfed in internal wrangling since its defeat in 2015 and which grew worse by 2021, when three of its governors and several federal lawmakers defected to the APC.
All moves to resolve the conflict essentially involving the former party chairman, Uche Secondus and the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, failed. This has badly affected the party’s efforts at uniting and repositioning itself for 2023. Secondus’s leadership was accused of complacency and corruption, factors said to have caused the party to lose Zamfara, Ebonyi and even Cross River States.
In spite of Ayu’s optimism, enormous challenges dogged the party’s new leadership bid to return to power in 2023. Some of these relate to lingering issues connected to the past crisis. For instance, party faithful and analysts are concerned as to how Dr. Ayu, hope to maintain neutrality and convince one and all that he would not be a stooge of the governors who were largely instrumental to his emergence as national chairman?
There is also the question of how he would end imposition of unpopular candidates and other breaches of internal democracy, especially by the governors and godfathers, which are responsible for weakening and tearing the party apart?
But most importantly, eyes are on the chairman over how he hopes to handle the delicate issue of the presidential ambitions of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; ex-Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Sule Lamido, Anyim Pius Anyim, Tanimu Turaki and other heavyweights seeking to fly the party’s flag?
However, conducting the selection of the party’s candidates for next year’s governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States to avoid disaffection and ensure the party wins has become the litmus test in the immediate for Ayu and the new NWC! Considering the number of heavyweights who have declared interest in the race, this is a daunting task indeed. The polls are scheduled to hold in Ekiti on June 18 and Osun on July 16 2022, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Although well-structured and strong there, the PDP faces the challenge of dismantling the equally formidable APC which is working round the clock to retain control of the two states. The governorship elections do not just signpost a renewal of bitter rivalry, there is the 2023 general election context playing out in the preparations for the governorship polls by the parties, especially as far as the South West is concerned.
But Governor Wike, is positive the new PDP leadership has the strategy to surmount the challenges confronting it. To this end, it has begun to engage Nigerians and party members to identify what the problems are and how to address them properly, he said.
Also a former Commissioner for Information in Edo State and chieftain of the party, Prince Kassim Afegbua, acknowledges that the new leadership has a lot on its plate to resolve. However, he remarks in an interview, the NWC has started on a good note by structuring the party’s account system to entrench a culture of transparency. According to him, the opportunity is there for the PDP to re-grab power if only the leadership would look beyond selfish and parochial interests in dealing with party issues.
A prominent member of the PDP and two-time member of the House of Representatives from Kaduna State, Hon. Godfrey Ali Gaiya, believes Ayu, with his wealth of experience in politics and academia would give the PDP a new lease of life and lead the party to victory in the general elections. “He was a lecturer, an ASUU unionist, an elected Senator, an elected Senate President, a minister of the Federal Republic amongst so many other records of service. He is bringing into the PDP national chairmanship a lot of credentials and wealth of experience… He understands the PDP terrain very well having been a founding father. He is well respected in the party and as an astute administrator. Being a straightforward person, he is not likely going to compromise on party guidelines and the constitution… He is a known disciplinarian and will apply the rules of engagement. PDP is lucky to have someone of Senator Ayu’s disposition at this moment and is the right man to reposition the party to win back power to PDP come 2023,” Gaiya says. The former chairman of the House Committee on Sports, says Ayu would do what is right to salvage Nigerians from what he called APC’s bad governance.
In the same vein, a PDP stalwart in Oyo State, Abiodun Adeniji, said the party is back to take its rightful place in Nigerian politics, starting with the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. “The irony of it is that APC is making our job easier with the hardship the Buhari government is foisting on Nigerians.”
Nigerians anxiously wait to see how Ayu and his team would address the myriad of crises in some state chapters of the party in the coming months. That would be the indicator as to whether PDP has really broken from its factitious past and is poised to retake power.