It was a meeting hurriedly convened but virtually all the critical stakeholders expected were in attendance at the new banquet hall of the presidential villa at about 6pm on Tuesday, 30th March 2015. That was four days after the presidential election.
The results of the election were still being collated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but with strong indications that the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), was set to win.
Aside President Goodluck Jonathan who chaired the meeting, other people in attendance were: Vice President Namadi Sambo; Senate President David Mark; his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha; the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees chairman, Chief Tony Anenih; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim; Governor of Cross River State, Mr Liyel Imoke; and former Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi. At the meeting also were all the members of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) led by its chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu.
The atmosphere at the meeting was sombre and without much preamble, President Jonathan announced: “Gentlemen, about an hour ago, I called General Buhari to concede and to congratulate him. But I did that not because the PDP lost the election but rather to calm the nation, as many people advised me to do so. Even when I conceded to allow the nation move forward, the information at my disposal is that the election has been massively rigged and INEC is complicit. While I have done my bit as a statesman, I believe the party should put out a strong statement to reject the result and that the PDP will challenge it in court. I think the National Publicity Secretary of the party should do that.”
After his speech, the president yielded the floor to Chief Anenih who argued that the APC had already created a precedent in Ekiti State where the defeated Governor Kayode Fayemi conceded and congratulated the victorious PDP candidate (current Governor Ayo Fayose) but allowed his party to challenge the election in court. Chief Anenih, however, added that the party’s statement should be signed not by the publicity secretary but rather by the national chairman while urging that “any discussion of other elections be suspended until we recover the stolen presidency”. He thereafter suggested that a committee headed by Olisa Metuh be constituted to draft the statement which the chairman (Muazu) would then sign and release.
With Anenih’s suggestion adopted, the PDP National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo; the National Legal Adviser, Mr Victor Kwon as well as Anyim and Peter Obi were asked to join the Metuh committee to draft the statement. It was at that point that the meeting dissolved but by the next day, with the statement drafted, Muazu declined to release it to the media. And he got the support of the other NWC members who felt the president, who sidelined them in the course of the election (which ensured that they were only hearing about the campaign billions without partaking in the largesse) now wanted to use them.
When words got to the villa that Muazu, who did not raise any objection when the decision was taken the day earlier, had declined to issue the statement, the duo of Imoke and the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Godswill Akpabio were sent to put pressure on him. But Muazu reportedly told them that if the president, the party’s candidate at the election had already conceded, why would he say something to the contrary? The PDP chairman was also said to have reminded both Imoke and Akpabio about all the warnings he had given on how religion and ethnicity were being used by the president’s wife and some of his supporters like Fayose to “demarket” him in the North in the course of the campaign.
At the end, all the efforts by Imoke and Akpabio to get Muazu to issue the statement failed and it was on that note that the idea of PDP challenging the presidential result ended. But with that also, the trouble within the party had just begun. Yet what it shows clearly is that if PDP was unable to manage victory, the party has even greater challenge in coping with defeat.
While I intend to share the details of the intrigues within the PDP before, during and after the presidential election in my coming book, “Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria”, it is very clear now that the party went into the election as a divided house. But it is the president who is now paying the price having been misled by some powerful ministers around him into believing that money was everything, forgetting that you need a strong political structure and everybody working on the same page to win such a crucial election, even in Nigeria.
What I now find particularly interesting is that the president may be meeting his match in Muazu, once being eulogised as “the game changer”, who is not willing to go down (like Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, Dr. Okwesilizie Nwodo, Dr. Haliru Bello and Alhaji Bamanga Tukur) without a fight. It tells a compelling story of its own that Muazu is the 6th PDP Chairman under Jonathan, all within a period of five years. One of them, Abubakar Baraje, even led the break-away faction that later metamorphosed into the All Progressives Congress (APC) that has now defeated the PDP.
With many things now coming out about how the PDP ran a dysfunctional presidential campaign, it is surprising that the party was expecting to win. For instance, the presidential campaign committee was headed by former PDP National Chairman, Dr Ahmadu Ali but I have it on good authority that most of the approvals for campaign spending were coming from Chief Anenih with funds disbursal being the prerogative of Senator Nenadi Usman, a former Finance Minister under President Obasanjo. For media, all the funds were routed through Chief Femi Fani-Kayode with Olisa Metuh completely sidelined but that was not the problem. The main issue was that many people within the party hierarchy, especially those from the North, felt uncomfortable that statements from Fani-Kayode were never complete without references to the Bible as if Jonathan was contesting for the presidency of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)!
With the elections over, and at a time you expect the PDP to regroup, the leaders are now squealing on one another. You hear stories of over a thousand vehicles that can now not be accounted for, tales of how billions of Naira and hundreds of millions of Dollars were being distributed and who got what as well as stories of internal sabotage, betrayals and double-dealings within the party.
In what appeared an attempt to douse the raging fire, the PDP, at the instance of the president, on Tuesday, constituted a review committee to identify, among other things, “the remote and immediate causes of the relatively poor performance of the PDP in the 2015 general election.” With three weeks to submit its report, committee chairman, Senator Ekweremadu said at the occasion: “Much as we are pained by the sad turn of events, we must come to terms with the fact that anger, recriminations, self-pity and blame trading will not take us even an inch away from the harsh outcomes of the 2015 general election.”
How the PDP resolves its internal contradictions is of no concern to me but like many Nigerians, I am interested in seeing the PDP overcome its current difficulties. By coming against the excesses of some people in power and criticising government policies when we saw the need to do so, some of us have been labelled APC members. I am almost certain that very soon, we will also ‘become’ PDP members when we begin to highlight the failings of the new apostles of ‘change’. That then explains why we need the PDP as a strong bulwark against the soon-to-be ruling party where you also have some very powerful individuals who are adept at deploying (and possibly retaining) power, not necessarily in promotion of the public good.
What the foregoing means in effect is that the president must help the PDP to put its house in order but in doing that, he should also be mindful of people who may want to use him in promotion of their own agenda. President Jonathan must be discerning enough to see things clearly: The current jostling within the PDP is not about the election that he just lost no matter how the protagonists and antagonists couch the issues for him; it is about the future, their own future. Of course there is nothing wrong with that but the lesson such cold calculations teaches is that the president should be circumspect about the choices he makes or the ones being made on his behalf, especially at a time like this.
All over the world, presidents and prime ministers lose elections but their parties survive to carry on the work of democratic engagement in the political space. In the instant case, President Jonathan has lost an election and his party runs the risk of completely disintegrating in the aftermath. While the PDP may have its down sides, its survival beyond the Jonathan presidency has become a matter of national political security.
The PDP was founded and sustained on the assumption that it would remain in office and preside over the sharing of national resources indefinitely. Now that it has lost its power of patronage at the centre, the party could starve to death as President Jonathan himself predicted recently when he warned those trooping to the APC that they may return with 'empty stomach'. That presidential prophesy, an issue for another day, also says a lot about what public service has been reduced to in Nigeria: it is almost always about some people looking for something to eat!
To come back to the PDP crisis, the sad truth is this: in the bid to get President Jonathan re-elected, some of the people around him overreached themselves, by-passed the PDP leadership in critical decisions, mistook his personal political enemies for party adversaries, abused those with whom they ought to have dialogued and conducted a most primitive and very divisive presidential campaign. Clearly, these same people who practically ran the ruling party aground, and contributed in no small measure to the defeat of the president, cannot be relied upon to salvage the PDP.
Therefore, all factors considered, the task of stabilising our political space by helping the PDP come back on its feet belongs not only to genuine party members but indeed also to the more perceptive national elite, including those of us in the media. To the extent that it is in our enlightened self-interest to have a formidable opposition party so that our democracy can thrive, we must welcome the Ekweremadu committee, hoping its report will help steer the PDP away from the precipice of internal implosion.