How Nigeria's PDP fell from grace
For 16 years, PDP had the presidency, parliament and governorships

When the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was first formed in 1998, it was an assembly of different Nigerian power blocs drawn from across military, political, traditional, religious and economic circles.

Predictably, the party won elections in most parts of the country, especially in the northern region and much of the oil-rich delta and southeastern region.

Trailing the PDP was the All People's Party (APP), which won elections in a few states. Then there was the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which won governorship seats only in the "progressive" southwestern region.

So, while the PDP and, to some extent, the APP were seen as the parties of the "old establishment" – a term implying that they were owned by the army, which had just handed over power to civilians, and the northern oligarchy and their lackeys in the south – the AD by contrast called itself the "party of the progressives," i.e., those who had always fought against military rule.

Despite allegations of poor performance; widening poverty levels; a poor human rights record; and widespread corruption, the PDP won, by a large margin, all presidential polls and most governorship elections between 1999 and 2011.

But that was until March 28 of this year, when incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP lost to Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).

What's more, the PDP has gone from maintaining a majority in the two houses of parliament to becoming a minority.

At the moment, the APC has at least 64 seats in the 109-member Senate and 206 in the 360-seat House of Representatives. The final tally is yet to be officially announced.

The PDP's humiliating defeat in April 11 governorship polls, meanwhile, has only added to its woes.

The APC clinched 19 of the 29 states where elections were held, while the PDP won only seven.

Elections in the three states of Abia, Imo and Taraba were declared inconclusive, prompting runoff ballots slated for later this month.

Before the elections, APC had only 13 states while the PDP held sway in 22 states. The remaining state was governed by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party.

Poor Performance

How did the once-invincible PDP, which likes to call itself the biggest party in black Africa, fall from grace?

Olusola Smith, a political analyst, attributed the party's humiliating losses to its poor performance, corruption, complacency and failure to come to terms with the fact that its rule could be easily truncated – especially if key state institutions, like the electoral body, police and army, were not able to come through for it.

Nigeria ranks high on the list of the world's most corrupt nations, with a litany of recent corruption cases having been swept under the rug.

Transparency International ranked Nigeria 136th out of 174 countries in its 2014 Corruption Perception Index, which also ranked it the third most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

Last year, former central bank chief Sanusi Lamido blew the whistle on billions of petrodollars that went missing from state coffers.

Despite a national outcry, nobody has been indicted, probed or jailed over the incident.

"Heedless of the poverty in the land, the president was always buying new presidential aircraft, while his men continued to be enmeshed in corruption without anyone calling them to order," Austin Umoh, a university teacher, told The Anadolu Agency.

"It was one scandal after the other, yet nobody was ever sacked," he said.

"The PDP became arrogant with power; it took the people for granted," Umoh contended.

"Jonathan's demise," he added, "had been long overdue."

Buhari, meanwhile, has always been touted as an anti-corruption crusader and praised for his astuteness, discipline and military background – qualities most Nigerians believe are necessary to save the country from socio-economic collapse and rampant insecurity.

Divisive Jonathan

But many analysts see the PDP's recent series of losses as the result of internal bickering.

"The PDP died on August 31, 2013, when seven of its governors, mostly from the north, walked out of its mini-convention," Aliyu Ciroma, former president of the Nigeria Labor Congress, told The Anadolu Agency.

"That was the day the party's civil war blew open following internal bickering over who should pick the party's presidential ticket," he said.

"Allowing these governors and several lawmakers to team up with the opposition APC was a grave error," Ciroma asserted.

Adekola Adeola, a political analyst, said Jonathan had committed "too many errors and atrocities, which the real founders of the party – and its power brokers – never forgave."

"They believe he was toying with dangerous pillars of the country by playing the ethno-religious card," he told AA.

"These are old men who – for whatever reason – see Nigeria as their inheritance from Britain," Adeola contended.

"They were miffed by Jonathan's pitting Christians against Muslims and deliberately empowering his Ijaw kinsmen against the country," he added.

Some PDP heavyweights, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, reportedly dreaded the notion of Jonathan remaining in office and the danger of letting Nigeria slip into the abyss.

"It is feared that he was arming militants and promoting ethnic and religious bigotry, which could set the country ablaze," agreed Essien Kufre, who teaches political science at the University of Calabar.

"You could tell from the tone of the letters from former President Obasanjo and retired Navy Admiral Murtala Nyako, which were addressed to the president and other key stakeholders," he said.

In a letter sent in December of 2013, Obasanjo accused Jonathan of lying about committing himself to zoning principles within the PDP, condoning corruption, empowering ethnic warlords, dividing Nigeria along religious lines, and "deliberately" refusing to act swiftly on the Boko Haram crisis for political reasons.

Nyako, for his part, in an acerbic memo dated April 2014, went so far as to say that the president was behind the insurgency in order to decimate the north.

He warned against actions that might precipitate another civil war – 45 years after Nigeria fought a deadly civil war to abort a secession bid by the eastern Igbo people.

That conflict left over a million people dead.

Nyako, then the governor of northeastern Adamawa State, was among seven governors who walked out of the PDP convention to form a parallel PDP, before joining the nascent opposition APC.

"The PDP power brokers who were disenchanted with Jonathan became a major source of inspiration for the APC," Kufre, the political science professor, told AA.

Saliu Ajibola, a political analyst and retired university teacher, said Jonathan had fallen out of favor with major segments of the country due to his handling of several issues.

"This country is too fragile to be left in the hands of a president who sees everything through the prism of ethnicity and religion," he told AA.

"With all due respect, the president nearly destroyed the country along these [sectarian] lines," Ajibola contended.

"At some point, many people within the party – and those who don't have the membership card but had always supported it – saw the danger in letting Jonathan continue," he said.

Ajibola added: "That was what metamorphosed into the political alliance that has now ousted him."

He contended that there was more to the PDP's recent electoral defeats.

"Those who know will tell you that the PDP defeat was the best way for major stakeholders in this country – those I like to call the 'owners' of the PDP – to ease out Jonathan and those with similar views," he told AA.

One top PDP chieftain with links to former President Obasanjo and ex-military ruler Ibrahim Babangida – both very powerful PDP chieftains – said they had decided to join forces against Jonathan.

"Many within the PDP fought against Jonathan from within," he told AA, requesting anonymity.

"The PDP didn't lose to the APC; rather, the party's founding fathers wanted Jonathan and his men out – then they can rebuild the party," he suggested.

According to him, many PDP power brokers had seen Jonathan's decision to run for reelection as dangerous to national cohesion.

"Indeed, his decision to run in 2011 was opposed by many northerners who believed he wanted to usurp their slot," said the PDP chieftain.

"But many people fought for him on the condition that he would not run again in 2015. His decision to run [in 2015] ruined the PDP, because many said he could not be trusted," he added.

When the military handed over power to civilians in 1999, major power blocs within the PDP resolved to zone the presidency to the south with an emphasis on the southwestern region.

It was a decision taken to assuage southern complaints that the north had monopolized power for too long.

Out of the 11 leaders Nigeria has had between independence in 1960 and the end of military rule in 1999, eight had hailed from the country's north.

When a south-westerner, Moshood Abiola, won a presidential ballot in 1993, the results were overturned by the military, deepening the national divide along ethnic lines.

After Jonathan, a southerner, spent eight years in office, many believed the north should have its turn.

"Jonathan's decision to rubbish this so-called accord was seen as dangerous," Toyin Adediwura, a political scientist at the University of Ilorin, told AA.

"While those who criticize zoning have valid points, I'm afraid religion and ethnicity are too sensitive to be ignored," he admitted.

"Jonathan was playing smart, and that necessitated not just his downfall but the downfall of the PDP he headed," said Adediwura.

Last Modified: 2015-04-16 11:06:46
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