The People’s Democratic Party is no stranger to dissent and factionalism. In fact, its tight grip on power in Nigeria is all the more remarkable given the number of divisive voices it keeps under one tent. However, a major breakaway faction led by a former vice-president might just bring all these tensions to the surface, and give the newly-united opposition the chance it’s been waiting for. By SIMON ALLISON.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria likes to call itself the biggest political party in Africa. As the largest party in Africa’s most populous country, this is no idle boast. It has been extraordinarily successful too, winning every single election in Nigeria’s democratic era and successfully bridging (or, at least, papering over the cracks of) the often-poisonous North-South political and religious divides.
It has never been a particularly harmonious affair. Conventions and congresses are raucous: there’s always someone unhappy with the leadership, and various factions plotting power grabs. Still, the party muddles along, safe in the knowledge that the opposition is even more fractured.
In the last few months, the PDP’s leadership have watched this comfort zone evaporate, with two major developments threatening its stranglehold on national power – and, ultimately, control of the immensely influential and lucrative patronage networks which that confers.
The first came courtesy of that ever-fractious opposition, which did something completely unprecedented: they united, forming a coalition to contest the upcoming 2015 elections. The All Progressives Congress is a new party that was formed from the three largest opposition parties: the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). It is already proving to be a formidable force.
The second major threat to the PDP’s dominance came from within. Unhappy with the outcome of a few bitter leadership contests, and feeling frozen out of the party’s decision-making processes, seven state governors and former vice-president Atiku Abubakar walked out of the PDP Congress being held over the weekend, announcing that they would officially break off from the PDP proper to create a splinter group, known for now as the new PDP or real PDP.
This is not the first breakaway faction from the PDP, nor will it be the last. Nigerian commentators, however, are unusually excited about this one, seeing it as a genuine challenge to President Goodluck Jonathan’s authority – one with the potential to derail his presidential bid (a bid which, ironically, is part of the problem, with some in the party feeling that he’s had enough time at the top and needs to make way for a new face).
Observed Gimba Kakanda in Premium Times: “[The PDP split] is likely to deal a heavy blow to the ruling party as it’s not only ill-timed, but happening at a time the oppositions merged to form a strong and attractive force. It is, however, evident that PDP is again exhibiting its failure to coordinate its internal affairs, tasking us with asking: is this finally the end of the road for PDP?”
If the new faction sticks to its guns (although there’s no guarantees of this. As another commentator noted, “In Nigeria, one hour can change everything”), it could have significant constitutional implications even before the elections. Floor-crossing in parliament – when an MP switches parties – is forbidden in Nigeria, except in cases where a party splits in two. If enough MPs defect to the new faction, Jonathan could find himself facing a hostile parliament for the first time in his tenure.
Also in question is the role of perennial eminence grise Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president who still wields plenty of power behind the scenes in the PDP. His support for the breakaway faction could turn it into a serious force. Obasanjo and Jonathan don’t get along all that well, and there’s plenty of speculation – all of it idle, so far – that Obasanjo himself stage-managed the breakaway.
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, a columnist with the influential Leadership newspaper, suggests that Obasanjo wants to stop Jonathan in order to honour the PDP “gentlemen’s agreement” which says that the next president should be a northerner. Jonathan, as a southerner, is breaking this agreement.
“Critical and rational minds will not find it very difficult to understand that the whole game is all about ‘Operation Stop Jonathan in 2015’ and subsequently blackmail everybody to support power swing to the north in 2015. To be sure, in the last few months, Obasanjo has never hidden it from anybody who cares to listen to him that the project is very dear to his heart. His reason was that he had told the north on behalf of President Jonathan in 2011 that the president would only do just one term and return to his village, and that from the look of things Jonathan appears to be reneging on his promise.”
Whatever’s going on, the PDP had better watch out. If it does end up dividing in two, it will lose its precious title of Africa’s largest political party; and it might hand the 2015 elections to the newly-unified opposition on a silver platter. DM
Photo: Photo: Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan (C) responds to a question from the moderator during the 19th Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) meeting in Abuja September 3, 2013.
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