Amid the rush to enlist new party members, JOHN ALECHENU of PUNCH examines the renewed battle between the governing All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition People’s Democratic Party are set to use their fresh membership registration to enlist new members ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The development seems to have renewed the old rivalry between the two leading parties which are now jostling to gain the attention of the voting public.
While the APC’s new membership/revalidation exercise begins this week, that of the PDP will start within the next one or two months.
However, the APC and the PDP as well as their administration have their peculiar challenges.
President Muhammadu Buhari often describes himself as a converted democrat.
But not too long after winning the 2015 election, party leaders started to query his seeming aloofness from the internal workings of the APC, the party which brought him to power.
The Director-General of the Progressives Governors Forum, Dr Salihu Lukman, is of the view that Buhari’s leadership style in relation to party administration gives credence to his being a true convert of democracy when compared to how Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo superintended over the People’s Democratic Party during his eight-year rule.
Lukman said, “We must celebrate the fact that his (Buhari) leadership style is required to ensure that the party is managed independently and therefore made possible for the exercise of the supremacy of the party based on decisions of its organs.”
It came as a surprise to many when on June 25, 2020, Buhari gave the approval for the convocation of an emergency National Executive Committee meeting of the APC after which he dissolved the party’s National Working Committee.
Buhari was moved to action after a series of litigation threw up various claimants to the chairmanship position of the party. A High Court in the Federal Capital Territory granted an interim order suspending the then APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, in November 2019, a decision which was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 17 June, 2020.
The NWC members loyal to Oshiomhole held an emergency meeting a few hours after the court ruling and appointed a former governor of Oyo State, the late Abiola Ajimobi, as acting national chairman.
However, the then Deputy National Secretary, Victor Giadom, with the support of two other NWC members announced himself as the acting national chairman, citing an earlier judgment of an Abuja High Court endorsing him.
The president’s concerns over the worsening state of affairs within the party heightened when he realised the danger his inaction could pose to the delivery of the regime’s policies and programmes.
This, perhaps more than anything else, forced him to take the unusual step of announcing the dissolution of the party’s NWC which he replaced with the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led 13-member Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee.
The committee was given the task of reconciling aggrieved party members and organising a national convention to elect a new set of leaders for the party.
Having largely restored some form of order in the party especially at the national level, the Mai Mala Buni-led CENCPC set its eye on re-organising the party through a membership registration/revalidation exercise. The first phase of the exercise is scheduled to hold between February 2nd and 16, 2021.
However, just as the APC began to take steps to reinvent itself, the opposition PDP increased its tempo of attacks on the failings of both the ruling party and the Buhari regime.
Analysts have said the ultimate aim of the PDP’s action is to present itself as a better platform ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The PDP has been consistent in reminding Nigerians that things were better especially on the economic front during the President Goodluck Jonathan-led PDP administration which ended in 2015.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, told Saturday PUNCH , “The difference between our party and the ruling party is like the difference between night and day. Nigerians who have been at the receiving end of this uncoordinated, corrupt and rudderless regime of propagandists now know better.
“Ask the ordinary Nigerian today: Is his/her life better now than it was six years ago? How much was the dollar exchanged for the naira?
How much was a bag of rice then and how much is it today? What about the price of petrol? Do we feel safer today than we did six years ago?
“Corruption is now rampant with nobody in charge of the government. Nigerians are eager and waiting for 2023 to show the APC the exit door; we have never had it so bad. Nigerians definitely prefer to live with the PDP in power than continue with this plague of a regime.”
Ologbondiyan also announced plans by the PDP to embark on a membership registration/revalidation exercise which he said would be carried out electronically.
Although no exact date has been announced, he confirmed it would hold within the first quarter of this year.
The National Secretary of the APC, Senator John Akpanuduoeghe, would however not agree with accusations levelled against his party by Ologbondiyan. While accusing the PDP of suffering from delusion, he dismissed PDP’s claims as “tales and ramblings of a defeated party which has refused to come to terms with its new reality as an opposition party.”
He said, “The PDP has been lately engrossed with concocted tales and ramblings on the polity. Nigerians should be spared the trauma of a reminder of the disaster of the PDP’s years of misadventure in government. The party should allow Nigerians to forgive it for the numerous transgressions and agony it had put Nigerians through many years of misrule.
“The PDP deludes itself that ‘Nigerians desire its return to power’. This is truly laughable and a collective insult to our collective sensibilities.
Perhaps the PDP needs to be reminded that Nigerians have consistently and resoundingly rejected it in two consecutive cycles of general elections as well as other off-cycle elections and displayed their preference and endorsement of the APC as the party of choice for the majority of Nigerians.”
He also said, “The PDP’s ranting keeps reminding us of an ignominious era when crude oil was sold at an average of $100 per barrel for a consecutive period of four years; this gave an excess of at least $30 per barrel above the budget benchmark and the MTEF, and the raking in of surplus revenue for the country. Yet, what did Nigeria and Nigerians have to show for that period?”
An Edo State chieftain of the PDP, Kazim Afegbua, who also derided the APC over what he described as its woeful performance over the last six years, however, expressed displeasure over what he described as his party’s inability to seize the moment.
Afegbua said, “The PDP is painfully not exploiting the lapses of the current APC-led administration, their opposition role is too feeble to be recognised. By now, the PDP ought to have set up a strong and virile public relations unit, with tested hands that can generate result-driven strategies to gain public confidence.”
He noted that it was the absence of this that gave rise to the likes of Senator Rochas Okorocha muting the idea of an alternative platform.
However, a Gombe State chieftain of the APC, Abdullahi Jalo, stressed that there was no gap left for the PDP to fill in the minds of Nigerians.
He noted that the APC had put behind most of its teething problems and was on course towards a national revival.
He said, “Since the courageous decision of President Buhari to take the bull by the horns by appointing a caretaker committee for our party, we are now better organised. Our initial leadership crisis distracted Nigerians from seeing the good works of this administration but today, from my home state of Bauchi to Imo, Lagos, Plateau and other states, Nigerians have come to recognise what is being done for them. This was why Nigerians voted for us overwhelmingly in a number of recent elections.”
Jalo expressed confidence that the APC would remain the party of choice post-Buhari because the administration had been able to manage the COVID -19 pandemic very well.
According to him, the security challenges being witnessed in the county will become a thing of the past before the 2023 general elections.
A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, expressed the opinion that despite the failings of the APC as well as the PDP and their internal wrangling, it was very unlikely that any new political platform would replace them ahead of the 2023 polls.
He said, “It seems as if the APC is trying to reinvent itself as a party with its political gravity in the old North while shedding its umbilical connection to the Bola Tinubu political machine.
“If that strategy succeeds, it will become the playground for all sorts of political alliances drawing a substantial number of political heavyweights across the country. If it fails, it will be forced to shrink to the defunct Congress for Progressives Change core and into irrelevance.
“The PDP on the other hand doesn’t seem to be able to recover a sense of purpose outside power at the national level. It doesn’t seem to know what the role of an opposition party is and has squandered so many opportunities that it has at the national level; it seems to have sunk into irrelevance already. Its only hope is to get the right candidates for the next presidential elections.”
The year 2023 may be two years away but the battle for the hearts and minds of Nigeria’s voting public has since commenced.
Pundits argued that the level of political awareness among Nigerians could produce shocking results in the years ahead.