At the start of 2020, when the current corona virus epidemic took the world by storm like thunder from the blues, no one envisioned the magnitude of the attack. Without many countries realizing its devastating effect, it rapidly hit universal dimension. Quickly, it spread its octopine tentacles globally and simultaneously felled people like logs of wood across nations. Then, its impact began to tell its multi-faced narrative. It was like it is always said: every coin has two sides. It was so true of the corona virus epidemic.
In some families in many African countries like Nigeria, the outbreak on the one hand created the condition for many husbands who hitherto spent little or no time at home with their wives and children to stay home and enjoy quality time with their families, perhaps for the first time in many years. Secretly, many wives became happy about the invasion of the killer disease because it now offered them the opportunity to have their husbands all to themselves, with their children. On the other hand, other husbands who would usually escape from hostile and nagging wives at home had trouble staying longer hours with them as there was always the tendency to brawl or fight their spouses with any little provocation or none at-all. And that was not an easy or desirable experience.
At the government level, the epidemic, described by the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, as ‘the invisible killer’ appeared to have ushered in a new phase in the march towards the attainment of true democracy for countries like Nigeria. Because of its seriousness across nations, and the commitment with which many governments tackled its eradication or control, the scourge had the potency of consolidating the position of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) as a responsible opposition party, otherwise known as the shadow government. This was an important development in the nature of democracy most Nigerian people had so eagerly awaited to happen, both for the sake of a responsible opposition and for the sake of the ruling and listening government itself.
Prior to the formation of the PDP in 1998, General Sani Abacha had been the military Head of State of Nigeria. But given his draconian leadership style, the situation arose at some point which coerced Nigerian political elites under the aegis of Group18 and later, an expanded Group 34 organization to vehemently oppose General Abacha. His conceived decision to continue with his infamous and dictatorial rule over the Nigerian people after five years did not go down well with most Nigerians and they didn’t mince words in expressing their disgust with his leadership.
When Abacha suddenly died in June 1998, the interim government under Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar announced that democratic elections would take place the next year. It was the end of 16 consecutive years of military rule . Political parties were formed by politically-minded organizations. And one of the emerging parties was the PDP.
The PDP was inaugurated in August 1998 by a group of like-minded politicians who planned to have a broad political base that would be designed to support economic de-regulation , human rights and pumping more funds into healthcare and education, among other dividends of democracy.
Dr. Alex Ekwueme, leader of the G34 organization and a former vice president of the country, became the first Chairman and Jerry Gana the first Secretary of the PDP. The party garnered a wide range of members from working class families, academics and students, service providers and the country’s business community. It also became popular with ex-military officers. It is on PDP’s record that more than 100 retired senior military officers registered with the party at its inception.
One of the more prominent ex-military officers was Chief Olusegun Obasanjo , a former military general who was Nigeria’s Head of State from 1976 to 1979. He joined the party soon after it was endorsed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. And under his watch, the PDP quickly became the country’s dominant party.
In its constitution which was updated on 16 March 2012, the party said it recognized that the many years of military dictatorship in Nigeria resulted in gross erosion of fundamental human rights and the rule of law. It was conscious of the need to raise the nation to the highest level of moral and intellectual dignity. It was determined to evolve the means of reconciling and uniting the various peoples that made up the country, and rekindling the spirit of brotherhood among them. It was mindful of the necessary expediency to assess and remedy the decay that existed in the moral, social and political life of the country and the need to arouse Nigerian citizens from their condition of placidity to a desired state of consciousness to build a prosperous and lasting democracy.
As a result of these contemplations, leaders of like-minded political associations, prompted and goaded by a sense of national call to duty, assembled in Abuja on 28 July 1998 and resolved to bring together all patriotic and like-minded Nigerians into a single formidable political party, capable of organizing and making productive the labour and synergy of the people of Nigeria to work together under the umbrella of the party for the speedy restoration of democracy, the achievement of national reconciliation, economic and social reconstruction and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
They committed themselves to create socio-political conditions conducive to national peace and unity by ensuring fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities and to conform to the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of the country. They agreed to devolve power equitably between the federal, state and local governments in the spirit of federalism and to establish under the law and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a moral social order which would result in the spiritual regeneration of the nation.
They pledged to defend the sanctity of democracy through firm enforcement of a strict code of conduct among members of the party and political office holders and to mobilize like-minded Nigerians under the leadership of the party to build a nation that would be responsive to the aspirations of its people, able to satisfy the just hopes and aspirations of the black people of the world and to gain the confidence of nations.
The party won a majority of seats in the legislature during the 1999 general elections and Obasanjo was elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. During elections in 2003, the party maintained its legislative majority and Obasanjo was re-elected for a second tenure.
As the PDP had a written policy in its constitution as amended on 16 March 2012, it rotated key political offices like the presidency between candidates from the Christian south and the Muslim north. Consequently, during the 2007 elections, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar ’Adua , the Muslim governor of Katsina state became the presidential candidate. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan , the Christian governor of Bayelsa state became his running mate. Yar’ Adua was declared as the winner of the 2007 presidential election despite international observers strongly condemning the election as irregular and fraudulent.
In February 2010, power shifted unexpectedly to Jonathan as he became acting president when Yar’ Adua became so sick that he had to seek for medical attention in Saudi Arabia. Yar ‘Adua never recovered and Jonathan was sworn in as president when Yar’ Adua died in May.
In September, Jonathan made public his intention to participate in the 2011 presidential election. The announcement generated much furor leading to the party’s primary elections. However, his landslide victory over his closest rival, the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northern Muslim, showed that Jonathan had considerable support, even in several states of the north. This was despite the fact that his candidacy was more or less a deviation from the party’s written policy of rotation if we consider that Yar ‘Adua could not finish even his first tenure in office. Jonathan was victorious in the country’s 2011 presidential election, which local and international observers agreed was hugely free and fair.
That was how the PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 unbroken years.
But as the 2015 elections drew nearer, the party began to find itself in a cantankerous position. It all started from when the then governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi won his second tenure as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and was said to have been sidetracked by President Jonathan in favour of Jonah David Jang, then governor of Plateau state.
It should have mattered that President Jonathan, Governor Amaechi and Governor Jang were members of the same ruling PDP and should therefore have maintained peace in the house, at least for the sake of sanity prevailing in their party. But somehow, it didn’t matter. And so, in-house fighting resulted in Amaechi and several other members quitting the party. And that was how the way was paved that eventually precipitated the fall of the PDP.
By 2013 much of a new set of opposition politicians had united from several other smaller parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC was determined to wrist power from the PDP. And to be able to do that, the new party chose Muhammadu Buhari, a retired, no-nonsense military general and one time military Head of State as its flag bearer, to slug it out with Dr. Jonathan during the 2015 presidential election.
Buhari defeated Jonathan after he promised to usher in a new era of “change” for which the Nigerian people voted overwhelmingly. It marked the end of the PDP’s tenacious clinging onto power and the presidency, which it had done for 16 uninterrupted years. The party lost its majority in the National Assembly to the APC as well. In the 2019 elections, the PDP chose Atiku Abubakar as its flag bearer, but PDP was defeated by the APC again. The PDP also failed to win a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The naked truth is that it is interesting to observe that Nigeria’s brand of democracy has a style of its own that isn’t quite internationally acceptable but it still adds up at some point.
Immediately APC took over control, the first and seemingly most urgent task of the presidency became the recovery of money stolen or allegedly stolen by the members of the former ruling party. The APC literarily kept members of the opposition PDP on their toes as it feverishly hunted among them who and who could possibly be prosecuted by the dreaded Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The result was that most PDP members became jittery and unsettled – and unable to form the responsible opposition the ruling party needed as its oxygen to become successful.
As President Buhari began to relax on his hunt for thieves of public money from the opposition camp over the years however, the emergence of a responsible opposition began to manifest itself. The high point of this understanding between the ruling party and the opposition was that whatever concerned the country was pre-eminently more important than what concerned any political party or individual member of it.
So, it was a mild but welcome surprise when a few days ago, the Rivers state chapter of APC, which would have previously sought ways to blame the PDP government of Nyesom Wike, even when there was no ground for blame, addressed the press and felicitated with the governor for taking necessary measures to ensure a zero case-record of the corona virus pandemic in the state. The state APC also commended President Buhari for the relentless efforts his administration was making to reduce the effect of the global scourge on citizens and residents of the country.
Addressing newsmen in Port Harcourt, the state capital, the immediate past Publicity Secretary of APC, Chris Finebone, said the governor had done well with his preventive measures, making sure the state did not record any case of the dreaded virus. The APC called on stakeholders in the state to support the PDP government because there shouldn’t be any place for partisan politics in the fight against Corona virus. “At this point in time” he said, “we all must lend our voices and support the efforts by the federal and the Rivers state governments to stem away and defeat the corona virus in Nigeria and in our dear state. At a perilous time that threatens our common humanity, partisan politics will not be given any place. We must join hands with all and sundry to defeat this common enemy of mankind.”
In a similar development, the PDP also pledged its support for President Buhari in the fight against insurgency in the country when armed assailants killed four police officers and two civilian militiamen in an attack on a military base in northeast Borno state on Wednesday, 4 March 2020. Suspected Boko Haram fighters in trucks fitted with machine guns launched the dawn raid on an army base in the town of Damboa, sparking off intense fighting. Nigeria lost four mobile policemen and two civilian militiamen who were fighting alongside soldiers during the battle with the terrorists.
Local eye-witnesses said the assailants attacked with assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, but were forced out from the town by troops after a fierce two-hour battle in which more than 50 residents were wounded by shrapnel from grenades fired by the rebels. Damboa lies on the outskirts of Sambisa Forest, the stronghold of Boko Haram, from where the group has continued interminably to launch attacks on villages and military posts in the north.
About four months earlier, in November 2019, at least 10 Nigerian soldiers were killed and nine injured in a Boko Haram ambush in Muchima village, outside Damboa. Boko Haram's campaign which began in 2009 has displaced more than 2.2 million people across Nigeria, Chad , Cameroon , Niger Mali and Burkina Faso – and there are no indications that the attacks would ameliorate any time soon, even in the face of counter measures undertaken by joint multinational forces across borders to quell their taste for bloodletting. To make matters worse, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), a faction that broke away from Boko Haram sect, has also gone on a spree of violence, attacking military formations in these countries.
Uche Secondus, PDP national chairman condemned the resurgence of these attacks in the country. The PDP expressed “extreme grief” with the killings and said they could not be justified under any guise. It also called on Nigerians to present a common front against insurgency. Secondus said: “Indeed, the time has come for all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic, religious and political affiliations to be in one accord in the fight against terrorism in our dear country. In this challenge, the PDP stands with President Muhammadu Buhari and the nation on any measure adopted by the federal government aimed at ending this ugly experience. We may not be on the same page on some policy issues but not when it comes to matters that directly affect the security of our citizens and our stability as a nation.”
He called on those behind the insurgency to embrace peace and end the senseless bloodshed while the party commiserated with the government of Borno state and families of the victims, and prayed for fortitude to bear the loss. It also called on all citizens to continue to support and pray for the security forces as they risk their lives to defend the country.
So, at last it’s good to know that from its own very ashes of yesterdays, the scourge that has mercilessly ravaged the world and the insurgency that has made many Nigerians sleep with their eyes wide open, the PDP has begun to perform as a responsible opposition and in consequence consolidating what many would be quick to identify as Nigeria’s shadow government.
Asinugo is a London-based journalist, the author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: imostateblm.com)