Since it lost power in 2015, it has not been an easy task for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State to constitute itself into a formidable opposition to challenge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Correspondent KOLADE ADEYEMI looks at the efforts to rebuild the party ahead of future elections
The popular saying that “No condition is permanent” is clearly manifesting in the life of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State. Since 2015 when the party lost grip of power to the All Progressives Congress (APC), it has begun to lose relevance nationwide, including Plateau State. Before the decline of the PDP in Plateau State, it held sway for 16 years from the beginning of the current political dispensation in 1999 to 2015. This was the period when it was the ruling party at the national level. The party also dominated every aspect of the political life of Plateau State.
The strong domination of politics in Plateau State by the PDP at the time could be understood from the background that at a point its National Chairman (the late Solomon Lar) hailed from the state. That alone made Plateau a traditional home of the PDP during those glorious years. But, in 2015 the APC came like Hurricane Katrina to sweet power from the feet of the PDP in such an unbelievable fashion.
In Plateau State, it was like a share of the spoil in the 2015 election, as the APC only won the governorship position, while the PDP retained the three senatorial positions, held six of the eight House of Representatives’ seats, as well as the majority in the state House of Assembly. Besides, the entire 17 local governments were also controlled by the PDP. At the time, the APC government led by Governor Simon Lalong was not comfortable with the situation.
The ruling party then intensified efforts to ensure it deployed its incumbency advantages to whittle down the influence of the PDP. Governor Lalong vowed to entrench the ruling APC in all nooks and crannies of the state. True to his words, the governor was able to clip the wings of the PDP across the state. By 2019, after four years of Lalong in Government House, the APC conquered the entire state. So, in 2019, Governor Lalong not only won his second term on the APC platform, but the ruling party also won a majority in the Senate, the House of Representatives, as well as the state House of Assembly.
The entrenchment of the APC on the Plateau meant more problems for the PDP. During the last general elections, the party was destabilised by internal crisis and as a result it could not muster the strength to challenge the APC. The opposition party is still struggling to keep its head afloat ahead of the 2023 election.
However, political analysts are of the opinion that where the fate of the party is in the hands of the stakeholders; they must embark on an aggressive groundwork mobilise and reconcile the aggrieved members to be able to wrestle power from the ruling APC in 2023.
To this end, the party’s bigwigs are strategizing to use the forthcoming bye-election in Plateau South senatorial election as a litmus test for the party’s popularity ahead of 2023.
Its Chairman, Chris Hassan said the party is capable of regaining control of the state. He said if not the squabbles that kept it divided and weak since 2015 no other party can withstand it.
Hassan said the party is intensifying efforts to bring members together to work as a cohesive body. He said what happened in 2015 and 2019 was as a result of lack of cohesion. He added: “What we are seriously doing now is building bridges of unity, as we are also seriously embarking on consultations with stakeholders; comparing notes with all the aggrieved members so that we can unite together and forge ahead to form a stronger party.
“You know for sure that in every stage of the party, whether it is ward congress, local government congress and state congress those who have lost are accepting defeat. We are putting together a very robust reconciliatory committee to reconcile all aggrieved members so that we can bring about unity. I have just finished a thank-you tour of Plateau South. This is because we have an election in a couple of weeks and what we have actually discussed with the stakeholders in the six local governments, to see how we can rebuild the platform, by reconciling with one another because we believe that we must carry everybody along each stage we move as a political party. The fewer people are aggrieved, the better for us. We need to bring everybody together to reconcile them for the purpose of working as a group.
“We thank God that we are receiving a lot of response from those who were aggrieved and they have started withdrawing their cases from the court for the purpose of uniting the party. Now, the problem we have at hand is the election in Plateau South senatorial district. If we don’t unite, we will have difficulties in trying to clinch the seat. This seat is there for us to grab. We thank God the responses we are getting are very encouraging; I want to assure you that in a couple of weeks the PDP will bounce back strong.”
Hassan recalled that another issue that brought about disunity in the fold was the last elections at the wards, local governments and the state level. He said some of the members felt that they were not treated fairly and so there was an avalanche of complaints. He added: “We realized that there is a need for them to be heard, but unfortunately their grievances came very late.
“On the perceived factionalisation within the party, what I want you to know is that we don’t have a faction. I want to disabuse the minds of those people carrying such rumours. If there is a faction, they would have seen a parallel executive in the state. When I came on board the first thing I did with my other members was to go to Abuja and meet Lt-General Jeremiah Useni, as well as the former Speaker Ibrahim Mantu to appeal to them that there is a need for us to come together and work as a group. So, we must close ranks to work for the party to achieve the desired goals. We believe if there is anybody that has enjoyed the backing of the party Useni is the one.
“When he came back from the DPP, we gave him the Senate seat and on coming back again, we gave him the PDP governorship ticket, so the PDP has done much for him. So, we look at him as an elder statesman and a strong member of the party. When the entire committee met with him in Abuja he told us very clearly that he is very happy and he does not have any problem with the party. But, his main problem is the national body. So, whenever I hear that the PDP is factionalized I always take it that the people are misunderstanding what is going on in the party.
The chairman said the party has been coping well since it lost power for close to six years. He said: “You know the PDP is such a dynamic party and because of its dynamism we can easily sort out our differences. In 1999, we didn’t have even one counsellor, yet we clinched the whole seats in the federation. So, the PDP has an internal mechanism of how to sustain itself and that is the magic that has been keeping us together. Since we lost power six years ago, one thing in life is that you must be contented because we were once in government but now that we are even an opposition party we are able to have a senator, four members overall in the National Assembly, nine members in the state House of Assembly and local government chairmen. We also have supporters and stakeholders who are in one way or the other giving out their own contributions to help the party to survive.”
Hassan said based on the internal mechanism in the party, elders are moving from one ward to another, one village to another, to reconcile aggrieved members. He said the party is now a family. He added that the most important thing is to work towards winning the impending Plateau South senatorial bye-election.
Former House of Representatives member, Aminu Jonathan said the party is trying to reposition itself ahead of the 2023 general elections. He said: “We must bring our heads together and see how we can mobilize ourselves toward unity, which is going to be the cornerstone under which the party is supposed to be built. But, for now, the major areas of concern is to see how all of us can come together; no matter the differences at any level of the party to come together and work for the party to be able to give a very good fight. It has not been easy for us being an opposition for the past six years. But, we are thankful to God that we’ve been able to come this far.
“Of course, it is a natural thing that there must be discord in a family once in a while. But, when such discords arise, it is the duty of the head of the family to fashion ways of bringing back everybody onboard. What is happening at the moment is that we are trying to see how we can bring aggrieved persons back to the fold, so that we can work together. Of course, it is not as if it is only in the PDP that you have such discordant tunes. It is there also in other parties and, so, we are really, really working towards bringing everybody on board; whoever must have been aggrieved. It is better for them to sheath their swords and come together so that we can party that can win the 2023 elections.
“I cannot say anything now about the former Governor Jonah David Jang and the Senator Jeremiah Useni, but the two are our leaders. Baba Jang has been a leader; Jerry Useni has also been a leader in his own right. But, to me as a staunch member of PDP, I hold each of them in high esteem. I see them as fathers and as our mentors. People are just making all these comments as if there is a war. There is nothing like that. Whenever the two meet, you can see the aroma of friendship and cordial relationship among them. It is some of these supporters that are trying to magnify the differences between them to become an issue. But, to me, there are no issues, because this two can come back together and push all of us together and push forward the party to greater heights.”
Nevertheless, the reconciliation moves to make the PDP bounce back to reckoning appears to be a herculean task. Until the stakeholders put their acts together and unite aggrieved members, the dream of the party to clinch power come 2023 will remain a mirage.