How it all started
The state of the nation prior to 1998 could well be described as near comatose. The human rights record of the military administration was appalling. The nation’s economy was on a steady slide to a disastrous perdition. There was near hopelessness and uncertainty. In the political terrain, the nation was served with strange concoctions that would have ultimately led to national suicide.
In the international arena, Nigeria which once stood tall as the giant of Africa was reduced to an inconsequential midget with the suffocating tag of a pariah nation tightening round her neck. Hitherto brave men and women became cowards overnight, groveling at the throne of the one who had wished to become the absolute emperor of Nigeria.
For each passing day, the light of hope dimmed in Nigeria. The height of despair was achieved when the five registered political parties aptly described by the late Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige as the “five fingers of a leprous hand” strangely adopted a serving soldier and the incumbent Head of State, General Sani Abacha, as their presidential candidate.
The Conventions of the ‘parties’, which were supervised by the goons of the regime were sad symptoms of a decadent nation on the brink of disintegration.
The regime capped up this comical idea with an unprecedented show of self-amusement in a forum of waste tagged “One Million Men March” where politicians, respected ones at that, professed to the whole world on national television that no other human being in a country of over 100 million people was qualified to rule the country. What a calamity. What a damming verdict on a population known for its industry, resilience and ingenuity!
This was the state of affairs in 1998. The nation was passing through a phase described by some analysts as “the dark ages”. At a point, it seemed no one could stand in the way of this rampaging dictator who was bent on entrenching himself in the country.
While this sordid state of affairs was holding sway, a group of politicians under the auspices of the All Politicians Summit convened a meeting in 1997 to discuss the way out of what was fast becoming a festering dictatorship. That meeting, led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme was brutally dispersed by the security apparati of the Sani Abacha’s regime.
Dr. Ekwueme undeterred by the brutish antics of the regime continued rallying key political figures of different ideological persuasions under a new platform called Institute of civil society.
From G-34 – to the PDP
In the midst of all this confusion, a group of political leaders, eighteen of them in the first instance and later thirty-four decided to “dare the lion in his den”. This group known as the G-34 later formed the nucleus and rallying point of the associations that formed what is today, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
What were the ideas behind this coalition to save democracy? Alhaji Muhammed Abubakar Rimi, Second Republic Governor of Kano State and convener of the Peoples Democratic Party, traces the idea of the formation of the Party to the quest to unite civil society against military rule. According to him, “the politics of Nigeria before now was built on ethnicity, regionalism, sectionalism and things like that. It gave us a lot of problems over the years.
So we decided that we are going to form a party that is so big and so popular that everybody will join”. The prevailing gloom at the time coupled with the treachery of a section of the political class required a form of awakening and the political re-engineering which the G-34 willingly provided.
In February 1998, a Group of eighteen politicians wrote to General Sani Abacha stating their opposition to his planned transmutation from a military ruler to a civilian president. The group advised Gen. Sani Abacha to resign and seek nomination on the platform of any of the political parties of his choice if he wanted to continue as president. The attempt to muscle the five existing parties to adopt him was unacceptable to the G-18.
In March of the same year, the group expanded to thirty-four members who again wrote to the Head of State, reiterating the earlier position of the G-18. The G-34 was now led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President and convener of the Institute of Civil Society.
In the heat of the struggle against dictatorship and at a time the ignoble desire of self perpetuation was gathering a disturbing momentum, General Abacha mysteriously died on June 8, 1998.
His successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, on assumption of office initiated wide consultations with several political groups. The consultations by the regime brought to the fore the unmistakable resolve of Nigerians for an immediate return to civil democratic rule. General Abacha’s death provided the soothing relief to the battered psyche of the people of Nigeria.
Bowing to the wishes of Nigerians, General Abubakar unveiled an eleven-month transition programme, which would later terminate on May 29, 1999. The five “political parties”, namely, the UNCP, CNC, NCPN, DPN and GDM were dissolved. Nigerians were now free to form genuine political parties to compete for political space without the suffocating tailoring by agents of the state.
The G-34, which was now established as an embodiment of the hope and democratic aspirations of Nigerians having demonstrated courage when it was convenient to show docile acquiescence became the rallying point of a blossoming trans-ideological movement willing to offer leadership to Nigerians.
According to Chief Solomon Lar, the first elected chairman of PDP, the G-34 captured the excitement of Nigerians “because of the quality and integrity of its members”. To him, Nigerians, were no longer willing to gamble away their future to fortune seekers who dominated the failed politics of the Abacha era. As a consequence of sustaining the momentum of democratic struggle, the G-34 attracted several political associations that shared the vision of a truly formidable national political platform.
On August 19, 1998, several political associations including the All Nigerian Congress (ANC), Peoples Consultative Forum (PCF), Social Political Party (SPP) Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), Peoples National Forum (PNF) and twenty-five other associations resolved to form a political party known as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The overriding goal of the new party was to bring together all patriotic and like-minded Nigerians into a single formidable political party capable of organizing and advancing the cause of Nigeria to build a national party that will stand the test of time.
The new party also set out to work together for the speedy restoration of democracy, through the advancement of national reconciliation, economic and social reconstruction, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.
The Peoples Democratic Party was launched at a colourful ceremony at the International Conference Centre Abuja on August 31, 1998. The Party had Dr. Alex Ekwueme as Chairman of the Steering Committee while Professor Jerry Gana was the Secretary. The PDP applied for registration along with several other political associations using the guidelines released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC.)
Under the guidelines, registration of parties was to be done in phases. First on the basis of national spread and establishment of proper offices in at least twenty-four of the thirty-six states and the FCT. The ultimate test for registration was the performance of the Associations in the Local Government Polls scheduled for December 5, 1998. Under this provision in the INEC guidelines, only a party that scored at least ten percent in at least twenty-four states in the local council election shall qualify for final registration. This was later reduced to five percent to accommodate the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which was a splinter group from the PDP.
The Triumph of PDP
Despite all these stringent criteria, the PDP emerged tops. The INEC verification team observed that the PDP was firmly established in virtually all the wards of the federation. In the Local Government Polls, the PDP won 471 out of the 774 LGAs and won in 28 of the 36 states and the FCT.
Thus, the ground work for the emergence of the PDP as the most popular and largest political party in the history of Nigeria was achieved. The party not only had presence in every locality, it also was ahead of its competitors in the thrust of campaigns.
During the governorship elections which held in January 1999, the PDP won in 21 states, the All Peoples Party (APP) won in 9 states while the Alliance for Democracy (AD) won only 6 states.
In the countdown to democratic rule, the Peoples Democratic Party between the 13th and 14th of February, 1999, in Jos Plateau, State held its Presidential Nomination Convention. The exercise, which produced General Olusegun Obasanjo as PDP flag bearer, was hailed as one of the most transparent and monumental conventions in Nigeria’s political history. So transparent was the event that the co- contestants led by the runner-up and leader of the G-34 Dr. Alex Ekwueme, led the campaign of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Chief Sunday Awoniyi who was the Chairman of the Convention described Dr. Ekwueme as the “hero of democracy” because of his sportsmanly disposition.
While the PDP was prosecuting its campaign as one united entity and winning converts including key opposition figures on its campaign trail, the two other opposition parties were in total disarray. The APP dumped its presidential candidate Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu shortly after his election at the party’s convention in Kaduna. In what could pass as one of the most absurd innovations in Nigerian politics, the APP which could have been described as the senior partner in its alliance with the AD conceded the presidential ticket to Chief Olu Falae of the AD while Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi became the running mate.
The PDP’s candidate Chief Olusegun Obsanjo triumphed in the election. He scored a total votes of 18,738,154 while the AD/APP contraption scored only 11,110,287.
On of May 29, 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was duly sworn in as the second executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On the 4th of June, 1999, the National Assembly was inaugurated with Senator Evan Enwerem (now late) and Alhaji Ibrahim Salisu Buhari elected as President of Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
In response to the yearnings of the party members to democratize its structures, the PDP organized congresses and a national convention towards the end of 1999 to elect officials to run the party. In December 1999, Chief Barnabas Gemade, a one time Secretary of Works and Housing was elected National Chairman while Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo retained his office as National Secretary. During Chief Gemade’s tenure in office, the Peoples Democratic Institute (PDI), the intellectual arm of the PDP was established. The PDP also expanded with branches set up in other countries to enable Nigerians in the Diaspora enjoy membership and active participation in the fast growing Peoples Democratic Party.
Chief Gemade relocated the National Secretariat of the party to the present location at Wadata Plaza, in the Wuse district of Abuja.
In November 2001, the PDP Constitution was amended to provide for a four year tenure for elected executives from the previous two year tenure. At the 2001 Convention, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Second Republic Minister of communications and former Deputy Speaker in the old Benue State House of Assembly, was unanimously elected National Chairman while Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, erstwhile Minister of Economic Affairs, was elected National
The Audu Ogbeh led executive was remarkable in managing the crisis between the executive and legislative arms of government. It also energized PDP’s economic policy especially on Agriculture. Chief Audu Ogbeh was appointed the Honourary Adviser to the President on Agriculture. During his tenure, the Chief Ogbeh led National Working Committee made tremendous achievements which led the party to victory in the 2003 general elections. The PDP presidential candidate Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, won his second term with 24,456,140 votes representing 61.94% beaten his closest rival General Mohamadu Buhari of the ANPP who scored only 12,710,022 votes or just 32.19% of total votes cast.
During the Governorship elections, the number of states PDP won rose from 21 to 28 states. The remarkable feat in this election was the party’s victory in five out of the six South Western states which were under the firm grip of the AD.
In the National Assembly, the PDP won 70% of Senatorial seats while the ANPP won 24%. The AD shrunk to 6%. In the House of Representatives, the PDP won 61%.
A party in Transition
In July 2005 Chief Audu Ogbeh with most members of the National Working Committee resigned from office in very controversial circumstances. This signalled the high point of grumblings and misgivings that characterized the PDP at that time. By this time, most founding members of the Party had either abandoned the party or have become key opposition figures against the Party. Most of them cited the overbearing influence of officials of the executive arm of government as the reason for their discontent. While the electoral fortune of the Party was on the ascendancy, its image and public perception suffered serious setbacks.
In July 2005, Senator Dr. Amadu Ali was nominated by the North Central Zone to fill in the vacant position of National Chairman while Chief Ojo Maduekwe, former Transport Minister was nominated by the South East zone to become National Secretary. A new set of National Executive Committee members were later in the year elected. Senator Dr. Amadu Ali, along with his entire Interim Executive were unanimously endorsed for a four year term.
The Senator Amadu Ali led Executive was notable for making the PDP an issue-based and agenda-setting party. Several workshops and seminars were organized during his tenure to intellectually equip the party. The high point of this executive was the review of the PDP manifesto complete with an implementation formula to bring it in line with modern realities. The Ali administration also set in motion the machinery for the building of a befitting National Secretariat.
The victory of Mallam Yar’Adua at the poll was premised on his very popular seven-point agenda and his well articulated vision of making Nigeria one of the 20 leading economies in the world by the year 2020. An amiable gentleman, Yar’Adua had led Katsina State as Governor for eight years with unprecedented achievements.
The emergence of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan necessitated an adjustment of the PDP’s Zoning formula to accommodate all geo-political zones in the country. Consequently, even though the Amadu Ali-led National Executive Committee was elected in 2005 for a four year tenure, they could not continue holding office because other zones would have been at a disadvantage.
A New Beginning
On March 8, 2008, a new National Executive Committee headed by Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, a former National Secretary of the PDP and former Minister of Economic Affairs was elected at a convention where all contenders to the office of National Chairman publicly announced their withdrawal for the Prince from Olokoro in Abia State. Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, a seasoned technocrat and former permanent secretary in Kwara State was elected National Secretary.
In his acceptance speech, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor pledged to reconcile all members of the party and ensure the return of those who left due to one frustration or the other. The new Chairman pledged to restore the party to the ideals of the founding fathers. Towards this end, he on assumption of office inaugurated a Committee Headed by the Deputy National Chairman, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, to review the report of the Dr. Alex Ekwueme led National Reconciliation Committee.
Within a record period of only one month the Dr. Mohammed Committee came up with several recommendations prominent among which is the amendment of the PDP Constitution especially the areas that negate the philosophies of the founding fathers like the leadership, functions and membership of the Board of Trustees.
The determination of Prince Ogbulafor to restore the PDP to the vision of the founding fathers came to fruition between October 23-25, 2008 at a highly successful Stakeholders’ Forum hosted by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio in Uyo, the State capital.
At the lively and well attended event, founding fathers of the party including hitherto estranged ones exchanged friendly banter and relieved fond memories of the all inclusive beginning of the PDP. Participants agreed to close ranks and support the Ogbulafor administration to realize the Olympian dreams of the founding fathers.
Nineteen years on, we have every reason to ask ourselves how far has the dream of the founding fathers been realized? According to Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, the Party was envisioned not as an ideological party but a broad based all inclusive platform. To that extent, given the enormous size of the party, the dreams of the founding fathers have been realized. The fact that PDP is likely to win any election at any level is also a lofty realization of the dreams of the founding fathers.
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