Some prominent political heavyweights are now defecting to the Social Democratic Party in an obvious move to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress and make the opposition Peoples Democratic Party irrelevant in the next elections; but will the party live up to expectation?
By Olu Ojewale*
THE handwriting is now on the wall. The two political giants in the country, the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are not going to have it easy in the 2019 general elections. The recent emergence of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, as a prominent political party is largely seen as a third force in the political equation and the one which might upset the apple cart at the next elections.
It is not that the SDP is a new party, but the defection of prominent political bigwigs from the PDP and a possible exodus from the APC to the SDP headed by Olu Falae, a former minister of Finance, is largely seen as a big thing.
What seems to give the SDP some strength is none other than the defection of some prominent politicians from the PDP on Thursday, March 1. Tunde Adeniran, a professor of Political Science and a former minister of Education, announced the defection on Saturday, March 3.
Political watchers say with the likes of Adeniran; Jerry Gana, a professor of Geography, and former minister of Information and Culture; Junaid Mohammed, a second republic lawmaker and an elder statesman from the North, among others in the midst, the SDP could now be regarded as the third force that might provide the balance that the Nigerian political terrain needs.
Interestingly, both Adeniran and Gana were members of the Board of Trustees of the PDP before the defection to the SDP. Even when Adeniran was a chairmanship candidate in the December 9, national convention of the PDP, Gana was one of his staunch supporters. Since he lost the election to the chairmanship post, Adeniran severed his relationship with the PDP.
In any case, sources close to the party said the recent defection from the PDP was just the beginning of massive defections expected not only from the PDP, but also from the APC to SDP in the days ahead. There are some disgruntled leaders in the APC who are not likely to follow the party to the next elections. Analysts say they are just waiting for the right moment to jump the ship, especially if the ongoing peace mission entrusted to Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State and national leader of the party fails to heal the gaping wounds in the party.
According to available information, among the parties that have already joined the SDP are Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, and the Peoples Salvation Party, PSP and eight other unnamed parties. The SDP, analysts have argued that the defection to the SDP by some disgruntled APC and PDP members ahead of next year’s elections would make the party a formidable one.
By midweek, no fewer than five serving governors and 35 senators were reportedly set to join the SDP. Alfa Mohammed, the national publicity secretary of the party, who made the claim refused to the names of the governors and senators, but hinted that they or their proxies had been attending the party’s meetings.
Mohammed said in Minna, Niger State, on Tuesday, March 6, that the affected governors and senators were from “all parts of the country.”
It is understood that the Olusegun Obasanjo-inspired Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM, was also in talks with the SDP to work together. Olu Falae, a former presidential candidate, who was once a minister of Finance, heads the SDP.
“The mass movement of prominent politicians from both APC and PDP to the SDP last Thursday was a kick starter for the chunk of other politicians and civil society groups eager to join the SDP
“In the next two to three weeks, the mass movement into the SDP will become more pronounced especially at the national and state Houses of Assembly and I am sure that the party will soon become the majority at the National Assembly,” Mohammed claimed.
According to him, the national secretariat of the party had directed all state offices to commence registration of new members at ward levels from Monday, March 5, adding that local and state congresses would be held soon before the national convention.
Similarly, Olu Agunloye, a former minister of Power and Steel, who is chieftain of the SDP, said on Wednesday, March 7, that the party remained the only viable alternative to deliver real change to Nigerians.
Agunloye, who spoke to the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Lagos, said the party had the programmes to move the country forward, with its focus on delivering development through good governance in the country.
Agunloye, who was the SDP candidate in the November 2016 governorship election in Ondo State, described the defection of Adeniran and Gana to the party as good a development and that their coming would add value to the party.
He said the party had received other prominent politicians into its fold, while so many others had indicated interest to join the party.
“Just two days ago, a governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Party, APC, in Adamawa joined the party with about 16,000 of his supporters.
“So many people have also indicated interest to join the party from across other political parties, we are expecting more people soon,” he said.
Agunloye, however, said the party would welcome people who were ready to align with the party’s vision to reposition the country and not people who were coming just to seek tickets for their aspirations.
On the speculations that SDP was in talks with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to join it, Agunloye said he had no knowledge of the moves.
“Atiku is free to join our party. He is welcome to join us. I worked with him at the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and he is a man I respect a lot,” he said.
In the same vein, Mohammed, who declined to confirm whether Abubakar had joined the SDP, said the party was home to the former vice president adding that he did not need to “knock at the door before entering the party.”
He said: “I need two to three weeks to confirm the issue of the former vice president as it concerns our party. However, it might interest you to know that many prominent politicians from Adamawa States have joined us.”
He promised that the party would provide equal opportunities and level playing ground to all members, pointing out that “we will also provide credible and honest leadership to Nigerians in 2019.”
That notwithstanding, it was gathered that some prominent persons in the PDP tried to persuade the likes of Adeniran and Gana not to ditch the party for the SDP but failed.
According to Aminu Ibrahim, a delegate from Nasarawa, the defectors are aggrieved members of the PDP who lost out somehow. He may well have a point.
Indeed, Adeniran contested for the national chairmanship position of the PDP but lost heavily to Uche Secondus.
In any case, Adeniran said he decided to leave the PDP because of impunity and imposition of candidates, and not because he was not elected national chairman of the party.
Adeniran said: “I have left the PDP for the SDP with my supporters. I left because there is no internal democracy in the PDP. It may interest you to know that Professor Jerry Gana has also left the PDP.”
Asked if Gana would fly the presidential ticket of the SDP in 2019 as being speculated, Adeniran said: “Whoever will be the presidential candidate will emerge from our convention.”
Providing an insight into the new SDP, Junaid Mohammed said the party now has a coalition of parties capable of wrestling power from the APC. He said: “Those involved in SDP are the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP; Peoples Salvation Party, PSP; the Social Democratic Party, SDP; and some elements of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. It was like a merger but we do not want to call it so because the All Progressives Congress, APC, has destroyed the concept of merger.
“I am an optimist, I believe SDP will make a great impact. The main reason I want to be associated with it is because it is ideologically driven. Even it was not ideologically driven before, it has to be ideologically driven.”
On the speculations that some governors and National Assembly members had joined the SDP, Mohammed said: “It is not compulsory to have governors or members of the National Assembly in a party to succeed. There are about 65 to 67 parties thereabout in the country. In terms of electoral performance, most of the parties are not on ground. The two parties which have led the country are not doing well. They have impacted negatively on the economy and our political life. A three-party or a four or five-party system will be better.”
That notwithstanding, leaders of the PDP seem to be unprepared to allow some of the valued members to leave without a fight, perhaps, fearing the impact this might cause during the forthcoming elections.
Indeed, Secondus described the defection of Adeniran as painful. As one of the founding fathers of the PDP, the national chairman said he had expected Adeniran to join hands with him and other leaders of the party to rebuild it in order to be able to wrest power from the ruling APC.
Reacting in a similar manner, the National Youth League of the PDP said the news of the defection of some of its members was received with a great shock. In a statement signed by Zainab Al-Amin, its national publicity secretary, the PDP youths said: “It is our candid opinion that the least expected of people that have had so much gains from the party is to join hands with the indefatigable leadership of our great party led by Prince Uche Secondus and his team of National Working Committee to rebuild the party for greatness, reposition it and Regain every lost ground.
“While we mourn the exit of the aforementioned leaders from the party, it is our candid belief that the PDP National Youth League will not be broken.”
The youth group said it would continue to reach out to and galvanize young Nigerians into the party to ensure maximum support of the youths ahead of 2019 elections.
On his part, Emmanuel Agbo, deputy national secretary of the PDP, labelled Gana and Adeniran as bad sportsmen following the report of their exit from the party.
Hence, Agbo appealed to Gana and Adeniran and their supporters to retrace their steps and reclaim their sinking political enterprise.
In a statement signed on his behalf by Yemi Adebowale, his media aide, Agbo said: “the loss of one game does not warrant leaving that game for another. The duo had it all in the past in PDP at a point contenders to the offices they occupied didn’t leave PDP but stayed back and worked for the series of successes the party achieved in the past.
“It is both uncharitable and unsportsmanlike for Gana and Adeniran to turn their back on the party that gave them all only yesterday.
“This clearly shows that Gana wasn’t sincerely providing leadership for the North as claimed but selfishly using the Northern platform for the actualisation of his agenda…”
On his part, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State took a subtle part of reconciliation with a promise to woo back defecting professors and others from the SDP.
Dickson, who is the chairman of the PDP Reconciliation Committee, disclosed this while reacting to the defection of Gana and Adeniran.
A press statement signed by Francis Ottah Agbo, the chief press secretary to the governor, in Yenagoa, on Sunday, March 4, Dickson described Gana and Adeniran as “icons of democracy and leaders of progressive politics in the PDP and the country.”
Therefore, the governor promised the resolve of his reconciliation committee to continuously engage aggrieved party members, including those who had left to return to the party ahead of the 2019 elections.
“We must be together to save our party and country from collapse. Because less than one year to the 2019 general elections, time is of essence and the right thing to do now is for all men of good will to come together to challenge the APC, since the next election is critical to the survival of democracy and the nation,” he stated.
But with the calibre of personalities joining the SDP, it is obvious that the PDP has not only the APC to contend with at the coming elections.
Nevertheless, John Abayomi, a businessman and public analyst, said the strong SDP should be a good thing for the country because it would be an alternative to the APC and the PDP.
Abayomi said it would be a mistake for any party to write up the SDP the way it is going. “PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan wrote-off the coalition/gang-up that gave birth to the APC, and we are now seeing the outcome. The APC is imploding from within, PDP has his own headache, wobbling and fumbling since the loss of federal control since 2015. Whatever this gang up brings, it will be better for Nigerian democracy, two party democracy is not the answer in a multi-ethnic group country like Nigeria,” Abayomi said.
Saheed Salami, another commentator agreed that the coming of the SDP to political prominence would brighten democracy, but believes that it would also enhance chances of the APC to remain in power. “If anything, the coalition will deepen democracy, factionalise the opposition and indirectly brightening President Muhammed Buhari and the APC’s chances to win,” Salami said.
Whatever the be the case, the coming of the SDP as the third force in the political equation is not going to just a facade, but another window of opportunity for Nigerians to elect the leaders of their choice. It is hoped!