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SDP: Old wine in new skin

The ongoing repositioning of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) is raising hopes that Nigerians may at last have a choice from the two dominant political parties in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

If this happens, it would be a significant shift from the 2015 scenario when analysts said Nigerians were faced with two hard choices.

In the buildup to the 2015 presidential election, Olu Fasan, London-based lawyer, political economist and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), had said that “neither main candidate, PDP’s Goodluck Jonathan or APC’s Muhammadu Buhari, inspires sufficient confidence about his ability to tackle Nigeria’s multiple challenges”.

Fasan further described the two choices before the Nigerian electorate as “two mutually exclusive yet inadequate options”, adding that the choice between APC and PDP could be that “between six of one and half a dozen of the other”.

Yet, the outcome of the election showed many Nigerians preferred APC’s promise of change, magnified by its calculated campaign of calumny against PDP and the exaltation of Buhari to messiahnic heights by a well-oiled propaganda machine.

With APC’s failures on numerous fronts since coming to power in 2015, manifesting in tales of untold hardship, despair and violent deaths, not a few Nigerians have bitten their fingers in regret. Currently, there is a consensus of opinion among many that neither APC nor PDP has what it takes to move Nigeria forward.

In an open letter to President Buhari in January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had mooted the idea of forming a movement, a ‘Third Force’, in the political circle “that will drive Nigeria up and forward” and lead Nigerians out of the present excruciating situation.

With the ongoing repositioning of SDP, the polity is brimming with hope that here, at last, is the “nubile beauty” to be courted by all and sundry ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Apart from Jerry Gana, a former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education and one-time Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, and Godsday Orubebe, a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, who in February abandoned PDP for SDP, Junaid Mohammed, Second Republic lawmaker, other big names said to have joined the SDP fold include Rufai Ahmed Alkali, a former national publicity secretary of PDP, Joseph Akaagerger, former military administrator of Katsina State, Saminu Turaki, former governor of Jigawa State, Mike Oghiadhome, former chief of staff to President Jonathan, and Emmanuel Bello, a former Adamawa APC governorship aspirant. Bello, a former member of House Representatives, defected from APC to SDP alongside his large supporters from across all the local government areas of the state.

There are also speculations that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar may join the SDP if he fails to clinch the PDP ticket to contest the 2019 presidential election.

Earlier last week, Adeniran, one of the prominent Nigerians who recently defected to SDP, said the party was set to receive more defectors from rival political parties in the weeks ahead as it had become the preferred destination for genuine lovers of democracy.

“We expect more people to join the SDP from other political parties and various platforms in view of its determination to be guided by some fundamental principles, policies and people-oriented programmes,” Adeniran said in a chat with a national daily.

“We also expect an influx based on its ideological orientations. As for 2019, we are consolidating on these values to give us a footing for necessary planning and preparations.”

The SDP seems to be taking advantage of the rift within the PDP arising from the latter’s last elective national convention, as well as the troubles in other parties, including the ruling APC.

For instance, the Gana team was said to have been particularly aggrieved following the last PDP convention, where Adeniran lost the chairmanship ticket to Uche Secondus, who was backed by Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. The team is also alleged to be apprehensive that Wike and his clique have hijacked the party and could emasculate their interests. As such, they left the PDP and the SDP became their destination.

Apart from PDP members who are aggrieved at the conduct of the PDP convention, there are also those who had been sidelined long before the exercise.

As for the APC, it is not a secret that the ruling party has been embroiled in a lot of internal crises, leading to the appointment of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, to lead a reconciliation committee. Many members of the APC are aggrieved that they exhausted their energy and resources for the party only to be abandoned by the party. Now stranded politically, many of them may jump ship at the slightest opportunity.

If these crises continue and push gets to shove, analysts say SDP is bound to be the greatest beneficiary.

SDP is not new to Nigerian politics. It was re-registered perhaps to retain the memory of its glorious days when it was the leading party in the country. SDP it was that provided the platform under which the late MKO Abiola ran as president of Nigeria and “won” in the botched Third Republic in 1993.

Already, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) and People’s Salvation Party (PSP) have teamed up with the SDP to form a formidable platform, with insinuations that the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), inspired by former President Obasanjo, is in talks with the party.

To concretise their differing positions within a coming merger, the SDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Abuja with the defecting group from the PDP and parts of the PRP and PSP to form a crack side with which it hopes to snatch power in 2019.

The MoU jointly signed by Falae (for SDP) and Gana (for Movement for a New Political Order) resolved, among other things, to “fuse together into one political form; adopt the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the political vehicle for the fused political formation; convene a non-elective convention for Saturday, 14th April, 2018; authorize the National Working Committee to serve as the Interim Management Committee until the said convention; set up a National Steering Committee of 12 members to guide the Interim Management Committee during the transition period; and raise a Constitution Review Committee to consider all necessary amendments to the party constitution”.

As it is, the SDP appears more philosophical and ideological than the rest of the pack, at least judging from what it encapsulated in its working documents ahead of the 2019 elections.

Some SDP sources have also claimed that the party has the “full support of socio-cultural organisations like the Middle Belt Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the South-South Assembly”.

The SDP structure

The Olu Falae-led SDP has Jerry Gana as its National Steering Committee chairman, and Abdul Ahmed Isiaq as deputy national chairman.

Other members of the National Working Committee include Shehu Musa Gabam, national secretary; Junaid Mohammed, national vice chairman, North-West; Ebenezer Ikeyina, national vice chairman, South-East; Supo Sonibare, national vice chairman, South-West; and E. B. Henshaw, national vice chairman, South-South.

Others are Joseph Abu, national legal adviser; Nnamdi Clarkson, national treasurer; Emeka Atuma, national organising secretary; Kehinde Ayoola, national financial secretary; Alfa Muhammed, deputy national publicity secretary; Maryam Batubu, women leader, and Stanley Nwaka, youth leader.

If the CNM fuses into SDP as being speculated, the emerging force may also boast of the likes of former Osun State Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and his Cross River State counterpart Donald Duke, Ahmadu Ali, former PDP national chairman, Buba Galadima, former national secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Ralph Nwosu, national chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), among many others who had already aligned with the group.

High optimism in SDP camp

And the SDP camp has also been overflowing with optimism.

Olu Falae, the party’s national chairman, recently said the SDP was ready to fill the leadership vacuum left by PDP and APC and provide a serious government whose priority was the welfare of the people since Nigeria was in dire need of a political platform that would take her to the Promised Land.

Alfa Mohammed, acting national publicity secretary of SDP, while interacting with journalists in Minna, the Niger State capital, recently, said the APC was the common enemy of Nigerians as it was responsible for the pains being experienced by Nigerians. He urged Nigerians to be unanimous in sending the ruling party out of Aso Rock in 2019 and out of government at all levels so that the country would return to the good old days.

And while many analysts refer to the SDP as the possible third force, Mohammed, who was in Minna to set up some committees to pilot the affairs of the Niger State SDP, said the party was actually “the emerging first force in the political calculation of Nigeria”.

“The emerging first force is a mass movement of Nigerians symbolised by the SDP,” he said.

Mohammed had also recently claimed that five serving governors, 20 senators and some members of the House of Representatives were set to join the party.

Olu Agunloye, a chieftain of the party and a former minister, was recently quoted to have said the party remained the only viable alternative to deliver real change to Nigerians in 2019, claiming the party has the programmes to move the country forward, with its focus on delivering development through good governance in the country.

Agunloye added that it was the belief in the SDP’s capacity to deliver that was deriving the mass defection by some chieftains of other political parties to SDP.

Also in a recent statement signed by Adakole Ijogi, its national spokesperson, SDP said it was ready to govern Nigeria at all levels and that as a credible political party, it has come to stop the hemorrhaging of the Nigerian economy and guide the nation back onto the path of prosperity, progress and unity.

“We are the party Nigerians have been waiting for and we are determined to deliver on our promises working together as a people to give Nigerians a new lease of life,” the party said in the statement.

PDP on edge?

Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP national publicity secretary, told BDSUNDAY on Thursday that the party is not threatened by the repositioning of SDP and defection of PDP members to the emerging coalition.

According to him, PDP actually welcomes the SDP in a merger as long as it remains committed to unseat President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling APC in the 2019 elections.

“To be very honest with you and with utmost respect and regard for the politicians you have mentioned, we do not think that our party is threatened by the creation or formation of any other political party,” Ologbondiyan said.

“As I said, any opposition party in Nigeria today which wants to participate in the political process and is determined to win election will first and foremost discuss with the PDP because the PDP remains the only viable opposition in the country today.

“We have strength in the 120,000 polling units in the country. So a party that is just formed now is not likely to oust the PDP, it’s a matter of logic and very simple. So those who claimed that they have left the party, we believe they have not left the party because opposition against Buhari is going to be one. And the PDP is going to lead the coalition against the APC in 2019.

“That is the point that we are making. And any opposition party that is desirous of removing President Buhari from office will have to come and work with the PDP because the PDP is the major opposition party.

“The PDP remains strong, it remains viable, and it remains strategic to removing President Buhari from office. Even those that you said have left the party, they have only one commitment and the commitment is to remove President Buhari from office through election and I am saying that if that is their desire, they are going to team up with the opposition. We are very confident that the PDP is not in crisis, and it remains united, indivisible strong and viable,” he said.

But some analysts say the repositioning of SDP may be forcing the two dominant parties to reshape themselves. They cite the PDP Youth Leaders meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, where Uche Secondus, the party’s national chairman, announced that the party was coming up with “Generation Next” programme for repositioning youths to take over leadership in 2019.

With the programme, Secondus said, age barrier would be removed and a 25-year-old that is popular and intelligent can be voted into power as governor, urging the youths to mobilise young people in their communities irrespective of party affiliation to rescue the country in 2019.

“Today is the day to go into memory lane, make firm declaration and stand by it; the country needs the youth and the party is ready to allow you participate,” he said.

Analysts say this move is novel for a party that has for long been dominated by old people.

For the ruling APC, the word is mum as the party has yet to officially utter a word regarding the flurry of activities around the SDP.

How far will SDP go?

With the emerging repositioning of the SDP, the question bothering many Nigerians is whether the party has what it takes to dislodge both the APC and the PDP from their vantage positions in the political arena in 2019.

While some analysts have dismissed SDP, saying it will be racing against time and lacks the political structure and finances to confront the two dominant parties in 2019, some others see it as possibly the fresh option that Nigerians have been yearning for.

Babatunde Enigbokun, a chieftain of the SDP and a former official of the Action Alliance in Lagos, said recently that the party was banking on its “newness” to attract Nigerians to its side.

“We have no blemish. We have no baggage and Nigerians can easily identify with us as a party of patriots who haven’t deceived the people in any way,” said Enigbokun, who described the APC and the PDP as “Siamese twins of failure and disappointment”.

“The same way Nigerians looked forward to and accepted APC when it came, we believe Nigerians will rally round the SDP ahead of the 2019 general election. The difference is that we will not promise what we will not do,” he said.

But Perry Opara, national chairman of National Unity Party (NUP), told this medium that that the SDP has already developed cracks within its structure.

Opara observed that immediately Jerry Gana muted the idea of narrowing the issue of the presidency to the SDP as captured in the MoU, most of those who came to join him ran away, adding that that was an easy mistake to make.

He said it was too early for Gana to announce the SDP as the platform to seek the presidency when plans for the merger were at the inchoate stage.

A chieftain of one of the political parties, who preferred anonymity, told BDSUNDAY that the faces in the SDP can best be described as a motley of politicians with disarticulated orientation.

“I know they will gather in SDP with different interests that are not grounded in ideology, no matter how much they pretend, because they are bereft of vision. So an imminent crack is expected,” the party chieftain said.

Some political analysts, however, say it is too early in the day to determine whether or not the SDP would truly emerge as a third force in 2019.

“Building a party is not a walk in the park. You need to have structures across the length and breadth of the country, particularly if you are aiming to win the presidency,” Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst, told a national daily.

“The structures serve as the foot soldiers of the party. They are the ones that will campaign for the party; they are the ones that will nominate the agents that will be the eyes and ears of the party at the polling units,” he said.

Some, however, say whether the party will make any significant impact or not in 2019 may depend on who eventually emerges as its presidential flag bearer.

 

CHUKS OLUIGBO, Lagos, & INNOCENT ODOH, Abuja

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