Nigeria's ruling party tested by dissent
03 September 2013, 12:33
Lagos - The party that has controlled Nigeria's presidency since a return to
civilian rule in 1999 has found itself in unfamiliar territory, rocked by
dissent and facing a stronger opposition.
The combination of internal dissent against President Goodluck Jonathan as
well as serious efforts by the country's main opposition groups to unite have
come amid early strategising for 2015 polls.
Whether the ruling People’s Democratic Party can iron out its differences
and fend off the opposition will have huge implications for Africa's most
populous nation and largest oil producer.
The crucial 2015 vote will come after years of deadly Islamist attacks in
the north and with oil theft in the south estimated to cost the country around
$6bn per year in revenue.
"The party may lose the next election unless genuine efforts to
reconcile the aggrieved members are made," said Laja Odukoya, a political
science lecturer at the University of Lagos.
Others, however remain more optimistic, believing the PDP remains a behemoth
more than capable of righting the ship, flush with cash and with the power of
Still, the challenges facing the party cannot be underestimated.
The latest development came on Saturday, when a PDP convention in Abuja
exposed the party's divisions.
Seven of the party's 23 state governors (Nigeria has 36 states) along with
others, including former vice president Atiku Abubakar, walked out of the event
and met nearby for a parallel meeting of what they now call the real PDP.
The rift had been in the making for months, with factions within the party
opposed to Jonathan's re-election and several members believed to be plotting
their own run.
Regional politics have combined with personal ambitions and other factors to
create shifting alliances.
Much of the opposition to Jonathan within the party is based on an unwritten
pact intended to rotate control of the presidency between Nigeria's
predominately Christian south and mainly Muslim north.
According to many northerners, Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-producing
Niger Delta region, should have never been allowed to run in 2011 as it was the
The dissidents who walked out on Saturday have been seeking to publicly make
One of the most prominent Rotimi Amaechi, the governor of Rivers state in
the Niger Delta who has been in a high-profile feud with the president, met
with foreign journalists on Monday in Lagos.
The governor, considered a possible vice presidential candidate, said the
electorate had come to expect more in a country where corruption and
mismanagement has long characterised politics.
"What we're doing is to correct the party to ensure that when we
present ourselves before the people in 2015, we will be credible enough to get
the number of votes that will put us back in power," Amaechi said.
Their strategy is not clear. One option may be to present their own
candidate to challenge Jonathan in the PDP primary - though they could eventually
fall in line with the president if they are offered enough concessions.
Whatever the outcome, the dissident group is not the PDP's only headache.
Nigeria's main opposition parties moved earlier this year to combine forces,
potentially posing a serious threat to the PDP if they can overcome infighting.
The new opposition alignment, the All Progressives Congress, includes
parties with significant regional clout as well as a number of influential
Odukoya said the combination of internal splits and a unified opposition
held the potential for what may have once seemed unthinkable: a PDP defeat in
However, Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders pressure
group was cautious over what may come of the PDP's bickering.
The deal-making inherent in Nigerian politics means almost any outcome is
"[The dissidents] may just be cajoling the leadership into making
concessions to them ahead of 2015," he said.
As for Amaechi, he insisted the dissident group's actions were aimed at
cleaning up the party, adding that it was too early to talk about what he will
be up to in 2015.
"In Nigerian politics, one hour is a lot," he said. "In
Nigerian politics, one hour can change everything."