Daily Trust (Abuja)

23 September 2012

Nigeria: 2015 - Now, PDM Is Waiting in the Wings

The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) is being revived by elements who think it will be a beautiful bride in the 2015 power struggle

Once upon a time, there lived a mythical bird called the Phoenix. What makes it legendary is its ability to reborn from its own ashes which implies that it is immortal. According to some Middle Eastern fables, the phoenix has a life-span of 1000 years, near the end of each cycle it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn ferociously and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arises, reborn anew to live again.

In the annals of modern Nigerian politics, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) resembles this fabled, giant bird. The PDM is a political association, founded by the late military-cum political strategist, General Shehu Musa Yar'adua, played a very significant role in the emergence of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the strongest political force in the country and invariably, the election of former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.

Like the phoenix, PDM's revival is a reincarnation sort of. The eagle-like bird's process of rebirth has striking similarities to the political association's route to renewal. Late Gen. Yar'adua's eldest son, Murtala Yar'adua is the person that spearheaded the return of the PDM. Ten years after - not a thousand years in case of the phoenix - the PDM is re-ignited from the nest that once sheltered its source: the Yar'adua family.

Sunday Trust authoritatively learnt that Murtala Yar'adua conceived the idea to restore his father's political structure after he and other die-hard members carefully studied the political environment in the PDP and perceived the need to revive PDM so as to serve as a platform for the entrenchment of intra-party harmony and democracy.

A reliable source close to Murtala Yar'adua, who briefly served as Minister of State (Defence) from May 2010 to April 2011, told Sunday Trust that the PDM is being revived to answer a call to national duty by some of its members who feel that there are serious crisis within the PDP and the country is heading towards anarchy.

Series of nocturnal meetings were held at the Abuja residence of Murtala Yar'adua in Jabi before it was later shifted to Shehu Yar'adua Centre in Wuse to sensitise members on the strategies and plans of the movement.

When the news of PDM's revival became public, Sunday Trust gathered that some prominent politicians in PDP became so nervous over the development. Some questioned the rationale for such a move when PDP is grappling with issues bordering on its unity and has declared it would no longer tolerate intra-party caucuses and power blocs.

Former president Obasanjo allegedly summoned Murtala Yar'adua and asked why he resuscitated a group that was already dead and buried, and sought to know whether the late Gen. Yar'adua's son was planning to use the movement to fight perceived enemies.

Murtala Yar'adua simply replied that the new PDM is a non-partisan group and does not have any agenda relating to 2015 politics.

Whatever the reasons might be for PDM's return, its re-emergence had triggered ripples within the PDP and is throwing up fresh challenges and, of course, raising few more questions.

Since its come-back a couple of weeks ago, the PDM has attracted scores of political heavy-weights into its fold. Among the pioneer members who have sensed the need to renew acquaintance with the movement are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Chief Anthony Anenih, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, Chief Dubem Onyia, Prince Tonye Princewill, Dame Titi Ajanaku, Professor Ango Abdullahi, Professor Borishade, Alhaji Kabiru Sa'idu and Dr Faruq Abdulaziz just to mention a few.

From the look of things, the PDM wants to reclaim its former position within the PDP as power-brokers as its influenced had diminished over the years on account of being submerged by other interests groups within the party.

In the bid to ensure the movement's full resuscitation, the leading members set up a 24-man committee to sent overtures to old and prominent members. A steering committee was constituted comprising seven members from each of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory and also an interim committee headed by Chief Bode Ajiwale.

The story of the PDM has been told and retold especially the tremendous influence it wielded in Nigeria's political spectrum during the pre-1999 era, starting with its precursor, the Peoples Front, founded by late General Yar'adua. It provided the crest and the wings for the Obasanjo/Atiku ticket to soar high at the 1999 presidential polls.

How did it happen? The retired generals who wanted to appease the South-West over the June 12 annulment met with the PDM leadership in 1998 and said 'Give us your platform so that we can place a candidate,' that was how it was done. Willingly, the PDM gave the PDP its well-knitted platform and in exchange the association was given the option to nominate someone for the vice president slot. PDM picked Atiku Abubakar and the rest was history.

Furthermore, a frontline politician from Jigawa State and PDM's founding member, Alhaji Abdullahi Abdulkadir, Matawallen Hadejia, who said the need to protect the common interest of its members necessitated the revival of the association, stressed that the PDM is an old association established in 1987 during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida when it rolled out a transition programme to democratic rule.

"The PDM is an off-shoot of the Peoples Front and we have been around as a political association since 1987 at the wake of Gen. Babangida administration's transition to civil rule programme. We had network of branches across the country and our leader was late Gen. Shehu Yar'adua. He held series of meetings in Abuja and it was during one of these meetings that late Usman Nagado Mai Kayan Wasa from Jigawa State suggested the name Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) and was adopted. During late Gen. Abacha's botched transition programme we maintained that name. I remember when parties we about to be registered we collected registration forms but our merger talks with Bernabas Gemade's CNC stalled our progress to attain registration as a political party then.

"But we continued as PDM until 1998 at the dawn of this democratic era when we emerged as the most powerful political association in the country. We fused into the newly created Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and went on to determine who gets what and chart the direction of the party, though, President Obasanjo later jettisoned PDM ideals," said the Matawallen Hadejia, who claimed that the PDM is fulcrum of the Nigeria's ruling party.

"We are the PDP and 70 percent of its original members are part of us," he said. "PDM's revival should be seen as a stride towards revamping the party that is now battered."

According to another top source in PDM, who pleaded anonymity, the movement's woes is traced to the aftermath of the 1999 elections, when former President Obasanjo insisted that all groups that came together to form the PDP should cease to exist and collapsed into the party.

"When he made the statement almost all senior members of PDM were not happy, but the few that agreed with his position and complied were given appointments in Obasanjo's first term. Those that said no to PDM's extinction were left out and nobody gave them anything.

"This group felt they were betrayed, among them are Dr Faruq Abdulaziz and late M. S. Buari from Borno State. They made frantic efforts to revive PDM, even during the tenure of late Umaru Yar'adua but to no avail.

"So, recently they decided to re-group again as founding members of the PDP with the sole aim to restore the ideals and principles of PDM which is good governance and rule of law," the source said.

Interestingly, the revival has thrown up fresh challenges within the group as the presence of pro-Goodluck Jonathan members, led by Chief Anenih, who used the PDM in 2011 to achieve success in the PDP Presidential primaries against one of their own which created deep disharmony, are very much around and interested in repeating the same feat in 2015.

On the other hand, some prominent members like Alhaji Lawal Kaita and Amb. Yahaya Kwande are among top Northern leaders calling for power-shift to the North. With this picture it may be difficult for the group to champion a cohesive, united front, experts say.

But Atiku Abubakar, who must have felt betrayed by his co-travellers in PDM during the 2011 PDP primaries, insisted that by-gone is by-gone and is keen on rebuilding the relationship.

His media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, explained the former vice president's position, thus: "At some point, he was having bad feelings that PDM members did not support his presidential bid in 2011. It's natural and human. But I think he has gone past that now.

"As you can see he has been largely silent, though he's very much present in the political scene. He's doing his own thing. The new spirit is to rebuild relationships and that's the essence of leadership in this context. You don't stay on old issues but you move forward...I think Turaki (Atiku) has turned the next page and he has been doing his social relationship with people as if nothing like that has happened in the past."

On 2015 politics, Sunday Trust learnt that the PDM would opt to remain neutral and would not support any candidate especially for the office of the President. Probably, this is partly due to some prominent members are currently holding different political interests.

Though, some PDM members have debunked the speculation that the group intends to scuttle the second-term aspirations of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, key members like Alhaji Kaita are not mincing words on the North's determination to recapture power in the next election.

For now, it seems the PDM will keep its distance from the politics of 2015, but as the time approaches and debate rages, only time will tell whether it would continue to sit on the fence.

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