from Africa in Transition

Nigeria’s Ruling Political Party Splits

September 03, 2013

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Nigeria’s ruling political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has split into two factions. According to press reports, at a special convention on August 31, seven governors and former vice president Atiku Abubakar walked out of the convention and organized their own, for the “New PDP.” The governors involved are listed here. On September 1, twenty-two out of fifty sitting PDP senators pledged their loyalty to the “New PDP.” They are listed here. The rest of the PDP governors and senators remain loyal, for the time being, to President Jonathan’s PDP faction.

The new party has a distinctly northern cast: six of the seven governors are from the north or the middle belt. Only one, Rotimi Amaechi of oil rich Rivers State, is from the south; he and President Jonathan are enemies. Based on their names, nearly all of the senators appear to be Muslim, as is former vice president Atiku Abubakar. Party officers, however, appear to come from various parts of the country.

The PDP has been the largest political party in Nigeria since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999. President Goodluck Jonathan is its leader in effect, as were his two predecessors, Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua. The PDP has usually had a lock on most of the governorships and members of the National Assembly. But, it is not a political party in the Western conventional sense. It has neither distinctive political platform nor ideology. As required by Nigerian law, it has not been based in a particular region or religion. Rather, it has been the venue of politics, where Nigeria’s competing and cooperating elites have resolved political issues. It functioned well enough when there was a broad elite political consensus.

But, that consensus broke down with the end of power alternation within the PDP between the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian south. The continuing failure to replace it with anything else has led to increasing tensions. There is also widespread elite dissatisfaction with President Jonathan’s administration on issues such as his inability to stamp out a jihadist insurgency in the north called “Boko Haram” or to bring rampant oil theft under control. Nigerians perceive corruption to be ubiquitous. Nigerian politics are edgy in anticipation of national elections in late 2014. While Jonathan has not said that he will run again, he is widely expected to do so.

The “New PDP” is altogether separate from the new, merged opposition party led by former Lagos state governor Bola Tinubu and former military chief of state Muhammadu Buhari. So, there are now three groupings in the Nigerian political firmament, the PDP, the “New PDP,” and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Especially in pre-election periods, Nigerian political grouping are usually in flux, with rapidly shifting coalitions. Access to money plays a major role. So, it remains to be seen what the staying power of the “New PDP” will be. Nevertheless, its northern cast indicates that Nigerian politics are moving in the direction of a north v.s. south model, which could pose a challenge to national unity.