By Olawale Olaleye in Lagos and Daji Sani in Yola
After suffering a string of losses in the last four governorship elections – Edo, Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti, and in a pre-emptive move designed to prevent the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from tagging it as corrupt, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), has finally resolved to change its name ahead of the 2019 general election. THISDAY learnt that PDP, which planned to announce the decision to change its name today, had also pencilled down Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu as the one to head a committee that would walk the party through the procedure. Many of the party’s stalwarts have been worried by how the ruling APC had successfully branded the party as corrupt in the eyes of Nigerians and admitted that, a rebranding was imperative to mount a successful challenge in 2019. Added to that concern was the powerful advice by brand experts who warned that the name, PDP had become damaged goods that must be changed to give the party a fresh start.
The name change is coming just as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar officially declared his intention to seek the presidency under the PDP platform at a rally held at Ribadu Square, in the capital of his home state of Adamawa. Atiku Abubakar stated in his declaration on Saturday in Yola that the federal government led by the APC had failed Nigerians and the people were yearning for change. He decried the killings in different parts of the country and blamed the APC for visiting insecurity, tragedy, division, and economic misery upon the citizens while promising to restore national unity, security of life and property, and economic prosperity if elected president.
THISDAY gathered last night that the decision by the PDP to change its name might have stemmed from last Thursday’s meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate President Bukola Saraki. Though, details of their discussion were not made public, many in PDP believed that with such sessions, the chances of bringing Saraki back to the PDP could be hampered.
The opposition party had long mooted the idea of name change, but had slowed down on the decision because a majority of its members were not disposed to it, and those who wanted it could not convince the others.
Besides, it was thought that even though the party had switched positions and had become an opposition party, PDP was still the only party with membership in the remotest parts of the country, and the name resonated with a majority of its members and admirers, particularly among the teeming illiterate populations.
But this very thinking had since changed, especially with the prevalent narrative of the ruling party, which is always attacking the PDP as a corrupt party. PDP believes the corruption allegation is the main defence APC has found to justify its continued stay in office, despite widespread belief that it has mismanaged the affairs of the country.
Leaders of the opposition party are, therefore, of the opinion that since the ruling APC may be unable to campaign with a good record on economy and security, the only thing it has going for it is the attempt to de-market the opposition by constantly alluding to corruption allegations. However, once the name changes, leaders of the party reckon, PDP would naturally die with the corruption tag and the engagement would shift to issues-based debate. Many PDP members feel that APC would be unable to sustain such a debate owing to its poor performance in the last three years.
It is also believed that in the run up to 2019, PDP has gained many sympathisers, some of who are, however, uncomfortable with the name because of the baggage that comes with it. The party’s leaders are, therefore, of the view that with the old name gone, PDP’s sympathisers would not only openly identify with it, but most of them would also attract more members, thus putting it in a position of advantage to effectively take on APC in the next election.
Therefore, the assignment before the Ekweremadu committee would be to come up with a name that best suits the party, considering the short time between now and 2019, and also not forgetting that such a name must be easily recalled by illiterate citizens.
Meanwhile, Atiku was well received at his declaration ceremony in Yola, which took place in a carnival-like atmosphere.
“Fellow Nigerians, the government of APC has failed, it has failed to unite Nigerians,” Atiku told a capacity crowd of jubilant supporters and party leaders, which included PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, and other members of the party’s National Working Committee as well as leaders from the six geo-political zones of the country. “Today we are more divided than in any other time in the history of this country.”
He said the APC government had failed to rescue Nigeria from destruction, “Rather, it has destroyed the economy, security, and ensured more poverty and starvation in the land.”
Atiku stressed, “The APC promised us three million new jobs a year. In government, the APC has lost three million jobs a year.
“The APC promised us peace and unity. Under the APC, Nigeria is now more divided and acrimonious than at any time since the civil war.”
The former vice president said, “Nigeria’s major problem is insecurity. More people are killed in Nigeria than people in Afghanistan because Nigerians are no longer secure in their country due to the insensitiveness of the current leadership of the APC.”
According to Atiku, “The APC government has destroyed our economy. They took over an economy with a growth of seven per cent and brought it down to less than two per cent. Today, we are witnessing the most insecure situation in Nigeria ever since APC took over.”
He said, “Today, we have the highest unemployment rate in this country. More than 10 million of our people have been made unemployed under the watch of the APC administration.”
Atiku said he would work with other compatriots in the PDP to secure the party’s nomination for the presidential election. He explained that rebuilding the economy and reuniting the country will be his major priorities if elected president.
“What the PDP is going to do is to restore our economy, restore hope of a greater Nigeria and ensure that we have security of lives and property.
“I, therefore, appeal to all of you wherever you may be that it is time to now re-embrace the party that has given us unity, prosperity and security in this country,” he stated.
Atiku, who returned to PDP from APC last year, said PDP maintained an “unequalled record of growing our economy for the benefit of all.”
He vowed to reclaim the state for PDP, saying, “l took this state to the PDP, today, l have come to reclaim what belongs to PDP.”
He said he was overwhelmed by the reception by his people and their support for his ambition, recalling similar events in 1998, when was received by mammoth crowds of supporters before the 1999 election, when he was running mate to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In his own comments, Senator Ben Bruce, who spoke on behalf of other senators, said, “The turnout is one of a kind. Never been anything like this. Indeed, power is returning to the people, let’s join hands to get Nigeria working.”
Bruce said the country needed a detribalised leader like Atiku.
“We cannot continue to live in a country where people are being killed every day. We need someone who can salvage and move the country forward like Atiku. We need to keep hope alive. With people like Atiku, we have hope.”
The event, which had in attendance about 400 Atiku support groups from across the country, also witnessed the defection of people from APC and other parties to PDP. Secondus and chairman of PDP in Adamawa State, Barrister Tahir Shehu, received the new defectors, which included commissioners in the incumbent government of the APC in the state under Governor Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow, Assembly members representing Lamurde, Michika, Leko-Coma state constituencies, and Guyuk local council boss and all his councillors.
THISDAY spotted two commissioners sitting among the dignitaries – the Commissioner for Land and Survey, Hon. Maigiyawa Yayaji, and Commissioner for Commerce, Alhaji Umar Daware. The two men were recently reported to have resigned from Bindow’s cabinet, as confirmed by the state secretary of the PDP, Abdullahi Peramb.
By Olawale Olaleye in Lagos and Daji Sani in Yola