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September 25, 2013

Tensions Rise Over Divisions in Nigeria’s Ruling Party

by Heather Murdock

Nigeria's ruling party remains deeply divided after splitting in two late last month.  And while some politicians say they can re-unite the two parties, the split is already raising tensions ahead of what could be a violent 2015 presidential contest.

Since Nigeria transitioned from military to civilian rule in 1999, every president, including current President Goodluck Jonathan, has been a member of the People’s Democratic Party, or the PDP.  And even though it is still 2013, Nigeria’s 2015 election season is already in full swing.

Late last month, seven of Nigeria’s governors declared a new PDP leadership, a move the old leadership called “self-seeking and treacherous.”  The party is now split into two groups popularly referred to as the PDP and the "new PDP."

The "new PDP" accuses the government of incompetence, corruption and of failing to stop security crises.  They demand Jonathan cancel his expected - but not announced - 2015 run for reelection. 

Muhammad Lawal Isa, chairman of the "new PDP" in Bauchi in northern Nigeria, says the local chapter was supposed to establish a game plan on Saturday, but when they showed up for the meeting they were dispersed by armed police.

At the inauguration of a new "new PDP" office last month in River State in the south, police declared the meeting criminal and took down the PDP and Nigerian flags outside the building.

Since then, leaders of both parties have been hurling insults at each other in the local press, with both sides claiming the other is trying to weaken the nation.

But some PDP members say the division is temporary and that the two parties will not be competing, but re-merging after negotiations that are set to begin October 7. 

“They have set a committee which will now draw the final agreement and then based on their demands and then the peaceful steps taken by Mr. President so that the entire dissatisfaction will be finally resolved once and for all,” says PDP spokesperson Mohammed Jalo.

Others say reconciliation is impossible because neither side will agree not to field a candidate.  Supporters of opposition parties, which recently merged into one "mega-party," say the split is a good thing, because it will also divide public opinion, giving the opposition a better chance at winning in 2015.

In his office in the Niger Delta, the heart of Jonathan’s support base, Isitoah Ozoemenea, the head of the political science department of the College of Education in Warri, says elections in Nigeria have never been fully contested because of PDP domination.

“So I am one of those persons who wishes that not only the issue will expose the rot within the system but will give the opportunity for the emergence of credible opposition,” says Ozoemenea.

But in Nigeria, elections are not just about gathering votes.  Politicians are known to hire unemployed young men to intimidate opponents, and political loyalties are often based on religion, ethnicity and Nigeria’s invisible north-south divide. 

Yusuf Arrigasiyyu, executive director of Muslim League for Accountability in Kaduna, a city in an area called the "middle belt," where more than 800 people died in post-election violence in 2011, says if the ruling party remains divided, 2015 could be worse.
 
“If they insisted that Jonathan must not contest in the next elections than I’m seeing from the threats from those people from the Niger Delta creating problems.  Therefore the grassroots starts taking sides.  And if they start taking sides I’m afraid Nigeria will be in what we don’t want,” he said.

He says the upcoming election is already mired in confusion and post election violence is expected no matter who contests.  The "new PDP," he says, may be just another divide to fuel the fighting.

Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta, Ardo Hazzad from Bauchi, Ibrahima Yakubu from Kaduna, Peter Clottey from Washington, D.C.