For the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the pursuit of its lost crown in 2015 to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has made it susceptible to all kinds of rebranding options, one of which is the call for a name change. WALE ELEGBEDE writes on whether the rumoured change of name can reposition the party ahead of the 2023 elections
hen the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was formed some 22 years ago, the founding fathers may not have anticipated the current cacophony of voices calling for a name change of the party that berthed with much hope and fanfare.
Although one of the former chairmen of the party, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, once boasted that the party will rule Nigeria for 60 years, interestingly, the party could only muster a paltry 16 years from the predicted 60 years at the helms of affairs.
For the PDP, a synopsis of its existence so far has been from grace to grass story. The party, which was highly rated when it landed on the political scene, has been a shadow of itself since the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) sacked it from Aso Rock.
When a group of nine prominent Nigerians from opposite political divides decided to sit together and form a political party in the face of the despotic rule of late Gen. Sani Abacha, they knew they were daring the lion in his den and as such, they must get their equations right. The PDP was eventually formed during the transitional administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar on August 31, 1998.
Although the formation of the party was championed by the G9 as it was called then, the group later gave birth to the G18, which eventually produced the G34 that eventually transformed into the PDP. The G9 members are late Chief Bola Ige, Prof. Jerry Gana, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Sule Lamido, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Senator Francis Ellah, late Chief Solomon Lar, Prof. Iyorcha Ayu and late Abubakar Rimi.
Since its formation, it has been both sweet and bitter experiences for the party. Ekwueme, a former vice-president, was the first chairman of the party and he held the position for three months before he stepped down to pursue his presidential ambition. At the last count, the party, which some political analysts believe has a tradition of dumping its chairpersons before the end of their tenure, has had 13 chairmen, both in substantive and acting capacities.
The back-to-back defeat of the party in 2015 and 2019 obviously raised the desperation level of the party to get its acts together, hence, the agitation in some quarters for a probable change of name to revive its fortunes and presenting it with a new image.
Of course, the conversation about name change and rebranding is as old as the crisis in the party. But those who supported and opposed the renaming of the party are in equal proportion.
While some averred that change of name or logo of the party will amount to nothing without deconstructing the mindset and perception of members of the party to governance, especially those who have benefited in its days of milk and honey, others believed that the current PDP name and logo have been tainted with corruption, and that Nigerians can only identify with the party, when they see fresh distinctiveness from what they used to know.
For the party, the pressure for it to rebrand its image and change its name is not new. Just after its defeat at the 2015 general election and prior to the recently held 2019 election, the party got suggestions to change its nomenclature.
When the calls became ubiquitous before the 2019 polls, the party set up a committee to consider changing its name. The party apparently based the composition of the committee on demands of a memorandum it signed with 37 other political parties formed for a coalition.
Although the recommendations of the committee didn’t see the light of the day, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, said at the time that “on the issue of change of name, the party has immediately instituted a committee on harmonization and the responsibility of the committee is to commence the process of the possibility of a change of name as part of our efforts to rebrand our party and to reposition it for the 2019 election, so we await the outcome or the returns of the committee.”
Again, just after the recently held election, fresh pressure began to mount for the reconsideration of a name change for the party as a panacea for acceptance by Nigerians in lieu of the ruling APC.
Leading the line this time to call for the phasing out of the name “PDP” and its slogan “power to the people” is a former presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe. The PDP chieftain even went a notch higher by suggesting a new name, logo, symbol, slogan and creed of the party.
Okupe in a series of reflections on his social media platforms about the status of the party, urged the PDP to take stock and plan far ahead of the 2023 race just as the ruling APC did in 2014.
His words: “To defeat the APC in 2023, I want the PDP leaders to think of changing the name of the party. They must also make the party itself the arrow head of a national movement to oust the present administration. We should not forget that this is exactly what the component factions of the APC did in 2014.”
Corroborating Okupe’s stance, the 2019 presidential candidate of KOWA Party, Dr. Sina Fagbenro-Byron said: “I largely agree with the moral and message. However, just to mention that there will not be an incumbent in 2023. I also think that the basis for the union has to be re-examined. I think the issues that should define the name and identity of whatever parties are available must include. … position on secularism (separation of state from religion), true federalism and socially inclusive democracy. Apart from the change in mind set of leaders in PDP (and others) a new party, the Federalist party must emerge.”
But, expressing a contrary view, a former presidential aspirant of the party and former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, said the crisis the party is going through originated from members and has nothing to do with the nomenclature of the party.
Lamido, who is a founding member of the PDP in 1998, said: “Whatever name the party has is because it has been vandalized by those who benefitted from the party, and so to me, there is nothing about my history. We have gone through a lot of crises in Nigeria. Are we not the same Nigeria? Why can’t we change the name of Nigeria then?
“If the party is going through some difficulties, they are caused by the members of the party and not by nomenclature. I will remain in PDP; I am PDP, and it is my place, my heritage. I am not going
But Okupe, who insisted that the underlying path for a PDP victory over APC in 2023 is in charge of nomenclature for the party, said the moral burden the PDP carried over in its 16 years of rule can only be dispelled, if the party changes its name.
He said he had started mobilising members of the party by collecting names, phone numbers and details of those who agree with what he considered as the way for PDP resurgence.
A section of his post entitled: “Why PDP must change its name,” read: “As far as I’m concerned, the PDP with its socio-political baggage and insurmountable moral burden cannot muster the moral rectitude, political strength and integrity to lead such a mass movement.
“To defeat the APC in 2023, I want the PDP leaders to think of changing the name of the party. They must also make the party itself the arrow head of a national movement to oust the present administration. We should not forget that this is exactly what the component factions of the APC did in 2014.”
Okupe went on to suggest the party’s rebrand name as Nigerian Peoples Democratic Party (NPDP), symbol as Phone Handset and slogan as People Power.
He further argued that public perception of PDP was appalling and “if this perception continues till the election in 2023, we can easily be muscled out of victory by the power of incumbency and Nigerians will not care a hoot.”
According to him, “it will be a case of dog-eat-dog. Secondly, and as a consequence of the above, the PDP has a heavy credibility burden, which will weigh it down during the campaigns. A brand new party with new orientation and ideology cannot have a past that anyone can use against it effectively.”
Okupe who joined Accord Party after the 2015 general election, but claimed to be back to the PDP, further said: “Therefore, a new party, birthed by former ruling party, with new people, younger elements in society and politicians of other tendencies from various existing political parties, including powerful but dissatisfied elements from the ruling party, is the only formation that will effectively neutralise and overrun the incumbent party.’’
The former presidential aide said he had started collecting names, phone numbers and details of those who agree with what he considered as noble idea.
‘‘The idea is to use the names and the phone numbers to lobby our members and the party’s leadership to give this a serious consideration ahead of the next party’s mid-year convention in May this year,’’ he said.
But turning down suggestions by Okupe and others to change its name, members of PDP’s national leadership, rising from its 88th National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja, few weeks ago, told those canvassing for change of the party’s name to forget the idea because the brand remains the best in Nigeria’s political firmament.
Reading the party’s communique after the meeting, Ologbodinyan said that “the party insists that the PDP brand is still the best in the political firmament of our nation and as such, those canvassing for change of name for our party should forget it because we remain the Peoples Democratic Party.”
Following the same thread, the national Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said the party is not considering any name change ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, the party chairman said the name change kite was the handiwork of PDP detractors. “It is a speculation. I will regard it as gossip. We have not considered name change. It is not part of our agenda for now,” he said.
Clearly, Okupe has flown a kite and whether managers of the party like it or not, it’s a subject-matter that will continue to stare the PDP in the face. Unless the party has other long-term means of disinfecting the image of PDP in the minds of Nigerians, the mulled change of name will continue to weigh on the minds of party members.