Once upon a time, a political party bestrode Nigerian politics like a colossus. It governed Nigeria for 16 years and vowed to rule for 60 years. But it was utter hubris. Buffeted from crisis to crisis, a deep rot set in, then an existential decline. Charles Darwin famously said that any organism that cannot adapt to its environment will become extinct. In the struggle for existence, it’s survival of the fittest; only the strong organisms are guaranteed continued existence, the weak will succumb to extinction. That’s the story of the People’s Democratic Party!
In truth, PDP is not yet dead, not yet extinct; it is still alive, albeit on life support. Thus, it’s more appropriate to say that PDP is dying, that it’s on a deathbed. The undertakers and political vultures are circling, and whether the party can survive, whether it can escape extinction, depends on how it handles Nyesom Wike and his gang of renegades.
Last week, after “taking a bow” at the Senate’s screening committee, Wike became a minister-designate in Bola Tinubu’s government, saying: “The president will not regret nominating me as minister.” On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong about the nomination. As I have argued many times in this column, with just 37 per cent of the total valid votes in February’s presidential election, a figure still being disputed at the presidential election tribunal, Tinubu is certainly running a minority government with a weak mandate and tenuous legitimacy. So, he needs a coalition, a unity government.
All over the world, serious political parties win and lose elections. When they lose, they pick themselves up, listen to the electorate, learn the right lessons, and fight their way back to power
In 1979, President Shehu Shagari, leader of a minority government, with 34 per cent of the total valid votes, addressed a similar legitimacy problem by entering into a formal alliance with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, which had 17 per cent. Although the alliance collapsed a few years later, it initially stabilised and legitimised the administration and turned a minority government into a majority one, with both Shagari’s party, National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Azikiwe’s party having a combined 51 per cent share of the popular vote.
All over the world, minority governments usually appoint members of other parties to their cabinet. But they do so by carrying those parties along, not by picking off their members. In the UK, David Cameron formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 after extensive inter-party discussions. US Presidents often appoint members of a different party to their cabinet to engender bipartisanship and cooperation between the political parties. But such cross-party appointments are in good faith and with the consent of the opposition party.
However, Tinubu is not interested in a genuine cross-partisan or unity government. He wants to exploit and deepen crises in the opposition parties. For instance, Wike’s ministerial nomination is couched as “compensation” for his “role” in Tinubu’s “victory”. But that “role” was to the detriment of his own party, whose loss in the presidential election he boastfully claimed he orchestrated. So, the nomination is not in good faith. Tinubu wants to rupture and paralyse the PDP.
Recently, speaking on the Wike issue, Dele Alake, Tinubu’s erstwhile special adviser on special duties, communications and strategy, now a minister-designate, said: “If as a political party your enemy is fighting itself, you reap whatever gain from it without lifting a finger.” But Tinubu lifted more than a finger; he exerted his whole body!
Several independent election observers and analysts, notably the EU, Yiaga Africa and BBC, said categorically that, based on results from polling units and on the INEC Results Viewing portal (IReV), Tinubu didn’t win Rivers State. So, impliedly, Wike rigged the state’s election for him!
Now, to “compensate” Wike with a ministerial appointment for that questionable “role” is a slap in the face for democracy. Moreover, to deliberately fuel and “reap” from PDP’s crisis in order to render the party supine doesn’t only undermine the party system that underpins democracy, but it also erodes democracy itself.
In a recent article titled “Politics of Disruption: PDP’s Gang of Five should join Tinubu’s party” (BusinessDay, July 3, 2023), I argued that Wike’s gang and its allied “Integrity Group” are a danger to Nigeria’s representative democracy, and that if they have any shred of integrity, they should defect to APC instead of peeing in PDP’s tent from the inside. Surely, Wike as a minister in Tinubu’s cabinet while purporting to be a PDP card-carrying member turns party discipline, the core of the party system, on its head. He and his group will eat out PDP from within, with significant help from Tinubu, who will continue to use him to sabotage and cripple the party for electoral advantages. Truth is, Wike cannot simultaneously be loyal to Tinubu and the PDP; it’s an oxymoron, an oddity!
Of course, the alternative argument is that Wike and his gang are actually the real PDP; that they control the party, while the “official” PDP is a shell of a party. After all, how could he mobilise PDP legislators behind Tinubu’s choices for the leaderships of the National Assembly without a whimper? How could he impose his loyalists as minority leaders in the National Assembly without as much as a pushback from the “official” PDP? And, think about it, why is Wike so powerful that he seems untouchable? No serious political party will allow any member to grab its jugular and threaten its existence, as Wike does to the PDP, without fighting back, without enforcing party discipline.
But, let’s face it, PDP is not a serious political party. Recently, one of its leaders, Elder Emannuel Ogidi, told a TV station that “PDP doesn’t know how to play opposition,” suggesting that the party is only good in power. Really? What gives PDP the inalienable right to govern?
A party that can’t do opposition is not fit to govern. All over the world, serious political parties win and lose elections. When they lose, they pick themselves up, listen to the electorate, learn the right lessons, and fight their way back to power. That’s what Democrats and Republicans do in America; what Labour and the Conservatives do in Britain; and what the National Democratic Party and the New Patriotic Party have done in Ghana since 1992, losing and winning elections!
But in and out of power, PDP has been utterly dysfunctional, unable to manage itself. Internal wranglings cost the party the 2015 presidential election and, largely, this year’s presidential poll. In both elections, a ruthless APC aggressively exploited PDP’s crises, luring out its influential members. Think about the PDP’s G-5 renegades in 2015 and its G-5 rebels this year: they destroyed the party’s electoral chances and helped to facilitate the victory of the APC. Many of APC’s current leaders are former PDP chieftains. Why? Well, APC cannibalised and hollowed out PDP!
Recently, PDP’s acting national chairman, Umar Damagum, said that because the party had been out of power for long, “our people are languishing for lack of patronage.” Elsewhere, people don’t join a political party primarily because of patronage but because of what the party stands for, because of its ideological leaning. Surely, if PDP members are hungry for patronage but can’t unite in opposition to get the party back to power, then the party will simply haemorrhage and die!
My interest here is not partisan; I have no party-political affiliation. However, I believe Nigeria needs a healthy democracy. But that won’t happen without strong and competitive political parties, which, in turn, depend on a robust party system. That’s why PDP must escape APC’s political cannibalism, extricate itself from Wike and play robust opposition with a sense of mission. Or else, it risks extinction!