PDP can’t regain power without a unifying sense of mission
My regular criticisms of President Muhammadu Buhari and his government have led some to assume that I’m a member or supporter of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But nothing can be further from the truth. I am politically unaffiliated. Truth is, temperamentally, I’m intolerant of bad governance regardless of which party and individuals are in charge. Given that President Buhari and his party, All Progressives Congress (APC), are currently running Nigeria, and given that they’ remaking a hash job of it, well, inevitably, they are my bugbears and targets of this column’s ire!
I started writing a weekly column for this newspaper on December 8, 2014. Anyone who examines my columns from that date up to the general election in 2015 will find that I was very critical of the PDP-led administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. But once Buhari won in 2015 and his party, APC, became the new ruling party my attention invariably shifted away from PDP to President Buhari, his government and his party. And, of course, because they’ve been mismanaging the country, they are, deservedly, the objects of my unrelenting criticism.
However, in a democracy, a strong opposition party is critical for good governance, as it can robustly challenge the government and put it on its toes. For that reason, I wanted the PDP to be a strong and formidable party, with a unifying sense of political direction and momentum, a sort of an alternative government. But PDP is not such a party and has utterly refused to be such a party! Why?
Well, the immediate problem is not far-fetched: PDP is too crisis-prone and crisis-ridden. And that’s because it’s a personality-based party, with too many “warlords”, each putting their self-interest and personal ambitions above the best interests of the party. Think about it. PDP went into the 2015 general election as a totally split party. A former vice president, Atiku Abubarkar, five governors, the so-called G5, three former national chairmen and countless legislators left the party to join the APC. The PDP forgot a key rule of politics: divided parties don’t win elections. And, unsurprisingly, the party lost the presidential election.
But things got worse after the defeat. Several PDP leaders deserted the party to join the new ruling party, APC, while those remaining in the party were tearing it apart, blaming and counter-blaming one another for the defeat. Truth is, PDP, which ruled Nigeria for sixteen years and arrogantly vowed to “rule for 60 years”, found defeat and being in opposition extremely painful, and, consequently, became paralysed by protracted crises.
In an article in this column titled “PDP’s post-defeat trauma and the cycle of grief” (BusinessDay, June 1, 2015), I urged the party to get over its defeat. “For the vibrancy of Nigeria’s democracy”, I wrote, “PDP must come to terms with its loss, rebuild and rise again”. But the party won’t rebuild. For nearly two years, the Ali-Modu Sheriff faction and the Ahmed Makarfi faction quarrelled bitterly over the chairmanship of the party until the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Makarfi in July 2017.
Yet, herein lies the real problem: PDP has no soul. It’s largely a personality-based and interest-driven party, whose leaders have fickle loyalty
As I write, Uche Secondus, recently removed as national chairman, is challenging his removal in court. He has resisted pressure to withdraw the court action, saying he wants to save the party from “hirelings”, from “those hijacking the soul of the party”!
Yet, herein lies the real problem: PDP has no soul. It’s largely a personality-based and interest-driven party, whose leaders have fickle loyalty, with no emotional attachment to the party. The test of a principled politician is how he behaves when his party is in crisis or when his personal interests clash with those of the party: does he jump ship or stay to build the party? Well, most PDP leaders will jump ship as the spate of recent defections to the APC shows.
But history matters. We can’t properly understand the PDP and its challengeswithout understanding the circumstances of its birth. For truth is, given the nature of its birth, PDP is a strange party in a democracy. It was founded by former military leaders to achieve their political ambitions, and the party has no track record of internal democracy or of sticking to its own rules.
In 2017, General Ibrahim Babangida, former military dictator, said the following about the PDP. “From the foundation stage, I saw PDP as the IRA. We are the military wing of the PDP”. He continued: “When I say ‘we’, I mean my boss, TY Danjuma, Obasanjo, General Aliyu Mohammed and many others”, adding: “I term us as IRA – the military wing of PDP”. For those who did not know, the IRA – Irish Republican Party – was the military wing of Sinn Fein, the nationalist/republican political party in Northern Ireland.
Of course, former military leaders can join or form a political party. But when they band together and become “the military wing” of a political party so that one of them can become president, that’s a militarisation of democracy, and the militarised party is not a proper party in a democratic sense. It should be noted that, in Northern Ireland,Sinn Fein was not treated as a true democratic party until the IRA was disbanded. But the “military wing” of PDP wanted political power.
In his book ‘Vindication of a General’, Lt-General Ishaya Bamaiyi, chief of army staff under General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime, said that General Abubakar struck a deal with the PDP’s “military wing” to make General Olusegun Obasanjo, former military head of state, president in 1999. Indeed, Bamaiyi alleged that Abubakar had prepared a handover note for Obasanjo long before the presidential election actually took place in 1999.
Similarly, in an interview with Premium Times in 2013, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme told a story of how the military imposed Obasanjo as PDP’s presidential candidate in 1998 even though he did not meet the party’s rule that anybody who lost his local government in earlier local government elections was ineligible to run for the party’s presidential ticket. Ekwueme, who ran for the party’s presidential ticket, said he could have challenged Obasanjo’s nomination on the ground that he didn’t satisfied the party’s rules, but feared that doing so “could have given the military the chance to prolong their stay”. Which shows the control that PDP’s “military wing” had over the party.
Indeed, it was rumoured that there was a secret deal, under which Obasanjo would do one term of office and hand over to Babangida. But the “Aremu of Ota”, as General Danjuma later branded Obasanjo, didn’t wantone term, not even two terms, he wanted to change Nigeria’s Constitution to allow him to go for a third term. When that failed, he handpicked his successor without proper primaries. Throughout his presidency, Obasanjo made no pretence of respecting PDP’s constitution; he trampled upon the party’s constitution at will!
But the PDP’s military wing is now defunct as the former military leaders have retired from politics or no longer have vested interests in the party. Thus, the question is: Can the PDP have an epiphany and redefine itself as a true democratic party that respects its own rule? For instance, PDP’s constitution mandates rotating the presidency between the North and the South. Would the party honour the zoning provision? Unfortunately, despite zoning the national chairmanship to the North, PDP is still equivocating on zoning the presidency to the South, an attempt, redolent of its militarised past, to bend its own rule to serve vested interests.
Yet, even if PDP zones the presidency to the South, it still needs to define what it stands for, its raison d’etre. Truth is, without a unifying sense of mission, without a credible alternative agenda for government, without generating political momentum, PDP cannot regain power!