Friday, March 07, 2008
PDP and the future of Nigerian politics
By Reuben Abati
NIGERIANS ought to be deeply concerned about what is currently going on in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the name of party congresses and convention. The PDP is the most dominant political party in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. It controls majority of the political positions at all levels of government. Between 2003 and 2007 for example, the party held 223 seats out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives, 76 out of 109 seats in the Senate, and after the 2007 elections, it has further maintained this majority status.
Twenty-seven out of the country’s 36 states are under the control of the PDP in addition to 260 seats in the House of Representatives and 85 in the Senate. In moments of self-praise, members of the PDP flatter themselves by referring to their party, as “the largest political party in Africa”., “the wealthiest party in Africa”, and “the most formidable” Perhaps it is, on account of population size and spread.
But the PDP is also the most disorganised political party in Africa, fractious, inchoate and uninspiring. The crises that characterise Nigeria’s Fourth Republic and the continuing putative nature of party politics in Nigeria’s post-military season are directly linked to the lack of internal democracy and cohesion within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party. Professor Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate once pointed to the existence within the PDP of a “nest of killers”. It is a party of strange bed-fellows, a centrist collection of former soldiers, gun-runners, contractors, certificate forgers, unemployed persons all united by a common goal: access to a share of Nigeria’s oil wealth and a place in the sun. The sad news is that the hapless people of Nigeria are the obvious victims in the hands of a PDP behemoth whose manifesto is not clearly known to the people.
Out of frustration, Nigerians have since invented a number of instructive aliases for the PDP including – People Deceiving People, Papa Deceive Pickin, People Destroying People etc. Since 1999, Nigerians have experimented with democracy and this has entailed necessarily, a process of stock-taking, with the hope that mistakes can be identified, lessons learnt, and changes for the sake of national development and the purification of our politics, effected. If the latter objective had been realised in any way, it should be obvious in the way the PDP conducts its affairs. But this has not happened, a pointer to the larger, enduring crisis that we all face and the collateral damage that we continue to suffer.
Nothing has given louder advertisement to the incorrigibility of the PDP and its members than the run-up to its National Convention which is scheduled to hold tomorrow in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The Convention and the Congresses before it would be the first since the April 2007 elections, and perhaps the first attempt by the PDP to reorganise itself after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s exit. The two events are taking place against the background of the stunning revelations from various Election Petition Tribunals that in the 2007 elections, there were irregularities and malpractices, outright subversion of the law also, which were mostly perpetrated by members of the PDP and their agents. Significantly, most of the judgements by the election petition tribunals and the courts have amounted to an indictment of the PDP and the PDP government.
In Rivers State, the Supreme Court noted that it was wrong to have purported to exclude Rotimi Amaechi from the Gubernatorial elections, when he was the duly elected party candidate for that event. Party elders did not like Amaechi’s face, so they decided to shut him out. The Supreme Court more or less, declared this an indecent act and went as far as appointing Amaechi, the Governor of Rivers State. In Anambra, Kogi, Adamawa etc, the story is similarly illustrative of the recklessness of the PDP.
At the time of the 2007 elections, the PDP had been under siege, arising from internal wrangling and the crass authoritarianism of then President Olusegun Obasanjo who chose to dictate party processes. President Obasanjo not only took over the party, he alienated anyone who dared to question his authority. Shortly before his departure as President, he also got himself installed as Chairman of the Board of Trustees through a contrived amendment of the party’s Constitution and a voice vote. A properly organised political party would have taken its cue from the direct and indirect bashing it has received from the courts in the post-2007 election process. But PDP politicians have shown an absolute lack of capacity to learn.
The state congresses ahead of tomorrow’s convention were set apart by their lack of democracy. The election of party leaders and delegates in the states bore all the features of the same discredited April 2007 elections. PDP politicians shamelessly confirmed what the tribunals had denounced and what local and international monitors in the 2007 elections documented. The indication is as follows: it seems the on-going process of election petitions and tribunal/court rulings have had no impact whatsoever on political behaviour in the short – or long term. In the various states, there were reports of the theft of registration and voting materials, wilful disenfrachisement of party members, imposition of candidates, violence and acrimony and the spread of factional politics. The Nigerian people watched helplessly as the same political party that is managing their affairs failed to organise its own internal affairs according to all known rules of decorum and transparency.
One of the major highlights of the PDP exercise has been the report that former President Olusegun Obasanjo has been going round the country trying to impose his own candidates and that he has endorsed a candidate for the position of party chairman (former Governor of Ebonyi state, Dr. Sam Egwu) and another, for the position of Secretary-General of the party (Senator Tunde Ogbeha). Rather than a required focus on issues and the future of the party, stopping Obasanjo from ruling the party and dictating to it has become the issue as the party holds its Convention in Abuja tomorrow. The only voice of reason in the raging confusion is that of President Yar’Adua. He has promised that he’d not interfere with the election of the Chairman and other national officers of the party. He has also urged that the process should be transparent and inclusive. But other party leaders are not so circumspect.
Ahmadu Ali, the outgoing chairman is boasting that it is he, and not the Adamu Ciroma-led electoral panel that is in charge. Before now, he had threatened members of the protesting G-21 faction within the party with expulsion. Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the Ibadan politician has also declared that it is whoever Obasanjo wants as Party Chairman that would win. Frustrated party members had gone to court to stop the Convention. Adedibu says no court can stop the PDP. Told that some state Governors are planning to wrestle the party from Obasanjo’s control, Adedibu shot back: “In fact it would be a no contest for Egwu”. He added: “where are the PDP Governors? I am supporting Obasanjo and you are saying some Governors are against him, who are the Governors, tell me, who are the Governors?”. Answer: who is Adedibu?
This is a measure of the hopelessness of the political party system in Nigeria. With the way the PDP runs its affairs, should we legitimately expect its members to run good government? The ripples from the party’s Convention in Abuja will determine not only the future of the party, but also, the future of Nigerian politics. If the anti-Obasanjo group succeeds in chek-mating the former President’s then we may find incumbent President Yar’Adua, in spite of his claims of neutrality, gradually taking charge of the party. But the PDP is bound to remain a divided party and a continuing source of distraction. Differences within a political party may seem inevitable, but in the PDP, disagreements are often corrosive and murderous. The buildings blocks for a weak electoral process in 2011 are already being put together in the PDP.
Sometimes, I wonder whether PDP leaders watch television. Because if they do, they would have been in a position to follow the Presidential primaries in the United States. The beauty of the primaries by the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is how it has given the ordinary American an opportunity to choose and shortlist candidates for the country’s Presidential election. In that process so far, has anybody heard of the party Chairman of the Democrats(Howard Dean) or the Chairman of the Republicans (Mike Duncan)? Has anyone seen the Secretary of either political party pontificating on television and giving orders to other party members? The PDP is simply a party of self-seekers.
Nigeria’s political party system needs to be overhauled. There are over 50 political parties, but apart from the PDP, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Action Congress and possibly the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) the others are more or less narrow vehicles with limited appeal and almost without infrastructure. The political party system is in urgent need of reform. Our political parties must become truly representative and reflect the people’s choices. Through a reformed political party system, an enlightened class of future leaders may then emerge who will be patriots and not office-seekers.
One clear lesson from the current situation in the United States, is how ordinary citizens identify personally with political parties, and define themselves and their choices as such. This is a classical expression of the political party as an associational construct, and an aggregation of individuals with common interests seeking to promote the interest of the larger community. The alienation between Nigeria’s political parties and the people is palpable. Our political parties are made up of money-bags and their thugs, and the PDP is such a large party because after every election, the big men in other parties in order to gain access to state privileges, naturally dissolve into the ruling party. This is partly why General Muhammadu Buhari is so lonely today in the ANPP. Those who should stand by him are playing the politics of compromise with the PDP.
To reform our political parties, we must make them the parties of ordinary people and the parties of ideas. For now, the PDP has lost that opportunity for self-renewal. But if President Yar’Adua and those who genuinely want a new order in the PDP are serious about their objectives, they should begin by ensuring that no former President (Obasanjo) and no promoter of the politics of Baba-rism (Adedibu, for example) is allowed to impose their will on the party at tomorrow’s Convention