DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN
For me, the last one year could have been better. I mean the year ending April 2016 — after the fashion of quoted Nigerian companies whose end of year Annual General Meetings (AGM) do not follow the traditional Gregorian calendar specification of the January to December annual span. In March I suffered the definitive tragedy of burying my immediate senior sister at the premature age of 56 years and this unrelieved adversity was pointedly and mutually reinforced by another tragic departure within a month-when I lost a first cousin.
Yet in my overwhelming grief, I owe it as a duty and obligation to both of them to keep soldiering on. Time is impervious to the exactions of our tribulations and the celebrations of our triumphs. Time and history wait for no one but move on with iron necessity. Unto thee is granted the economy of time commends the Rosicrucian. And, by the way, let me seize this opportunity to appreciate all who reached out to offer solace and comfort. That said, in the choice of the caption above, I do not speak of my personal cross.
In my closing submission in December last year I captured the summation of the 2015 life experience of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the rubric ‘Annus Horribilis for the PDP’. I recalled the misfortunes of the party that uniquely gathered momentum with its defeat at the presidential election held on the 28th of March 2015. The conspicuous setback was not without its irony of fate. The loss of the PDP and the elevated political correctness of President Goodluck Jonathan in pre-empting any controversy over the outcome will be remembered for long as the turning point for democratic acculturation in Africa; and regardless of the other not so worthy legacies of his government, this exemplar bears reiteration.
In this kind of political rectitude resides the opportunity for a review of extant literature on African political behaviour. Why was Jonathan able to gracefully call the bluff of the sit-tight syndrome and how has he grappled with life after power? Are there regrets and remorse or does he feel vindicated? As we await the inevitable case studies, we can, at the minimum, commend the lesson to other similarly situated leaders who find themselves confronted with equal prospects.
The important observation to be made here is that universally, the loss of political power entails and imposes material, patronage and psychological deprivation and that, ultimately, the difference boils down to the question of the degree to which this deprivation is felt and exacted. The extreme experience of this tendency occurs where there is the perception of a total or near total loss of reward and compensation by the losing party; and such experience is marked by what is characterised the zero sum or winner takes all syndrome.
It is a situation in which a loser gets completely alienated from the political system and deems himself as having no vested interest in the survival and stability of such system. In the instance of Nigeria and the last general election, the zero sum, loser loses all alienation was precluded by the victory of the PDP in the elections at the state level where the party won 12 of the 36 states. The mitigation is further enhanced by a proportionately higher ratio of victory at the level of the National Assembly elections.
In December 2015, the prospects of the PDP was significantly dimmer than it is today and it was the anxiety of what such a degraded PDP portended for the survival of the party and the stability of the Nigeria party system that prompted my end of year December disquisition and admonition on the consequences of the free fall of the party. As of that date, the fate of the three most crucial states of Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom, hitherto declared as won by the PDP by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was dangling in the balance. And in the months leading to December, the weight and credibility of the corruption charges especially the campaign finance scandals swirling around the party had categorically played into its demonisation and criminalisation as a rogue party.
I wrote “Insinuations and innuendoes of a chart busting corruption reputation and repeated threats of multifaceted sanctions against those found culpable was finally given three-dimensional reality in the unfolding drama of parsing political slush funds as security appropriation in the office of the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd). As salacious tales of scandals go-in manner, content and form, they do not get any messier than what has thus far been disclosed by the prosecuting authorities. If the PDP is condemned to live out this Christmas season with the frightening possibility of losing any or all of Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States to the APC then the relapse of the Niger Delta region into instability and restiveness may no longer amount to a remote possibility…
“If I were invited to postulate from the standpoint of political instability and order, I will argue as follows: no situation is more indicative of instability and crisis than the zero sum summation of having no vested interest in the survival and preservation of a political order. The loss of those states would necessarily be traumatic for the Niger Delta PDP in a manner that a similar exposure will not precipitate an equal despair for the APC. Standing in the gap for the latter is the APC-controlled federal government and we identify a deployment of this insurance in key appointments made from the region by the president.
While there is this fall back sanctuary for the APC, a dispossessed PDP is out in the cold without shield or shelter. Advocacy to retain the extant political configuration is ultimately instructed by the consideration of what better serves the cause of political order and stability in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria at large.”
Mercifully, at the turn of the year, the augury of 2016 for the PDP was squaring with the good tidings of the Happy New Year salutation. Having suffered the cancellation of its earlier declared election victory in Bayelsa State, the party emphatically won the governorship rerun election in January.
And then, contrary to the projections of the preponderance of bookmakers, the Supreme Court dispensed and invalidated the judgments of the lower courts and reaffirmed the declaration of INEC on the governorship elections in Rivers and Akwa Ibom States — pronouncing the PDP candidates as duly elected. This uptick in the fortunes of the party has been matched and complemented by a substantial depletion of the goodwill of the APC. Incipient incompetence and escalating inability to translate its campaign rhetoric into a modicum of reality has resulted in the erosion of legitimacy for the APC federal government. Rather surprisingly early in the day, the APC seems to come face to face with Nigeria’s revolution of rising frustrations in response to its own specifically precipitated revolution of rising expectations.
Among the fallouts of the loss of the presidential election for the PDP has been the persistent crisis over the national chairmanship of the party. Appropriately, the chairman who led the party to failure at the polls, Adamu Muazu, was compelled to take a bow and depart the stage. The confusion over who should hold the forte pending the election of another substantive chairman (at the next party convention) was partially clarified by the court judgment, which pronounced it was the entitlement of the North-east zone that produced the sacked chairman to inherit the outstanding balance of his tenure.
Yet another fallout of the loss was that the locus of the most powerful pressure group within the party had shifted from the Presidency to the Governors’ Forum. Brinkmanship and the dynamics of power play within this group generated the surprise appointment of Senator Alli Modu Sheriff as the interim chairman. Now you do not have to be a lover or hater of Sheriff to concur that controversy and notoriety are second nature to this top Nigerian politician. To his credit, he has been a two-term governor and twice elected a senator on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) but in the acquisition and retention of these offices, fidelity to his political platform counted for little or nothing. In the Borno State governorship elections of 2003 and 2007, it was never clear who, between him and the PDP governorship candidate was the preference of the incumbent PDP president.
To the bargain, his most conspicuous identikit in contemporary Nigerian politics is that the spark that lit the fuse of the Boko Haram insurgency was traceable to his machinations to dominate the politics of Borno State. Upon his inability to secure political prominence within the coalition that gave birth to the APC he formally defected to the then ruling PDP about a year ago. The woeful outcome of the last general election for the PDP in Borno State fatally diminished him and marked him out as a spent force. And then in one of the most remarkable non sequitur of the Fourth Republic politics he was sprung from this potentially terminal mid-life political career crisis to fill the vacuum momentarily created by the inability of the more credible Nuhu Ribadu to rise up to the occasion.
Predictably, it was an appointment that instantly generated wide ranging and pervasive negative excitement across the length and breadth of the party. The puzzle is how a new comer with this magnitude of baggage can be considered a fitting poster boy for a party that is in dire need of rebranding from a near successful demonisation as a rogue party. In the apt depiction of a senior party functionary, the proposal of Sheriff as Chairman is likable to a cure worse than the disease. Uneasy peace was momentarily purchased with the currency of an assurance by the Governors Forum that the party would not suffer his appointment beyond its national convention a few months down the line. Those familiar with his politics and antecedence knew for a fact that the PDP had just swallowed a big bone that would get stuck in its throat and the can of another major PDP implosion kicked down to May.