OUTSIDE THE BOX
BY ALEX OTTI
Sequel to the 2015 general election that saw APC defeat the “behemoth” PDP at the centre, it was clear that the latter was primed for some interesting changes. The National Chairman of the party, Adamu Muazu took an honourable exit and resigned his exalted position. This created space that was temporarily filled by Prince Uche Secondus, the Deputy National Chairman of the party.
Still smarting from its loss, the PDP was unable to find a substantive replacement for Muazu until Ahmed Gulak, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s adviser, fought and obtained an injunction, declaring him or any other member of the party from the North East, the Chairman of the Party. This forced the duo of Governors Ayodele Fayose and Nyesom Wike of Ekiti and Rivers states respectively, in consultation with then President Jonathan and other leaders of the party to draft Ali Modu Sheriff, the former Governor of Bornu State as the Chairman of the Party. Sheriff was meant to complete the tenure of Muazu. It did not take long before discordant tunes began to be heard amongst major stakeholders of the party. I remember Femi Fani Kayode writing a column titled â€œWho has Bewitched PDP?â€ Allegations of Sheriff being planted by the APC and his being a relative of President Muhammadu Buhari became quite rife.
All these notwithstanding, a national convention was called for May 21, 2016, in Port Harcourt. Having zoned the Chairmanship of the party to the North East, Sheriff had stormed the Port Harcourt convention with a firm belief that he would be endorsed as the substantive National Chairman of the party. Little did he know that danger was lurking around the corner as he proceeded to the Garden City. On realizing that his friends had suddenly turned foes, he quickly beat a retreat, called a press conference and hurriedly cancelled the Convention. In spite of this, the Convention still went on without him, with his deputy, Prince Uche Secondus, who was privy to the plot, presiding. This controversial Convention produced Ahmed Makarfi as the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee and marked the beginning of 14 months of hostilities between Sheriffâ€™s and Makarfiâ€™s factions. Several attempts were made by different interested parties to settle the dispute including the very well-publicized one by President Jonathan himself, but all failed. The “family affair” mantra of the PDP had collapsed like a pack of cards and the centre could no longer hold.
It is important to note that the judiciary was used vigorously by both parties to prosecute this fratricidal war. At the first level of the battle, courts of coordinate jurisdiction were approached by the two warring parties who were handy to give conflicting judgements on the same matter. Up to seven judges of seven high courts heard different cases on this single matter of who was the authentic chairman of the party. Different pronouncements and injunctive reliefs were made until February 17, 2017, when Justice Bitrus Sanga of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, gave judgement in favour of Sherrif. Makarfi, naturally proceeded to the Supreme Court which finally gave judgement in his favour, thereby ending the biggest crisis of the self-proclaimed biggest party in Africa.
In delivering the judgement, Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour had pointedly condemned the conflicting pronouncements coming from the judiciary. Hear him: “The stakes are high in political battles, so if allowed, political office seekers will not hesitate to file multiplicity of suits on the same subject matter, hoping to get a favourable judgement from one court or the other.
“Heads of courts must by now, be aware of this trend and stop this annoying practice of assigning cases of the same subject-matter to different judges. This is unhealthy and renders the process, completely useless, ending up making the judiciary, a laughing stock” he concluded. I hope those concerned who I am convinced do these things deliberately would heed the wise counsel and save the judiciary and the nation such embarrassment as cited by the learned Justice of the Supreme Court.
Before the Supreme Court judgement, there were all sorts of permutations about how the decision would go. Many PDP stalwarts that this writer spoke to were sure that Sherriff was going to win. According to one of them who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Sheriff was going to win given the position of the law. He argued that because the convention was postponed by him, the Port Harcourt meeting would be declared illegal by the Supreme Court. He, however, added that most of the party leaders including himself were with the Makarfi faction and had concluded plans with another party to defect en mass, after the judgement. Another pro-Makarfi Chieftain felt that Sheriff would win because he had the support of the APC at the highest level as his main mission was to destabilise the PDP and weaken opposition as 2019 approached. Somehow, some Sheriff supporters that one spoke to were equally very confident of victory at the Supreme Court. It is therefore clear that the judgement took so many people by surprise.
This column believes that the judgement is very good for democracy. Those from whom we copied insist that democracy would be a farce in the absence of strong and virile opposition. A government that operates without opposition may sooner or later become totalitarian and pursue policies that may not be in the interest of the public. The opposition also ensures that government policies are scrutinised, criticised and that government is held to account for its actions. The stronger the opposition, therefore, the stronger the democracy. It is only hoped that PDP will get its acts together to play the role of credible opposition now that it has been saved by the Supreme Court.
It is, however, important to identify some of the issues that helped PDP in its journey downhill and hope that it would be courageous enough to address them, otherwise, if it continues with the celebrations and euphoria of the victory, it may end up going the same route from where it was just rescued. One major problem of the party is impunity. This, in my opinion, is its greatest undoing. PDP became so undemocratic that one or two people could sit in the comfort of their homes and determine what happened to millions of their members.
In most cases, such decisions by the powerful few were founded on sheer selfish and narrow interests. My personal experience would be useful here. It was in 2014 when I decided to run for the governorship of my state under the PDP. As expected, there were a lot of other contenders, many of them, eminently qualified. Rumours started making the rounds that the outgoing governor was supporting a particular candidate. That was not supposed to be a problem if everyone was going to be subjected to an open, free and fair contest where delegates would be allowed to nominate their preferred candidates. The party announced the program for the election of the 3-man per ward delegates that would, in turn, nominate the candidates for the election.
The National Secretariat had sent a five man committee to handle the exercise. On arriving the state capital, the state party officials, on the instruction of the then governor, ensured that the election did not hold. In the middle of the night, the committee members were handed a list from the government house containing all the selected delegates of the entire 184 wards, as compiled by the then governor and his cronies. Of course, the outcome of the impending primaries had already been determined with the manipulation of the list of the ward delegates. Yours truly had to leave the party while those that remained were met with a fait accompli on the day of the primaries. The crises and consequences of that singular action haunt the state till this day.
The next issue is arrogance. It is important for PDP to understand that power belongs to the people. By some coincidence, “Power to the People” is the slogan of PDP. What is doubtful is if the party practices it. Because power truly belongs to the people, they can give and take it away. I am sure that PDP does not need any preaching on this particular matter as it had tasted the power of the people with its eviction from the villa in 2015. In ruminating about the arrogance of PDP, I remember that this party had boasted recently that it was going to remain in power for 60 years. I thought that was such an affront. It was also not unusual to hear the Party describe itself as the “biggest” party in Africa. Since it was difficult to corroborate their statistics, I am not sure that anyone took them up. However, it bears asking, what was meant by the biggest party? Does big necessarily mean good? What would PDP have done if it were the African National Congress of South Africa that was formed in 1912? This arrogance seems to be ingrained in the leadership of the PDP as they have started boasting again about how they will win the 2019 general election.
In my opinion, PDP has also done a lot of bad things in the country. It is largely responsible for turning elections into a “do or die affair”, ensuring that they are declared winners by all means even when they lost elections. Having also been in power since 1999, the level of corruption in the polity had been promoted to unprecedented levels by them. Whenever people discuss Nigeria, there seems to be a consensus that our major problem is poor leadership quality. It follows that PDP had not given this country good leadership in its 16 years of governance.
The management of the economy under the 16 years of PDP had been mixed. During the Obasanjo years, the PDP government did well in negotiating the country out of the humongous debt that hung like a Sword of Damocles on the country. It also did well with building a war chest of reserves and savings from oil windfall, even though subsequent governments, also of the PDP, would squander the entire savings and revert to accumulating more debts even when oil prices were still going up. However, their inability to diversify the economy, institutionalize transparency in government, wage an effective war against corruption and insecurity did not place them in a position where history would be very kind to them.
They failed woefully in building infrastructure, resolving the power conundrum, and solving the problem of import of petroleum products in a country that prides itself as the 6th largest producer of oil. They also failed in reducing the size and cost of government and instilling fiscal discipline in government. Again, the same PDP which set up the 2014 Constitutional Conference that cost so much in terms of people’s time and money, abandoned the document and passed up a great opportunity to restructure this country when it was in a position to so do. It is, therefore, ludicrous to hear some major actors at that time call for the restructuring of the country just two years after.
Like I had highlighted earlier, an opposition is critical to a successful democracy. While the gladiators are talking of 2019, one wants them to play the opposition politics which they had literally abandoned this past 14 months when they were in limbo. As they count their losses in a bid to learn from the past, I am of the opinion that they would have put up better showings in the last gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo States, even if they weren’t going to win those elections. A lot of National Assembly seats have been lost to defection by their erstwhile representatives. They need to put in serious efforts to stop the haemorrhage. The “no victor, no vanquished” posturing of the leadership is good. It is, however, important to ensure that it is not implemented in breach. Again, the setting up of a reconciliation and conflict management committee is useful not just for reintegration and inclusiveness but to ensure that those that lost do not align with opposition to launch another ferocious attack on the party. It is also instructive that some states with PDP governors queued up behind Sheriff. The way the winners will treat the losers will go a long way in determining the response of the supporters of Sheriff. The posturing by some of the leaders of the party to the effect that those that lost should be arraigned before a disciplinary committee will do no one any good.
The tone should be different. The party should make internal democracy its watchword. There is a lot PDP has to learn from the just concluded Senatorial bye election in Osun State that produced Senator Demola Adeleke who replaced his late brother, Senator Isiaka Adeleke. APC had denied Demola Adeleke a ticket and imposed a less popular candidate who was the Governorâ€™s choice. Demola Adeleke quickly joined PDP and defeated his APC rival to clinch the Senatorial Seat. While PDP is learning from this experience, I have no doubt that APC should also unlearn a few things from here. Permit me to use this medium to congratulate my easy going and rhythmical brother and friend, Distinguished Senator Demola Adeleke for winning the election.
Finally, let me remind PDP that it is not all the time that people get a second chance after they have bungled their first. This is a rare privilege which they must guard jealously. If they bungle it again, they may as well prepare for oblivion.