THE VERDICT BY OLUSEGUN ADENIYI
With the elections over, and at a time you expect the PDP to regroup, the leaders are now squealing on one another. You hear stories of over a thousand vehicles that can now not be accounted for as well as tales of how billions of Naira and hundreds of millions of Dollars were being distributed and who got what. Nigerians are also being regaled with stories of internal sabotage, betrayals, and double-dealings. In what appeared an attempt to douse the raging fire, the PDP, at the instance of the president, on Tuesday, constituted a review committee to identify, among other things, “the remote and immediate causes of the relatively poor performance of the PDP in the 2015 general election.” With three weeks to submit its report, committee chairman, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said at the occasion: “Much as we are pained by the sad turn of events, we must come to terms with the fact that anger, recriminations, self-pity and blame trading will not take us even an inch away from the harsh outcomes of the 2015 general election.”
How the PDP resolves its internal contradictions is of no concern to me. But like many Nigerians, I am interested in seeing the party overcome its current difficulties…All over the world, presidents and prime ministers lose elections but their parties survive to carry on the work of democratic engagement in the political space. In the instant case, President Goodluck Jonathan has lost an election and his party runs the risk of completely disintegrating in the aftermath. While the PDP may have its down sides, its survival beyond the Jonathan presidency has become a matter of national political security.
The PDP was founded and sustained on the assumption that it would remain in office and preside over the sharing of national resources indefinitely. Now that it has lost its power of patronage at the centre, the party could starve to death as President Jonathan himself predicted recently. He warned those trooping to the APC that they may return with ’empty stomach’. That presidential prophesy, an issue for another day, also says a lot about what public service has been reduced to in Nigeria: it is almost always about some people looking for something to eat!
All factors considered, the task of stabilising our political space by helping the PDP come back on its feet belongs not only to genuine party members but indeed also to the more perceptive national elite, including those of us in the media. It is in our enlightened self-interest to have a formidable opposition party so that our democracy can thrive…
I crave the indulgence of readers for that lengthy recollection from my 7th May 2015 column following the defeat of President Jonathan by the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari. When I first wrote ‘Inside the PDP Tower of Babel’, I never intended a sequel. Sadly, as we have seen in the past eight years, the PDP seems incapable of managing defeat. Considering the suspensions, counter-suspensions, and cross-suspensions we have witnessed in recent days, and the way our courts are being dragged into their squabbles, it is important that we examine how the main opposition party can be salvaged from its internal contradictions in the interest of our democracy.
Political parties are supposed to represent the best expression of pluralism within the polity and serve as a fundamental instrument for popular participation in governance. The challenge of our country is that our political parties not only lack internal democracy, but their promoters have scant regard for their own rules. For instance, Article 57 of the PDP constitution stipulates how a national officer can be removed from office. Suspension by ward or state organ is not one of them. But most PDP chairmen have lost their jobs through dubious suspensions that violate the basic tenets of the party’s constitution followed by contrived court actions.
On Tuesday, the PDP announced the replacement of its national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu with the deputy national chairman (North), Umar Damagum, in acting capacity. The action was in deference to Monday’s ex parte order from a Makurdi High Court in Benue State, asking Ayu to stop parading himself as the party’s national chairman. It is not lost on observers that Ayu was forced out within hours of describing his suspension as an act of “gross illiteracy, ignorance, gambling and desperation”. If Ayu challenges his removal in court, as his media aide hinted, he would simply be seeking equity with unclean hands. Ayu was also a beneficiary of this lawlessness when in October 2021, Uche Secondus was illegally suspended by his ward in Rivers State, before a tenure guaranteed to end on 9th December 2021 was terminated by default.
The current drama began last Thursday with the suspension of a few powerful members, including former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti, his Katsina State counterpart, Ibrahim Shema, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim. The party also referred the Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, to the national disciplinary committee. Whatever the merit of that action by Ayu and his henchmen, it is rather curious that a political party in court to claim its “stolen mandate” would unwittingly be telling Nigerians that self-sabotage was responsible for the outcome of the polls!
In a scathing letter to the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), Anyim admitted working against the PDP candidate during the gubernatorial election in Ebonyi State. He also confirmed that he worked for the victorious APC candidate. And he justified both decisions before throwing a sharp jab at the party’s leadership. “I thought the concern of the NWC now would be how to undertake a thorough self-examination on why they performed so poorly in the 2023 elections rather than seek to further divide the party by shifting blames,” Anyim wrote in his private-public letter. “It is clear that arising from the leadership style of the NWC, many members, intentionally and proudly, worked against the party including members of the NWC.”
If PDP leaders could “intentionally and proudly” work for the opposition (as was evident in many states across the country), how do you expect such a party to perform at the polls? Then Anyim threw this dagger: “It is a display of innate cowardice for the NWC to choose soft targets to suspend and fear those that daily demonize them.”
In case PDP NWC members do not understand what Anyim is saying, let me break it down for them. He is posing specific questions: Why was the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike who publicly led the revolt against the party and boasted about it not suspended along with others? Chief Olabode George, a former PDP national vice chairman and respected party elder, openly campaigned for the Labour Party gubernatorial candidate in Lagos, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour and supported Mr Peter Obi during the presidential election. George has since granted several interviews to justify the choices he made during the elections without being met with the charge of ‘anti-party activity’.
Several other top PDP politicians across the country openly worked against the candidates of their party during this election cycle. But the elephant in the room remains Wike. It is on public record that the Rivers State Governor openly campaigned against the PDP presidential candidate with his signature taunt song, ‘As e dey pain dem, e dey sweet us’. When Atiku lost, Wike celebrated with a 40-year-old Whisky! So, on what grounds was his name excluded from the list of those to be suspended? I suspect it was out of fear of the bombshell Wike might throw at many of the NWC members should they dare to include his name on that list of “soft targets”, to borrow Anyim’s words. “I beg them (PDP leaders) today to suspend me from the party; they know what I will do”, Wike once threatened before the elections. “If Nigerians hear a lot of things going on now in the party that wants to take over from the present government, it will shake the country.”
As I wrote recently, conventional wisdom is that those who live in glass houses don’t walk naked. I referenced the viral video a day after the party’s national convention that nominated Atiku as the PDP presidential candidate, where Ayu venerated the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, as a hero. “For a national chairman to go and embrace Tambuwal, calling him the hero of the convention meant that there was a private arrangement that was done to short-change other contestants,” former Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, a Wike supporter had said while arguing that Ayu had lost credibility as PDP leader. “Here was a referee who helped one of the sides to score a goal and then blew the whistle. This is not what we formed the PDP to do for Nigerians.”
As national chairman, Ayu ought to have stayed above the fray. By behaving like the campaign manager for Atiku, he opened himself up to the attacks that followed. And Ayu should have resigned when he became a divisive figure in the party, especially given an earlier promise that he would relinquish his position if a northerner emerged as the presidential candidate. Since he lost the PDP primaries last June, Wike has been on the offensive against Ayu with sundry allegations of impropriety. In one of his tirades against the former national chairman, Wike threw this sucker punch that is yet to be replied: “If people know what we know, if we release what we have, Ayu’s children will go to him and say we are no longer your children.”
I understand that the signatures of the Ward exco used to secure the court order which toppled Ayu were forged. But with PDP, such things don’t matter. The important thing is for the end to justify the means and in this case, Ayu’s continued stewardship had become a nuisance. Now that he has been ousted, has the PDP problem been resolved? Certainly not. In fact, the problem has been compounded with contending factions and interests scheming to hijack the party’s leadership.
President Jonathan’s prediction that many of those who left the PDP to help the APC win the 2015 general election would soon return is instructive. In fact, by 2019, the three leading presidential contenders were APC returnees: Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, then Senate President Bukola Saraki and Tambuwal. Since there is yet no device to measure the ‘stomach’ of a politician, there is no way to know whether they returned ‘empty’ or ‘full’. But it says a lot about party discipline (or lack thereof) that one of them (Atiku) became the PDP presidential flagbearer for the 2019 general election and barely seven years later, another APC returnee, Ayu, became the national chairman!
That we practice politics without principle is one of the dangers of the current democratic dispensation. In 2015, the National Assembly had to bend its own rule on ‘ranking members’ in the election of principal officers to accommodate a fresh Senator in Godswill Akpabio to become the Minority (PDP) Leader. Three years later, the ‘uncommon transformer’ of Akwa Ibom State (who may be the next Senate President if you believe what Abuja politicians are saying) dumped the PDP and the position he held to become a floor member in the APC to which he had crossed.
What is happening in the PDP provides a window into party politics in Nigeria. Ordinarily, political parties should be avenues for the contestation of ideas about how society should develop and thrive. But political parties in Nigeria (without exemption) are mere vehicles for seeking government offices. It is therefore no surprise that they have yet to demonstrate they are driven by the core value of promoting the common good. The situation is worse in most of the fringe parties that are no better than business ventures promoted by mercantile politicians who hawk them as platforms of convenience for any interested person at every election season.
Meanwhile, it is difficult for democracy to grow in a milieu where every politician wants to be in the ruling party – as is the case today in Nigeria. Inability to develop a culture of responsible opposition that could serve as a vanguard for holding the party (and people) in power to account is the result of too many ‘hungry’ politicians perpetually moving from one party to the other, seeking ‘greener pastures’. They fail to understand that democracy is imperilled when power mongers at the helm of government are not held in check by a strong and constructive opposition.
For the ruling party in Nigeria, the emergence of its national chairman, as I once wrote, is often akin to the way Mafia bosses choose their Consigliere (right hand man). The manner of their exit from office is also not different: A nod and a wink from the president and enforcers will handle the rest. For the 16 years PDP spent in power, that was the way almost a dozen national chairmen were hired and fired. Chief Audu Ogbeh was forced to append his signature to a resignation letter handed him by a self-invited guest (President Olusegun Obasanjo) to whom he had just offered a delicious meal of pounded yam. After quoting for President Jonathan the Biblical Psalm 62:11 (God has spoken once, twice have I heard; power belongs to God), the late Chief Vincent Ogbulafor had a case with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) which rendered his position as PDP national chairman untenable. The APC has since taken over the PDP rule book, with the controversial dissolution of the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led NWC in June 2020 by President Buhari and last year’s unceremonious sack of Yobe Governor Mai Mala Buni as chairman of the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC).
When a political party has no definable ideology, structure, or institutional memory, mechanisms for internal democracy will also be lacking. And when members of such parties find themselves in government, transparency and accountability will mean nothing. That explains the Nigerian condition today. In the real sense, our political parties are mere vehicles for hijacking power. And they are led by people who neither understand the rudiments of governance nor can advance the public good.
I don’t know how PDP leaders will resolve their current crisis. But the only enduring way is for the leaders to respect their own rules. Political parties remain the framework for democracies to recruit and organize the populace for power contests. When they exhibit lawlessness in the management of their affairs, their elected members cannot serve the public interest.
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