By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“People who live in glass houses might as well answer the door.”- M. Amsterdam
THE Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) stumbled last week in its search for a chairman for its Board of Trustees (BOT). The position has been vacant since President Obasanjo walked away from it some months back.
Many people had thought he would retain the position for life, such was the influence he had in defining the qualifications for a job that in the end looked tailor-made for him. His sudden departure left the party and many Nigerians wondering whether he was engaged in a tactical manouver to retain ground, or he was preparing the grounds for effective disengagement.
Since then, of course, he has proved that he is very much at the heart of the battle, and is involved in moves that will place him at the centre of the jockeying for the outcome of the 2015 general elections.
Those who had hoped that an elderly partyman from the southeast will succeed Obasanjo are finding that the position is not as vacant as they thought. An attempt to elect a chairman from candidates from the zone failed, and the job is being offered to all partymen and women, without prejudice.
Whom the cap fits
Or so it would seem, because with the PDP, nothing is without prejudice. Ideally, the chair of the party’s BOT should be an experienced, well-respected party member who should lead with wisdom and clout.
S/he would have paid dues during bitter struggles within the party, and show evidence with massive bruises acquired in tested political terrains. S/he should have earned visible stripes acquired in elective offices, and should have a long queue of adversaries with long knives waiting for opportunities to strike.
The ethnic group of the chairman will be very important in a party where patronage and largess is shared on the basis of tribes and faith. S/he will chair a board with either limited powers or extensive influence, depending on who s/he is, and how much room governors and the President are willing to allow.
S/he will lead a board of elderly politicians who will have to line up behind the party’s national executive committee, the president and governors in determining what happens in the party. A fairly clean record and some level of acceptability as harmless will help. But these are also likely to be impediments among politicians who do not feel comfortable with clean elder statesmen.
When President Obasanjo resigned from the position, it may not have been lost on him that he had walked away with a major requirement for success in the office: A very strong personality with a proven record of having his own way.
The names being bandied around as his successors look like boy scouts compared to him, and any one of them will be merely tossed around in the most volatile political party at a very advanced stage of their lives.
Obasanjo re-inventing self
Even Obasanjo left after it became clear that the ground in his primary constituency, the southwest had shifted so far away from him and the party that he risked having all doors shut in his face by people whose careers he had helped build.
A presidency he had substantially engineered had been taken over by other interests which wanted as much distance as possible between Jonathan and Obasanjo. Uncomfortable and exposed in the unusual position of being powerless, he is attempting to re-invent himself by hoisting his flag around some powerful anti-Jonathan sentiments and interests.
Whoever succeeds Obasanjo as BOT chair is likely to find that the old man will be of little assistance in terms of providing ideas and guidance on steering the party away from its many problems between now and 2015. S/he will, infact, find that Obasanjo, shorn of any official encumbrances, will be the problem the party has to deal with on its way to finding solutions.
Eventually of course, the party will have to find a new BOT chair. The new chair will fight battles with “his/her” zone to take up the position, because the on-going battles for 2015 will take no prisoners.
Zones discourage people from taking up some positions if they have higher ambitions, such as fielding gubernatorial or presidential candidates. This, in part, is the baggage which Alhaji Bamanga Tukur carries in his relations with powerful PDP northern governors with presidential ambitions.
They see him as a Jonathan lackey, strategically placed to swing it in favour of the President’s ambition to fly the party’s flag in 2015. Obasanjo has his own men in key positions in the party’s N.E.C. as well, and they will come in handy when the time comes to influence the party over who it fields in 2015.
All over the nation, the party is embroiled in conflicts which reinforce the very powerful position of governors.
This group will take on the party at will and win; they will dare the president on many governance and party matters and win; and they will continue to call the shot in most developments between now and 2015.
Ex-president Obasanjo’s considerable experience in dealing with them is already showing in the manner he is cultivating many of them, principally from the north.
President Jonathan’s strategy to survive the emerging campaign to portray him as weak and ineffective, and therefore undeserving of another term will have to involve splitting the ranks of the governors.
This scenario, although not impossible, will further alienate the far north from the south-south and possibly south-east.
A Jonathan candidature in 2015 will eclipse many political careers in the north, and governors and PDP big-wigs will have to think deeply over which is better: going against his ambition and supporting a northern candidate, or going with him and risking even greater odium and hostility than they encountered in 2011.
Interested candidates for the position of chair of the BOT will not be lacking, but they are likely to be virtually inconsequential in terms of what happens in the party. It would help in the job if they go in with eyes wide open and appropriately-low expectations.
The party with the largest elective positions in the nation is being torn by a vicious struggle for vantage positions towards 2015. Its powerful stakeholders will fight damaging wars; and its opposition is closing ranks. The nation is drifting and being challenged by unprecedented levels of insecurity and corruption.
The PDP is unlikely to claim the right to another presidency in 2015 as a result of a credible record. Its candidates will not emerge as a result of a fair and popular consensus over competence and credibility.
He will be the product of bitter quarrels which will damage the party’s fortunes. It cannot win free and fair elections in 2015 with its current baggage. It may not even have the type of cohesion and clout and resources to rig its way into most of the elective positions it currently has. It will be even more fiercely resisted if it even attempts to.
A few names mentioned as interested in the PDP BOT chair are Nigerians with a fairly-respectable image.
Being chair of the BOT of the PDP may put a final feather on an elderly hat, but they should know that the turbulence ahead will spare no one in the PDP, not even elders who just want to help lead it away from its frightening future. But this is likely to be a wasted caution, because the PDP is likely to find a chair for its BOT who fits it perfectly.