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The carpet crossing in Owerri

By Ohereome Nnanna
IT was expected to happen sooner than later. Sir Ikedi Ohakim has finally crossed the proverbial political carpet from the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) on which he was elected as Governor of Imo State to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

By so doing he became the third state chief executive officer to dump his party for the “largest party in Africa”, which holds sway in Aso Villa and the National Assembly. It now controls 29 states out of 36. But for the verdicts at the election tribunals, Edo, Ondo and Anambra would still be PDP states, and that would have given the party control over 32 states!

Even before the past two years when Governors Aliyu Shinkafi of Zamfara, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi and Ohakim of Imo defected to the ruling party, governors and senators and even party officials from the so-called opposition parties had shifted camp. The question that would come to any enquiring mind is, why?

Before we attempt the answer, let us also be reminded that the same trend was setting itself in the Second Republic when the nation still operated a 19-state structure. The outcome of the 1979 general elections showed that the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) opened its dominance of the renascent democratic political space after 13 years of military domination with control of seven states.

The other parties scored as follows: The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) 5; the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) 3; the Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP) 2, and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) 2. But after the 1983 elections, the NPN gained six new states from the opposition and lost one – Kwara, as a result of the type of feud that produced Ohakim in Imo in 2007. Something must be responsible for the failure of opposition political parties and oiled the desertion of their politicians to the majority party.

The single most important factor is the military roots from which our current party system was sprouted. In the 1970s, the military ruling class felt that regional control of political parties contributed to the crises that brought down the First Republic.

As a result of that, they decreed that from 1979 henceforth, all registered political parties must have a minimum character of national spread and establish their headquarters in the nation’s capital. Babangida’s transition programme introduced the idea of government founding and running political parties and emphasised the importance of money in the political process.

These measures went a long way to bleach political parties of their ideological rooting. They became first and foremost platforms for contesting for power and survival in it. All the political parties assumed a similar character. After all, they were born of the same “parents”, the military which made their registration rules. Being products of the military, they lacked internal mechanisms of democracy.

Therefore, there is little to choose between one political party and the other, except their relative capacity to provide the politician with the ability to win power and survive.

The issues of principles and morality always crop up whenever an event such as Ohakim’s crossing from PPA to PDP takes place.

But that is usually an intellectual exercise for those outside the political arena. Once you get into fray, you will discover a different kind of reality. For the person in the ring, what matters is doing whatever he can, offensive or defensive, to succeed. It is an unfortunate situation foisted on us by the military, which we will need some time to outgrow as we mutate into more matured and purposeful, issues-based party politics.

In the first interview he granted me shortly after his victory after a miraculous electoral run, Ohakim made it clear that political platform, for him, was not an end in itself. It was a means to an end. He likened it to a man travelling from Lagos to Owerri.

When he arrives in Owerri, he hops into a motorcycle taxi (Okada) and then he walks into his house. He does not insist that the luxury bus or plane he travelled from Lagos with must drive him into his bedroom, since that may not be practically possible.

The real end, he said, was the quality of work he is able to use that vehicle to do for the people of his state who gave him the transport money to travel on their behalf. He never hid the fact that he could switch camp if the situation of moving forward in his political project calls for it.

And he was very careful in handling partisan issues when he took the reins of power, ensuring that every political party had a sense of belonging. For over two years as a PPA governor he ran a very politically stable state.

But in about a year or so, the bells for second term in office will begin to toll all over the land. PDP, his old party, still controls Imo State to the tune of more than 90 per cent. Ohakim knew he would not serve a second term in office if he stuck to PPA.

Moreover, his old friends in the PDP wanted him back.

The ceremony, however, was shoddily handled. Obasanjo’s appearance in Owerri when Ohakim decamped left a sour taste in many mouths. And the silly things he said about how the plan was hatched left a bitter taste.

He only confirmed himself as the foremost tragedy of Nigerian politics. We know the ignoble roles he played everywhere, including Imo politics in 2007. And what was President Yar’ Adua doing there? This was a man who, a few weeks earlier, had forwarded a bill to the National Assembly ostensibly aimed at curbing carpet crossing.

Carpet crossing is a painful bow to reality. There was no need for Obasanjo and Yar’Adua to indulge in what Fela calls “demonstration of craze”.


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