By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“The day a monkey is destined to die, all the trees get slippery.”– African Proverb
THE grounds are rapidly shifting away from the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.
For a man who came into the office under very controversial circumstances, his current travails should not surprise anyone. Still, you have to marvel at the speed of his declining powers, and wonder if it symbolises a massive decline in the fortunes of the PDP.
In many ways, the rise and seeming decline of the PDP is routine stuff in its history, but with election campaigns in full gear, it is legitimate to ask whether Alhaji Bamanga’s train has reached its stop.
When the story of the PDP is written, the manner it chose its leaders and disposed of them should take pride of place in the narrative. The party that had ruled the nation since 1999 has not learnt to treat its leaders with the dignity and respect they deserved.
Some would say the leaders themselves, given the manner they acquire their offices, deserve little or no dignity or respect. History of the PDP is the history of intense intrigues, massive muscles, a sharing and allocation formula which was founded on the denial of merit and intra-party democracy, and the fortunes of elected officials who determine the careers and fate of party officials as they do errand boys.
In other democracies parties are powerful, and party leadership and bureaucracies operate within clear rules. They are largely responsible for success of candidates and quality of policies, and they are accountable from top to bottom to the humblest party member.
Those who run parties are distinct from those who run elective offices, and they stay largely on their sides of the fence. Frequently, party operatives move into electoral contests and elective offices, falling back on experiences and insights acquired while running party offices.
In Nigeria, political parties are distinguished by their denial of all vestiges of intra-party democracy. This starts from the mode of selection of party officials, positions which are guaranteed to make occupants wealthy from public funds. Party officials in turn connive with powerful elected officials to determine the fate of those who aspire to be aspirants or candidates.
The beginning of wisdom in Nigerian politics is a healthy respect for party officials. Party officials themselves live on constant alert for calls and instructions from elected officials, that specie with awesome powers derived from the use of public resources to acquire, expand and retain power.
For a party with the spread and resources of the PDP, a party position is worth all the battles that can be fought for it. This is why its history is replete with skeletons of crashed careers and ambitions of people it had once trusted with its fate and fortunes. It now seems to be the turn of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur to go through the turbulence and possible fate of most of his predecessors.
The fact that he has lived with this turbulence from the word go will not make his situation any less difficult. He had been shunned by his own state branch when he sought its support to contest. He had fallen out with his Governor, a fatal error, given the powers of governors in parties. He was suspected and shunned by Governors who saw him as President Jonathan’s trump card in the unending battle to whittle down their powers.
He got messed up in the politics of his state party structure, and ran into serious storm when his own colleagues in the top hierarchy of the party began to question his authority. The battle of PDP titans who were well represented in the National Working Committee took a toll on his authority, and registered other casualties such as the Secretary as well.
The key centres of power in the PDP have been in a rebellious mood from the inception of Bamanga’s administration, and he lacked the clout or credibility to contain it. Governors kept their backs turned against him. People like President Obasanjo who saw the national leadership of the party as a natural turf to fight for relevance and influence kept nibbling at his authority.
His colleagues’ loyalties could not be relied upon, and his overall influence over the party waned rapidly. He was isolated, and relied only on the confidence of President Jonathan as a lifeline. The National Executive Committee(NEC) of the party has not been convened since last year, because governors will use it to show who has power.
When it became obvious that governors would not submit to his authority, and were unrelenting in their challenge to the President’s influence partly in response to Bamanga’s position, new strategies appeared to have been devised. First, the emergence of Chief Tony Anenih as chairman of Board of Trustees of the PDP may have been informed by the need to strengthen the President’s hand over party affairs, particularly in view of the weaknesses of Bamanga’s leadership.
Then the attempt to limit the damage involving governors by lobbying them was conceived, at first with the problem cast as the solution. Alhaji Bamanga’s reconciliation jamboree exposed the party’s deep problems, and by the time it ended, it left no one in doubt that the chairman, the party and President Jonathan’s 2015 ambitions were in deep trouble. Governors used the occasions to register their alienation from the party, and quite a few sponsored stories that they were waiting in the wings to decamp to the merging parties.
Naturally, they denied the stories as well; but the objective of threatening their party and showing their teeth was achieved.
Perhaps a stocktaking exercise had exposed the fact that the PDP chairman is the party’s soft underbelly. It may also have alarmed the Presidency that the cracks were wider than assumed. Consequently, a new crack strategy was set in motion, this time with the fabled Mr fix-it, Chief Anenih as its arrowhead.
He was to visit seemingly ambitious or recalcitrant PDP governors and using large quantities of sticks and carrots, whip them into line. Governors whose estimation of the Chief may have been lowered by his inability to dent their colleague’s standing in Edo state duly received him; and press statements say they poured out their frustrations and grievances to him, something they would not do to Tukur.
It is unclear how much the Anenih intervention will stem the tide of discontent at the upper ranks of a party desperate to get its house in order to support a likely Jonathan candidature in 2015. What is clear, however, is that Alhaji Bamanga’s standing and influence has been badly damaged, perhaps irretrievably.
The president may have been finally convinced that Alhaji Bamanga is more of a liability than an asset. While removing him now may not be on the cards, he is likely to play less prominent roles in party matters. His colleagues in the NWC will observe his declining stature, and are likely to challenge him more vigorously. Governors may see his declining profile as a small victory, but many will be alarmed that Chief Anehih may be taking up the slack left by Bamnaga.
The two do not play the game the same way. With a higher profile for the chairman of the BOT, a Jonathan candidature is likely to be more forcefully pursued. Northern governors with ambitions will likely find that the stage is narrower, and more challenging.
The Chief will make a valiant effort to rally a party facing serious dissent from within, and a genuinely threatening merger from outside. Given the scale of problems it faces, it is going to be a huge task just convincing everyone that President Jonathan should be its flagbearer in 2015. But for Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, it appears that he is no longer on top of things in the PDP.