By Ochereome Nnanna
WE have a very poor quality democracy. Our constitutional order is in shambles, which is why within fifteen years we have already held two constitutional conferences to try and correct the makeshift 1999 constitution hurried assembled by the departing regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
The most telling evidence of our highly compromised renascent democracy is in the political parties that have operated it. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has not only been in power at the federal level for all these fifteen years, it has also dominated at the state and local government levels. It has lost and regained members as the electoral cycles come and go, but has remained largely unchanged as the most dominant political force in the land.
The opposition parties have fared far worse. Today, we have the All Progressives Congress (APC), a newly-formed coalition of regional parties of the North and West, trying to leverage on the over-bloated population and voter registration figures associated with the North and West to snatch power from the PDP. Since 1999, the opposition parties have formed all sorts of coalitions, alliances and mergers in their efforts to upstage the PDP, to no avail. In 1999, it was the North’s All People’s Party (APP) and the West’s Alliance for Democracy (AD) that started the effort.
It was the most incredible political magic ever conjured in Nigeria. Two mutual enemy political parties, whose promoters were in the trenches fighting each other to the death just a few months before, came together, spurred on by the lust for power. The APP was the conservative section of the Northern oligarchy which promoted General Sani Abacha’s aborted life presidency ambition. The AD was the political offshoot of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which fought Abacha and agitated for the revalidation of the June 12 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola.
AD leaders did not mind that the APP leaders were behind the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. They did not care that the APP leaders were responsible for the reign of terror levied against the South West for fighting against a barefaced insult meted to one of their sons. It was none of their business that these people knew what happened to Abiola. All that mattered was that the APP (the bigger party) was willing to allow the AD to take up the presidential slot while they (APP) would play the second fiddle. It did not occur to them that it is against the law of nature for the tail to wag the dog, as it is against the reality of politics for a smaller party to lead the bigger party in a coalition. Ideal democracy is always a game of majority rule and minority rights. Anything short of that is a scam. It is bound to end in tears, sorrow and blood for someone.
The APP held its 1999 presidential convention in Kaduna and a political dark horse, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, was elected as its presidential candidate. Onu was actually a political bellhop manipulated by the Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi faction of the APP to emerge. On the other hand, the AD held its primaries in Ibadan, an event I covered as a reporter. Chief Bola Ige, the founder of the Party had expected to be picked, but he was dropped because of his perceived regional outlook. AD needed someone who was more nationally acceptable, and Chief Olu Falae got the nod. Ige was not amused. His ploy for taking the AD out of the PDP which he co-founded collapsed in Ibadan. It was partly responsible for his decision to join President Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, a post in which he was brutally murdered and no one, till date, has been brought to account for it.
The final political abracadabra took place, when the APP presidential candidate, Onu, was shoved aside by Shinkafi, who accepted to stand as Falae’s running mate. A man who did not contest for the APP’s primaries became its representative in the combined presidential ticket. It was the first of the series of failed North/West alliances concocted in a bid to dethrone PDP, which has always posted the advantage of being the most widely-spread national political party.
The opposition parties have always demonstrated uncommon desperation to grab power from PDP through North/West alliances. These have not produced desired results and may never do so because they are up against a non-ethnic or religion, or region-tied nationally spread ruling party. The day the opposition tones down desperation and puts away deceptive regional calculations to build a nationally relevant political platform, they will become far more competitive. Up till now, the opposition has shown it is not relevant to the Minorities and the South East zone. Any political party that is irrelevant to the Minorities will never win the presidency. And any political party that has strong religious, ethnic and regional outlook will never become relevant to the Minorities. Those who have ears let them hear.
While the opposition has been desperate to snatch power from the PDP, the ruling party has also responded with desperation to hold on to power. The PDP is a party of “everything goes”. There is no moral parameter of eligibility for PDP membership. So long as you can help in winning elections in your area, just walk through the door. It does not matter if you are a convict, murderer, sponsor of terrorism and crimes against humanity. Come to PDP. You are welcome to the umbrella.
There is a red carpet reception waiting for you. If the widely acclaimed “father” of Boko Haram, Alhaji Nmodu Sheriff (SAS) can make such a triumphant entry into PDP, what else do you want me to say? Remember, Sheriff’s Borno State was the only one out of the 36 states and the FCT that did not give President Goodluck Jonathan 25 per cent in the 2011 presidential election. Surely, with Sheriff inside the PDP basket, 25 per cent or more is assured in 2015.
Power is the name of the game in our renascent democracy. The lust for power has bleached both PDP and APC of any unique identity. APC is actually mimicking PDP. APC is now zoning offices. How can you win by copying the original? Can you become bigger than D-Banj by copying D-Banj? PDP is open to all sorts questionable characters of politicians. So is APC. In fact, if you are in PDP you are a thief, rogue and robber. But once you cross into APC, you become a “progressive” (they pronounce it as PRO-gressive). Whatever that means.
Meanwhile, there is no clear-cut PDP or APC way of doing things. There is only a ruling party but no opposition. Nigerians have no choice but to follow individuals, not parties. Vote for a candidate of your choice. There is no political party to choose from. PDP and APC – political parties? Please don’t make laugh!