By Ugoji Egbujo
A new crankshaft seems in place. The frothing of oil and the confused combustion must end now. The first task is to mend, stitch and stand the party. The outgoing chairman was allowed to linger for a little too long. He had been a slack chain. Then he broke and lashed around and left vengeance everywhere. Oshiomhole has inherited a house littered with political IEDS. The second task will be employ the revamped party to plow the political fields of the nation.
Oshiomhole is made of steel. He must keep his eyes on history. He championed freedom fighting for many years. He will not run a party the way Chief Nanga of Achebe’s ‘A man of the People’ would run it. Oshiomhole must not get stuck in the rut of Nigeria’s decadent party politics. The rut is the pre occupation with winning-winning elections at all costs. He must use the APC to redefine party politicking in Nigeria. He will not build Rome over night. But he can diligently pave the roads of internal party democracy. And let his successor be challenged to do the street lights.
Our country has regressed. Because our politics has suffered a tragic retardation. Read Chinua Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’ again. Nigeria is now filled with a multitude of young and old Chief M.A. Nangas. Party politics hasn’t risen beyond crass opportunism and infantile quest for the ‘kulikuli’ of power. Ill-gotten wealth and thuggery have inhibited freedom to choose and freedom to contest. And tragically, anti intellectualism has remained and is glorified as political astuteness. The Odili Osamalus are still rife, replete with their idealism, self righteousness and political effeteness. They are no longer referred to as communists or agents of colonialists. But they are still perceived as aloof and peripheral. And the people? They are perhaps, even more apathetic, often more cynical. The majority still don’t vote. They still adore and adulate debauched politicians who speak pidgin English and eat amala at bus stops. They still make excuses for thieving politicians who share as little as hair styles with them.
Oshiomhole must find ways to make the ruling party morally appealing. Even symbolisms will matter. The slogan has been changed from Change ! to ‘Progress! It should have been changed to Peace and Prosperity! At every opportunity, the new leadership must show thoughtfulness. Even sloganeering must go beyond mere words and rhymes. It must be the link between the party’s manifestoes and the people. It must be the reminder of political promises. So why not— APC!…. Ten million jobs! That’s more tangible, more meaningful.
Tokenism won’t leave the centre stage soon. Ignorance and illiteracy would have to leave first. So the party can do ‘stomach infrastructure’ and fill in gaps with hypocrisy. But it must understand the place of tokenism and propaganda in history. History doesn’t remember those who merely outsmarted opponents and won elections. History won’t remember all the past chairmen of almighty NPN and immortal PDP. Not even those who delivered those ‘moon slide’ victories. History is kind only to transformative leaders. He did well as an opposition governor. But this challenge perhaps gives him more room for creativity.
Oshiomhole has come at the right time. There are many problems requiring urgent attention. The Federal Government has not met the expectations of many in containing herdsmen’s violence. The crisis has been infected with politics and political calculations. The new party chairman can initiate a cross party, all-hands-on-the-deck approach to find a solution to the festering violence ravaging the middle belt. It is true he has many internal party squabbles to attend to, but it’s in being nationally useful that the party can acquire the moral authority to lead national transformation. The party can champion inclusiveness and the fostering of a shared sense of belonging.
But the new chairman must not become another village chief. Oshiomhole must find ways to make the party a fountain of political knowledge. The chairman could organize monthly high profile political symposia where former world leaders would be invited to discuss development, law and order , democracy , peace and prosperity. Africa needs truth told its leaders, daily by their western idols. These talks could often indict the ruling government and party. But in setting new standards, the cost benefit analysis must not be short term.
Oshiomhole must personally address party members regularly. Such interactions foster the culture of answerability on which proper democracy is founded. Public accountability helps officials fight indolence and check insidious arbitrariness. It could be uncomfortable initially. But the nation’s gain would be unquantifiable if the political tradition goes from opacity, chicanery and trading of brickbats to exchange of reasoned arguments and transparency in political party decision making.
It is true he has an ‘aluta’ DNA. And has dethroned godfathers. It is left to be seen if he can affect the electoral process and rescue it from the stranglehold of money and thuggery. Oshiomhole must recreate the party selection process to enable a school principal vie for a seat in state legislature without submitting his guts to one godfather.
A party chairman has no presidential powers. And it would be naive to think that even the president can institute these changes all by himself. But what Oshiomhole can do is to instigate the right debates, spark the discussions. The party can reserve at least 40% of tickets for state and national assemblies for women. It could come at a political cost, initially. But history would remember such sacrifices. And while he cannot foist it on the party, he can promote the idea strongly. Oshiomhole has the heft to act as a counterpoise to the presidency sometimes. He has the courage to stand his party parliamentarians to order. It is hoped that he would offer the ‘wheel balancing and alignment’ that the party’s elected officials sometimes need.
Oshiomhole should keep some old hands but he must surround himself with fresh minds. The position of chair of the ruling national party can often look castrated. But if its occupied by a pilot who wants to fly to the moon of national emancipation rather than gyrate in indolent self glorification at tree tops, he can attract the attention of the gods and the obedience of tribes.
Oshiomhole must replenish sobriety continually. Running a ruling party can distract , intoxicate and overwhelm. He must find innovativeness in the marsh of routine and tedium. The PDP is his local opponent but not his main opponent. The country is in competition with poverty, disease and the world. It’s in competition with child malnutrition, illiteracy and maternal mortality. It’s in a fierce international competition for foreign funds, tourists and goodwill. He must make Brazil, India, Indonesia, Singapore his main opponents. Internecine skirmishes with the PDP can be exhilarating. But it must be limited to allow him think big. The country needs big ideas.
He is the man for the season.