By Tonnie Iredia
Just before the period of electioneering for the 2019 general elections took off in earnest, many Nigerians were convinced that it was time to identify a credible alternative to the nation’s two major political parties, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The general feeling was that people were yet to recover from 16 years of poor performance by the PDP while the APC that came into office in 2015 was yet to meet the expectations of Nigerians. Indeed, the numerous movements of decampees to and from each of the two parties were enough to convince voters that the two parties were in essence, two sides of the same coin. With close to 100 political parties in existence, there were hopes that a viable alternative may be found. The familiarity of the name of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with which MKO Abiola won the famous June 12, 1993 elections, made her one of the parties that people imagined could fill the political vacuum. Public confidence in the party was also influenced by its choice of Chief Olu Falae, one-time Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Minister of Finance as the national chairman.
In due course, we began to hear of other great names such as the charismatic Professor Jerry Gana, one of Nigeria’s best Ministers of Information, a great orator and manager of men and materials. Jerry, it was, who served as pioneer chief executive of MAMSER- the creative and effective agency for social mobilization of the nation during the transition to civil political programme under General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government. In the opinion of those of us who worked with Gana in the past, SDP ought to be a model for others to emulate. We looked forward with excitement as we assumed, we were seeing the emergence of a party that would bring an end to the usual lack of purpose and direction in Nigeria’s political parties. No one could have convinced us otherwise because we saw more than Jerry Gana, having found therein Professor Tunde Adeniran, a political theorist and practitioner who had served at a time as Minister of Education. Tunde could easily share with Jerry, the successes of MAMSER where he too was one of the pioneering brains in the agency. Our confidence was further reassured with the presence in the party of Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River State who ran his state with new ideas.
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We naively thought that there would be no visible frictions in SDP that would be hard to resolve internally. I actually assured a friend that if anything in the party went wrong, the SDP was lucky to have one of our most respected philosophers in the old NTA, Yemi Farounbi. The party cannot fail I vehemently vouched. With pride, I saluted the wisdom of the great names in the SDP who chose to wade into the murky waters of Nigerian politics. It is no doubt a tedious task considering events of the past one year which appear to suggest that not much was changing. Consequently, I found myself nursing now and again the fear that with the increasing commercialization of politics in the country, Falae, Gana, Adeniran, Duke, Farounbi etc in the SDP may never be able to sanitize our nation’s political scene. In the last few days, my fears have become real – the SDP has itself burnt out its flames. It is such a big pity.
Three days back, the media reported that the SDP had decided to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate simply because the party was unable to resolve the disagreement between its two aspirants-Jerry Gana and Donald Duke. Yet, from what we said earlier in this piece, any of the two aspirants is quite qualified to be Nigeria’s President. The first story we gathered was that although Duke clearly won the party’s presidential primaries, Gana who was second refused to accept defeat. Well, anyone who ever met Gana would know that it is not in his character to be that mean. So, we asked more questions and found that the position of Gana is a principled one. The true situation is that with a Southern national chairman, the SDP had zoned its presidential position to the north, to which Gana rightly belongs. How then did Duke qualify to be an aspirant considering that he hails from Cross River? Is the latter state now part of the North the way Bayelsa state was treated to enable Goodluck Jonathan contest the presidential elections of 2011 and 2015? Why did the SDP that we thought was the ideal allow itself to fall into such a little but consuming trap?
While that question is hard to answer, it is disheartening to hear that the endorsement of Buhari as the party’s presidential candidate was based on discussions between the SDP and the APC where the former suddenly discovered that it has about the same philosophy as the ruling party and that the differences between both are not only few but could easily be managed. Are we to believe therefore that SDP wanted to replace a party which it could have been in alliance with ab initio? As we were trying to understand the undercurrent, a new story emerged that the endorsement of President Buhari by the SDP was not unanimous; a faction has now disowned the endorsement. According to the spokesperson of the party, Alfa Muhammed, the endorsement was by a faction led by the National Secretary of the party, Shehu Gabam. Alfa confirms that the national chairman and many state chairmen were not at the meeting where the endorsement was made adding that none of the two presidential aspirants was present either. Who then made the decision and what really influenced it?
When what has happened to the SDP is viewed with developments in the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) in mind, it gets clearer that Nigeria is still far away from getting right the management of political parties. At the ACPN, whose presidential candidate, Oby Ezekwesili has withdrawn from the election, some of its members have also endorsed President Buhari. While Ezekwesili thinks her former party-members are mere political mercenaries, they are threatening to go to court to compel her to formally account for party finances. So, was Ezekwesili the party’s candidate, resource mobilizer, financial secretary and treasurer? If not, why was she the only one that raised the money and why were party finances in her custody?
Perhaps General Babangida (IBB) that many have been blaming for our woes saw beyond us all when he established two parties for Nigeria. An objective view of our political scene today reveals that apart from our two main parties, many others are quacks. It is painful that SDP is now part of that failure.