By Olu Fasan
SOME readers assume that because I persistently criticise President Muhammadu Buhari and his government, I support the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. But nothing can be further from the truth. I’m politically unaffiliated.
My passion is for Nigeria, borne out of a deep concern that, unless properly restructured, the countryfaces a terminal decline, a socio-economic and political deterioration, that could trigger its fracturing.
Thus, any political party and any individual charged with running Nigeria are my laser focus and, if mismanaging the country, the objects of my unrelenting criticism. Which is why, as Nigeria’s current rulers, President Buhari and his party, All Progressives Congress, APC, are my bugbears, and the main targets of this column’s ire!
But, in a democracy, a strong opposition party is critical for good governance. So, I wanted PDP to be a strong and formidable party, with a unifying sense of political direction and momentum, a sort of an alternative government. But PDP is not such a party! Why?
The immediate problem is not far-fetched: PDP is a crisis-prone, crisis-ridden party. Perversely, it went into the 2015 general elections totally split. A former vice president, Atiku Abubarkar, five governors, three former national chairmen and countless legislators left the party to help form APC.
The PDP forgot a key rule of politics: divided parties don’t win elections. And, unsurprisingly, it lost the presidential race. Things got worse after the defeat. Several PDP leaders deserted the party to join the new ruling party, APC, while those remaining in the party were tearing it apart, blaming and counter-blaming one another for the defeat.
Truth is, PDP, which ruled Nigeria for sixteen years and arrogantly vowed to “rule for 60 years”, found defeat extremely painful, and became paralysed by protracted crises.
In an article titled “PDP’s post-defeat trauma and the cycle of grief” (BusinessDay, June 1, 2015), I urged the party to get over its defeat. “For the vibrancy of Nigeria’s democracy”, I wrote, “PDP must come to terms with its loss, rebuild and rise again”. But the party won’t rebuild.
For nearly two years, the Ali-Modu Sheriff faction and the Ahmed Makarfi faction quarrelled bitterly over the chairmanship of the party until the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Makarfi in July 2017. As I write, Uche Secondus, recently suspended as national chairman, is challenging his suspension in court, saying he wants to save the party from those “hijacking its soul”!
Yet, herein lies the real problem: PDP has no soul. It’s largely a personality-based and interest-driven party, whose leaders’ loyalties are fickle. The test of a principled politician is how he behaves when his personal interests clash with those of the party: does he jump ship or stay to build the party? Well, most PDP leaders will jump ship as the spate of recent defections shows.
But history matters. We can’t properly understand the PDP and its challenges, without understanding the circumstances of its birth. For truth is, PDP is a strange party in a democracy. It was founded by former military leaders to achieve their political ambitions, and the party has no track record of internal democracy or of sticking to its own rules.
In 2017, General Ibrahim Babangida, former military dictator, said the following about the PDP. “From the foundation stage, I saw PDP as the IRA. We are the military wing of the PDP”.
He continued: “When I say ‘we’, I mean my boss, TY Danjuma, Obasanjo, General Aliyu Mohammed and many others”, adding: “I term us as IRA – the military wing of PDP”. For context, the IRA – Irish Republican Party – was the military wing of Sinn Fein, the nationalist/republican political party in Northern Ireland.
Of course, former military leaders can join or form a political party. But when they band together and become “the military wing” of a political party so that one of them can become president, that’s militarisation of democracy, and the militarised party is not a proper party in a democratic sense.
In his book Vindication of a General, Lt-General Ishaya Bamaiyi, chief of army staff under General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s regime, said General Abubakar struck a deal with the PDP’s “military wing” to make General Olusegun Obasanjo, former military head of state, president in 1999.
And, in one interview, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme told a story of how the military imposed Obasanjo as PDP’s presidential candidate in 1998 even though he didn’t meet the party’s rule that anybody who didn’t win his local government in earlier local government elections was ineligible to run for the party’s presidential ticket.
As president, Obasanjo made no pretence of respecting PDP’s constitution – in fact, he attempted to change Nigeria’s Constitution to run for a third term! When that failed, he hand picked his successor without proper primaries, a legacy of militarising the party.
But PDP’s military wing is now defunct as the former military leaders have retired from politics or no longer have vested interests in the party. The recent choice of Professor Iyorchia Ayu over Brigadier-General David Mark (retd) as PDP’s new national chairman is a good omen.
Yet, the real question is whether PDP can have an epiphany and redefine itself as a truly democratic party that ensures internal democracy and respects its own rules. For instance, the party’s constitution mandates rotating the presidency between the North and the South.
Yet, despite zoning the party’s chairmanship to the North, PDP is equivocating on zoning the presidency to the South. That’s redolent of its militarised past!
But the most critical philosophical question is: What does the PDP stand for?What’s its raison d’etre? What’s its view on restructuring Nigeria, on economic reforms? It can’t be credible by simply criticising the APC-led government.
It must have a credible alternative agenda for government, and, of course, a credible presidential candidate. Truth is, PDP still has a huge trust deficit. It must close it to regain power. That starts with defining what it really stands for!