The national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which took place at the Eagle Square in Abuja on Saturday, December 9, has come and gone. But echoes from that convention, (which was to elect the key officers for the PDP), will follow the party to 2019.
The campaign for the chairmanship of the party was almost like a campaign to become the President of the country – intense and robust, with several of the contestants buying media spaces to sell their programmes for the party. It was probably the first time in our political history that campaigns for the chairmanship of a political party generated so much passion and interest. The intensity of the campaign (with the South-west mimicking Anambra State politics by producing as many as seven contestants) led to certain optimism in some quarters that whoever won would have a lot of elbow room from the all- powerful Governors and other party financiers.
There are several lessons and pointers to 2019 from the Convention:
One, the intense campaign for the chairmanship of the Party and hopes that it would set the pace in enthroning transparency in elections into political party offices in the country, was quickly dashed. First there were rumours of the existence of a ‘unity list’ or ‘consensus list’, which was allegedly authored by Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State and Ayodele Fayose, his counterpart from Ekiti State. Though the PDP denied the existence of such a list, by a strange twist of fate the names on the so-called ‘unity list’ and offices assigned against them coincided with the names of those who won at the convention. Additionally there were allegations that the whole process was heavily monetized (with some delegates reportedly being offered as much as $10,000). To make matters worse, there were discrepancies between the total number of accredited delegates and the total votes tallied. For instance while there were 2, 115 registered delegates, the final vote count was 2, 297, raising the question of how ‘ghost voters’ found themselves into the polling booths.
Two, it is not clear from the outcome of the convention whether the PDP really wants to contest to win the presidency in 2019 or whether it merely wants to defend some territories or fulfil all righteousness. If it really wants to run to win, it is not clear what its games plan or ‘paths to victory’ are. If the PDP really wants to win, the South-west, which made it possible for Buhari to win in 2015 ( by offering him the requisite constitutional spread of 25 per cent in at least five states in the south which he never had in his previous unsuccessful runs), ought to be clearly wooed and treated as the REAL battle ground. Politics is in the final analysis a contest for power and privileges among discrete groups and entities. This means that politics anywhere in the world is driven by group dynamics, which is why even in the advanced democracies, they still talk of white votes, female votes, Black votes, Hispanic votes, etc.
The basic question here is what sweeteners is the PDP offering the region, which are better than what it currently gets from APC (a sitting Vice President and some choice political appointments) to lure them into its fold? The national chairmanship of the party is not nearly as good as the V-P the region currently has but denying them that (when they cannot be offered the presidency itself), does not look to me like a clever strategy to woo the region. Buhari can (assuming he still has the level of support he had in the north from 2003-2015) win the presidency with the Southwest – and without the South-south and the south-east.
Three, it is remarkable that the ‘insult’ against the Southwest was allegedly hatched by Nyesom Wike (reportedly the new financier of the party) and Ayodele Fayose, (who should be defending the region’s honour). This goes to show that despite their pretensions and grandstanding, politicians as political investors are largely driven by self-interest. If the report about Fayose’s connivance to deprive the region the slot of party chairman is true, one possible explanation is that he is positioning himself as a running mate to a Northern presidential candidate. The other possible explanation is that he does not want an alternative power centre in the South-west since he is seen and treated as the one-man riot squad for the party, from South-west. This appears to be a re-run of what happened in 2011, when Bola Tinubu, the then dominant political figure in the Southwest, allegedly worked with some ‘disgruntled’ members of the ruling PDP in the House and members of his own then opposition party in the House to ensure that Mulikat Akande-Adeola, the PDP’s choice for the Speakership, was defeated. Mulikat Akande-Adeola’s defeat meant that the South-west was denied any major visibility on the protocol list of the Jonathan government. Some have argued that Jonathan’s weakness in allowing Tambuwaal’s election as Speaker to stand (or not compensating the South-west adequately enough for that loss), alienated the region, making it easier for them to follow Tinubu (who probably did not want an alternative power centre to emerge in the region) into the APC. Is PDP repeating the same mistake with the South-west all over again?
Four, talking of South-west, where do we put Tinubu in the whole calculations? He may have been diminished and confined to Lagos politics, but he may still be able to spring one or two tricks depending on opportunities available. Right now, his options appear limited: he cannot defect to PDP and he does not seem to have the same clout and stamina as he had in the run-up to the 2015 elections, which helped to whip politicians from the South-west into line. So for now he may calculate that he is better off hanging around Buhari especially as APC’s win of the region without him will further diminish his influence in the region if he chooses to play opposition.
And what of Fayose? I have argued elsewhere that while Fayose as a PDP presidential candidate can mobilize all the anti Buhari elements in the South, he will be a terrible choice as a running mate to any candidate from the North. In fact the election of Uche Secondus as the party’s chairman, which Fayose apparently endorsed, unmasks any pretension that he plans to contest to be the party’s presidential candidate since the party cannot have both its national chairman and presidential candidate from the same South. This means that he may be positioning himself to become a running mate to someone from the North, which as I said earlier, will be a mistake by the party. This is because the bottom-half of a presidential ticket rarely has much influence in determining the outcome of the election. Besides, many Northerners may not forgive Fayose’s perceived insult of Buhari and the North in the 2015 election with his biopsies and mockeries. Additionally, as the bottom-half of the ticket, Fayose will not be able to energize his base who will believe that he will be marginalized once the election is won.
Five, the tragedy of Nigerian politics is that the parties are indistinguishable from one another, and are essentially special purpose vehicles for seeking power and privileges. The disappointment with our political parties, including the quality of political discourses and the drivers of the political processes, have led to a certain idealization of a ‘third force’ which will sanitize the political system and change the pattern of political leadership recruitment in the country. The idea of a ‘third force’ by non-professional politicians, which sounds noble on paper, is as old as the Fourth Republic, if not older. But in reality it is fraught with methodological problems. People like Professor Pat Utomi who, at different times, championed such movements (certainly with the best intentions), unwittingly gave the impression that winning political power is about winning academic arguments in a seminar. The idealism that drives such ‘third forces’ by non-professional politicians seems to be divorced from the question of whether ordinary Nigerians, (who are actually the enablers of the type of leaders we continuously get), are really interested in their ‘big grammar’ or whether they see them as just a faction of the same elite, who cannot compete by the current rules of the game and want to take shortcuts to power by mouthing higher philosophies. Essentially I do not see many prospects for such ‘third forces’.
What may be a game changer is the emergence of another special purpose vehicle in the mould of the APC, which will bring a new coalition to either enthrone a new king or specifically to dethrone an existing one. Such a possibility by professional politicians with the means cannot be ruled out.