Reflections on the PDP Crisis

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The political space has been abuzz with excitement for many and gloom for some since the last convention of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in which the former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar led seven Governors and some political notables to stage a walkout from the party’s Convention at Eagles square. The group later congregated at the Yaradua Centre, Abuja where they announced that the PDP as we know it has become factionalized, and that their version of the party would be known as the ‘New PDP’ under the chairmanship of Alhaji Abubakar Baraje. Their grouse, they said, was the lack of ‘internal party democracy’ in the party, especially under the chairmanship of Alhaji Bamangar Tukur.  

With the factionalization of the PDP some commentators are prematurely (in my opinion) announcing either the death of the party or its total enfeeblement. Many have also expressed strong concerns about the implications of the PDP crisis for our democracy and even for the corporate existence of the country. My personal opinion is that concerns about the latter are overstretched because our country has long perfected the art of hanging on a precipice without actually falling over the cliff.

The way I see it, democracy is a noisy enterprise driven by the principle of the ‘marketplace of ideas’ – a metaphor that was first developed by John Stuart Mill in his book, On Liberty, first published in 1859.  Like in any open market for goods and services, especially Nigerian open markets, haggling between traders and buyers could be aggressive – just as sharp disagreements and occasional exchange of blows among the traders or between the traders and buyers, are regarded as ‘normal’. The PDP crisis is therefore absolutely normal in politics. Across the world, including in the US and the UK, major political parties tend to have their sharp internal squabbles and fissures, including factionalisations. During election periods in the US and elsewhere, the political atmosphere could be so charged that the uninitiated might fear the worst.

But why are many people apparently joyed at the putative emasculation of the PDP, which appropriated to itself the toga of being the largest – not the smartest – political party in Africa?  There is a conflation of factors: one, is the issue of our fault lines and the associated geo-politics, including the unfinished business of zoning and power rotation from the 2011 elections. President Jonathan’s loyalists have been quick to point out that an overwhelming majority of those who walked out were from the North and that the seemingly carefully planned walkout was aimed at embarrassing or intimidating the President from contesting the 2015 elections. The other major factor is voter fatigue. The PDP has bestraddled Nigeria’s political space like an octopus since the current political dispensation started in 1999. In every State of the country, it is either the party in power or the main opposition. Add to this the fact that it is the party in control of the centre and its association with the distribution of lucre and privileges at the highest level. Because the party has become entrenched for so long, people appear fatigued with it – just as the party itself has become lethargic and complacent. In this sense, the factionalization of the party may be the necessary shock it needs to wake up and reform or become atrophied.

A relevant question here is why the other parties are seemingly immune to the sort of popular anti-PDP sentiments that abound in our media. The simple answer, in my opinion, is that virtually all the opposition parties operate as ‘cause groups’, tapping into ethnic or regional grievances and solidarity (A.C.N and APGA, ) or rests on the charisma of their founder or leading member (CPC). The PDP, despite its numerous shortcomings, remains the only national political party in the true sense of the word. It is not dependent on ethnic/regional solidarity or the charisma of anyone, not even the founding fathers of the party, for its membership recruitment and retention. The party’s tragedy however is that it neither has any emotionally charged cause that drives it nor is it animated by any set of well- articulated philosophy. This gives the impression that the only cause that unites the members is the search for lucre and privileges and a desperate bid not to lose out in the power game.

The truth however is that the difference between the PDP and any of the major opposition parties is just like the difference between twelve and one dozen. For instance, on the main grouse on which the PDP splintered – lack of internal party democracy – the worst culprit in this regard appears to be the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (A.C.N.), now the senior partner in the newly formed APC, where an oligarchical group would unilaterally decide who would fly the party’s flag at any election, often based on the candidate’s Awoist or NADECO credentials. How many of the opposition parties have ever had the national chairman or BOT chairman of their parties changed through an election? And which of the parties can therefore morally call out the others on matters of internal party democracy?

Another important question is how the PDP crisis will impact on our political space. While it is still early days, what can be conjectured following what fellow Daily Trust columnist Adamu Adamu once called the ‘Obasanjonisation’ of Jonathan, is that the PDP and the presidency will mimic the Obasanjo style and fight venomously back a la Obasanjo. The Ota Farmer had a knack of combining brute force with extreme cunning. The PDP, perhaps in cahoots with the presidency, has already shown it would follow the Obasanjo line by ensuring that security agencies sealed off the proposed secretariat of the nPDP, just as Obasanjo did in 2006 when a splinter faction from the PDP under Chief Solomon Lar and Alhaji Shuaibu Oyedokun opened a factional office in Mabushi, Abuja. Again if the Presidency and the Bamangar Tukur faction of the party were to follow the Obasanjo template, the real fight back would only commence after the two factions have ‘reconciled’. Obasanjo developed a strategy of luring his opponents to lower their guards through phantom reconciliations and then delivering deadly political uppercuts when such opponents have been lured into a false sense of security. I foresee a short term strategy of the PDP using a combination of co-optation, exclusion and wielding the big stick to factionalize the Baraje group. Eventually if the PDP itself does not atrophy – and I don’t see this seriously happening- it will move against anyone associated with the new faction. In essence the ‘New PDP’ should know it has crossed the proverbial Rubicon and must finish the fight it started or its leading members will be seriously bruised as the PDP and an Obasanjonised Jonathan fight back.  However whether the nPDP has the capacity to ‘fight to finish’ in our type of society where everyone seems to have a price tag remains to be seen.

Again just as Obasanjo moved against many of his political benefactors, I won’t be surprised if some aides of the presidency move against Obasanjo who has already been accused of igniting the fire – and dare heavens to break loose. If this happens, this is really where the PDP crisis will have serious implications. Obasanjo may not be the darling of his Yoruba kinsmen but as they say in my village, it is only when you molest a madman that you will realize he/she has brothers, sisters and relatives.

Another issue that remains to be seen is how the nPDP will interface or wriggle out of the current efforts to box it into the politics of the country’s fault lines and the unfinished politics of zoning and power rotation from the 2011 elections. What appears obvious is that the circumstances that birthed the New PDP cannot be divorced from the aggressive permutations for 2015. I would worry if the New PDP came about on the eve of the 2015 elections because the passion will be hot going into elections, with high potentials for election violence. But with some clear two years before the elections, the passions will have been settled, the PDP will either have reformed or atrophied and the leaders of the walkout will either have been dealt with (Nigerian style) or firmly ensconced in a new party, where they will necessary get as much as they give in terms of verbal exchanges and contestation of ideas.

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