By Bamidele Salako
Abuja’s Eagle Square will be abuzz today as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), embroiled in a last ditch battle for its political life, rallies to fill principal party positions including the very important seat of party chairman.
The party has not been impervious to the ethnic divisions with which national life in Nigeria is fraught. In the build-up to this all-important national convention, key party figures have been at loggerheads over who hoists the umbrella as chairman and leads the party into the crunch 2019 general elections.
In what has looked like a war of attrition along ethnic lines over zoning and micro-zoning of the party’s chairmanship – the PDP has struggled to present a front that is sufficiently united and formidable to cause the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) sleepless nights.
What has happened is that the APC has morphed into what the PDP used to be while the PDP, bruised and battered as it is, is struggling to match up to the shadow of the kind of staunch opposition that the APC provided.
The PDP appears to have more polarising figures than powerful and respectable ones who can be rallying points and calming voices of reason for the party’s warring factions. Even at the state level the party has struggled to get its act together. Infightings amongst vested interests have become regular occurrences which was what led to the dissolution of the executive committees in nine states, eight of which are APC strongholds including Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Adamawa, Borno, Kwara, Kebbi, Anambra and Kogi.
Some measured progress has been recorded however and congresses have since held in those states at both ward and state levels with each state contributing to the over 2,800 delegates expected to attend the convention to elect the party’s new officers. The exception remains Osun State which has been excluded from voting due to continued disagreements between PDP executives in the state.
The real source of concern for Nigerians who are yearning for a viable alternative to the APC which many believe has dashed hopes and failed to fulfil promises, is what the internal wrangling among the party hierarchy over who gets what portends. Not a few people believe that the PDP has failed to learn its lessons from its immediate bitter past and is as such nailing its own coffin by repeating the mistakes which led to its obliteration in the first place.
A lack of internal democracy and the culture of imposition of candidates were traits identifiable with the PDP in its halcyon days. These, among other indiscretions, political commentators believe the party must address and redress to have any chances of standing strong and regaining lost ground in the days and months ahead.
Sadly, such counsel might prove to be too little too late especially with the inevitable spill over of schisms into the Eagle Square venue of today’s convention which might end up scuttling the party’s uphill attempt at regaining its pride of place on the Nigerian political spectrum.
A couple of weeks back, reports of plans by disgruntled members of the party to stage a parallel convention emerged in the media. Even if nothing of the sort happens today, there is no smoke without fire. The post-convention fate of the PDP lies squarely on the freeness and fairness of today’s process. Any foul play will certainly raise the ire of an already disillusioned segment of the party and plunge it into another needless crisis which could ultimately spell its end.
Just five days ago, Party chieftain and former military head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida, expressed concern that the party’s chairmanship position could be “procured by the highest bidder.” In a statement issued on the retired general’s behalf by his media adviser, Kassim Afegbua, IBB cautioned the party against repeating the mistakes of the past.
He sued for the conduct of an elective convention bereft of manipulation, inducement, and selfish and egocentric interest while counselling the party’s stakeholders to “tread on the path of caution and common sense”, advising them to bear in mind the party’s recent “avoidable political crisis”.
The words of the party’s founding father which were sagely, hard-hitting and forthright are worth reproducing here:
“In the countdown to the convention; as founding fathers and stakeholders, we need to collectively assure Nigerians and our teeming members that we have indeed learnt our bitter lessons.
“Following the defeat of the party in the 2015 election, it is incumbent upon us as leaders and stakeholders to use the opportunity of the convention to soberly reflect on the challenges confronting us, identify our flaws and seek plausible ways to correct them in order to come out stronger in subsequent elections.
“An elective convention presents, as it were, a rare opportunity and veritable platform to elect in a holistic manner a credible, tested, down-to-earth and truly urbane candidate with enough stamina, distinguished character and national acceptability who is driven by incurable optimism and passion for a united Nigeria.
“At this point of our political history as a party, we need a National Chairman who is driven by uncommon initiatives, creativity in ideas and a rich content of character to lead and stabilise the party in line with the laudable ideals of the founding fathers of the party.
“Such an individual must possess national recognition to be able to galvanise political opportunities and transform them into tangible outcomes in our democratic engagements.
“When we were conceptualising the idea of the PDP at formation, we had in mind a party that offers platform for all Nigerians in their pursuit of legitimate political aspirations.
“In any democratic engagement, the people decide the outcome of elections through popular and inclusive participation. The monetisation of our electoral process is disturbingly eroding that power which should ordinarily reside in the people.
“In the last few days, I get frightened by the monetary consideration that is likely to dictate who emerges as the National Chairman of our great party rather than what the people truly want. The discussion is more on the side of heavy monetisation of the process and ultimate ‘procurement’ of the position of the Chairman by the highest bidder.
“This approach, in my humble view, defeats the whole essence of participation, free choice and voting which are the essential attributes of any democracy without inducement and outright manipulation. I wish to plead that we tread on the path of caution and common sense, conscious of our recent history of avoidable political crisis.
“At 76, and given the benefit of hindsight, my role both in context and content; is now more of advisory one to enhance any altruistic democratic process to elect credible leadership at various levels of representation.
“Rather than de-monetise the electoral process to provide ample room for more citizens’ participation, the idea of monetising the process and trying to ‘procure’ party positions defeats merit, offends good conscience and blurs fair play.
“At this critical stage of our political secretions, we need men of stature, discipline, character and commendable conduct to breathe fresh air into our party and not persons whose political relevance is the product of naira and kobo bargain across the counter.
“We need a National Chairman that would not bend to the vagaries of individual selfish interest but one who is strong enough to apply the rule of law without fear or favour. We must begin the process of interrogating processes that lead to outcomes and not just the outcomes.
“We must interrogate our leadership recruitment process and encourage our delegates to exercise the power of their thumbs in making their preferred choice among the candidates.
“On the strength of this, I wish to make a passionate appeal to our members, party leaders and the members of the Convention Committee to be fair and just to all, and allow the process to produce a National Chairman that would truly represent the conscience of the party.
“I do subscribe to the idea that consensus building, collective bargaining and constructive engagement are some of the ingredients that nurture any democratic process; such ingredients should be given enough room to flourish in order to birth credible and truly representative leadership.
“Our party, the PDP, must re-invent and re-enact itself on account of her recent history of factions and fractures. The new leadership must therefore be one that enjoys the confidence of the majority stakeholders and members in order to have a seamless transition.
“To achieve this template, such a chairman must be the outcome of delegates’ election without manipulation and inducement.
“One would have thought that after the 2015 dismal outing, followed by months of leadership tussles, individuals would have put to rest their selfish and egocentric interest and pursue goals and objectives that bear true testimony to the ideals of the founding fathers; but the sound bites of monetization of the process are utterly demoralizing and benumbing.
“It is my strong belief therefore that leaders of the party irrespective of their political interest would allow reason and level playing field to prevail in the overall interest of the party. I wish the party a successful and peaceful convention on Saturday 9th December, 2017.”
As at Thursday, moves were still on by IBB to ensure that the party does not fail today’s litmus test. He reportedly convened a closed door meeting with top PDP members including Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi; Chairman, Convention Planning Committee and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa; Taraba State Governor, Dairus Ishaku and the National Secretary of the caretaker committee, Senator Ben Obi.
Whichever way the pendulum swings, one thing is clear, the PDP cannot afford to fail – in the interest of Nigeria and in the interest of democracy. The failure of the PDP will inevitably be the birth of a one-party state which many fear would not be healthy for the country’s democratic development.
And as Fisayo Soyombo, pioneer editor of The Cable online newspaper aptly put it, the PDP’s “one final debt to Nigerians is to hold a free and fair convention on Saturday and stay united thereafter (or at least pretend to be). Nigerians will keep an eye on this convention — not necessarily because we love the party that PDP is, but because it’s our most realistic chance of not getting stuck in one-way election traffic in 2019. The PDP can be Nigeria’s necessary evil for at least another two years; we can’t throw it away just yet, regardless of our misgivings against it. For once, this party cannot disappoint Nigerians. Having failed as a ruling party, it must not make a mess of opposition politicking.”