By Uche Ugboajah
For some time now, the stories emanating from the largest political party in Africa, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), cannot be said to be palatable, at least to its members and supporters. First, it was rumored that some governors elected on the platform of the major opposition party were gearing up to move into the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) until it happened. At the last count, three governors, two from the South and one from the North had decamped from PDP to APC. And there is still hush-hush talk of other PDP governors putting on their socks in readiness to jump out of their party and join the wild APC hunt for high-profile opposition politicians. Make no mistakes about it, the leitmotif of the decamped-governors is essentially selfish, no matter how they struggle to justify their political peregrinations. Yet, it is important to note that the three governors who left PDP hinted of an unsavory power relation in their former party and almost pointed fingers at a particular governor who is seen as lording it over everybody.
As if the loss of three governors in a short while is not enough headache, the brewing disagreement between the national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, and the governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike, boiled over into a full-blown crisis. For those in the know, Wike has for some time been tolerating what he thinks is the shortsightedness and incompetence of the man he almost single-handedly made chairman of his party. Wike cannot hold it any longer. He is now sure that Secondus cannot lift the PDP from the pedestrian politics it is currently engaged in despite huge opportunities beckoning with the incomparable incompetence of the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari.
Yes, Wike is right on the money that there exists an incredible opportunity for the PDP to stage a comeback at the national level in 2023. When in 2015, Nigerians decided that they had had enough of the PDP because of what was termed and packaged as the “cluelessness” of President Jonathan, there was well-oiled opposition machinery to take advantage of. Now, there is even a greater cluelessness of Buhari and APC staring citizens in the face. The economy is worse than the APC met it. Insecurity is no longer localized in the Northeast alone; it is now countrywide with bandits on a rampage and unchecked. Even today, many Nigerian children whose only crime is going to school to acquire knowledge are still in kidnappers’ den months after they were taken by evil men that some leading lights of the ruling party would heartlessly describe as “businessmen.” In the Southeast and the Southwest, there are real threats of separatist agitations because of the obvious mismanagement of the country’s diversity by the APC government. So in essence, this government and APC as a party, represent the most serious threat to Nigeria’s national security even as they constantly deploy instruments of coercive power to chase political enemies.
What the PDP has been offering since it lost power in 2015 cannot be described as vibrant opposition.
Sadly, unlike in 2015, there is no vanguardist party to aggregate popular discontent against the government and the ruling party towards an electoral change of government. What the PDP has been offering since it lost power in 2015 cannot be described as vibrant opposition. Yes, there have been verbose and jejune press statements that have become boring and even catechetical. PDP under Secondus has passed over too many opportunities for exposing equally the too many failings and faux pas of Buhari and APC. With hindsight now, it is safe to conclude that former President Goodluck Jonathan was not as bad as the APC propaganda made him look. In fact, comparing him with a Buhari, Jonathan can easily be canonized! Is it not a shame for the PDP and those leading it that Buhari has gotten away with more than everything for which Jonathan was hounded? Under the APC, the government is throwing N3.8 trillion of scarce resources into dead refineries in the name of rehabilitating them and the PDP could not mobilize experts and the civil society in a well-publicized conference or workshop to seek an alternative policy framework as a vibrant opposition party is wont to do? The same President Buhari and APC who led protests over the increase in the prices of petroleum products and the removal of petroleum subsidy have been increasing the price of petrol without any recourse to what they said and believed when they were in opposition.
Of course, Secondus and his NWC members have been in office for too long to feel the pulse of ordinary Nigerians. Otherwise, they would have mobilized citizens and civil society for collective actions against bad governance in the land. As I write this piece, the Olympic Games just wound down. This is the second Olympics our country is participating in under President Buhari and APC, and both leave a sour taste in the mouth with officials setting our athletes up not only for failure, but also for punishment, and our nation for disgrace. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, kits meant for athletes arrived at the games village two days before the closing ceremony. And in this Tokyo game, five years after, Buhari and his party took their famed incompetence and national disgrace a notch higher as athletes had to suffer the indignity of getting only one kit for the entire duration of the games. Who has not seen that viral video of a Nigerian shot putter washing his single kit after an energy-sapping field event? President Buhari must have seen all these on television in London while on what has become regular medical tourism while resident doctors in his country are on strike!
Yes, Secondus has not provided inspiring leadership for the PDP, but it is not entirely his fault. First, it is easy to observe that opposition to a government that is only democratic in name is risky, especially in the developing world. Unlike under the APC, during the PDP era, especially under President Jonathan, respect for human rights and personal liberties was almost an article of faith. Again, under the PDP, opposition politics was encouraged to the extent that a PDP president as I learned even helped an opposition party with campaign funds to quell any impression that the ruling party was running against itself in one of the presidential elections. On the contrary, APC does not brook any opposition; if anything, it wants it crushed and its government is very muscular. Free speech is already imperiled with a clampdown on the press and social media. But is this not the kind of environment that challenges and invigorates a serious opposition party to thrive?
PDP under Secondus has passed over too many opportunities for exposing equally the too many failings and faux pas of Buhari and APC
As someone who has had a stint in PDP as a staff, I state again that Secondus is not entirely the problem of the party. Those who brought him are perhaps as guilty. He may be wily, but he is indeed an experienced person in the “PDP ways.” By PDP ways, I mean the perverse culture of circumventing its own very rules. Prince Secondus was state chairman, national organizing secretary, deputy national chairman, and now national chairman so those who propped him up to be national chairman cannot claim not to know him well enough, especially against flying allegations by many former aspirants who claimed to have been notoriously priced out of the race for various elective positions when he was the national organizing secretary. Maybe, that alleged mercantilism and deft skills in the “PDP ways” were the qualities that recommended Secondus to his present traducers.
Sadly, PDP has always been like that from inception; noted for not obeying even its own rules. At the Jos convention in 1999 that produced Olusegun Obasanjo as the party’s presidential candidate, it was alleged that by sheer last-minute intrigues and maneuvering, PDP docked its pre-qualification agreement that would have disqualified Obasanjo for not delivering his state to the PDP in the gubernatorial election. It is in similar political sleight of hand that Governor Wike sidestepped the party’s agreement to zone the position of chairman to the Southwest and ensured that his brother, Secondus, was elected chairman in a thoroughly rigged convention. After that travesty of a convention, many notable members like the former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, Professors Tunde Adeniran, and Jerry Gana, both founding members, left the party apparently for Governor Wike in anger.
Another problem is that Secondus, as skilled as he may be in political intrigues, is hardly an intellectual or an ideas person. And it is to his credit that the PDP chairman does not make any pretensions to these attributes. And when it was reported that Secondus appointed Mr. Osita Chidoka, a former minister and a young thought leader, as a special adviser, it came across as a strategic move. But as we all know an adviser can only be what he/she is, which is an adviser. And knowing the PDP well, especially its internal encumbrances, Chidoka, and others would only be making notional contributions. I bet Chidoka and other highly cerebral advisers to the PDP would have been told time and again that “this is a political house,” “you are talking theory, it doesn’t work that way in our politics.” And they must have given up and surrendered to the masters of intrigues and political deception. But if there is anything that PDP needs now, it is a thinking leadership, and I hope that is part of the point Wike is making. Surely there must be new ideas and new ways of doing things at Wadata House beyond the all too common “carry go politics.”
In any event, the greatest problem with the PDP as with Nigeria’s democracy is the governors. Wike is a happy member of that school. It did not start with Secondus and Wike, however. In fact, as state chairman of his party, Secondus could remember the number of hours he had spent in indignity waiting for or answering the summons of the different governors of his state when it ought to have been the other way around. Since the exit of Amadu Ali, easily the most effective PDP national chairman, the governors have become the most powerful bloc in the PDP – exclusively deciding who gets what when, and how in the party. Even as vice president, PDP’s NWC literally accorded more respect to Governor Timipre Silva than Vice President Goodluck Jonathan in Bayelsa PDP matters. That is how bad it is. In fact, in the PDP, if you report that a governor has taken your wife, the NWC will ask the erring governor to take your daughter also. This is the political culture in which Secondus was socialized and he cannot be complaining about it now having been a major beneficiary of that anti-democratic system.
True, Wike has been a shining light for not only the PDP but for the entire opposition politicians. As I have written elsewhere, he remains the single most important asset that the PDP can boast of today. He has remained PDP in the morning, afternoon, and night unlike many of his colleagues who shout PDP in the morning and in the secrecy of the night, are APC. Of all the PDP governors, Wike is the only one that rightfully recognizes himself as head of a tier of government in line with federal principles. Others are willing to be seen as mere vassals to the government at the center just to be seen in the good books of President Buhari. Now, it is easy to pick the Rivers State governor and slay him for his overbearing influence on the party. It is understood that Wike is perhaps the major financial supporter of his party ever since it lost power at the center. Where are the other PDP governors and wealthy members of the party? You don’t have any moral justifications to challenge Wike in the party if you allow only him to pick the bills. Party funding is equally an essential aspect of party politics. Until when members take responsibility for party financing, some godfathers will continue to reign supreme.
Secondus, as skilled as he may be in political intrigues, is hardly an intellectual or an ideas person.
Yes, Wike has sacrificed quite a lot for his party, but he must pull back and do some introspection and perhaps see if some of his past decisions have plunged his party into crises. When Ali Modu Sheriff almost destroyed PDP, who initially aided him? The answer is Wike. Now the problem according to the Rivers State governor is the incompetence of Uche Secondus. Pray, who foisted Secondus on PDP and denied his party the services of more qualified candidates? Wike!
Now that the news is the impending implosion of the PDP, elders of the party, (if there is anything like that again in the Secondus/Wike era) must rally and look back at the rich origin of their party and the lofty ideals it holds. I believe the PDP can be the best-organized party in Nigeria when it goes by its rules. It is sad to hear and read about how PDP as a party has no policy plans. This is entirely false as no other party in Nigeria that I know has a well-articulated view of the Nigerian state and the policy thrusts to achieve desired national objectives.
In those days, when you join the PDP, you were given a package called “Survival Kit.” In that package is a copy of the Nigerian Constitution, PDP Constitution, and PDP Manifesto. An interesting feature of the manifesto is that it created, apart from the federal government, irreducible minimum objectives for the states and local governments to attain. But how many of the leaders in the PDP remember that survival kit? If the party wants to survive, they already have the “expo” in their survival kit.
PDP will not implode now if it did not implode after that loss in 2015. What is playing out now is just a mere clash of interests in line with 2023 aspirations. Before now, Wike and Secondus had an alignment of interests. But as 2023 beckons, they appear to have conflicting interests. That is the crux of the matter!
*Ugboajah, a political scientist, was formerly of the office of the political adviser to the PDP National Chairman. He can be reached via: email@example.com