The elective Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that took place at the Eagle Square in Abuja on Saturday, December 9, was a charade and an anti-climax. Everyone who had been a witness to the travails of the once-upon-a-time ruling party which lost power to the All Progressives Congress in 2015 – viz, the humiliation, the victimization of the party and its agents by the successor-government, the catastrophic seizure of the party by a certain Ali Modu Sheriff, the desertion of the party by opportunists seeking fresh foothold, protection, and relevance in the new ruling party, the pummeling of the party as a party of corruption by both the stupid and the knowledgeable- indeed nearly everyone who witnessed all this had expected that the party would use the opportunity of the Convention to renew itself and set the tone for a new beginning. The event of Saturday December 9 was truly meant to be the PDP’s new beginning but was it? No, it wasn’t. The election that took place was another night of the long knives. After the macheting, the ego slaying, the marching out, and the intrigues of Caesarian flavour, the PDP was left in a worse state than it had been. It was sad. It was disappointing. It was a big let down.
The All Progressives Congress has been gloating, trying to score a cheap point out of the melodrama of this PDP Convention, but it does not lie in the mouth of the APC to put down the PDP Convention. The tragedy of Nigerian politics right now is that we do not yet have, 18 years after our return to democracy, a political party that represents the closest ideals of democracy. There are 50 political parties or so on the list of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but they are all special purpose vehicles, designed to put ambitious men and women who go by the title of professional politicians in the corridors of power and more precisely, in close proximity to Nigeria’s resources.
These politicians are full of guile and bile; they would do whatever it takes to remain relevant, and once they gain power, they use it as they wish. More than two years after taking power, the APC has not been able to define what it had in mind when it campaigned on the platform of “change”. It has not been able to hold a Convention or form a Board of Trustees. Its leaders are divided, the government it has put in place is hobbled by inter-agency/intra-governmental rivalry and misunderstanding. It has proven to be no better, if not worse than the PDP it replaced. In the elections that have been held under the watch of the APC, be it in Ondo, Edo or Anambra, electoral integrity was a problem; whatever irregularities or chicanery may have been on display at the PDP convention are not alien to the APC or any other Nigerian political party. This is the big picture for informed consideration.
But we rightly complain about the PDP, because we had thought that given the humiliation it has suffered since its exit from power, given also, the winner-takes-it-all and vindictive posture of the ruling APC, and given, if we may add, the obvious failure and refusal of the APC to impress the people with quality governance, the leaders of the PDP would do everything to project their party unto a higher pedestal and regain the confidence of the Nigerian people. On Saturday, December 9, they failed to do so. They ended up showing that they have learnt no lessons at all, and that they are perhaps incapable of learning. December 9 was the United Nations International Day Against Corruption. The label of corruption has been the worst stigma that the PDP has had to deal with in its short but eventful history. Rather than use the occasion of its Convention to market itself positively, the party delivered in broad daylight, a Convention that was a loud promotion of corruption, and a brazen mockery of the Buhari administration’s heavily conflicted campaign against corruption.
Long before the voting began, the news had been abroad that a certain Governor, namely Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had been going about insisting that his candidate, Uche Secundus must be the next Chairman of the party. Secundus, in his own right, a tested politician, and a man of great ability, had also been quoted saying it was the turn and the right of the South-South to produce the next Chairman of the PDP, regardless of an advertised agreement that the party’s Chairmanship should be zoned to the South West. The main story was that Wike is the new financier of the party and that at the critical moment when the party was drowning and seeking survival, it was Wike who came to the rescue with financial oxygen. The PDP went to the Convention of December 9 amidst loud whispers about how the party was about to be hijacked by highest bidders. Delegates were reportedly informed that if they voted in a certain manner, they would get a sum of N500, 000, an amount that reportedly went up to $10, 000 per delegate. Nobody controverted the story even as one of the founding fathers of the party protested that the Convention should not be sold to the highest bidder.
The suspicions and the whispers gained greater currency and verisimilitude, when just before the Convention, one of the Chairmanship aspirants, Chief Olabode George withdrew from the Chairmanship race. He accused Governor Wike of manipulating the process and of insulting the Yoruba race. Wike had reportedly appeared on television to tell the South West aspirants to forget their ambition because the Yoruba have never contributed much to the PDP. The witchcraft of ethnic marginalization and victimization is a convenient deus ex machina for aggrieved Nigerian politicians. Bode George dragged it out and railed in purplish prose: “Everywhere you look, the Yoruba people are now being brazenly insulted…The Peoples Democratic Party has now mangled and distorted its soul and spirit…There is no sanity or any sense of enlightened civility.” Events moved quickly as other South West aspirants withdrew from the race and announced Professor Tunde Adeniran as their consensus candidate. The only other South West candidate who remained in the race, Professor Taoheed Adedoja got zero vote at the end of the day. He too must have been so incensed he probably refused to vote for himself in protest! It was an interesting day.
Still, before the voting began, a so-called Unity List showed up at the venue of the Convention. It was distributed to delegates and it soon found its way into social media. Envelopes of dollar notes were also allegedly distributed. When the voting began, all the names on the Unity List were listed first and strategically positioned and when the results were tallied, all the names on the Unity List won. Note this: before that announcement, Governor Ayo Fayose had appeared on AIT Television where he boasted arrogantly that whoever was not happy with the outcome of the elective Convention had no option but to accept the results. Other Governors also said they had reached a consensus to support Uche Secundus and the Unity List.
The question is: what was the purpose of the Convention then? If the new leaders of the party had been selected, the main business of the December 9 Convention should have been a ratification of the Unity List and not a so-called election. Uche Secundus and his Unity team may be capable men and women, but the process that has produced them is greatly flawed. It was to all intents and purposes a kangaroo process about which questions of legitimacy may be rightfully raised. It is even more worrisome, that whereas there were 2, 115 registered delegates, the final vote count of 2, 297 exceeded that number. Were there ghosts at the Convention?
Professor Tunde Adeniran who walked out of the Convention in protest got merely 230 votes. Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi and Gbenga Daniel, also Chairmanship aspirants, have congratulated Uche Secundus, but the party is at the moment in the throes of a silence of the graveyard. It is not a comfortable place for a political party to be. The Governors and their allies who have currently seized control of the PDP may have done greater damage to the PDP than the Ali Modu Sheriff faction that failed. In the days to come, nobody may defect from the PDP on account of this Convention, and no person may go to court to ask for the cancellation of its outcome but it is risky to alienate significant segments of the party as has been done. This omission and the triumph of a cash-for-position politics was one of the many factors that divided the party and robbed it of victory in the 2015 general elections.
Wike, Fayose and their co-travellers are said to be the new PDP panjandrums. Governor Wike, Governor Fayose and the new boys on the block who have taken control of the PDP should moderate their triumphalism. They should remember the words of the sage who said that those whose palm kernels have been cracked for them by benevolent spirits should learn to be humble. They should ask the elders of the party to tell them some stories about the past. Governor Gbenga Daniel who was frog-jumped out of the race, and who was not even allowed to add a candidate to the Unity List was once a powerful PDP decision-maker. The same is the case for Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke, Obong Victor Attah, Sir Peter Odili, Sanimu Turaki, Abdullahi Adamu, Ahmed Muazu, Achike Udenwa, James Ibori, Lucky Igbinedion… but where are they all today? Governor Olusegun Mimiko, most recently of Ondo state, and some other yesterday men did not even bother to attend the December 9 Convention.
Anyhow, my fear is that all the partners who contributed candidates to the Unity List and shared the positions among themselves are not working with any defined purpose other than their selfish interests. As they soon abandoned one another after endorsing the caretaker Chairmanship of Ali Modu Sheriff, they may again soon part ways when the differences in their motives swim to the surface. The victim will again be the party. This is indeed sad because the APC has performed so poorly in power there is no reason why it should beat the PDP in 2019.
But if the PDP does not quickly put its fallen house in order, it will fall into its own grave. Since it lost power at the centre, Nigerians had looked up to the PDP to provide a robust opposition to the new ruling party. The party continues to fail woefully in this regard. The opposition to the Buhari administration has been majorly self-inflicted; it is not because of any creativity on the part of the PDP or any other political party. The opposition has come mainly from a disappointed electorate that was promised change but got stasis, promised prosperity but received penury, offered hope but handed despair, motion instead of movement, opaqueness in place of transparency.
Bode George dismissed the PDP Convention as “brazen fraud and absolutely preconceived, monetized, mercantilist Convention”. Political party corruption is the stimulus for corruption in the larger society. The crisis of internal democracy within our political parties remains a major challenge in Nigerian democracy. If the PDP must survive, new Chairman Uche Secundus and his Unity team must address the crisis of legitimacy of their own becoming. They must ensure that the PDP does not go into the 2019 elections as a divided and incapacitated party. Secundus, now Nulli Secundus, should adopt a total approach by reaching out immediately to all aggrieved parties, and show that he is an independent umpire as the PDP begins the search for a Presidential standard bearer. He must disown the ethnic umbrella of his Chairmanship and project himself as an unbiased, open-minded party leader and as his own man. Whatever may have happened at the Convention, he can still keep the party whole and together, since in any case, Nigerian politicians are always ever so circumspect and cowardly in a situation like this – nobody may take the principled position of going to court to challenge the irregularities at the Convention.