There is a strong rumour in town, as I write. And it has been around for about five years now. Propagators of this rumour believe themselves to be stating a fact of our general experience, when they make certain statements about the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The statements in question revolve around their evaluation of the actual performance profile, and status, of the party; which is one of the parties that is not in power at the centre today. This “dangerous” rumour, which initially gained currency because the party came second in the elections, has to do with the claim, mostly by the party itself and some media reports, that the PDP is the major platform for opposition politics in Nigeria today. This is altogether absurd, if we are to take political opposition seriously. A press-release-wielding political party that is thoroughly divided within, and against, itself is hardly anything but a viable and coherent opposition.
The earthworm, for instance, is not a species of Anaconda, or a python. The fact that it is longish and crawls on its belly does not make it a python, or a Boa constrictor. No, it is simply an earthworm and nothing more. True, it has no legs and generally wriggles like a snake as it moves. But it is still an earthworm. It is just like a butterfly daring to prance forward, to be numbered along with golden eagles just because it can wobble about in the garden’s gentle breeze under very benign weather. Let it venture upwards in turbulent winds and let us see what would be left of it. Now nothing prevents the butterfly, or someone who believes that every flying thing is an eagle, from making untrue claims. It is only when the earthworm, or its sympathisers, try to propagate such falsehood as truth that the consternation around them will quickly bring them to their senses.
To call the PDP an opposition party, or to tag it the major opposition party in Nigeria today, is to take one “necessary” condition for real opposition party politics for a “sufficient” condition that qualifies a party for that appellation. Just as there are necessary and sufficient conditions for any creature to be called a python, or an eagle, there are also necessary and sufficient conditions for serious opposition politics. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, met the necessary and sufficient conditions in this regard, because he had both an ideological distinctness and an engagement strategy that stood out in bold relief. The PDP has none of the above. It also does not seem to be working towards becoming a serious party, or transmuting into an intelligent opposition that is working towards taking over power and offer better leadership. It is not a coherent and articulate opposition by any stretch of the imagination today.
Can we say in all good conscience that the PDP has a genuinely respected Council of Elders that can call anyone to order today? There is too much bitterness and bad blood within the fold. There is a reprehensible fixation on hegemony building and on maintaining and driving the old “godfather” legacy that ruined the party. That is why the current party leadership is laughable at best. That is also why the tenure and job of the current chairman, who is a nice gentleman in his own right, may end like that of Adams Oshiomhole of the APC. The latter did his best to change the geography of Edo politics, where he was governor for eight years. He did in Odigie Oyegun, to become party chairman in controversial circumstances. Then he finally did himself in politically. Even at that, he still cannot read the handwriting on the wall. But that is not our concern today.
The PDP recently held primaries to choose its flagbearer in one of the South-west states. Contrary to all calculations, the people of the state said “enough;” and rejected a deputy governor who was endorsed as the chosen candidate by the party. They voted in someone of their choice, despite threats, entreaties, money politics and the resolute and determined intervention of a concert of relevant party godfathers. But are the lessons filtering through to the hawks and die hard traditionalists within the party, who cannot see that this is not 2007? This should wake the party up to the fact that it is imploding because of its determined refusal to revisit the circumstances, presumption, and attitudes, that gave rise to its current leadership; and which has dominated its operation within the last six years. It should worry the party’s stakeholders that their platform is not moving forward at all.
The animosities arising from the 2015 PDP primaries held in Port Harcourt is still there, and is still simmering at the same unseemly temperature. It is one thing to say that someone’s hand was forced open and the candidacy of the party “snatched” from him in Port Harcourt. It is another to say that the party had any business holding the event in Port Harcourt in the first place, if not for the arm-twisting that many resented deeply. This is quite apart from the grievances of those from the South-west, who were dumbfounded by the arbitrary “reallocation” of the party chairmanship months earlier. Then you have Sule Lamido, Makarfi and others who felt scandalized by what they considered the “ingratitude” of a party that saw their steadfast loyalty as nothing. The fact that the best products of the primaries were political returnees, no doubt men of considerable influence and political relevance on their own, rankled to no end with many. Even today, it still rankles and fuels all manner of subterfuge, as we move towards 2023. Yes, arrows of perfidy are being sharpened, even before 2023 is in sight.
Those calling for equity today, in terms of how badly they were treated during the 2019 party primaries they personally hosted, would therefore seem not to have come to equity with clean hands. The choice of venue for that party’s last primaries, as well as the earlier mentioned foisted party leadership, laid the foundations for much that has become irreconcilable today. It is because the aggrieved is yet unforgiving that the party is nowhere near about being mended. The PDP is desperately masquerading with itself, believing that we are not aware that many of its governors have some kind of understanding with the ruling party, including those warming up to decamp and get a vice presidential slot with the ruling party. That is why many political actors, as well as bystanders, are asking: “Who were all these people and where were they in 1999? What warrants their presumption? What makes them think that they have become big enough to take over a party founded by others? And how many of them who are billionaires today were billionaires before the return to democracy? Etc., etc.
Having performed disastrously in a poorly coordinated 2019 presidential campaign partly because of enemies undermining the project from within, and with 2023 around the corner, the PDP must now stop trying to convince itself that Nigerians are blind and deaf to its internal wrangling. No matter what you use to decorate a house, no matter the texture of your lawns and the fancy lights you put around the fence, for as long as people get indications of clamour, name calling and disorder from within, even passers-by will maintain an abiding suspicion, if not conclusion, that all does not go well within. But since the party somehow still manages to pass itself off as an opposition party, even while its members are seeking favours and attending nocturnal meetings with the ruling party, we must conclude that the meaning of political opposition has been reconfigured to accommodate reprehensible exhibition of political illiteracy as political opposition. Unless, of course, we are prepared to look the other way and let the party off by saying that the meaning, efficacy and intent of its type of political opposition is a closely guarded secret – known only to people on drugs, or in Kukuland.
For the record, the PDP must remember that the likes of Awo, Aminu Kanu and other politicians of the first and second republics played opposition politics. Where is the party’s Abubakar Rimi, Okadigbo, Tunji Braithwaite, Paul Unongo, Franca Afegbua, Nnia Nwodo, and others? Who is the PDP’s ideologue today? When, where and how will they get an Ojo Maduekwe from? Who are the respected elders? Did we not see the APC’s dogged, well-articulated and roundly comprehensive opposition before the 2015 elections? Never mind that the APC government birthed by that tenacious opposition termed out to be all gas and no substance.
The PDP still cannot even “do expo” and copy somebody – anybody at all – in opposition politics. It ran a sleepwalking presidency that saw it out of power in 2015, because it stood by as if paralysed while it was branded locally and internationally as “not very strong in the war against corruption.” The unfortunately unfair stigma stuck. On top of that, poor internal democracy, among other problems, led to the exit of several governors. The inability to design a containment strategy in the face of a house crumbling upon itself was the last straw and the 2015 elections was became burial ceremony. Now, that rumour mongering is trying to redefine the current PDP for us, let us look at Ugochinyere of UPP, several civil society organizations, media commentaries and editorials; especially those that are not unduly hysterical and which offer meaningful criticism, fair approvals and alternative and conceivably reasonable solutions to issues. That may give us a sense of what the PDP is not doing. If opposition politics is about sound understanding of national needs, an engagement strategy designed to use that understanding to galvanize national consciousness around a clear ideological template and drive all that by intelligent strategic communication, then we must politely tell the PDP to wake up. Folly is different from creativity.