In its heydays as the ruling party in Nigeria, there would not be a single hotel room left even in hotel choked Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital, whenever the party was in town for a convention or something like that. Now, there is no knowing what this weekend would be like when the PDP is coming to town again for the first time after it humiliated itself out of power in the 16th year of being at the helm. Many governors, ministers and party officials who served under it are in court battling to clear their names against corruption charges. With an eye on winning and retaining power in the next presidential poll, the new ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) is harping on its War Against Corruption in a way that is rapidly becoming a monotonous monologue to those not disposed to it for whatever reasons.
It is not that the APC has been a qualitatively different entity from the PDP if it comes to raising the stakes on transforming Nigeria. It is also speaking the language of reform at a time such grammar of politics has simply become outdated. A cursory survey of how far reform in education, healthcare, public transport and so on have been reorganised even in so many African countries, not to talk of the Middle East, Asia and the Scandinavian countries. Many would say that APC has been very clumsy in day-day running of government, with leaks and intra-governmental quarreling assuming a new proportion in the history of governance in Nigeria under it.
So, the temptation, for many, is the conclusion that the two are not qualitatively different. Or that the difference is a matter of interpretation. The tension here is what is interesting about politics in Nigeria. The gladiators are so much the same in ideological orientation but each is in retainership of crowds, followers, faithfuls and sundry supporters who pose them as the messiah. The balance is such that there is very little or no room for any new or different entrant. So, unless a system snap occurs, it will be a continuous circulation of what Professor Bayo Adekanye calls the ‘elite of power’, (retired military and perhaps, paramilitary elements).
Within this context, it is difficult to guess whether this weekend’s convention of the PDP will be offering anything new. In what appears a tense power script for 2019 by those who make things happen, the PDP can be said to have been positioned to return to power. Those who watch the ‘silence’ and the flow of press statements this past one week can make sense of this claim. But its confidence could be as vaporous as the confidence of incumbent’s. So much rough edges still have to be negotiated.
For one, both parties have scarcity of candidates problem. If you take President Buhari from the APC, it would almost crash out of the contest because it just cannot invent any candidate of Buhari’s electoral base. In the same manner, if you remove Atiku Abubakar from the PDP, it suffers a calamity. Who is there in the PDP now who has got the fighting capacity of an Atiku who confronted a powerful incumbent such as President Obasanjo in 2006 up to the Supreme Court and won? None. Yet, both Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari are over 70 years old. 2019 might thus be a contest of no more than which of the two can excite the nation more than the other. Unless one of them decides to raise the stake in terms of a definite programme of rapid industrialisation of Nigeria. So far, none of them has anything to say on that. Why that is so is the strongest signal that Nigeria still has a long way to go. It makes the impending contest to look very interesting.
Sunday morning should bear a major signal of whether the PDP wants to be taken more seriously than the APC or not. That sign would be in who emerges as its next National Chairman in particular. Would it be offering Nigeria a new or an old face of the party, contentious as the words new and old may be. But this is the question on the lips, suggesting a concern with an indication of the leopard’s intention to change its spots from a history of rigging, imposition of candidates and a hostility to transparent political conduct for 16 solid years. The world is holding its breadth!