Claiming Fears for Nigeria, PDP Intensifies Struggle for Power in 2019 In spite of Internal Crisis
The Appeal Court ruling yesterday affirming Alhaji Ali Modu Sherriff as the authentic National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party is not slowing down the party’s struggle for power in 2019, Intervention has learnt. Instead, the party is thinking of and taking seriously the question of regaining power in 2019, two years after the gust of wind that tore through its hold on power. Claiming to be driven by three key fears, the party is on a blitz. First, it fears that the All Progressive Congress, (APC), is too narrow in vision and orientation to secure Nigeria. It is contrasting the APC with itself in terms of carrying every section of the country along or being the shield symbolised, in its own case, by an umbrella. Although some of its senior members accept that the PDP wasn’t developing the country, they are saying the party was bold enough to declare commitment to the principle of rotation. Second, it fears that even if President Buhari contests and wins in 2019, he would be too exhausted to provide effective leadership. Third fear is its discomfort with the realism that it would be out in the cold for too long that if it doesn’t recapture power in 2019.
A process of self-reconstitution is already unravelling in and of the party in three main ways. The first is overcoming its internal rift. With over 90 % of the members estimated to be with the Makarfi faction, the party does not think the court ruling yesterday is a big issue anymore. It hopes to be one again soonest, what with Senator Walid Jibrin, the Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees declaring that the judgment is a unifying force rather than a threat. He appealed to members of PDP against panicking or moving to any other party because “efforts are on to ensure that PDP remains strong”. For Ayo Fayose, the Chairman of the party’s governors’ forum, the party organs would not only meet shortly but also take what he calls “concrete steps and decisions on the way forward”.
Two, its strategy review committee has done its work. It was at the submission of the report to former President Goodluck Jonathan last week that he made the statement that the PDP is still the strongest party in Nigeria. Jonathan might have sounded bombastic, that is also the common refrain within the party now, including Dr Alex Ekwueme, a founding father who said to the review committee earlier in the week that he sometimes felt like crying for the party when he reflected on its travails. Three, it is talking with other political parties such as the SDP; AD; PRP and the Labour Party and AGA. The PDP might, in this case, actually turn out to be the mega party as opposed to the party actually called the Mega Party.
But the PDP is plagued by gargantuan challenges. Its rank and file is, like the other political parties in Nigeria, committed to no ideological orientation, radical or conservative. As such, it is riddled by its own share of mercenary politicians, many of whom are not patriotic. Above all, the party has neither an ideological school nor any other leadership grooming projects. It is a free entry/free exit space. It did set up the People’s Democratic Institute, that was more for show than anything else. Although a founding father of the party, for example, could say at a recent meeting of the PDP that “PDP is alive and well”, the question is how many people are in that founding father’s league in terms of education, understanding, exposure and experience, from bureaucracy to journalism, politics and technocratic power.
Second main snag is the number of members of the PDP who can be described as damaged brands across the country today in the anti-corruption war of the Buhari regime. Even now, nobody knows what the regime might do in the context of its frustration with the judicial process. The fear is that the regime could come up with a peculiar process of indictment of allegedly corrupt politicians as it did to some judges. Such would, naturally, be contested but with its own twist and turns. It is doubtful if the undamaged brands left could transform into the new torch bearers to take the party back to the wonderland of presidential power.
The PDP is equally scared by the growing movement for an end to the ‘sai kai’ culture in Nigerian politics. That is the culture of recruiting presidential leadership without much scrutiny of the aspirants as has been the practice since 1999. Some people are citing a recent piece by Dr. Usman Bugaje as evidence of the spread of this consciousness. Circulated in the social media by the obviously angry Katsina born politician, the piece titled “A Country in Limbo, A Future Uncertain, Youth to the Rescue” contains a clarion call that may make things extraordinarily difficult for the emergence of any leader again by acclamation in whichever party.
The fourth point is the totality of damage Obasanjo is said to have inflicted on the party. It is captured in the joke about the former president killing a bouncing baby handed over to him to nurture. The damage has many elements but only a few may be cited. Before dramatically opting for late Umaru Yar’Adua as PDP presidential candidate in 2007, the former president is believed to have entertained the idea of aborting the party’s rotation principle by obviously encouraging then Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State to contest the presidential ticket in 2007. Being a south-southerner, Odili was not qualified to contest in that election as far as the party’s commitment to the zoning pact was concerned. Odili was eventually blocked by the same Obasanjo but only for the late Umaru Yar’Adua to emerge as the presidential candidate. Though generally rated relatively more decent, Yar’Adua was, however, believed to be sick already. His subsequent death caught the party in the contradiction between its foundational principle of rotation of power and its violation when Goodluck Jonathan ended up contesting for presidential power in 2011. The process angered the north which felt short changed, the tension from which was so thick as to bring about a national walk back to the north in general and Katsina State in particular for a successor to Jonathan in the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015. To add insult to injury, Obasanjo tore his PDP membership card publicly, suggesting that the party which gave him an eight year tenure was not worthwhile. The Obasanjo damage is thus believed to have contributed in no small way to the incumbent regime losing power to the opposition in the 2015 presidential polls.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, the PDP appears determined on the objective even as the question is whether the re-invention has taken care of key issues such as the overarching ideological orientation; the training and retention of cadres such that the members have one vocabulary across the country; development of ethically and criminally free fund raising strategies at a time the APC’s anti-corruption war gives it advantages in bursting the capacity of others to amass wealth; a mechanism for tracking the performance of its governors if they are first-rate to market the party and a strategy of hegemonic projection beyond imbecilic propaganda.
The other key question is whether anything exists to suggest that the APC is vulnerable to a resurgent PDP in 2019. Current projection is that, rather than diminish, the APC will consolidate power. One reason for that is the collective interest the members have to protect while the second is the temptation to use state power to reify itself. Although facing a rating crisis right now, many are still ready to bet that with 17 governors and the northern political sentiment, they could still win. Yes, the ruling party is having difficulty in penetrating and building consent in the larger society. Added to that is the mistake of asking people to go through horrors in lieu of Eldorado at a later date. It is nevertheless assumed that in a country where what counts for achievements can be very loose, the party can still swim through. Its greatest crisis would only be if on-going puncturing of the Buhari mystique is accomplished. If that happens, the APC would be in soup, it is argued. If the image of General Buhari as a principled, ethically unimpeachable and a Never-can-consciously-hurt-a-fly person is ruptured, the APC will face extinction because Buhari had been its Unique Selling Point, (USP).
Beyond plausible rupturing of the Buhari mystique, the APC confronts a crisis of partial success in every item in its three point agenda. Insecurity remains a key manifestation of the crisis, be it kidnapping, the rise of militancy around oil and the secessionist movements, among others or the failure in obtaining even a single high profile conviction in the case of the anti-corruption war. This is not to mention the economy which has since gone into recession.
Finally, the APC would be in the hottest soup if, for whatever reasons, President Buhari does not contest the 2019 election. Analysts believe that, in that circumstance, the APC will face a crisis of succession except if the president can still influence the emergence of a successor even after it becomes known that he is not contesting. But who could be such successors of his? Could it be Bukola Saraki or Speaker Dogara whom the president described in fairly superlative terms during their recent birthdays? This is an important question because the president would still be very much around and in charge.
The fear is if nothing like that happens. Then a bitter and contentious struggle for power capable of damaging comradeship and solidarity and rocking the ruling party to its foundation might be inescapable because former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, for instance, is most unlikely to defer to anyone else once Buhari is not contesting. With the image of himself as the most senior professional politician, the rest being retired military officers or younger politicians, that scenario is most unlikely once Buhari is not a contestant in 2019. As things are, Atiku’s movement to a different platform is an inevitability should Buhari be contesting in 2019. With the possibility of two candidates winning in one state by scoring 25% of the votes cast, Atiku can threaten the APC in the impending election should he move to the PDP, for instance. It is almost inevitable.
In the event that he remains in the APC, Atiku would be slugging it out with a number of others. Three are particularly most likely. So, far, there is nothing to show that Nasir el-Rufai, the Kaduna State governor would not be one of such persons. Said to be highly motorized already, including strategic positioning of frontier heroes through political appointments so far, he may end up an illustration of the confidence of success that often leads to success. His biopolitical approach to the quest for power puts him far ahead of his competitors by defining the rules of engagement in categories that are still strange to most Nigerian politicians. His problem might just be whether, in the context of on-going efforts at reconciling the north, the northern establishment would permit any of the two big parties from picking its presidential candidate from the northwest after a quick succession of late Umaru Yar’Adua and President Buhari. That could still depend on who brings what to the table and he could be lucky.
Visible on the horizon here too is Bukola Saraki, the incumbent Senate President. He is seen as favoured in terms of the goodwill of his father or family name; social and political network; western education; geopolitical origin; wealth and experience in finance, executive and legislative arms of government. His problem is his lack of a signifier in Nigerian politics at the moment. Whether he can construct that soon is unclear. Former governor of Kano State is regularly mentioned. He too has the advantage of experience across the legislature and executive arms of government but he faces the geopolitical question as well. There is always the reality of the dark horse about which nothing much can be said because such horses are dark. The unexpected could happen as in 1978 when Shehu Shagari was picked even though he was not out looking for power. History repeated itself in 2007 when Umaru Yar’Adua was equally picked in similar manner.
PDP presents an interesting spectacle in its determination to stage a comeback. But even if it succeeds in neutralising the internal resistance in Ali Modu Sherriff who is a republic in himself, it faces an incumbent it underestimates at its own risk. The big question here is which of these actors has any clear sense of how Nigeria might transcend its embarrassing but enduring image as a country ‘dancing on the brink’ or, paradoxically, in Obasanjo’s words in 1994, “a country perpetually potentially great, almost permanently in crisis, regularly threatened with disintegration, prolongingly devoid of democracy, and economically plundered and mismanaged, forever talking about democracy but forever retreating from democracy”. That is still not clear at all.