Araft of intra-party wrangling in the Peoples Democratic Party reached the climax last Saturday when the party broke up into two. Its members had gathered in Abuja for a special convention to elect 17 national party officials as directed by the court. However, proceedings went awry. A former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, with seven governors and others in tow, stormed out; they moved to the Shehu Yar’Adua Conference Centre and announced the birth of what they called the “New PDP,” with Kawu Baraje as its chairman. The rupture may be the party’s headache, but its effects could be quite telling for the entire country.
Since the party’s formation in 1998, it has been a boiling cauldron of sorts; a mélange of interest groups constantly struggling for acreage of influence and power. But the control of the party’s soul ahead of the 2015 elections funnelled the fuel for the combustion of last week. Reports had it that some allies of the aggrieved governors, some of whom were jostling for party positions, were schemed out as convention participants.
Earlier in April, the bid by the 36-member Nigeria Governors’ Forum to pick its chairman ended on a fractious note. Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, who appeared to have won the contest for a second term in office, having received the votes of 19 governors, had his victory rejected by 16 other governors, 14 of whom were of the PDP. They claimed that Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, who also vied for the chairmanship but secured 16 votes, won. Both the party and the Presidency stood by Jang and his group, thus, inaugurating a parallel NGF.
This conflation of events clearly reveals the dark underbelly of the country’s politics: the entrenchment of political intolerance and absence of internal democracy in political parties. Ideally, parties offer citizens meaningful choices in governance, avenues for political participation, and opportunities to shape their country’s future. But not in Nigeria. The result of this political anaemia is the foisting of people who simply lack the minimum mental capacity to govern on captive citizens. Some observers have even cynically dismissed our experiment as a “democracy without democrats.” Practically all the parties are as culpable as the PDP, as their actions have not convinced the public that democracy works.
Largely, party primaries of most of them are characterised by thuggery, bloodletting, imposition of candidates; substitution of candidates after their names had been submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission and parallel congresses. Just a few days ago, two parties conducted parallel primaries to choose governorship candidates for the November election in Anambra State. The ugly trend was much in evidence in the run-up to the 2003 polls when the then incumbent president, Olusegun Obasanjo, enunciated his “do-or-die” philosophy.
The truth is that a political party, whose mechanics are governed by politics of exclusion, giving tickets to the highest bidder, hijacking of political structures by cabals and moneybags for unedifying objectives, is on a course to self-destruction. But that is the story of our political parties since 1999. It was lack of mechanisms for resolving intra-party disputes that resulted in the terminal division of the Alliance for Democracy into two. A similar fissure occurred in the former All Nigeria Peoples Party in 2006.
These tendencies that undermine our democracy, especially after the 2007 elections, informed the presentation of a bill entitled: Political Parties (Internal Democracy Bill) in the House of Representatives. Its re-presentation in the current dispensation only serves the selfish interest of the lawmakers. But a democracy, run on the whims and caprices of a few, or where power is seen as a honey-pot to be grabbed at all costs, and not perceived as an instrument for public service, cannot survive.
To us, developments in these parties and the uncouth behaviour of the political class are big distractions to governance. Since April, many governors have abandoned their states for Abuja, just to secure their 2015 interests. President Goodluck Jonathan is much more steeped in this obsession. For instance, efforts to mend the PDP cracks have triggered a rash of meetings with the aggrieved governors, Obasanjo and others in the Presidential Villa. So, how does Jonathan squarely face state duties? Little wonder that 14 years of civil rule have not translated to improved governance.
The Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has just lamented again that “unemployment rate has exhibited a worsening trend, rising from 8.2 per cent in 1999 to 23.9 per cent in 2011.’’ Other human development indicators are equally awful. In the United Nations Development Programme 2012 Human Development Index Report, Nigeria was ranked amongst countries with low development index at 153 out of 186 countries that were ranked. Can this be the democracy we most longed for?
For the country to wriggle out of this whole mess and chart a new course, politicians must imbibe values that are congruent with democracy. Pluralism, accountability, representation and transparency are cornerstones of this form of government. That is why Barack Obama is today, president of the United States of America, and a Nigerian, Abraham Godson, became a member of Poland’s parliament in 2010. In developed democracies such as the US, the United Kingdom and Australia, the democratic track is followed in running a party’s affairs and in deciding who flies its flag in an election.
It is obvious that there is the urgency to stop making democracy in the country a fairytale. The only way this could be done is for both the ruling and political class to go straight to the basics of democracy, learn its nuances and internalise its values. Otherwise, we are afraid of the immediate future.