Endgame in PDP imperils APC
Both factional chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff, have indicated their desire to explore merger options with injured ‘factions’ of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). While the PDP has openly splintered and are hamstrung by their obstinate insistence on fighting to the death, the split in the APC is more subtle and less indicative, but no less brutal and final. There will apparently be no reconciliation in the PDP, for the stakes are too high and the egos and ideologies of the leading combatants too large or too rigid to facilitate peace and progress. On its own, the APC is living in denial, its soul having left it when its leaders assumed office, and the current chief custodian of its values quite unable to decipher what the party means to its members and a country harried by economic troubles, social dislocations and political stasis.
Now the ruling APC is in the very unenviable position of being dismembered while it is yet alive, its body cut in pieces while it still breathes, for that is what the factional chairmen of the PDP are sworn to do. Since the botched Port Harcourt convention of the PDP last August, before which court judgements struggled against court judgements, the party has been at daggers drawn. It is not unusual for a party to lose election and bounce back on an auspicious later date, nor does it mean a death knell for party leaders of a losing party to relinquish office. So, the PDP was not treading a strange and uncharted territory when it lost the 2015 elections and its chairman vacated office. If the party had kept its wits, it should have been able to sustain a semblance of unity while it began the search for new options. Instead, the simple task of getting an interim chairman immediately turned farcical and tragic. Rather than secure the services of one of its own, a tested long-standing member with enough restraint, nobility and charisma, the party recruited a fighter, the rambunctious Senator Sheriff, a man who does not shirk a fight nor have the temperament to measure his response.
At first, the choice of Senator Sheriff, who was also a former Borno State governor, appeared to be sound, for the ruling APC’s flamboyant defiance and demolition of constitutional provisions needed a man of girth and grit in the opposition to caution and restrain them. The PDP governors were enthusiastically behind him, almost to a man. But when it seemed Senator Sheriff had other plans than simply conducting the convention in line with the terminal mandate given him, his backers, many of whom were governors, quickly withdrew their support. But the senator was not one to be incommoded by withdrawn support. So, he stood his ground and dared anyone to pull the carpet from under him. If the Port Harcourt convention could not be held, ruminated the former Borno State governor, then, why, it would be held another day and perhaps at another venue, only he would have to be the person to do it.
No one thought the disagreement within the PDP would fester so badly and for so long. After party leaders got together on the day the Port Harcourt convention failed, and appointed a caretaker committee headed by former Kaduna State governor Ahmed Makarfi to replace the boisterous and ambitious Senator Sheriff, party members reposed confidence in their leaders’ ability to procure peace. Unfortunately for them, not only did Senator Sheriff refuse to step down, arguing that his leadership was still legitimate despite the convention fiasco, he pugnaciously took the fight to the soft-spoken but mercurial Senator Makarfi. The two combatants then quickly became diametrically opposed. Neither would submit to the other. And as the recurrent but failed attempts to reconcile the party over the leadership of the PDP shows, the factors and egos that divide them transcend the more primal need of the party to face up to the ruling party.
In a sense, given their statements and posturing over the months, it seems to the political class that Senator Makarfi is more ideologically grounded on PDP matters than Senator Sheriff. Importantly too, it appears that the former is more level-headed and can be trusted. But the two former governors are struggling for the soul of a party ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo described as undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit of a hospital, apparently dying because of leadership problems, ideological vacuum, and general moral crisis. The former president is also contextually right about the cause of the political crisis Nigeria is facing when he cast doubt on the readiness and reliability of the APC to govern. The PDP is in intensive care and the APC is weak in government, summed up the former president cryptically. It is, therefore, ironic that both factional leaders of a dying PDP have resolved to forge alliances with putative factions of an enervated APC. In other words, they have given up on reconciliation in the PDP, and have also indicated, together with other commentators, that their efforts to secure the affections of factions of the APC implies that the ruling party is a living dead. But if any of the PDP factions will succeed in forging an alliance with a faction of the APC, it will have to be the Senator Makarfi-led group. Senator Sheriff is too agitated and excitable to be trusted.
The PDP is clearly in its endgame. It refused to carry out the work of cleansing it desperately needed to endear itself to Nigerians embittered by its lethargy and incompetence in government for 16 years. Had the party purged its ranks and promoted new faces to its leadership when the country needed them to do so, they would probably have positioned themselves to challenge a blundering APC. The ruling party itself has taken many missteps, displayed contempt for the constitution and the rule of law, and projected a dispiriting lack of coordination. It was impossible for the PDP which had presided over probably the most corrupt government in Nigerian history, bar that of Gen Sani Abacha, to offer any realistic challenge to the APC. Only a reborn and reinvigorated PDP could offer that opposition. But rather than opt for the hard road of thorough cleansing, the PDP had tried to paper over the cracks and downplayed the need for renewal. How wise flying that unharnessed chute was remains to be seen.
In forging an alliance, however, the two PDP factions must still contend with their own misshapen identities and ambitions. So far, they seem long on ambition to reclaim the presidency than the hard work needed to recreate a solid party with great and lasting appeal. It may be sensible to come to terms with the near impossibility of reconciliation within the opposition party, but it hardly makes sense to assume that they can gloss over the crucial need to reform and rebuild, complete with the necessary development of succinct ideology, programmes and manifestos. There are no shortcuts. Even the APC, which seemed to have steamrolled into the presidency barely two years after its formation, had to carefully align and rebuild in order to engender some sort of appeal. But while the APC example may be great on paper, it is often not easily replicated in reality.
As many political pundits are already suggesting, perhaps a third political force may be both desirable and ineluctable. The PDP is near dead, and the APC is faltering very badly. But whether they both die or not, in the next one year, the two hobbled parties will initiate many temporary political romances and alliances, and prostitute principles and values. Until then, it will be unwise to put a bet on what shape and content Nigeria’s political primeval soup, which is seething dangerously at the moment, would be in 2017 or 2018. The PDP’s internal succession battles between 2012 and 2014 hastened the end of many small parties and crippled the then ruling party. There is no reason to think the endgame in the PDP will not cripple and imperil a dithering and childish APC even before it had the chance to walk.