By Obi Nwakanma
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was always a badly organized political party. Its history is fraught with profound missteps that were largely the result of organic failures and dysfunction; a terrible lack of disciplinary capacity, and fickle institutional structures. It was evident from the Jos debacle late in 1998 when external forces operating from outside the party, took it over, and imposed Olusegun Obasanjo as its presidential candidate that the PDP, even if it had some modicum of ideas, was going to short-circuit in short order.
At best, from that moment, the party could only function as an umbrella association of strange bedfellows; an amalgam of hacks, privateers, power mongers, and political harlots. Although it positioned itself as a right of center organization ideologically, its lack of clear or specific political ideas, made it incomprehensible. Its most famous claim to political relevance was that it was “the largest political party in Africa” which would be in power for “the next fifty years.”
It was attempting, I think, to rub shoulders with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. But it lacked the organizational depth and institutional capacity of the ANC. I was always amused by that kind of claim. It quite clearly defined the intellectual depth of the party for me, and its rather tragic view of itself. PDP is a spectacular failure. It also probably forgot that size alone did not matter; nimbleness is all.
A big “size” required large habiliments to cover the generous folds, and a large infusion of blood to keep it alive. “Big” in short came with its own debility and was not always an advantage. PDP was very clearly, politically diabetic. There is no question about it. It was stuck in a morass. Its years in power, from the transition of 1999 to its defeat by the even more ramshackle APC, was marked by a terrible lack of clarity.
It wasted an opportunity to organize itself, build up a party establishment, and structure a proper political party out of the chaos of its founding. This now haunts the party. It manifests in the current party crisis over the leadership of the party. Two factions have emerged: one, the faction that is backing Mr. Ali Modu Sheriff as party Chairman, and the faction backing Ahmed Maikarfi as Chair of the PDP National Party Commission.
For some reason, nobody is yet to figure-in the rather obvious truth that this crisis has much to do with the unsustainable structure of the PDP party organization which concentrates too much power on the Chairman of the party, rather than on the party institution. I should come back to this question, but the main grouse in the party is that Ali Modu Sheriff is something of an APC “sleeper agent” in the PDP, inserted surreptitiously to destabilize the party, and keep it from reorganizing in time for the National polls of 2019 which is only two years ahead.
Ali Modu Sheriff’s opponents point to his rather troubling past: he started out as a two-term Governor of Borno State, from 2003 – 2011, elected first on the platform of the defunct All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP). Then he became a foundational member of the now ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) until 2014, when he moved into the PDP.
Sherrif’s opponents’ chief gripe remains that he is not only too much of a newbie in the party to run it, but that his affiliations from the very start had placed him outside of the orbit of the party, and outside of its linkages and imaginations. There might be some point in all that. But the question remains: how was Modu Sheriff elected chair of the PDP National Caretaker committee initially? The Parliamentary committee of the party did endorse him as did the PDP Governors Committee – two powerful interests within the party.
There was clearly a disjunction between party interests and party loyalties, confused by a shocking loss of power to the APC in the 2015 polls, and unable to quickly grasp the immediate necessity for a quick recalibration, if the PDP were to remain politically alive and functional. The emergence of Modu Sheriff very clearly demonstrated the confusion within the PDP in the immediate post-election era when the party lost national leadership to the APC.
There is no question about it. But in a bid to reposition the party, extant and significant interests in the PDP, at a national convention, elected Ahmed Maikarfi, former Governor of Kaduna State and latterly Senator of the Republic as substantive Chair of the Party. Modu Sherrif went to court, and last week, the Courts declared him the rightful chairman of the PDP, and Maikarfi, a usurper.
It was a sad loss, and it has threatened to create even more terrible spin inside the party. Was the court correct in its intervention? This is beyond the charge of this column, this week. But it is sufficient to say that there are many quarters that hold that the judge in this case acted below the mantle of Solomon. It was no wise or fair judgement, this slice of public opinion hold, because the PDP has a right to determine its establishment and the leadership of that establishment democratically.
The party had, through a clearly established process of its constitution elected its own National Leadership. The court probably over stepped its mandate in upturning the legitimacy of Maikarfi’s position as the Chairman of the PDP, even though Maikarfi’s election reflects the overwhelming wishes of the members of this party on who should lead it.
The Maikarfi faction has declared that it’d return to a court of higher jurisdiction to settle this matter firmly. Meanwhile, the police was reported to have prevented a meeting of this faction of the party from sitting to discuss its options. This is uncalled for, and violates the right of these individuals to peaceful assembly. And this is the real problem with institutions of state who should be neutral in these affairs, but who become tools against the “opposition.”
Cynical Nigerians are likely to see, in both the decision of the court and action of the police, confirmation of the claim by PDP insiders that Ali Modu Sheriff is the “Manchurian candidate” inside the PDP working for the “ruling” APC. But whatever be the case, the PDP must reorganize urgently. It must create a more viable party organization, by strengthening its grassroots operations, clarifying its ideological positions, and providing a bold alternative to the APC. It must eschew forms of modular corruption, and clean out its sewage. Perhaps indeed, its loss is a blessing in disguise for the party.
Many of those who are “decamping” from the PDP are generally fair-weather politicians, whose sole interests is power for its own sake, and who perch, like butterfly, from one party to the other for that singular purpose. It does seem that the PDP has lost its most corrupt members to the APC. That’s a good thing for the party, and it must now see it as an opportunity to establish a true, solid, and credible party organization, run by a professional staff of well-trained party managers, stewards, and field operators.
Political party management is a highly technical field. Political parties in a democracy are mechanisms for circulating political ideas and for proffering credible alternatives to issues of governance. Every well-organized party is essentially a government-in-waiting, and must as a rule, be capable of structuring itself to provide all the possible answers.
The PDP may yet be the biggest party in Nigeria, but it is poorly organized, and it is yet to grow the right kind of balls, and institutional capacity necessary for an informed competitor for power. It has, for instance, been unable to provide a clear, well-tuned and articulate opposition to the APC, and this may be because itself, has really no ideas worth fighting for. Nobody has yet seen a PDP policy position on Education, Culture, Industry, Establishment, Foreign Affairs, Domestic policies, the Economy, National Security, Defence, etc. The PDP must quickly sort out itself or die a slow, horrible, and necessary death.