[Archives] Opinion: Time to reform the PDP

By Tolu Ogunlesi

(Originally appeared in my NEXT Column, ONGOING CONCERNS, in May 2011)

Joseph Chukwuyenum has been a “card-carrying” member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State for more than ten years. In that time he has risen to become a “Unit leader” in Ward H1 of the Etio-Osa Local Government. I met him at his polling unit during the April 26 elections. He was in a good mood.

“This is the first time [the PDP is] having it so good. It’s never happened like this before… without spending ten kobo on the electorate,” he told me. Voting had just ended, and it emerged that the PDP had defeated the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state house of assembly ballot at that unit.

I was curious. Why were those people voting for the PDP? “People are doing what their conscience has said to them; it is the decision of their hearts they’ve taken,” he said.

I was also eager to know why he joined the PDP. “I see PDP as an open party, a party that does not discriminate,” he said, gesturing at his crutches. “You can’t say it is a party where [a single] person has a say. No matter your tribe, we are one. Some parties are sectional. Immediately the name of the party is mentioned you know their godfather. In PDP there’s nothing like that.”

Now, you may quibble with parts of that assertion, but there’s no denying the essential validity of it. The PDP is the only truly “national” party we’ve got in Nigeria. 

Now let’s quickly face the deep irony embedded in that statement. You have to admit that it is a tragedy of monumental proportions when your only national party is not even a real party.

NEXT once described it as “Africa’s largest party – and everyone’s invited.” For Nasir El-Rufai it’s a “franchise” (“There is nothing apart from the symbol that unites – it is like MacDonalds, although at least in MacDonalds the quality of the food is the same.”). Thanks to Wikileaks we know the Americans regard it as an “opportunistic coalition of interests.” Wole Soyinka called it “a nest of killers.”

All true. The one-eyed man of our democracy sadly wears a patch on the good eye. Also true, however, are these: that, one, the opposition platforms seeking to be the PDP’s undertakers mostly lack the moral credentials for that task; and two; the ruling party is not beyond fundamental reform.

For a start the PDP ought to overhaul its Board of Trustees. If you click on the “Board of Trustees” link on its website, what you will get is a message that says: “This page is under construction.”

Is that perhaps deliberate? Are they too ashamed to let us see the calibre of people leading them? Mr. Obasanjo (the Chairman) and other aged, tired faces should voluntarily step down from the Board. The PDP needs an infusion of new, younger, thinking leaders; it needs to give ideas a chance to replace intrigues as the party’s leading propellant.

Isn’t this the time to clamour for the redemption of the party that will rule us for the next four years – now that we it severely chastened; a world away from the days when Vincent Ogbulafor never failed to remind us it would rule Nigeria for sixty years?

The now-total reversal of the party’s 2003 conquest of southwest Nigeria, coupled with the severe rattling its governorship candidates have faced in states like Imo and Delta, as well as the violent backlash (utterly condemnable in its murderous outplaying) against it in parts of Northern Nigeria should have sent a message to the party that the days of taking Nigerians for granted are over.

Eventually, when the votes were tallied across the constituency, Chukwuyenum’s candidate lost to the ACN candidate, cutting short the party agent’s joy. 

There’ll be another chance in 2015. There is evidence of a growing sophistication amongst the Nigerian electorate; more people voting for – or against – candidate(s) fielded, as opposed to blind commitments to party symbols. This was clear in the southwest where people voted overwhelmingly for the presidential candidate of the PDP seemingly because they liked and wanted him, but wasted no time in turning against the governorship candidates.

At a polling unit down the road from Chukwuyenum’s I watched a man walk up to the pasted results sheet (again the ACN led in the governorship but lost the legislative ballot to the PDP) and say, triumphantly: “The two results are good… I want the PDP guy to win in this constituency.”

What this means is that Nigeria’s parties will soon begin to compete for “talent” the way Europe’s football clubs do; knowing that the future of Nigerian politics is one in which competence, not godfathers, not financial inducement, will make the difference between winning and losing elections. 

The ACN would do well to learn from the failings of the PDP, shun ethnic insularity, and curb a growing propensity for arrogance and dictatorial action. The CPC should by now be working hard to transform itself from the “Special Purpose Entity” cum ‘vote-cache’ it currently is, into a properly-structured nationwide party that can outlast the Buhari mystique. Other ‘platforms’ also need to start building now, instead of waiting for the 2015 frenzy.

True democracy will never be built in the absence of real political parties.   

Tolu Ogunlesi (c) 2014

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