PDP and the Hangover of Defeat By Olusegun Adeniyi
The first salvo was fired by the immediate past Akwa Ibom State Governor and now senator-elect, Chief Godswill Akpabio. In trying to help out a House of Representatives member-elect from Akwa Ibom who was being heckled for his long-winding comment, Akpabio said it was important for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to take appropriate lessons from its recent defeat at the polls.
Using himself as an example, Akpabio added that despite his achievements in Akwa Ibom, the party refused to showcase him and others to the Nigerian electorate because of envy; and perhaps for that reason also, PDP Governors were deliberately left out of the presidential campaign.
“I practically had to go to the villa where, as Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, I spent about three hours begging the president (Dr. Goodluck Jonathan) to accommodate the governors in the presidential campaign.”
Akpabio said but for his intervention, the compromise eventually arrived at by which PDP governors were appointed campaign coordinators for their states would not have happened. “Some of us were perpetually under suspicion because of envy. Can you imagine that it was only after the election that I learnt that our party even had what they called ‘situation room’ where they had some consultants, including white men?,” asked Akpabio who argued that the PDP went into the presidential election as a house divided against itself.
As if on cue, the National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh who spoke next, said he would direct his question at me, since I was on the podium and my intervention had drawn some responses from the audience that he evidently did not like.
“Now, Segun, I want you to respond to this: If as the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling party, I had nothing to work with such that I would be running my office with my own money, how effective can I be? And if in running the presidential campaign the National Working Committee members were sidelined, should we take the blame for the party’s failure?…”
As Metuh was speaking, evidently very angry, Dr. Kema Chikwe, the National Women Leader who was seated by his side, was nodding her head and urging him on with many people in the audience clapping. At that point, it was evident that the session was getting out of turn and many of the leaders, including Senate President David Mark had to plead with Metuh to “cool down”. But Metuh, who had apparently taken offence by the comment from a member who quoted APC Spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed as saying that he (Metuh) needed capacity training on being an opposition spokesman, would not relent.
I watched the foregoing drama in Port Harcourt on Monday as one of the resource persons invited for a retreat of the PDP National Assembly members-elect. And it was just as well that former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was supposed to be the keynote speaker,did not turn up given the slant of discussion on how the presidential campaign was mismanaged. Yet in attendance at Port Harcourt were almost all the PDP heavyweights: from the NWC members led by acting chairman, Chief Uche Secondus to former governors (many of who are now senators-elect) to the returning and new Governors as well as PDP members and members-elect in the National Assembly led by Mark, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and (Deputy) House Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha.
I was invited to speak on “Managing Effective Communications by the Opposition Party” while other resource persons included Mr. John Tomeszewski, the IRI Country Director in Kenya and Professor Sam Egwu of the Political Science Department, University of Jos.
Also invited from the Ghanaian Parliament to share insights were: Speaker, Hon. Edward K. Doe Adjaho; Majority Leader, Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin and the Minority Leader, Hon. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu.
In his opening address, Ekweremadu, whose office coordinated the retreat on behalf of the PDP, explained that having been the ruling party for the past 16 years, “it means that we have no cognate experience in playing opposition politics as a party. And for the National Assembly Members-elect in particular, we have no experience in minority parliamentary role.”
Ekweremadu argued that unless a man knows where the rain started beating him, he might never know where it stopped, adding that “we should admit that the PDP’s journey from a ruling to an opposition party was not a sudden flight. We did not appear to have managed our success well. We appeared to have taken a lot of things for granted. We did not also appear to have taken full cognisance of our successive dwindling electoral fortunes over the years or the trend of electoral revolutions going on in other emerging democracies around us in which ruling parties lost control of power to the opposition.”
Providing statistics of the gradual decline of PDP before the crash of March 2015, Ekweremadu said: “In 1999, the PDP had a comfortable majority with 214 seats in the House of Representatives. It peaked at 263 in 2007 and dropped to 208 and 137 in 2011 and 2015, respectively. The loss of a whooping 55 seats in 2011 should have set the alarm ringing in the party. Likewise, our performance in the senatorial elections peaked at 87 seats in 2007 and shrank to 71 in 2011 before crashing to an all-time low of 49 seats in the 2015 general elections. Thus, the loss of 16 senatorial seats in 2011 should have served as a bad omen. Even in the gubernatorial elections, the drop from 28 states, which the PDP controlled in 2003 and 2007, to 23 by 2011 was enough sign that all was not well. It should have served as a catalyst for rescue mission before it plummeted to an unprecedented 13 states in 2015. And in the presidential election, the fact that the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, who hardly garnered reasonable votes in 2003 and 2007 polled a whooping 12 million votes on the platform of a brand new party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011 was a clear handwriting on the wall for us. Whether or not we heeded these warnings is now a subject for sober reflections.”
With Ekweremadu setting the tone, what followed were frank interventions from PDP leaders who admitted being the architects of their own electoral misfortunes at the polls.
But the opening ceremony was not devoid of its own drama as there was an interesting altercation between the former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Senate President Mark, on the remunerations of National Assembly members.
In calling for a public disclosure of the take-home pay of Senators and House of Representatives members, Ribadu had said: “If Nigerians do not know how much is earmarked for the National Assembly or how much money a senator earns, they will not support you. We must understand the pulse or the mood of the nation. The first step, therefore, is to open up the National Assembly by ensuring transparency. Public office is what it is; public. Also, at this critical time of austerity, be champions by slashing your own budget.”
Evidently displeased by the remark, Mark responded: “Every time, people will talk about National Assembly budget; for Heaven’s sake, unless you would say you have never seen the national budget, it is a public document. The National Assembly budget is there with every other budget…people should appreciate what we are doing and not to come and give an impression that our budget is bloated while every other person had made a cut. I think we should not play politics with what is a very serious issue. Our budget is in the open and everybody can see it.”
The Ghanaian Parliamentary Speaker and Minority Leader presented interesting perspectives about politics in their country but when it was my turn to speak, I prefaced my presentation with a joke. I told the audience that on my way from Abuja, I encountered a friend who wondered why I would agree to be resource person at a PDP gathering and I responded by borrowing from the latest presidential wisdom: “I am for everybody and I am for nobody”. But I began by urging the PDP leaders to look inwards as they tried to find explanations for their defeat.
I reminded them of a famous refrain that “oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them”, before adding that if the PDP would be honest with itself, its leaders should be able to accept that they took Nigerians for granted while the opposition was clever in exploiting popular discontent with the federal government’s approach to such issues as, for instance, the fight against corruption. However, I also added that just a few days in power, APC is already coming to terms with the fact that the view of the road changes the moment you move from the passenger’s side to the driver’s seat. Yet, as I told the PDP, they have to stand up and begin to hold the APC to account on its promises to Nigerians. This was how I made the point:
“In 2011, against popular expectation, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, until last week the president of Nigeria and the PDP candidate in the March election, declared his assets as prescribed by the 1999 Constitution. But he refused to make it public as demanded by many Nigerians. The media and the opposition feasted on the story but Dr. Jonathan would not yield ground, leading to the famous refrain, ‘I don’t give a damn!’ which became a good campaign slogan for the opposition. Indeed, in the course of the electioneering campaign, Muhammadu Buhari (now president), promised to declare his assets publicly. Buhari even went further to state that should he be elected president, anybody who would serve in his administration would be compelled to make such public disclosure.
“Now that he has become President, Buhari has refused to make public his assets declaration form. His spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, has said that whoever wants to know what Buhari owns should go through the Freedom of Information Act to request for the document from the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). Against the background that when a similar request was made to CCB in February 2012 about then President Jonathan the Bureau said certain provisions of the Nigerian constitution ‘precluded’ it from releasing such information to the public, it is obvious that Buhari’s spokesman is just trying to hide behind one finger.”
In calling on the PDP leaders to begin to play its role as an effective opposition, I reminded them that Dr. Jonathan never made any promise that he would declare his assets publicly on grounds that the Constitution did not demand such of him yet he was harassed by APC leaders for not yielding to public opinion on the issue. In fact, that issue undermined President Jonathan’s credibility and helped in no small measure to tar him with the brush of a man whose “body language supports corruption”. On the other hand, the APC candidate whose main credential was anti-corruption promised to make a public declaration of assets. So if he reneges, the implication would be that he obtained the votes of Nigerians by false pretence!
All said, I came away from Port Harcourt with the impression that PDP is really in trouble and with it, our democracy. I spoke to some of the members-elect, especially the new ones and most of them told me that whatever may be the grievances of the party’s NWC members about the manner the campaign was handled, they laid the foundation for the defeat with the mismanagement of the primaries that became a bazaar with the party’s tickets in most instances, going to the highest bidders.
“Everybody paid heavily for his or her PDP ticket. Even Dr. Jonathan must have paid them a lot of money otherwise they would not have behaved the way they did by shutting out other contenders and disgracefully printing only one nomination form for him as sole candidate. That was perhaps why he treated them with so much contempt,” the senator-elect told me.
However, what worries me more about the PDP is that there is a feeling that many would want to abandon the party. I understand that some members are already planning to form a new party and I don’t understand the logic behind such an idea. Everyday also comes with news of one chieftain or another crossing over to the APC where they are looking for “what to eat”. In fact, a new governor who attended the retreat told me that “but for the recent ruling of Supreme Court over that says lawmakers would lose their seats if they cross-carpet, majority of the people you see here today would have crossed over to the APC.”
All said, it is important for the PDP to put the elections behind them as they seek to forge ahead and I think the Port Harcourt retreat was very helpful as they move along that direction. To the extent that the very essence of democracy is dissent and debate, we need a strong PDP that can hold the APC federal government to account on its promises and obligations to the Nigerian people while at the same time serving as a watchdog to ensure that President Buhari acts within the bounds of law and public decency.
But in playing its role, Ekweremadu has set out the parameters for the PDP that the leaders would do well to heed, if they intend to be taken seriously by Nigerians: “Ours should not be an opposition that sees nothing good in any government action or policy. We should not engage in market square propaganda and destructive criticism that turn truth upside-down or tends to incite the citizenry against the government in power. The inherent danger in this brand of opposition is that apart from overheating the polity and detracting from good governance, even if such propaganda and false promises get you to power, it will not keep you there. So, we must oppose responsibly and patriotically. We must play by the rules and stick to verifiable facts.”
I wish the PDP leaders all the best, as they begin their journey into a territory where, as President Jonathan warned, there might not be much to “eat” because the “food” is now on the other side!
Buhari Versus Boko Haram
When I woke up at the Pinnacle Hotel in Maiduguri last Friday morning, I had no inkling that anything had happened in the course of the night until I went to the front desk to enquire why there had been no light for more than an hour. It was there that I met several of the guests discussing the trauma that kept them awake all night. It turned out that from around midnight till the wee hours of the morning, there were heavy gunshots from Boko Haram insurgents who, for the first time, launched rocket-propelled grenades into the Maiduguri township, killing several people in the process. Fortunately for me, because I was tired, I slept though it all. By the afternoon of the next day (Saturday May 30), death came for some Maiduguri residents by way of a suicide bomber inside a mosque and by Sunday afternoon when I was leaving the city, it was a market that Boko Haram attacked.
While I intend to do a comprehensive report of my four-day sojourn in Maiduguri (as well as the atrocities of Boko Haram in the state) another day, what is very clear is that the insurgents still remain a potent force that has to be confronted with all the might of the Nigerian state. That has become even more important with the way the Islamic State (IS) is spreading its tentacles and dangerous ideology, including to such a not-too-distant country as Libya. That, I understand, may have accounted for the new capacity being acquired by Boko Haram whose men released a video during the week under the banner of Islamic State for West Africa.
I believe President Goodluck Jonathan did a lot in recent months to degrade the capacity of Boko Haram and we must commend our armed forces for their efforts in that regard. But a lot still needs to be done if our country is to defeat the insurgency. While the jury is still out as to whether President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to relocate the command centre “to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued” is a solution, there is no doubt that we need to trust in his judgement and support him.
I believe Buhari is sending the right signals by making the visit to Chad and Niger (our immediate and strategic neighbours) his first official trips outside the country. It is a powerful symbolic gesture that is commendable. As difficult as the security situation may seem, with everybody working on the same page and President Buhari providing the right leadership, we can defeat Boko Haram. It is in our collective interest as a nation that we support him in that direction.