PDP Crisis: A Citizen’s Perspective By Ayo Olukotun
The fully unravelling Peoples Democratic Party represents two unwholesome legacies of prolonged military rule; namely, the politics of violent subjugation in which dissent and treason are synonymous; and the politics of what Chinua Achebe called “the juicy morsel”, which speaks to a terrain in which state power is viewed cynically as a loot sharing instrument mediated, of course, by federal arithmetic and occasional deference to the people.
It is not for nothing, mark you, that the bigwigs of the party feature an extraordinary long roll call of retired generals recycled into political sinecures speaking the language of democracy while retaining their dictatorial ways. Once the retired generals set the template, the civilian functionaries were quick to learn the nuances of military bravado. Listen to a news report in one of our newspapers on Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the national chairman of the “Old PDP” as he addressed a press conference hinting not so darkly of strong arm tactics against the emergent “New PDP” members last week: “Tukur also threatened that the security agencies will be directed to take care of all those who declared themselves leaders of a new PDP”. As we now know, that threat became policy a few days later when the secretariat of the “New PDP” was sealed up by the police in a show of force featuring the deployment of Armoured Personnel Carriers underlined by an intimidating police presence.
The operative credo of the PDP is that democracy is a nice and desirable form of government only until it gets into the way of accumulating and retaining power, that is. Of course, it is not that the other parties are significantly better in their internal democratic arrangements than the PDP; it is just that once the PDP sets the stage, the other parties promptly takes their cues and sometimes improves on the PDP’s record of arbitrary rule and dictation by party chiefs. Much of these shenanigans, it is well-known, are about 2015 and the blatant skewing of the political field to favour the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan as the presidential candidate in defiance of an alleged, earlier understanding that he would only be president for one term. It is interesting that the controversy took on a new life not because the generality of citizens are factored into the calculus but because Jonathan had failed to carry along or outrightly alienated the mainly military overlords of the party such as Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo who for the moment appear united in favour of another presidential candidate other than Jonathan. From the point of view of strategy, and as an elderly colleague observed to me, if Jonathan were to agree to sacrifice his controversial second term bid, he could simply and more evenly become the preeminent broker and virtually anoint a successor. His position is weakened because he has become the issue in a rather pejorative sense around which the party is hurtling down the cliff.
The citizen or what is sometimes referred to as the bus stop economist watches from the sidelines and notices that neither the “Old” nor the “New” PDP has been speaking to his protracted anguish occasioned by poor if not dysfunctional governance. Indeed, it can be said that governance has been shut down so that attention can be fully concentrated on “winning” the current dress rehearsal for the grand electoral bid of 2015. Consider, for example, that the citizen is the one whose wards have been driven away from the campuses because of the ongoing strike of university teachers and the unpreparedness of government to shift ground. In point of fact, it will appear that government has closed the file once the Minister for Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, let it be known that the demands of the Academic Staff Union of the Universities, if granted, could “shut down the government”. In the minister’s opinion, the prodigal habits of the current government which entail the appropriation and in some cases misappropriation of funds far in excess of what the university teachers are asking for are beside the point. What he finds dangerous is the demand for earned allowances which were agreed to in a memorandum signed by both government and the teachers some years ago. Beyond the strike, is the worry of the citizen as to whether his wards will ever enjoy the semblance of quality education in circumstances in which the universities are perpetually bound to shutdowns, continually experience exodus of talents either to foreign lands or other careers and in which the crisis of underfunding ensures that the most elementary requirements and infrastructure for tertiary education are absent.
The citizen shudders too that life has become more threatening and insecure since this crisis which is taking all the energies of our leaders snowballed. A few days back, for example, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church, the most Reverend Ignatius Katey, was kidnapped alongside his wife on their way to Port Harcourt on an official assignment. There also is the sensational kidnap of Mike Ozekhome, a lawyer and human rights activist in broad daylight a few weeks back in Benin. The picture of growing insecurity is completed by the Niger State Police Command’s recent arrest of three young men who had in their possession, the decapitated head of a 10-year-old boy among other numbing items. And so the citizen is scared stiff as to why none of the factions of the PDP appears concerned about the lowest common denominator of statehood which is the capacity to maintain law and order.
The citizen’s dismay is further deepened by the ongoing “indefinite strike” of the Association of Resident Doctors which began on September 4. As in the case of the university teachers, the strike was called to press home demands on government to implement an agreement signed with the association a few months back and which government has continued to honour in the breach. For a health system rated by the World Health Organisation as one of the weakest on the globe, this latest strike sounds a death knell to the sector with a predictable harvest of fatalities affecting Nigerians seeking succour.
The citizen must be forgiven for querying why none of these life threatening issues featured at the lavish post-convention dinner organised by the PDP for the party’s newly elected members of the National Working Committee. The ordinary Nigerian would have listened to Chief Tony Anenih, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, urging President Jonathan to declare his intention to rerun for the presidency but would have searched in vain for any attention to the issues and crises that bedevil him. He/she will wonder whether democracy can long survive without factoring in the demos, that is, the people.
In sum, the current crisis within the PDP featuring a political elite preoccupied with office sharing reveals the disconnect between a democracy hijacked by a narrow and sad to say visionless elite and the travails of the citizen whose plight is not remedied by the successive victors of jackboot politics and elections.
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