PDP in the throes of blight
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s self-acclaimed largest political party in Africa, disproportionately shares of the many different versions of the myth of origins. Its membership also shares a common belief in the “divine” legitimation of the party’s authority and power. A certain sense of hubris surreptitiously crept in and led the party, at its apotheosis, to impudently pronounce its invincibility or awesomeness. It prophetically predicted its unchallengeable suzerainty over the length and breadth of Nigeria for an un-interrupted mythical 64-year reign or rule.
It is a fruitless exercise to seek to determine the empirical validity of the party’s forlorn wish or desire because it is clear it did not emerge from any rational calculation or deliberate planning. During its 16–year lack–lustre rule, the seed of the party’s inherent internal contradictions regarding its founding, poise and possibilities germinated and flourished culminating in its shameful routing or defeat at the 2015 presidential poll by a hotchpotch amalgamation of rabble–rousing parties.
The final judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 will appear to be the balm that the party had searched for everywhere for undoing or soothing the pains of the damage it inflicted on itself through protracted or seemingly–unending intra–party squabbles. That ruling has judicially re-stated a fundamental position regarding the normative primacy of place of political parties in a liberal democracy. The requirement to allow parties free rein concerning their internal democracy is no less fundamental as the requirement of an independent judiciary or of a free or unfettered press. For all that it is worth, it is necessary in our circumstance to have a virile alternative in the form of an opposition that is alert to its responsibility and to the probable whims and caprices of a ruling adversary. The feared death or projected infirmity of the PDP was deemed by all to be portentous of an eventual reign of a one-party rule or dictatorship. The primary role of an opposition party to checkmate the ruling party was ipso facto assigned to the PDP which was unfortunately licking its wounds regarding its loss of the presidency. Self-distracted, haunted by its ignoble past and harassed by the ruling party, it lost focus and poise for performing the covenant responsibility of an ardent opposition party.
In truth, politics is a most basic activity in all societies. Even as power configurations determine virtually everything and all things, including religion, science, art, etc., the social order is fashioned, maintained or changed by political acts or decisions. Given our circumstances, the primacy of politics is understandable. Our bourgeoisie (or political class) has proven itself to be incapable of settling its own affairs peaceably, maintaining the authority of the state and accommodating the participation in politics of subordinate or less privileged classes.
All expectations that were generated, for instance, at the return of democratic rule in 1999 were dashed no sooner than they were raised. Regarding matters of public policy, the political elite seem to arrogantly assume that it knows it all -that government agents or functionaries constitute a repository of knowledge or wisdom. The non-privileged members of society are perceived as un-imaginative or in-capable of engaging in rational thought or discourse on social issues and so are side-lined in the decision-making process. There is also the issue of humungous corruption ranging from diversion of public funds for private purposes to plain mis-use of the powers of the state including the arrest and detention of political opponents and/or personal rivals. The PDP was largely reeking in all these vices save for its record under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency of not arresting or detaining political adversaries.
The PDP is not the only beneficiary of the well-heeled judgment of court aforesaid. There are still voices in Nigeria who believe that developing nations (Nigeria not excepted) with open political systems lack the capability to run or insist on rules-governed political institutions positioned for guaranteeing civil liberties and protecting human rights. By this judgment, the court has defied the skeptics and has imbued public confidence in a system that is critical for implementing reforms for badly-needed objective growth and development. It is in our interest that an official or formal opposition platform be in place to provide alternative views on matters of our socio-economic and political well-being. A plural state with all the incidents of pluralism or diversity cannot be complete without an open forum for venting minority views, etc.
Such views can become a source of growth even for the prostrate economy. The attempts to cause dis-affection, dis-unity and frustration within the rank and file of the PDP has produced, in its wake, a prostrate political party system. Politicians mired in factional in-fighting or lacking the necessary will have demonstrably failed to unite to implement reforms critical to growth. Notable is the in-fighting that has characterised the relations between members of the APC within the government or more specifically between the members of the executive and legislative arms of government overwhelming majority of who belong to the APC. The party has got lost in political wrangling and its professed or advertised programme of reforms has thereby been allowed to stall. The formal opposition that is required to literally whip it into line is in disarray or is gasping for breath. Our democracy is thereby hampered by the lack or absence of an appropriately-strong political party institutional base, the capriciousness or fair weather disposition of politicians and the invidious exclusion of the teeming majority of the people to meaningfully participate in the political process.
For the come-back of the PDP to make any meaning or for the party to take its rightful place in our quest to give shape and direction to partisan politics, the following are suggested as important or crucial. Even though doctrinaire politics is no longer fashionable and the lines between political ideologies are becoming increasingly blurred, it is necessary for the PDP to distinguish itself from its close rival by committing itself to a distinctively-different or clear ideological stance. There are a number of positions to take on the political colour or strategy identification spectrum.
The PDP must identify with an ideological position informed by its historical condition or by a necessity to explore the nexus between the objective condition of the people it aims to serve and the inevitability of progress
Secondly, it is necessary to embark on mass mobilisation for producing the party’s democratic structures with a keen eye on ideas which have direct connection with the party’s real foundations or with the socio-historical significance of its journey or of its projected destination. A populist party with no clear ideology may soon dissolve into a petty bourgeois formation if its structures are not clear-cut or are not discernibly ideological. Membership should be based on shared values and should not be an all-comers assemblage of divergent or mutually-exclusive positions. The party needs to reform itself so as to infuse into its structure discipline, principles and policy, strategy and vision. That reform should include a productive and recurrent merit-based elite recruitment process. The party must root itself more in an objective-economic category and less in a subjective-political factor to achieve egalitarianism or equalite in both its bourgeois and proletarian form. These foundations will conduce to visible rapid development in the provision of social services, e. g., health and educational facilities, industrialisation, general economic growth, etc.
Thirdly, the party should repudiate its ignoble past particularly concerning its smugness in treading the path of impunity or rascality, its proverbial contemptuous disregard of its own statute or rule book, its disdain for or impatience with rationality or intellectual rigour in the formulation or interpretation of precepts, of its constitution or aide memoire, etc.
Fourthly, the party’s processes should reflect the presumed people’s true ownership of the party consistent with its baptismal name. Candidates should be allowed to emerge from the party’s grassroots choice or predilections. The era of imposed candidates or of substituted aspirants should be gone and done away with alongside the nuisance of overbearing godfathers. The faithful observance of the aforementioned suggestions is sure to enrich the quality of our quest for truly democratic socio-political platforms and strengthen the PDP in its covenant role as the nation’s current foremost formal opposition body.
It is a sad reflection of our general socio-political predicament that over a hundred years since the first political party was formed in Nigeria, we exhibit little knowledge regarding the theory and praxis of a flourishing political order. It will seem that the social and ideological framework for identifying and solving many of its inherent problems have so far eluded us.
Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator.