The nature of our party politics
It is a safe bet that most of us are chuckling or smirking or laughing at what is happening to PDP. The party is engulfed in a monumental confusion and virtually clutching at a straw. The emergence of three men, each claiming to be its national chairman, the floating of a new party from what is regarded as its rump and its desertion by some heavy weights who, only yesterday, were the ugly faces of PDP power, immunity and arrogance, cannot but be telling evidence that the largest party in Africa is now forced to confront its own mortality.
This leads many of us to conclude that the party is dead. That would be a hasty conclusion resulting from a poor reading of the babalawo’s cowry shells. Its demise, if that is the stark reality it faces, should not make us happy. I have argued here and elsewhere that the demise of the party would weaken one of the important pillars of our democracy: political pluralism. Its survival in whatever shape or form will still manage to offer us choices consistent with the cardinal principles of democracy. I just wish something could be done to stem the outflow of opportunity seekers deserting the party.
This may come as bad news for those on the death watch but the truth is: the party is not gasping for breath. I have good enough reasons to believe that God would not bother to waste his sympathy on those who want to see it become history. It has lost the chance to rule the country for 60 years – and that is divine punishment enough. Its current travails should not encourage us to rush into brushing up our funeral hymn book.
As I see it, the party is standing tall. It comfortably controls two of the six geo-political zones – south south and southeast. The south south is the zone of wealth. Think about that. Check the senate and you see that PDP is standing on two feet, forcing APC to search for a containment formula. It would be unfair for us to refuse to acknowledge the unique PDP coup that forced APC to share the leadership of the senate with its rival political party. Dr. Bukola Saraki, APC, is senate president; Chief Ike Ekweremadu, PDP, is deputy senate president. This has never happened here or anywhere for that matter before. It qualifies as a first in legislative history in the world. If you do not think it is evidence of the resilience and the political sagacity of the PDP, then think of yourself as an unfair human being.
A superficial reading of the cause or causes of the travails of the PDP would amount to a lost opportunity for us to critically examine the current nature of our party politics and its future. The PDP is a victim of the confused nature of our party politics. One unique feature of this is the lack of clear evidence of the locus power in the party. The mutual recrimination of its leaders, leading to the katakata in the party, is not strange among people who tumble from the height of leadership and power to the bottom of the ladder. Its offer for critical soul-searching is often abandoned in favour of the temptation to find scapegoats to carry the can. It only drives the stake deeper into its heart; the pain of loss becomes even more acute.
Let us face it, APC is not immune to what is happening to PDP. Its time will surely come in the near future if it does not take the necessary steps now to build itself into a formidable political party with clearly defined leadership structure. It seems to me that at the moment, the party appears satisfied with itself as the gathering of strange ideological bedfellows whose political interests are defined in short-term political gains. Don’t trust it to last forever. After all, the opportunity seekers now in the cool shadows of the party would be ready to move should the blight hit the party makes tarrying with it foolish.
At the moment, the party seems protected from the ill wind that is blowing in PDP. There are two good reasons for this. The first is that President Muhammadu Buhari is its moral pillar. His change agenda still offers promises for a better tomorrow. So long as the party looks up to him, so long would the centre hold.
The second reason is that the party is in power and, therefore, it can more easily contain the forces that try to pull it in different directions. But do remember: time changes things. The lorry owner made that fact his philosophy a long time ago: no condition is permanent.
The PDP travail throws up something we refuse to interrogate – the anomaly of a nation playing politics without party politics. This anomaly has been creeping up on us for a long time. It was forced on us by the generals who muddied the clear waters of our national aspirations via the ballot box. This may sound strange but the truth is: we no longer have political parties. We have political camps. The frequent toing and froing of the disenchanted has nothing to do with political principles. It has everything to do with political opportunism. That is what happens when you degrade political parties to political camps.
In essence, we have APC political camp and PDP political camp. This development does not in any shape or form represent political progress or development. It signals the loss of what makes party politics the soul of democracy: an ideological commitment to a national cause that is fully transparent rather than fully and disgustingly opaque.
Political camps should not be confused with political parties. There is a huge difference between them. A political camp is a gathering of people licensed, as it were, to pursue individual short term political gains under the umbrella of a political party while managing to present themselves as serving the people and the nation. It is committed to nothing in terms of public good and public service. A political camp is the sum of its members.
On the other hand, a political party is much more than the sum of its members. It is a child of ideological commitment to a public cause. It is at the heart of he social contract. We used to know political parties by their fruits because of what they stood for in terms of ideologies or the pursuit and the protection of the interests of the people and the state. We can longer see our way clearly, hence the constant search for opportunities in the political camps.
It is important for us to interrogate the ideological commitment of our political parties to the public cause, the future of our country and the nature of our party politics. What is the ideological commitment of the PDP to the Nigerian state? What is the ideological commitment of APC to the Nigerian state? What does each of these parties really stand for? These are not idle questions. They are at the root and the branches of party politics.
We have political parties with confused centres of power. A careful look at the political parties would show that the party structures are strange to political parties. Take the PDP, for instance. The party structure throws up its National Working Committee, Board of Trustees and National Executive Committee. Which of these is the highest organ in the party?
It gets messier. In PDP, the president elected on its platform is the national leader of the party; the state governors are the state leaders of the party. So, where do the national chairman and the state chairmen of the arty fit in in the party structure and hierarchy?
I do not think the structure is different in APC. There, Chief John Oyegun is the national chairman but Senator Bola Tinubu is the national leader of the party. In essence, in both parties, the locus of power is poorly defined. Where everyone is in charge no one is actually in charge. It tells you that party politics in our country is a game of chance won by the lucky among. You can now see why none of our parties is bothered about defining our future and charting the path towards it. Let tomorrow take care of itself when it comes, right? Makes huge sense.
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