APC defections: A test for democracy in Nigeria

BY IBIDAPO BALAOGUN

With the recent defections of political figures from the APC to the PDP, the fate of party politics stares Nigeria in the face. Despite its imperfections and uneven performance, the APC seemed to offer the most internal democracy of any political party. Its ability to hold open congresses and conventions, no matter how untidy, and shut aside the temptation to have all key decisions made in private by a few select powerbrokers, separates it from the pack. It stands to reason the party that operates with a greater spirit of internal democracy will likewise govern the nation with a greater spirit of democracy.

Meanwhile, the PDP seems not to have evolved in the slightest. It remains a closed shop where a very few decide all things and compel the rest of the party membership to join in false consensus. In the long term, the path of APC seems the better one. The problem of the APC is not the path that it travels but that it has not gone fast and far enough on it. While the problem of the PDP is that it has decided with firmest conviction on going the undemocratic way.

Thus, if you look at the roster of those defecting from the APC, it is perhaps more accurate to say that these people are not so much defecting from the APC as they are returning to the PDP. They are leaving the way station the APC offered in order to retrace their steps back to their more natural home. To ask why these people are leaving the APC and why now, is to discover that nothing more than self-interest is afoot.

These people have held their positions with relative quietude. They offered no important legislation nor asked the presidency for the same. They complained not about the course of governance, for they cared not about it. They became of fuss only when election season reappeared. They wanted the party to give them an automatic pass to re-nomination. This was the battle behind the battle regarding the failed quest of former National Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun to extend his tenure without recourse to the constitutionally-required convention. Had Oyegun gotten his extension, he would have given these men what they wanted. He would have trashed the party congresses to give automatic tickets to his friends and to whomever would pay the going rate for such a favour.

Not only were party congresses held in keeping with the democratic spirit and legal mandate of the party, there has been a push to even greater democracy in the APC. The progressive base of the party wanted to shun the delegate system of primaries by replacing it with direct primaries. Direct primaries would mean that the average party members would decide the party’s nominations for elective office. By further lessening the power of the party elite, this move promises a historic step in the evolution of party democracy in Nigeria.

The APC governorship primary for Ekiti State should have been by direct primary. One of the last acts of former national chairman Oyegun was to scrap the direct primary for that state. However, with the advent of new chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, a direct primary was successfully held in Osun. With the direct primary poised to be the new way of the APC, the PDP returnees felt even more uncomfortable in the APC. They wanted favour not democracy. The trends in the APC gave them little succour. Thus, they would seek a way out of the APC but only if they could gain a way back into getting what they wanted from the PDP. Thus, when the PDP offered them automatic tickets, they easily left the APC because they had no true loyalty to it, its public policies or its quest for greater internal democracy.

That these people have left the APC is the stuff of sensational headlines and hot debate. The defections are important but not in the ways now popularly discussed. It is vital to put their PDP return in proper context. Most talk centers on whether the APC or PDP has gained the upper hand in the National Assembly or any particular state. People seem to be keeping score as if this is a game. But a game it is not. It is life, the collective life of this nation and the individual lives of its many people.

What may be of greater consequence is whether the defections will strengthen the APC by allowing the party to assume a firmer democratic direction. If this is true, then the defections were actually late in coming. With these people gone, the APC may be more able to find its ideological soul and identity. The public must come to know what the party stands for. For that to happen, the party cannot be peopled by those who stand for nothing. The defectors never believed in the progressive vision of the APC. They joined the party to gain office not to bring progressive governance to all. While in office, they often tried to delay or dilute progressive legislation and policies meant for the public good.

They return to the PDP to do what they have always done. They do not return with the mind to reform the party. Their return is conditioned by one objective only: to be given automatic tickets in office.

They return to the PDP the same people as when they left and with the PDP being the same as when they left it. Uninterested in internal democracy, the PDP ran the country aground through 16 consecutive years of corruption and gross mismanagement. The party is incapable of doing anything differently. They will not hold direct primaries or allow their rank and file much say. They will decide everything by false consensus and automatic tickets. Disdain for democratic practices and misgovernance are the nature of the PDP and even more so the people who return to it after having the chance to engage in something better and fairer. Nigerians beware of those who make great fanfare in leaving that which struggles to be good to return to that which is unashamedly base. Let not the immediate past become our immediate future. We deserve better.

*Balogun is a public policy analyst and a member of the APC.