We know already that life is filled with ironies, but no one would have imagined that the most important elective convention in the life of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would coincide with the International Anti-Corruption Day. PDP and anti-corruption are like daylight and night-time; ordinarily, their paths should never interweave.
Without trying to excuse President Muhammadu Buhari’s unidirectional anti-corruption campaign, PDP is at the heart of corruption (and every other shortcoming of democracy) in the Fourth Republic. Since leaving power, Olusegun Obasanjo — and he should know, being the biggest beneficiary of PDP’s ascent to power — has been unable to hide his disdain for the pervasiveness of corruption in the legislature. The only thing he hasn’t done is to expressly blame his then party; not that we need that information — until 2015, the same legislature frequently maligned by Obasanjo was dominated by PDP lawmakers.
The lawmakers are quick to return the favours. Obasanjo it was who schooled them in the art of corruption, they often say, reminding him of how he wooed the legislature with cash in an attempt to push through his failed third term bid. None of this is new information.
PDP’s legacy of corruption has outlasted its 16-year rule. There is the Siemens bribery scandal, featuring shady payments of a total €1.3bn to a Minister, Senator and other Federal Government officials who, by the way, are still walking free. There is the stupendously messy Halliburton scandal involving the bribery of elected officials in the Fourth Republic, and dating back to the military era, to the tune of $182m. These are the more obvious, internationally-embarrassing cases. In states, ministries, agencies and the central government, there are so many PDP-era corruption cases that even the EFCC and ICPC must have lost count.
Yet, on December 9, the day set aside since 2003 by the United Nations to raise global awareness of the consequences of corruption, PDP will begin a two-day convention that will culminate in the emergence of its National Chairman and other principal officers. This is by far the party’s most crucial convention ever, and it’s not hard to explain.
For two-and-a-half years into his tenure, Buhari has operated in a one-and-a-half-party democracy. PDP, the half, has failed to muster a quarter of the engagement it endured from the APC in its own years of rule. Of course, the quality of that engagement was often lacking in intellectual depth and was more propaganda than fact-based, but there was something at least. So far, Buhari has, to a large extent, been unchallenged by an opposition; and it could worsen — not for Buhari but for our democracy — if PDP doesn’t speak with one voice from December 10. It could mean that Buhari walks into a second tenure practically unchallenged or maybe weakly challenged — a scenario that would defeat the very essence of democracy. If Buhari wants to be President in 2019, he must work hard for that ticket. Very hard. This is why even those who detest the PDP must be interested in this convention.
The buildup to the convention has been a huge cause for concern. Desperation for the ‘juicy’ position of National Chairman is threatening to derail the progress recently made by the party, following a long stretch of internal tussle that clearly had the markings of APC pulling the strings from hiding. The zoning (or incomplete zoning) of the position to the South threatens to spark a post-convention crisis or the staging of a parallel convention.
The chairmanship aspirants from the South-West, led by old guard Olabode George, want the position zoned to their exact geopolitical zone, but Raymond Dokpesi and Uche Secondus, a former Acting National Chairman, argue that the South-South was. Never produced a substantive PDP Chairman.
While Dayo Adeyeye, National Publicity Secretary, has been boasting that the PDP would “organise the most credible party election in the history of Nigeria”, a convention Chairman has yet to be agreed upon due to aspirants’ suspicion about the interests and intention of possible candidates for the post. Calls for the resignation of Ahmed Makarfi, Chairman of the caretaker committee, have recently intensified, providing an extra reason to fear for the post-convention unity of the PDP.
Same old, same old
Much as this won’t be in the interest of the country, it’s hard to see PDP playing anything more than the devil’s advocate in the 2019 presidential election. Just take a look at the chairmanship aspirants: Rasheed Ladoja, Jimi Agbaje, Tunde Adeniran, Raymond Dokpesi, Gbenga Daniel, Uche Secondus. Each of them has been Minister or Senator or Governor or governorship aspirant in the past. No breath of fresh air.
What, for example, is someone like Bode George doing anywhere close to places where serious conversations about the next PDP Chairman are holding? Someone of his public-office standing — he’s retired from the Navy, been Military Governor of Ondo State, been chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, been National Vice Chairman and Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, has gone to prison (for four years) and come back — should be working for the PDP from the background. Even Adamu Ciroma’s wife, Maryam, wants to be Deputy National Chairman! Husband and wife have been Minister of the Federal Republic at different times, just to mention one of the many plum national positions that have been shared between them.
Apparently, PDP has misdiagnosed the reasons for which it lost the 2015 election. Having been rejected by the people ‘against the run of play’, despite the war chest at its disposal in 2015, the party should have known, by now, that its desperately-needed rebranding cannot happen with the same faces that defined its most recent era. By now, the names associated with the party should be people brimming with ideas who haven’t been the faces of the party in recent years — people against whom the public holds no grudge as of yet.
If the PDP hopes to contest the 2019 election with the likes of Ahmed Makarfi and Atiku Abubakar, then the contest would have been over way before its start, and the PDP’s sojourn to political oblivion would have begun to earn some permanence.
But before then, its one final debt to Nigerians is to hold a free and fair convention on Saturday and stay united thereafter (or at least pretend to be). Nigerians will keep an eye on this convention — not necessarily because we love the party that PDP is, but because it’s our most realistic chance of not getting stuck in one-way election traffic in 2019.
The PDP can be Nigeria’s necessary evil for at least another two years; we can’t throw it away just yet, regardless of our misgivings against it. For once, this party cannot disappoint Nigerians. Having failed as a ruling party, it must not make a mess of opposition politicking.
Soyombo, Editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo