Historically, night of the long knives was the purge of Nazi leaders by Adolf Hitler on June 31, 1934. Fearing that the paramilitary Sturmabteilung had become too powerful, Hitler ordered his elite guards to murder the organisation’s leaders. Also killed that night were hundreds of other perceived opponents of Hitler.
Why this historical excursion? I’m using it as a way to describe what happened on Saturday, December 9, at the Peoples Democratic Party’s convention, which, at a level, should be nunc dimitis for the party. We should, however, be concerned as Nigerians who are desirous of robust and vibrant political parties. Our interests as non-members of PDP clearly should be different from those of a plethora of APC supporters, which by the way have neither been able to hold a convention of their own nor constitute a board of trustees, a clear aberration and flagrant disobedience of the party’s constitution, but have been giddy and excited about what happened on Saturday.
We should also remember that weak political parties are indicators of weak nation states and our experience as a country since this democratic journey started in 1999 is indicative that we are not making progress along this line. Juxtaposed with the political parties of the First Republic or even our pre-independence days, one will discover that we have regressed like other areas of our lives as Nigerians. At another level, the PDP merely confirmed what the party has been known for since it was formed. Like other political parties, which have been purely transactional or special purpose vehicles solely to win elections, what transpired at the Abuja convention followed a pattern which citizens and politicians are quite familiar with.
Who does not know that delegates at our parties’ convention are usually for the highest bidder? Who does not know that dollars usually exchange hands whenever we hold party conventions? Two stories of what happened at the 2015 primaries of APC and PDP shared by delegates conformed this. A friend who was a delegate at the APC convention held in Lagos to elect the presidential candidate in the 2015 election recalled how some governors then, now members of President Buhari’s cabinet, moved dollars to the convention ground and shared among delegates to ensure that Buhari became the candidate. It was said also, even though I could not confirm this independently, that a godfather in the party used his private jet to move dollars to the convention.
So also it was at the PDP convention as former President Goodluck Jonathan was not sure of securing his party’s ticket at the convention. I remember very well how delegates were housed at hotels for days paid for by candidates from where they were moved to the convention venue, a way to ‘secure’ their votes as I was told. This was the pattern too earlier in 2011 as I met delegates who were at the convention speaking with nostalgia of the “profit” that accrued to them at the convention. Further, what could have made former President Olusegun Obasanjo defeat an Alex Ekwuemeat that Jos convention in 1999? So, we have always had parties, which are no more than shades of what political parties should be, they only serve as symbols on ballot papers so that voters do not end up being confused.
Further, zoning has always been problematic as well in our political parties. While a group of 34 Nigerians which came together to form PDP wanted to offer an easy pass to late Ekwueme after the presidential ticket has been zoned to the southern part of the country, it was the man himself who stood up and said that no, anyone from the southern part should be free to contest, which opened the door wider for Obasanjo to contest. This account has been confirmed from those who were at that meeting. A similar thing happened where south west members of the PDP felt the chairmanship ticket was theirs alone.
We have always played money politics, which gives ticket to those who could pay for it among the godfathers or party members. So those who are complaining that delegates were ‘bought’ at Saturday’s convention are either neophyte politicians or suffering from deliberate amnesia. Only the poor or politically naïve will accuse a governor of deploying resources, another word for money in Nigeria’s political lingo, at a convention to swing votes in his candidate’s favour. When one of the chairmanship candidates threw his hat into the ring, someone who had worked with him before told me that the candidate will only get his fingers burnt as he does not have the war chest for such a battle. The candidate withdrew on the election date.
A factor some of the candidates conveniently forgot too is the interest of Gov. AyodeleFayose in becoming the running mate of whoever emerges as PDP’s presidential candidate. As incredulous as that might sound, it was a reason he did not support anybody from the south west for the chairmanship position.
It’s up to citizens to embrace popular political parties with mass appeal as our salvation is neither in PDP or APC.