The ‘Demise’ Of The Peoples Democratic Party -By Olu Fasan

ONCE upon a time, a political party bestrode Nigerian politics like a colossus. It governed Nigeria for 16 years and vowed to rule for 60. But it’s utter hubris. Buffeted from crisis to crisis, a deep rot set in, then an existential decline. Charles Darwin famously said that any organism that cannot adjust to its environment will become extinct. In the struggle for existence, it’s survival of the fittest; only the strong organisms will continue to exist, the weak will succumb to extinction. That’s the story of the Peoples Democratic Party!

In truth, PDP is not dead, not extinct; it’s still alive, albeit on life support. Thus, it’s more appropriate to say that PDP is dying, that it’s on a deathbed. The undertakers and political vultures are circling, and whether the party can survive, whether it can escape extinction, depends on how it handles Nyesom Wike and his gang of renegades.

Earlier this week, after “taking a bow” at the Senate’s screening committee, Wike became a minister-designate in Bola Tinubu’s government. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong about that. With just 37 per cent of the total valid votes cast in February’s presidential election, a figure still in dispute, Tinubu is certainly running a minority government with a weak mandate and tenuous legitimacy. So, he needs a coalition, a unity government.

In 1979, President Shehu Shagari, leader of a minority government, with 34 per cent of the total valid votes, addressed a similar legitimacy problem by entering into a formal alliance with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, which had 17 per cent. Although the alliance collapsed a few years later, it initially stabilised the administration and turned a minority government into a majority one, with both Shagari’s party, National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Azikiwe’s party having a combined 51 per cent share of the popular vote.

All over the world, minority governments usually appoint members of other parties to their cabinet. But they do so by carrying those parties along, not by picking off their members.

In the UK, David Cameron formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 after extensive inter-party discussions. US Presidents often appoint members of a different party to their cabinet to engender bipartisanship and cooperation between the political parties. Such cross-party appointments are in good faith and with the consent of the opposition party.

But Tinubu is not interested in genuine cross-partisan or unity government. He wants to exploit and deepen crises in the opposition. For instance, Wike’s ministerial nomination is couched as “compensation” for his “role” in Tinubu’s “victory”. But that “role” was to the detriment of his own party, whose loss in the presidential election he boastfully claimed he orchestrated. Yet beyond “compensation”, Tinubu wants to rupture and paralyse the PDP.

Recently, speaking on the Wike issue, Dele Alake, Tinubu’s erstwhile special adviser on special duties, communications and strategy, now a minister-designate, said: “If as a political party your enemy is fighting itself, you reap whatever gain from it without lifting a finger.” But Tinubu lifted more than a finger. Independent election observers and analysts, notably the EU, Yiaga Africa and BBC, said categorically that Tinubu didn’t win Rivers State. So, presumably, Wike manipulated the state’s election for Tinubu. To “compensate” Wike with a ministerial appointment for that questionable “role” is a slap in the face for democracy. Moreover, to deliberately fuel and “reap” from PDP’s crisis to render the party supine doesn’t only undermine the party system that underpins democracy, it erodes democracy itself.

In a recent article titled, “PDP’s gang of five: A danger to Nigeria’s representative democracy” (Vanguard, June 29, 2023), I argued that if Wike’s gang and its allied “Integrity Group” have any shred of integrity, they should defect to APC instead of peeing in PDP’s tent from the inside.

Surely, Wike as a minister in Tinubu’s cabinet while purporting to be a PDP card-carrying member turns party discipline, the core of the party system, on its head. He and his group will eat out PDP from within, with significant help from Tinubu, who will continue to use him to sabotage and cripple the party for electoral advantages. Truth is, Wike cannot simultaneously be loyal to Tinubu and the PDP; it’s an oxymoron, an oddity!

Of course, the alternative argument is that Wike and his gang are actually the real PDP; that they truly control the party. After all, how could he mobilise PDP legislators behind Tinubu’s choices for the leaderships of the National Assembly without a whimper? How could he impose his loyalists as minority leaders in the National Assembly without as much as a pushback from the “official” PDP? And, come to think of it, why is Wike so powerful that he seems untouchable? No serious political party will allow any member to grab its jugular and threaten its existence, as Wike does to the PDP, without fighting back.

In truth, PDP is not a serious political party. Recently, one of its leaders, Elder Emannuel Ogidi, told a TV station that “PDP doesn’t know how to play opposition”, suggesting it’s only good in power. Really?

What gives PDP the inalienable right to govern? A party that cannot do opposition is not fit to govern. Globally, serious political parties win and lose elections. When they lose, they pick themselves up, listen to the electorate, learn the right lessons, and fight their way back to power. That’s what Democrats and Republicans do in America; what Labour and the Conservatives do in Britain; and what the National Democratic Party and the New Patriotic Party have done in Ghana since 1992, losing and winning elections!

But in and out of power, PDP can’t manage itself. Internal wranglings cost it the 2015 presidential election and, largely, this year’s presidential poll. In both elections, a ruthless APC aggressively exploited PDP’s crises, luring out its influential members. Is it coincidental that many APC leaders are former PDP chieftains? No, APC hollowed out PDP!

Yet, Nigeria needs a healthy democracy. But it won’t happen without strong and competitive political parties, which, in turn, depend on a robust party system. That’s why PDP must escape APC’s cannibalism, extricate itself from Wike and play robust opposition with a sense of mission, or else, it risks extinction!

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