When the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was in control of the federal government, it resolved many issues in the ‘national interest’. This sometimes entailed refusal to implement the law. But even this was not always as dubious as it sounds.
The PDP came to power after many years of misgovernance by the military had fractured the political fabric of the country, imposed a culture of corruption and left the economy floundering. The PDP governments were therefore saddled with the responsibilities of uniting the country, fighting corruption and revamping the economy.
Two years after the party lost the 2015 presidential election, it has become more apparent that these responsibilities are onerous. The PDP governments achieved a lot, even if they could have done much better. Now that the party is enmeshed in internal leadership crisis after losing power at the centre, it merits public sympathy and goodwill.
The PDP was Nigeria’s dominant and governing party for 16 years. It stretched the fourth republic beyond the combined years of the previous democratic dispensations. PDP’s long run as a truly national party is unmatched in the annals of Nigerian party politics. And PDP’s organic growth is also remarkable.
But by 2011, the influence of the founding fathers of the party had begun to fade. This was a natural process, given that the party was formed by some senior citizens, who got together to consummate the agitation for an end to the country’s serial military regimes. Nature dealt another blow on the PDP when President Umaru Yar’Adua died in office in 2010. His death upset the party’s internal arrangement for presidential power rotation between the South and the North.
The allocation of top government positions and rotation of the presidency to maintain the country’s delicate geopolitical balance had seemed pragmatic. But it proved to be short-sighted and capable of thrusting the PDP – if not the country – into a political quandary. As Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan constitutionally succeeded Yar’Adua. But Jonathan hails from the minority Ijaw ethnic tribe in the South. He had to complete the mandate of a president from the North, and he decided to seek re-election in 2015 after winning the 2011 presidential election on the strength of his incumbency.
Jonathan’s presidency was disquieting for party members who, for whatever reason, wanted a quick reversion to power rotation to the North after the demise of President Yar’Adua. With President Jonathan clinging to power, the party started to fall apart. This, and public disenchantment over festering corruption under the watch of the governing PDP, cost the party the 2015 presidential election.
Since then, the party has been reeling in seemingly intractable leadership crisis. And the more unscrupulous past members of the party, who defected to the ruling APC party, are trying their level best to further undermine the revival of the PDP.
But it is the PDP that so far has preeminence in Nigeria’s democracy. President Obasanjo reintegrated Nigeria into the international community after years of the country’s isolation. He worked assiduously to achieve the debt buyback deal that saw Nigeria’s exit from the $30 billion Paris Club debt. President Yar’Adua was the country’s first leader with a university degree. President Jonathan reformed agriculture, created the Sovereign Wealth Fund, and provided the first experience of peaceful power transition to the opposition in Nigeria.
In market governance, the PDP fostered technocracy. Top-rated experts were given opportunities to serve the country to some good effects. On the frontline of this technocratic brigade are Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Charles Soludo, Ernest Ndukwe, Lamido Sanusi, Oby Ezekwesili, Nasir El Rufai, Fola Adeola, Ndidi Okereke-Onyuike, Amina Mohammed, Akinwumi Adesina, Segun Aganga, Kingsley Moghalu, Uche Orji, Arunma Oteh, Yemi Kale, and Abraham Nwankwo.
These individuals helped create, revitalise or operate exceptionally the top functioning Nigerian institutions of today. The PDP governments made the Central Bank of Nigeria independent, created the Debt Management Office and National Pension Commission, and reformed the National Bureau of Statistics. These and other institutions, including the National Communication Commission – whose GSM spectrum auction in 2001 revolutionised mobile telecommunication in Nigeria – have catalysed unparalleled local and foreign investments in the country.
It would be calamitous, if a party of PDP’s influence on the country’s democracy and market governance should slip into oblivion. Without party longevity, Nigeria’s democratic culture will remain poor. More so, the APC government that succeeded PDP in 2015 has betrayed lack of experience, national acceptability and internal cohesion.
The APC is less likely to develop these traits over the coming years. Its coalition is not of established parties, but mostly disgruntled and opportunistic politicians. The PDP is important in shortening APC’s learning curve. Without the PDP regaining strength, the APC will weaken; not least because it would slip into complacency and deepen its vices.
It should be encouraging for those who wish the country’s democracy well that the prospects of PDP’s revival is substantial. The party has 45 out of the 109 senators; 127 out of the 360 House of Representatives members; and 11 out of the 36 state governors. PDP controls Nigeria’s oil-rich states of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom. The governors of these states have access to considerable resources to deliver public service, build infrastructure and make social impacts. If the governors deliver, it would help keep the party in the public psyche until it makes a comeback at the presidency – sooner or later.
President Jonathan’s efforts at reconciling the factional leaders of the party is commendable. It would be sagacious of President Obasanjo if he were to complement ongoing reconciliation efforts. No question about it, the revival of the PDP is in the true national interest. But it would be a shame if PDP’s current and past leaders fail to make the party strong again.
For sure, a party can suffer a crushing defeat at an election. That was the case with the US Democratic Party when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. Having now elected a new DNC Chairman, the revival of the party is on track. Similar feat is expected of the PDP.
Published April, 2017 on Financial Nigeria