4 October, 2020
It is a tribute to the farsightedness of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that, more than the All Progressives Congress (APC), they have sensibly contextualised their victory in the September 19 Edo State governorship election. It is portentous that the loss does not alarm the loser as much as it energises the victor. Flush with that victory and basking in the euphoria of narrowing the gap between their party and the ruling party in the number of their governors, the opposition party is upbeat about their chances in the Ondo poll, and even more optimistic about their chances in the coming general election. They may not have ideologically and administratively reformed their party as Nigerians and their supporters hope, but they seem to rely on the unravelling and contentiousness taking place in the ruling party rather than be motivated to make drastic changes in their mode of operation.
The PDP has empanelled a presidential election review committee to examine their past losses and suggest how the party could be recharged for the future. The Edo victory gives fillip to their efforts. The committee has met with former military head of state Ibrahim Babangida, ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, and former senate president David Mark, among others. They will continue the consultations in order to see how best to galvanise the leadership and the lower rungs of the party for the purpose of presenting a united and formidable front for 2023. It is not clear how successful they will be, but they seem extraordinarily encouraged to give the plan their best shot. In his October 1 address, President Muhammadu Buhari may have passed a snide remark about the PDP’s penchant for destructive politics and administration, but in various statements and rebuttals, the opposition has served notice that they would harp on the divisiveness, exclusion, and bigotry of the ruling party.
When the propaganda war starts in earnest, it remains to be seen who will have the upper hand. But so far, the APC has seemed to inadvertently arm the PDP for war. They armed them in Edo, Bauchi, Zamfara, Benue and a few other states, and the PDP has grabbed the opportunity with both hands and are making hay. And by engaging in bitter and acrimonious war, to the point of neutralising themselves even before the main battle is joined in the years ahead, the APC may enter the next mortal combat gravely wounded. All the PDP needs to do is to keep a tentative peace within their ranks, hammer out a platform that does not alarm and alienate their rank and file as well as the country, say the right, nice and harmless words on ethnic togetherness, equal opportunity, religious harmony, and political inclusion, and then bide their time. As the war within the APC continues, the party is weakened from the inside and rendered vulnerable and beatable.
Analysts should be objective about the country’s political schisms and struggles. When the PDP took the electorate for a ride in its 16 years in office, mercifully the APC was waiting in the wings to reap a bountiful harvest. But in a few dizzying years, the APC has taken the country on a roller coaster, and perpetrated far more egregious provocations which they hope railway lines and bridges will mitigate. In 16 years, there was never a time when the PDP turned over the presidency to non-politicians. But in less than a year after assuming office, the APC outsourced the presidency, alienated its top politicians, subverted the legislature and the judiciary, and dictated to the people what their tastes and needs should be. If the party does not begin to retrace its steps but chooses to leave the damage unattended to, one year or so before the next elections may prove electorally fatal.
If the PDP wins Ondo, it will be hard to stop them going into 2023. The PDP knows this. Unlike the brinkmanship they played in Edo when they mouthed the rodomontade of free and fair election to mask their bitter quarrels, the APC also knows that Ondo may be the turning point. They will want to keep the state at all cost; but they have let the free and fair election genie out of the bottle and will be hard put to find a piper who will recapture it. Unfortunately for the APC, they do not even deserve to win Ondo, though the PDP was hardly innovative when they governed the state. Should APC win the state, the setback will only startle the PDP, not inoculate the opposition against subsequent victories. It is the APC that is on the defensive, for they have also shown that apart from cherry-picking which state they want to win or lose, they are not substantially different from the PDP. Before the 2015 poll, they gave the impression they played moral politics. But since assuming office in Abuja, they have played a deeply amoral politics. They will thus stay on the defensive till 2023, partly because of their own failings and disorganisation as a party, and partly because of the president whose personal and administrative failings have curiously canonised the abject failures the PDP presented the country in their 16 years in office.
The APC may deserve to suffer reverses in the many elections ahead, and the PDP to benefit from the chaos convulsing the ruling party, but the opposition party itself has done generally little to merit any victory it might secure in the future. Like the cagey ruling party, the PDP will walk gingerly on the key issues deserving courageous statements and actions by a political party, such as restructuring, and it will waffle over nearly all the existential issues without which resolution the country cannot assume the greatness the president glibly spoke about in his anniversary speech. So, the APC may deserve to lose the next general election, but the PDP has done little to deserve to win it. The opposition is waiting in the wings to profit from the ruling party’s many indiscretions, but it has done little else to demonstrate that it can or will be different if it should take office again.
Judging from President Buhari’s assertions in his October 1 speech, especially the way he spoke blithely about democracy despite all he has done to undermine it, to the point of even equating fair elections with democracy, it seems increasingly obvious that he and his aides are leaning towards the Chinese model of democracy. The problem is that the Chinese model has appeared to constantly produce competent leaders since Deng Xiaoping, a feat Nigeria’s deep ethnic and religious cracks have seemed to preclude. Worse, apart from producing a slew of incompetent leaders since 1999, Nigerian democracy, if modified along the Chinese model, will more likely produce ethnically inclined leaders with the acquired totalitarian streak of Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, and Donald Trump, without their redeeming virtues.
The PDP may have wrong-footed the APC, and may even be on the ascendancy, but it is hard to see the party becoming a great and conquering force. It is still dominated by the same jaded politicians and technocrats of the past few decades, and it subscribes to the same sterile and futile philosophies that enervated their governments for 16 years. It has not reformed because it lacks the intellectual aggressiveness to embrace change; and it will neither adopt a radical departure from the past nor purge its higher echelons. Voted into office for a second epoch, it will simply rehash its old slogans, posture ridiculously like it did in the past, and take the country on a merry-go-round. The dilemma facing the country will be how to compare and choose between the self-destructive lunacy of the APC and the exasperating political decadence of the PDP.