Unless a man has two wives he does not appreciate the value of the first one. So says an Urhobo proverb. The present excruciating failure of government illustrates this aphoristic submission. For 16 years, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held sway as Nigeria’s ruling party. While in power, the PDP behaved like a drunken braggart. It unleashed impunity on Nigeria and adopted corruption and electoral heist as appellations. Under its stewardship, militancy, insurgency and other crimes festered. Its insensitivity was monumental and it neither acknowledged the people nor the essence of a future. At the peak of its giddiness, one of its megalomaniac chairmen boasted that the PDP would rule Nigeria for 60 years! In retrospect, that declaration turned out to be a pun as the PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 instead of 60 years!
The PDP was not a party of swashbucklers at its inception in 1998. The party grew out of a nucleus of 18 men who were in the vanguard of opposition to military rule during the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. Among these men who formed the Group of Eighteen (G 18) which later expanded into G 34, were Alex Ekwueme, Sunday Awoniyi, Sule Lamido, Solomon Lar, etc. It was even hinted that the party’s manifesto was penned by Bola Ige, progressive politician and leading intelligentsia. At birth, the PDP was the ideal party for a nation extricating itself from 16 years of military dictatorship. The party had “people” and “democracy”, which are the two ideal components of a democracy, in its name. It also had a national spread which made it a truly pan-Nigerian party at that time.
However, the party’s ideal was violated when the military generals hijacked it. The generals, with their heavy financial war chest mangled the party’s democratic soul. In spite of that early debauchery, the party went on to win a nationwide landslide victory during the 1999 elections across all tiers of government. The two other parties of that period, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Peoples Party (APP) won elections in some states. It was this scenario especially, the manipulation of the PDP and the electoral process by the generals that led to the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a general and former military head of state, as president of Nigeria in 1999.
Obasanjo moved against the founders of the party, frustrated them out and masterminded the resignation of the party’s chairmen at will. He introduced garrison politics not just into the PDP, but into Nigerian politics. He it was who declared election “a do or die” affair! He assailed the legislature, compromised the judiciary and corrupted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Obasanjo asphyxiated the PDP and convoluted the nation’s democracy. However, his plot of a constitution amendment that will earn him a third term in office blew up in his face.
By the time Obasanjo left office in mortification in 2007, the nation was in a terrible shape and the PDP, the party in power, was blamed for the woes. The denigration of values which Obasanjo promoted also took roots in all the states so that Nigeria became a nation of orukukuru (debauched sensibilities). Obasanjo’s successor, the meek mannered, Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, admitted to the electoral fraud that Obasanjo perpetuated in bringing him (Yar’ Adua) to power. Yar’ Adua died in 2010 and thus came in Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan, a meek teacher like Yar’ Adua, lacked the latter’s moral fibre. He allowed himself to be led by the noose. He saw no evil and heard no evil. When there was massive corruption he called it ordinary stealing! He didn’t “give a damn” for not declaring his assets. Under him, Nigeria suffered humiliation in the hands of insurgents. His government represented the worst tendencies associated with the PDP.
An alliance of many political parties engendered a mega party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The party chose Buhari, a former military dictator and serial presidential candidate, as its flag bearer for the 2015 presidential election. The APC rightly gauged the mood of Nigerians and campaigned with a CHANGE slogan. The APC trounced the PDP and Buhari was inaugurated as president in May 2015, thus ending the PDP’s 16 years of misrule.
Buhari’s emergence has turned out to be a swindle as the APC disavowed all its campaign promises. Nigeria has relapsed into a Hobbesian condition worse than the terrible days of the PDP in power. Buhari hit the ground limping. In spite of Buhari’s criticism of foreign medical trips, he has himself been in a London hospital for months. Buhari’s abysmally poor understanding of the economy threw the nation into its worst economic recession ever and Nigeria has become the face of hunger and deprivation. Centrifugal forces of disintegration are vociferous and the nation is falling apart.
Nigerians are the man with two wives who now knows the value of the first wife, the PDP. The PDP must reinvent itself and seize the initiative. The PDP has tasted humiliation. Many of its isiagwanre and ukodo (money sharing and come and eat) members decamped to the APC overnight just as Ali Modu Sheriff took the party through a terrible nightmare. The PDP should put its house in order and engage the APC by deepening and consolidating democratic culture. It should now play the role of watchdog, proffering alternative ideas, inspiring debates, shaping public opinion, mobilising the media and civil society. A new PDP shorn of the Obasanjo tendencies should give Nigerians political education and support electoral reforms. Many of its founding fathers and men of political valour are still around to give the party the needed gravitas. They should embark on a nationwide reconciliation and regrouping. They must reconnect with the people. This will be to the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians. Right now there is no new party that can confront the APC. Only the PDP can. The APC is riven into factions in all the states. It is a drowning party, bereft of the vision to navigate Nigeria out of the current miasma. All its vocal advocates, with the exception of Atiku Abubakar, the restructuring campaigner, have receded to the abyss of silence. Another season of change beckons.
Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.