NIGERIA presents itself to the world in fascinating contrasts and as a study in unrealised expectations and beckoning greatness frustrated by adversity and self-inflicted wounds. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, alluded on an optimistic note, to one dimension of the Nigerian paradox when he told a workshop in Lagos last Wednesday that despite the biting economic hardship “after being here, there is no way that this place (Nigeria), doesn’t end up shaping the way things get done around the world.”
It does not appear that Zuckerberg was merely speaking to please his growing clientele in Nigeria; rather, he seemed earnest, echoing statements which several world leaders have made about Nigeria’s manifest destiny. If the country will eventually transit from the current wilderness of deferred greatness to the world stage however, it must get among other things its democratic governance right, by alternating power smoothly between its major parties in free and fair elections. It is in this context that we worry about the looming erasure from the country’s political map of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Of course, it is easy to say good riddance if the PDP expires as a result of external pressure and ongoing bickering, considering its many blemishes. In fact, several politicians and sympathisers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are already gloating at the travails of the PDP if for no other reason than that it would mean that a major rival has gone into extinction. It is difficult nonetheless for a true democrat to rejoice at the probable emergence of a one-party state, however virtuous that one party is. As this writer suggested in his article, “PDP: An opposition party absent from duty” , democracy is the better and healthier for it when it is served by two major parties, each with roughly equal chances of winning or losing general elections. True, and as some politicians are already strategising, another party may rise up from the ashes of the PDP, but will such a party have the spread and the forte of the imploding PDP?
As known, the gravity of the current fractionalisation of the party is evident in the holding of rival primaries by the two major factions for the forthcoming Ondo State election, suggesting that the schisms are deep and hard to reconcile. Similarly, the crisis has thrown up a plethora of court cases and rival court rulings to the extent that it will be almost impossible to hold a National Convention without one side obtaining an injunction to abort it.
The unravelling of what was once proclaimed as Africa’s largest party, projected to govern the country for 60 years, carries with it a hint of tragedy mutating into farce as one observes the combatants displaying fervour at tackling their opponents without a trace of embarrassment or awareness that both parties in the fray are sealing the doom of their party. This blissful or pretended ignorance reminds one of Prof. Larry Diamond’s comment in his seminal book on Nigeria’s First Republic that when actors driving on a narrow lane show no awareness of the fragile terrain in which they are acting, they provoke a Samson option in which all contending parties face destruction. It is possible of course as some have speculated that one of the disputing parties is merely playing the spoiler with instigation from the ruling party, becoming defiant in order to bring about a mutually assured destruction of the PDP.
It will be unfortunate if the PDP lapses and pushes itself off the national stage because of real and contrived problems. Tensions and conflicts are to be expected in all organisations — large or small; the larger, the more likely they will incubate conflicts. Indeed, some conflicts can be creative if they lead to organisational renewal or bring about an important reformulation of strategies, goals and tactics. There is no hint, however, that the conflicts in the PDP, denaturing and festering, have anything to do with noble visions or ideals that can restart the party. Hence, at a time when Nigerians are in need of an effective opposition to both act as a check on the ruling party and to sign post better days to come, the PDP, or some of its leaders regale themselves with tactical victories obtained at the cost of pushing their party more and more into ruins.
Ordinarily, the statement credited to the Director, New Media of the PDP, Deji Adeyanju, last Thursday to the effect that President Muhammadu Buhari should pay close attention to the economy or resign should have attracted some mileage. But if Buhari wants to be cynical, his spokespersons can ask Adeyanju whether he is speaking for the Ahmed Makarfi faction or the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the party. In other words, nobody can take seriously a party so divided and which has made political differences of combatants a priority issue. It is possible that the PDP wary of the consequences of their collective abasement and their impact on our fragile democracy will allow common sense to prevail and build bridges across the current divides. If this happens quickly enough, the party may yet be rescued from its current suicidal journey from irrelevance to extinction.
In the unlikely event that the party overcomes its current troubles, it will wobble on as an inconsequential player in the scheme of things. However that goes, our democracy needs a vibrant opposition party to move the country to the next stage of democratic consolidation.
- Olukotun is a professor of political communication.