It was a coup de grace, and I shouted in wonderment as the breaking news came.
In Nigerian politics today, the PDP is like a gravy train, and it is not easy to leave it for a party just aspiring for power at the centre. Being a member of PDP, particularly at very prominent level, means unfettered access to free money, to power and all its appurtenances, to influence, to all that you need to be a swashbuckling Nigerian.
It is only someone truly interested in higher ideals, or sorely vexed with the perilous ways of the party, that will dump the PDP. But at least four governors did so on Tuesday, and still counting. A number of former governors also left the ruling party for the APC.
What we now have in Nigeria is a balance of power, instead of the skew and tilt that existed before Tuesday. The PDP had always threatened to hold us captive for minimum of 60 years, simply because there was no balance of power in the country. It had developed itself into a power grabbing machine, and not necessarily a political party run on democratic norms and principles. But with the new development, the country now has balance of power, which Condoleezza Rice, former American Secretary of State says, “favours freedom.” Yes, balance of power leads to stability, while imbalance is threat to everything, including democracy.
Tom Lehrer, an American singer and songwriter, wrote thus of balance of power:
“First we got the bomb, and that was good
Cause we love peace and motherhood
Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s okay
Cause the balance of power is maintained that way.”
In a manner of speaking, PDP has the bomb, and that is good. The APC also now got the bomb, and that’s okay. Balance of power is maintained that way. When the dust of who is where really settles, APC may have 18 governors (or thereabout), PDP will shrink from 23 to 16 (or thereabout), while Labour Party has one, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has one. We are now closer to a two-party arrangement, which some people believe is better for democracy, because there will be a balance of power.
Equally, when the dust eventually settles, the configuration of dominance in the National Assembly may change. APC may become the party with the majority, as most lawmakers will likely go with their governors into the new party. How things suddenly change! Between the rising of the sun, and the going down thereof, the face of things may change. Well, it changed last Tuesday.
What are the implications of the new scenario in Nigerian politics? Plenty.
James T. Kirk, the American fictional character in Star Trek, says balance of power is the trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game, “but the only one that preserves both sides.” True. The emerging position in our politics will not only preserve both sides (PDP and APC), it will also preserve our democracy. Imagine if PDP continues to rule for 60 years as it had threatened. What would have happened? Ennui would set in, the political game would become jaded and uninspiring, tedium and lassitude would ensue, and Nigerians would be taken for granted at will. We would have no voice, no choice, but just take the PDP warts and all. If we tell them there is no bread, they would tell us to eat cake. If we say naira is scarce, they would tell us to spend dollars. We would simply be in a cul-de-sac. No option, no alternative to PDP. We would have been finished as a people. But with current development, Nigerians now have a choice. We can change those who rule us through our votes.
Votes. Do they count here? With balance of power, votes will have to count. No single party can now manipulate the system unabashedly again, as we have seen since 1999. Can any individual, party or electoral umpire give us the Maurice Iwu stuff, or what Attahiru Jega’s INEC did in Anambra on November 16, and get away with it? Not on their lives! Not with the balance of power we now have. Any party that will win anything now will have to work for it. No artifices again, no more sleight of hand. You only get what you deserve henceforth. No one can just beat anybody down again by sheer force of numbers and power of incumbency.
Talking of incumbency, a number of people have criticized the fact that the APC had made so much effort to woo serving PDP governors into its camp. They say why invite the same people you had criticized so stridently into your camp, if you had ideological distinction? Good argument. But only puritanical. Good argument that will not lead to change of power structure in any form. For there to be a change in Nigeria, you need the levers of powers, the mechanics of control. If you don’t have those, your ideas, as good as they may be, will simply remain such – ideas. No change, no impact.
In Nigeria, as I have always maintained, incumbency means opportunism, it means ability to influence the system, even to manipulate. Without being an incumbent, for instance, would a Goodluck Jonathan ever have been substantive president? Not likely. Will an Ibrahim Geidam have been governor in Yobe? Not likely. Will a Patrick Yakowa (God rest his soul) have been governor in Kaduna? Not likely. All these got into their respective offices when their predecessors died, and they stepped in, according to the dictates of our constitution. Without such developments, they may never have got to where they are now. So, does APC need serving governors to wrest power at the centre? They do. Without having power base in the states, power at the centre would just remain a pie in the sky, a Sugarcandy Mountain as exists in the dreamy world of Moses in Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Remember Moses? He was the old raven who always dreamed of a mysterious country called Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died. Situated somewhere in the sky, it was Sunday seven days a week in the country, clover was available all season, and lump sugar and linseed cake grew on the hedges. Dreamer, wake up! Without going for serving governors, no matter the ideological holes you can pick in the decision, power would simply be a Sugarcandy Mountain to the APC. And ‘change,’ which is the slogan of the party, would just be mere mantra. Nigeria would simply remain in the servitude of PDP, not even for 60 years, but forever.
Another implication is the onerous challenge now imposed on the APC. The governors and former PDP chieftains left because they were victims of undemocratic practices and injustice. Can they afford to experience the same in the new party? No. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a major player in the parties that fused into APC, was known for certain practices that were deemed undemocratic. Rather than let its candidates emerge through primaries, it handpicks them. Old things should pass away now, and all things should become new. If such tendencies show up in APC, it will create a problem for the party. Candidates at all levels must emerge freely and fairly.
APC has the challenge of building a near-seamless party, since it is a conglomeration of ACN, the old Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and part of APGA. Olagunsoye Oyinlola, though not fully in APC yet, is collaborating with Chief Bisi Akande, the man he dislodged to become Osun State governor in 2003. I saw both men embracing on television. Miraculous! Abdulhahi Adamu, former governor of Nasarawa State is in the same party with Tanko Al-Makura, the man who took the state from Aliyu Akwe Doma, who had been installed by Adamu. Wonderful! And Bukola Saraki, former Kwara State governor, will now be in the same party as Belgore, the man he fought grit for grit, tackle for tackle, before he installed his own successor in Abdulfatah Ahmed. Amazing! Strange bedfellows all, surely, but they must make the sleep sweet. There will be uneasy times between the founders and the joiners, but there should be sacrifice on both sides. No first class or second class citizens.
Some former G7 governors are still staying back in the PDP. Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Sule Lamido of Jigawa, and Babangida Aliyu of Niger, are yet to take the plunge. It is their rights to move or not to. But one thing is clear. It will never be the same for them in PDP again. Having been part of what was called New PDP or ‘rebel governors,’ the mainstream PDP will never trust them again. In fact, they would be suspected as moles who stayed back to further weaken the party, and pass vital information to the APC. Time will tell.
Again, with the configuration of the power game in Nigeria now, will the average Jigawa person, or the Sokoto and Niger person ever vote for the candidate of the PDP in 2015? Not likely. So, the governors who stayed back will simply find out that they are no longer in charge of their states. In 2011, those states were won by the CPC in the presidential election. In Jigawa, CPC won 663,994, while the PDP won 419,252. In Niger, CPC won 652,574, while PDP won 321,429. In Sokoto, CPC won 540,769, while PDP won 309,057. Nothing shows that the PDP will not fare worse in those states in 2015, and it will simply be beyond the governors. The people will just revolt with their votes.
The days and years ahead surely promise to be quite dramatic and interesting. PDP will never dash out power, APC will have to take it, if it wants it seriously enough. But no doubt, Nigeria and her democracy will be better for it. No possibility of domination of the political space by one party again. No more swagger, no tyranny, no bluster. The true breath of fresh air is here.