Postscript By Waziri Adio
After published reports of his supposed illness and death, Mark Twain gifted the world one eternal line: “the report of my death was an exaggeration.” The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could tell those eager to script its obituary the same thing, and justifiably so. With the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) last year and a string of lightning reversals for the ruling party, the long-projected implosion of PDP was thought nigh. In retrospect, that was an exaggerated forecast.
In the last six months, PDP has managed a remarkable rebound that puts it strongly back in play. And it has done this through a combination of direct action and some good luck. The exit of the governors and legislators of the New PDP (nPDP) to APC seems to have been more of a boon to the ruling party than a real bust, as it rid the party of strong internal opposition. There has been relative calm in PDP since. And this relative calm has allowed the party to put its house in order and be in a position to launch a very devastating counter-attack.
A turning point in PDP’s resurgence was that it was able to stymie the wave of cross-carpeting in the National Assembly by going to court and using its control of the leadership in the Senate to strategic effect. In the past, legislators had freely moved from other parties to PDP, and had always been welcomed with red carpet by the ruling party. But the party that wrote the manual on poaching obviously also understood how to handle it. It went to court and filibustered, and legitimately so. Were things not so tied up, and given the well-documented proclivity of our politicians for band-wagoning, APC could have become the majority party in the House of Representatives and assumed leadership of the House, and possibly could have done same in the Senate but without changing the entire leadership. That scenario would have altered the field of play significantly. But it didn’t happen.
PDP also wisely relieved itself of its former chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, whose leadership style had alienated some critical stakeholders in the party, especially the all-powerful governors. His replacement, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, seems to be more of a team player and bridge builder. Muazu has been widely celebrated in PDP as a master strategist and the game changer. There might be a hint of exaggeration there, if you remember that as a sitting governor, the same Muazu was defeated in the race for the Bauchi South senatorial district in 2007 by Senator Bala Mohammed, now the minister of FCT and a PDP member, but then the flag-bearer of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). However, this little fact does not diminish what Muazu might have brought on board nor does it erase the fact that the resurgence of PDP happened under his watch.
What I think is the most critical endogenous reason for PDP’s resurgence is its ferocious fight-back. If the APC had expected the behemoth to roll over, it was clearly mistaken. With state resources and apparatus under its firm control and with no scruples about deploying them unfairly to its advantage, PDP took the battle to APC. The ruling party has opened fire from three flanks: counter-poaching legislators and leading members of APC, challenging APC’s hold in the two states up for election, and destabilising the opposition party by propping up challengers and instigating impeachments. This lethal combination has since put APC on the back-foot and significantly eroded its standing.
While not taking anything away from PDP’s strategists and while taking account of how state power has been crudely pressed into enhancing PDP’s advantage, I will also argue that APC has more than facilitated PDP’s dramatic comeback by leaving both the field and its flanks open. And it has done so in four ways. One, APC stopped growing about eight months ago. When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) gave approval for the merger of three and a half leading opposition parties into APC on 31st July, 2013, that news was greeted with so much enthusiasm largely because Nigerians had been hankering for a credible and viable alternative to PDP and because of the inherent promise that a real contest between two strong parties holds for good governance.
So APC came into being in a very receptive and conducive environment. APC’s stock swelled dramatically when in November last year it received five governors and scores of legislators from PDP, with the promise of more to follow. The party continued its bullish run with its open outreach to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and others in December last year and when former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar defected to it in February this year.
But APC got high on its presumed, hypothetical strength and lost both the steam and the plot. APC’s recruitment strategy seems to have revolved solely around wooing the disaffected and poaching the available. I have argued on another platform that having an intimidating assemblage of established politicians in APC definitely conferred some initial advantage. But that should be the starting point. For APC, however, that appears the end point. Poaching as a recruitment strategy is deeply flawed because it is unsustainable for an opposition party in patronage-driven polity as the ruling party is almost in absolute possession of the means of coercion and seduction.
Poaching also presents a major challenge for differentiation, as politicians cannot be deemed changed just by changing platforms, a point I will come back to shortly. APC has not reached out to the generality of Nigerians in a strategic and sustained way. For a party that claims a progressive outlook to politics, mass appeal should be its forte. But APC seems to have preferred to just appeal to a section of the elite, who possibly would be expected to pull their sheepish followers in line, while those not in the pocket of godfathers would be expected to follow suit because of their presumed distrust of PDP. Well, that has not happened, and may not happen. And besides, APC’s over-reliance on power blocs has exposed it to serious blackmail from those with the hypothetical followings in its fold.
APC has adopted a start-stop approach to selling itself. Yes, a sizeable number of Nigerians reportedly obtained the party’s membership cards, but registration cards are not same as votes. In March this year, APC held a national summit with a lot of razzmatazz in Abuja and launched the draft of its manifesto, “Roadmap to a New Nigeria.” This is a decent even if not a perfect document that speaks to the progressive credentials of the party in terms of approach to education, health, housing, job creation and safety nets.
Personally, I have questions about whether this is actually a road map or just a statement of intentions and about how to fund and implement the plan. But this document has the ideological coherence and the practical potential for human development that was last seen with the four cardinal programmes of the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led defunct Unity Party of Nigeria in the second republic. Nothing has been heard of this road map since the summit. This document offers the party the opportunity to differentiate and market itself to Nigerians. But it is an opportunity the party has not taken. Lack of differentiation has been a blessing to PDP, with the possibility that Nigerians, like risk-averse people everywhere, will rather stick with the devil they know.
Also, despite the fact that APC is enjoying a lot of airtime and print space, the messaging of the party has been very weak. APC dissipates a lot of energy on defining PDP and the present administration. It is doubtful if there are many Nigerians who have not made up their minds on these two already. So as election campaign strategists will say, there are not many ‘persuadables’ on defining PDP and the administration. What Nigerians need to be persuaded about is, beyond sloganeering, what APC stands for, how it is different from the party it seeks to displace, what it brings to the table and how it will make the difference in their lives.
Above all else, however, APC’s major challenge is that it is riven by internal contradictions and conflicts. Instead of strengthening accommodation and concentrating on building and growing the party, APC’s leaders are engaged in an intense battle for control and are deeply suspicious of, and intent on undermining one another. The battle for control has become an end in itself and is so intense that APC’s congresses from ward to state levels were attended disturbingly by violence across the country. The June 13 national convention of the party did more to showcase the internal jostling and prise open the cleavages than strengthen the party for the future. APC has not shown that it has a robust conflict management system, nor has the party demonstrated that it has the capacity to develop a strategy to tame and roll back PDP’s resurgence.
APC’s presidential primaries pose an even greater threat to the party, and could further weaken its capacity to vigorously challenge PDP next February. All these notwithstanding, it is still too early to write off APC yet. This is because politics is forever a dynamic game and the general election is still more than six months away. There is still enough time for APC to recover and for PDP to score own goals. As any student of politics knows, even an hour is a long time in politics. So like PDP’s projected demise, APC’s apparent decline might be a bit exaggerated.