Monday, May 20, 2024

Azu Ishiekwene: Musings on parties in turmoil

Nigeria’s three main political parties, the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Labour Party, are in turmoil.

• May 6, 2024
APC, PDP, LABOUR PARTY
APC, PDP, LABOUR PARTY [CREDIT ; The Guardian]

Nigeria’s three main political parties, the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Labour Party, are in turmoil. They have been infested by little foxes that threaten to damage and, potentially, destroy them.

I know that discipline is not a virtue of political parties in a presidential system. In Nigeria’s own version, however, indiscipline governs everything.

Whether the political parties are winning or losing – of course, it is worse when they’re losing – politicians never forget that the party is simply a convenient tool, serviceable only when it can help them get to power, but certainly dispensable immediately afterwards.

See what is happening in the PDP, the party which lost its way after 16 years in power. The same forces led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar that snatched defeat, not once, from the jaws of victory, are still determined to bury what is left of the sick party alive.

To be fair, Abubakar has paid his dues. He has done so with the generosity of a rolling stone, gathering moss from PDP to the Action Congress of Nigeria (AC), then to n-PDP, and from there to APC, and back again to PDP. At each point, never failing to leave a mark in pursuit of the prophecy of a marabout about 26 years ago that he would one day become Nigeria’s president.

Ambition, what price?

Ambition is not a crime. For a man of Abubakar’s political accomplishments, however, not knowing when to stop is a bad thing. He not only abandoned the PDP for years, he worked against it openly by running against the party as the AC presidential candidate in 2007. It was bad enough for him to abandon the PDP and return to it to fight for a presidential ticket at a most ill-advised and inauspicious time.

But what is worse was for him to take a front-row seat at the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja last week, plotting if not to run again as president, then to decide who runs the party. While this was happening, one of the party’s altar boys, Emeka Ihedioha, was resigning with a heavy heart from the PDP, perhaps casting one eye at his grandfather, Abubakar, the remaining dinosaur among the founding fathers present at the Abuja NEC meeting.

It was one meeting Abubakar should not have attended – or if it was inevitable, he should have come at least shedding crocodile tears in remorse for his role in how the party snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2023 general elections. But he came, as we say, with his full chest.

Accuser and accused

I looked at the press photos from the event twice to believe he was actually the one sitting there in the front row at the NEC meeting. As if that was not heartbreaking enough, some folks—governors/landlords of the party—lined up behind him, asking not for him to account, but that the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, who sustained the party while Abubakar was in exile, should be disciplined for “anti-party activities.”

Wike has his problems, but they do not include political prostitution. Or trashing the party’s constitution (as Abubakar did) which clearly provided that it was not the North’s turn to field a presidential candidate. When will the PDP learn?

Humpty dumpty

I’m told that after separate meetings with Abubakar and Wike by the PDP governors (four of whom appear to be leaning towards Abubakar, seven for Wike and two undecided) the party is considering setting up a reconciliation committee headed by former Senate President Bukola Saraki, to mend Humpty Dumpty.

I wish Saraki luck in his task of doing what all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have failed to do. But as surely as six follows seven, the record of all known attempts to settle intra-party conflicts by indulging the hubris of the instigator have ended in futility. There’s not much time left before the party’s congresses in June and all the drama at the Abuja NEC was about control of the party ahead of that congress.

With Umar Damagum still in the chair as acting chairman – the last thing that Abubakar wanted before the NEC meeting – the former vice president’s grip is more tenuous than it ever was and his relevance in decline.

Proxy wars

The PDP can, however, take comfort that it’s not alone in keeping the foxes out of its garden. Even the ruling APC and Labour are having torrid times of their own. APC chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, has been fending off petitions and attacks from his state, Kano, by persons who not only want him out, but also want him tried on charges ranging from bribery to diversion of funds, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust.

What is happening in Kano is a continuation by other means of the long-running war between NNPP leader, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and his former deputy-turned-adversary, Ganduje. Of course, APC members in Ganduje’s Kano ward are being used against him in this proxy war, but his real foe is Kwankwaso.

There has been talk of party members in the North-Central eyeing Ganduje’s chair. But party insiders insist that the main issues remain the potential return of Kwankwaso to the APC and who between him and Ganduje has more strategic value for 2027.

Musical chairs

Party chairmanship is perhaps the ficklest of positions. Ganduje is the sixth APC chairman in 10 years and three national election cycles, while its older cousin, the PDP, has produced 18 in 25 years, with only two – Barnabas Gemade and Ahmadu Ali – completing their tenure. Even Labour, just one-year-old, cannot keep one chairman safe.

Ganduje knows he is on a hot seat, held only at the pleasure of the president, as we have seen from the days of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Changing Ganduje is hardly President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s problem. His headache is whether with the North’s growing unease about his administration, he can find someone else to replace Ganduje that he can trust.

Tinubu can also hardly ignore the anti-Nasir El-Rufai stirrings in Kaduna, which not a few have suggested may have been instigated by Abuja. There’s a double imperative for Tinubu first to secure Kano, the North West’s vote bank; and also, to keep El-Rufai, an influential politician in the region, on a leash. The jury is out on who, between Kwankwaso and Ganduje, would be the better battering ram.

The leper and the milk

The party chairman is like a leper. He may not be able to drink the milk that nourishes his appointor’s position, but he sure can spill it. And the perfect fit, often, is someone with something around their neck, which if they ever forget, can be used to constantly remind them of their vulnerability. Since Kwankwaso and Ganduje cannot possibly sit in a room without a referee in protective gear, a middle ground is out of the question. Tinubu will have to choose who to work with between the two.

While he is at it, party administration will continue to drift and Ganduje’s authority will continue to ebb.

Labour in vain

But again, this is not significantly different from what is happening in Labour, where two factions of the party – one headed by Julius Abure and the other by Lamidi Apapa – have brought the party to its knees, raising speculations of the possible exit of the party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi.

With the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) taking a stand against Abure and splitting the party’s executive right down the middle, it won’t be long before Obi decides whether he can save this ship or risk drowning with it.

The moment of decision for the parties may seem far off, if you count three years until the next general elections. But in politics it is not the years before the next election that count; it is the events that shape those years. And those events are lining up at a speed that suggests that if the campaign for 2027 has not started already, it might be upon us sooner than later.

Ishiekwene is Editor-in-Chief of LEADERSHIP

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