The PDP In Opposition By Lekan Sote

The PDP in opposition

Nobody said the Peoples Democratic Party would have a smooth transition from Nigeria’s ruling, to its main opposition, political party. Its leaders boasted they’d rule Nigeria for 60 years without break! With a call and answer slogan of “PDP! Power!” the party ruled Nigeria for 16 years. Its members now find it tough making the necessary adjustments.

They must learn a thing from India’s tiny Aam Aadni (Common Man) Party that showed a fighting chance against bigger Congress and Bharatiya Janata political parties. Its leaders foreclosed joining a coalition national government, but opted to remain in opposition ahead of India’s 2014 general elections. Nothing is wrong in being in opposition-for a season.

The PDP must urgently do something about the scandals and false starts that dip its credibility and earn it scorn. The crisis rocking its ranks on diversion of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign funds to private use by some leaders is not good for party image.

Its secretariat staff reportedly described their bosses as “patiently incompetent and self-centred.” They allege that a sum of N1bn, realised from a N10,000 per head levy imposed on party delegates, and paid into the accounts of a Shell-company, Moruf Nigeria Limited, has disappeared.

A former Akwa Ibom State governor, now Senator, Godswill Akpabio, hasn’t helped matters. He reportedly made a Freudian slip while trying to placate warring party secretariat staff: “We can no longer run to the Villa (the Presidency) for cash. So, we don’t have the wherewithal to maintain that large number of secretariat staff.”

It is bad enough that the PDP wants to let some workers go, and half the salaries of those that remain. Akpabio has now gone public with the hitherto hushed scheme of using public funds to finance party activities. It confirms the more sinister assumption that many Nigerian political parties were formed to access government treasury and loot the commonwealth.

The party, albeit through a proxy, degenerated into sheer semantic, stretching logic beyond limits to argue that Babatunde Fashola’s website as Lagos State Governor shouldn’t have cost N78m. They went beyond caution to claim that Fashola’s adopted children are a result of a liaison outside of his marriage. Fashola, who needs no help, has handled his traducers by showing that PIGS is more than an acronym for Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.

Every full-blooded Yoruba will agree that the rhyme, “Jaitanna to ntan/ To tutu to sidara/ Ma durod’ojoola/ Akokonsuretete,” which should roughly translate to, “Pluck the glowing torch, that which is cool and good. Tarry not till the moro, time is running out fast,” could serve as a wake-up call for the PDP to start the 2019 race in earnest.

The party must ease itself into its new position as opposition party and shadow government without engaging in adversarial politics or descending into banalities. The PDP may have to check the work notes of Obafemi Awolowo who put the ruling parties of Nigeria’s First and Second Republics on their toes. Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose’s laboured efforts at playing opposition are palpably uncouth.

The PDP could have spokespersons who can expertly draw attention to the ruling party’s outing on critical areas of governance like sport, crime, insurgency, federalism, industry, technology, electricity, roads, and railways.That is how to earn the people’s respect, and put the ruling party on its toes. You must, however, give it to the PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metuh, who is doing a yeoman’s job.

The PDP must commit to an ideology, so that Nigeria will know whether to expect a conservative, liberal, progressive, “a little to the left, or a little to the right,” if it returns to power. It should prepare the literature to sell its ideology, and organise seminars and public lectures to explain its position, and show how it is better than the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress.

The PDP must generally stay in the news to get noticed. A time-worn aphorism is that a bad press is better than no press at all. To stay relevant, the PDP must urgently engage seasoned PR professionals, familiar with Nigeria’s political terrain– to collate, analyse, and bring critical issues to the attention of Nigerians. That is the job of the opposition.

Everything shouldn’t start and end with throwing broadsides. For instance, the PDP could suggest ways out of unpaid government workers’ salaries, and offer alternatives to Federal Inland Revenue Service’s plan to increase VAT from five to 10 per cent. It could also sponsor populist bills.

It is commendable that former President Jonathan and other PDP chiefs have endorsed a soon-to-be ratified blueprint to revive the PDP, whose apologists claim has learnt from its past impunity of imposing candidates, spurning intra-party crisis, and manipulating party structures.

The party intends to introduce a slew of programmes like online registration (to attract the intrepid online community of millennial and Generation Xers), and install protocol for changing party officials, voting at party primaries, removing waivers for returning members, and reviewing party constitution.

To get it right, the PDP must find out the staying power of fringe political parties like Britain’s United Kingdom Independent Party and America’s Tea Party; how former ruling parties like American Republicans and British Labour Party are coping in opposition; and how the African National Congress transformed into South Africa’s dominant political party- after about eight decades as a resistance movement.

A political party is an organisation of people who seek a common goal through the acquisition of political power. Many political parties have core ideological values and political manifestoes, through which discerning electorate can gauge their intentions and accept or reject them at the polls.

The first properly formed political party in England was the Whig party of the 17th century, led by Charles Watson-Wentworth, with the intellectual guidance of philosopher Edmund Burke. It canvassed a near-republican, but constitutional monarchy. The Royalists, a counterpoise to this ‘radical’ group, preferred the status quo absolute monarchy.

Nigeria’s early political parties had regional, if not brazen ethnic, bias. They also promoted the political ambition of their founding leaders. From the creation of parastatals Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention through Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s military fiat, Nigerian political parties began to have a semblance of national spread.

The PDP should find ways to attract credible Nigerians to join its ranks. Now that the freebies from government are no longer readily available, it must find novel ways to shore up its finances. Failure to urgently achieve this may cause it to unravel and foreclose its outing as a credible opposition party.

This could tragically compromise the requirements for a strong opposition party in Nigeria’s quest for a robust democracy. The experiences of the expired political season of impunity compel the need for virile opposition that will strengthen Nigeria’s resurgent democracy.

The PDP must not be afraid of President Muhammadu Buhari’s probe. Those among its rank, who come up unscathed after the probes, will confer moral halo for a new, and “antiseptic,” PDP. The final word is to the APC that must never attempt to decimate the PDP or hinder votes from counting during elections.

Subversion of the democratic alternative could lead to the unwanted military alternative. The citizens must also invest in eternal vigilance, the price of liberty. Libertarian values that support free will are the basic planks of democracy.

PUNCH