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Williams: A Soldier Is A Soldier

By Alabi Williams
21 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
IN October 2014, yours sincerely pleaded with Adamu Muazu, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) not to nurse too much optimism regarding the possibility of returning former president Olusegun Obasanjo to mainstream activism in the party.    We pleaded for them to let OBJ retire in peace before he plunges their party into…

IN October 2014, yours sincerely pleaded with Adamu Muazu, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) not to nurse too much optimism regarding the possibility of returning former president Olusegun Obasanjo to mainstream activism in the party. 

  We pleaded for them to let OBJ retire in peace before he plunges their party into pieces, but Muazu and others wouldn’t listen. Now the man has torn his party membership card into smithereens, an indication of his inner wish to have the PDP dismembered.  Not that one would totally blame Muazu’s well-intentioned attempt to reunite the troubled PDP at the time, but the real blame is for those who are sincerely civilian in the political parties, who are still not discerning enough. A soldier in this part of the world is a soldier, brute, ramrod and despotic. It does not matter the amount of civilian courses offered at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, to turn him around. He would still be anti-democratic in his swagger, mannerisms and overall thought process. Perhaps, there should be a more comprehensive demilitarisation process to induct soldiers on their way to becoming participants in this civilian experience. Otherwise, they will break it into pieces one day.

  OBJ had, in April 2012, decided on his own to step aside as chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, three months before the expiration of his tenure. The impression he gave then was that he would no longer be active on party affairs, but would operate from the flanks, to give advise and have more time to do other things. But close observers knew the man could not be trusted with his words. 

   Before his offer to step aside, the PDP in Ogun State had been ravaged beyond redemption after close to seven years of internecine battles among factional leaders, of which OBJ was a key participant. He desperately wanted to be the sole godfather to determine who got what. But other players in the party could not imagine how the man would micromanage local affairs in addition to being the number one man in the party. As president, he was the national leader, as well as the imperial lord of the whole country. They battled him and together they ensured that the PDP had no rest for those years.

   The resultant poor outing of the party in the 2011 governorship was proof of its sorely state. As a war strategist, OBJ was tactful enough to know that there was nothing left to preside over in form of a party at the state level. Therefore, the safer thing to do was opt out at that close level and feign lack of interest.

   It was in his subsequent letters to President Jonathan and the leadership of the party that he later confessed the reasons he had to adopt siddon look on party matters. He talked about his faceoff with an estranged political godson, Kashamu Buruji, who became the leader of mobilisation in charge of Southwest for the PDP. Obasanjo said because the man has a running legal case in far away United States over drug ferrying offences, therefore, he could not surrender his party membership under such character. In his letter to the president, he became clearer on his disagreements with the party and with Jonathan himself.

  The man has a right to be angry with his party men if the PDP, which brought him to limelight after that near-death experience with his fellow soldier, Abacha, can no longer stay on course to deliver democratic dividends to the people. But to make a public show of that anger in the manner that was seen last week has the capacity to send different messages across to different persons regarding this democratic journey.

  To begin with, history has taken note of that act as a brazen disregard for democratic ethos.  That membership candidate that was torn so recklessly should not be seen as belonging to OBJ as a person, or any party member as the case may be. It ought to be the property of the PDP because party funds were used to procure it. Apart from question of ownership, that card ought to be the symbol of bond between a member and the party, so that, if, at any time, there is reason to disagree, there should be layers of authority to report to, after which you may present your case to the courts for intervention. 

  But to publicly destroy the property of a political party in the manner that was shown last week, what OBJ implied was that he has no regard for what the party represents, which is at the core of participatory democracy. The party system is the basis of democratic governance and when people set out to destroy the party system by attacking its emblem, they are telling Nigerians that they do not believe in democratic rule. 

  In case OBJ and his Ward party men and women do not know, the PDP is a creation of the Constitution. Sections 221-229 generously provide for the existence of political parties and how they are to be managed. The party itself has a constitution and is an entity. It is not the property of Goodluck Jonathan or Adamu Muazu, and should not be treated in the manner that when you have disagreement with party leadership or with Mr. President you then run to the village square and make a bonfire. When you destroy party property as OBJ and his Ward members have done, you are not just hurting the party, you are hurting the culture of democracy, which permits you to have your say all the time, but  not your way. 

  The PDP, like any other political party that is licensed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate in elections and other political activities, is a vehicle through which politicians participate in democratic governance. Political parties should not belong to individuals or cliques, but should be available for members to articulate their legitimate desires and aspirations for the country. No member of a party has a right to destroy the property of a political party. If that is done, as in this case, the party involved should summon courage to challenge such act of willful destruction in the courts, so that anti-democratic elements and pretenders do not send the wrong message. 

   On the spiritual plane, OBJ, as an elder statesman, should have known that these are testy times.  A time when there is so much instability in the polity, as a result of desperate hunger for power at the centre is not the time to further stoke fires. It is not a time to gang up to forcefully extract an old pound of flesh. OBJ had been in the sidelines and his influence has waned considerably since 2007. He did not find much favour with late president Yar’Adua and even with the present government. As one of Nigeria’s foremost leaders, it is not a comfortable feeling to be sidelined. But that again does not justify the rage of last week. 

  Those who watched the video clip saw a visibly angry OBJ clutching hard at his membership card. In his mind, he had torn the card, but because he is aware of damning consequence history would record for him, he handed it to a gullible Ward leader in order to vicariously transfer spiritual liability.  In spite of that, OBJ is now on record as the first democratically elected president to tear his party membership card. In two hundred years’ time, if Nigeria survives and there is still democracy, it would be recoded that a particular man called Olusegun Obasanjo tore his membership at a time the country had barely managed to attain 16 years of democratic rule. That is the far-reaching implication. We all know how difficult it is to grow this democracy since 1960 and those who are placed in sensitive positions by providence should not do things that will undermine the little efforts.

   For contemporary players, it is unfortunate that those who ought to know, particularly members of the opposition, seem to get carried away. They see in that devious act some political capital for themselves, as it is the PDP that is fighting itself.  At a news conference in Kaduna the All Progressives Congress (APC) was in celebration mood.  The state chairman, Suleiman Hunkuyi, said Obassanjo’s decision to leave PDP would boost the fortunes of his party. They are not worried that it is the democratic institution that is being hacked down by men who do not have democratic gene in their system. They see it as an affront for the PDP, never contemplating that another retired soldier could wake up one day to tear their party into shred. 

  It is good that things are looking rosy today for the APC, but lest they forget, let them remember what happened to All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) between 2003 and 2011. The party used to be a very vibrant opposition until General Buhari went there. While there, he had his way on at least two occasions. When he was resisted a third time, he left to form his own party. These men cannot change and it is unfortunate that civilians are willing to surrender this hard-earned democracy back to soldiers.