Where is the party or its soul?
For the ruling All Progressives Congress, these cannot be the best of times.
Against its own vehement avowals, it has had to devalue the national currency and practically remove subsidy on petroleum products, two things it promised never to do and major planks on which it sold its populist agenda of change.
Sensible or understandable as these and other decisions may be in the circumstance, the fact is that, against the expectations of Nigerians, the political party which promised life made much more abundant than ever has, so far, only succeeded in delivering a lot of changes to its plans, back-tracking from its stance or reversing many of its promises.
After 16 years in power, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which once prided itself as the largest in Africa and vowed to rule for 60 uninterrupted years, needed only one defeat at the polls to scatter like a herd of cows. The disarray of PDP, an ongoing entertaining spectacle, is a study in what a political party is not and should never be.
Indeed, given its poor performance in office over a period of almost two decades, the current survival battle it wages out of power, has proven it such a terrible contraption that compels bewilderment at how Nigeria put up with it for so long.
Nigerian political parties are hardly ever more than special purpose vehicles for stealing power and appropriating material benefits for their leading members. But even by those debased standards, the Peoples Democratic Party would appear to have outdone itself as an assemblage without a core set of principles. Still reeling in the shock of its ouster from office, one year after, bereft of principles and deserted or being watched from the sidelines by the few men of conscience in its ranks, the PDP seems set on a journey to destruction. The ongoing battle over its leadership should be watched closely.
While the PDP drama is being played out in the public glare, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is not faring much better, sadly!
Since its triumphant ride into power, the contradictions inherent in its very fabric have been exposed beyond comprehension and the lose thread binding its leaders together has progressively given way under the strain of clashing ambitions on one hand and hubris on the other. A weak party leadership has compounded a situation in which the APC is in power but hardly influences governance in ways expected of progressives. Because there is hardly any shared vision apart from taking power, there have been few points of agreement over the execution of the offices members of the party now occupy. This is compounded by hubris, such haughtiness of the soul as make it impossible for leaders to see eye to eye once matters are not viewed through a particular prism.
The result is there in the open that only very little influence does the ruling party have over President Muhammadu Buhari’s actions and decisions. He flies off at his own will in whatever policy direction, disclaims the party’s at times, while the party and his hirelings scamper after him out of courtesy, not necessarily out of any sense that they know where he is going or that they truly believe in the journey.
The buck stops at the president’s table, no doubt. But a sense of exclusion, even frustration is so palpable in his government. And the contradictory, even confusing, positions often spewing forth are symptomatic of a machinery of governance to which sychronization is still alien.
Changes of positions or policy reversals have been so frequent and excuses have been so many that the suspicion of a lax preparation for the job of fixing Nigeria by the All Progressives Congress is taking on the form of a fact.
The ‘Social Register’ of the poor to whom a promise of 5000 naira monthly grant was made is supposed to be in compilation stage now. If it is being compiled, no one knows by who and how. And the promise that disbursement to deserving citizens would begin as soon as the budget was passed, stands the risk of going unfulfilled.
Power supply is still a problem while the usual excuses and verbiage over challenges of generation, troubles of transmission and distribution go on endlessly.
The government’s much-vaunted plan to give loans to small and medium enterprise at very attractive interest rates was music to the ears when that promise was made. Nigeria, of course, needs to build an economy around small businesses and democratize wealth or wealth creation. But now, the waiting game on that continues while the rate at which Nigerians are getting impoverished is as alarming as ever.
President Buhari may deserve some sympathy. His populist agenda may have stemmed more out of empathy than from facts. Against many appeals by those who thought there was hardly any alternative route, the president thumped his chest and banged the table that he would never devalue the naira. Today, however, the national currency stands devalued.
But the greatest problem is not the painful changes he has had to make as some of them are indeed necessary. The problem is his failure to take the people along: his own people, his party and, by extension, the rest of the people who invested their hopes heavily in the APC.
It must be said without mincing words that Buhari’s body language speaks an insularity and narrowness of horizon that is not good for the pan-Nigerian outlook expected of a president of a country like Nigeria. In appointments and deployments, he has consistently demonstrated a short reach and narrow range as compel the question: how much of Nigeria does he know and how well? To make matters worse, the party that should help expand his range and lengthen his reach appears dumped, under a timid leadership.
Hence, his disposition appears dictatorial and his self-engrossment, in words and actions, brings his first outing as military head of state too vividly and discomfortingly to mind.
In no better way can this be gauged than by the way he has carried on without any action bearing the slightest imprimatur of the political special purpose vehicle that brought him into office.
It may still be too early to start writing the elegy but the signals from the APC, bristling with discontents and silent about its conflicts, point to an end that may be more cataclysmic than PDP’s.
For a political party that stormed into power with so much goodwill, it is pertinent to ask: when was the last time its National Executive Council met, at least to review plans and policies for the people whose hopes were raised so high?
Are there any caucuses in the APC and when or where last did any of such caucuses meet about the political party’s agenda?
Who are the members of its board of trustees, the conscience of the party, and how much influence do they wield on its policies and its leading lights?
Buhari, if not actively promoting this fluid state of affairs, seems contented with it especially because it allows him to rule at his own whim and on his own hunches. But only catastrophically!
This is why promises have been broken at will and even when those are justified, the people are not persuaded since they are not carried along. Those who should know do not know; when they know, do not believe; and when they believe, do not know how to explain it. When they explain, they do so half-heartedly.
Also, nobody seems to ask the President any questions or his feedback channel, if any exists, is a dishonest one that serves no useful purpose but merely massages his ego.
In a presidential system, the President automatically assumes leadership of the party. But what manner of party does he lead or where is the party President Buhari leads?
Nigeria needs strong, vibrant and principled political parties. Neither the Peoples Democratic Party nor the All Progressives Congress gives much comfort today.
Indeed, its decrepit state notwithstanding, PDP has a good chance at reinvention or return to reckoning. And the best opportunity for that is being offered by the ruling APC which is fast throwing itself up as another pitiable contraption, daily showing little efficiency at managing the power it worked so hard to win.
As Nigerians live with a nexus of economic adversity, political dysfunction and moral putrefaction today, the process needs the mass participation of citizens whose first and only love would be Nigeria and democracy. If, as I once suggested, PDP has to be overrun by those who can change the tone of politics, the ruling party too needs to be compelled to change its fuzzy ways to give Nigerians true governance along the lines of its promises.
For now, what Nigerians can feel is the possibility of an arrest of their collective dream by a reality whose grimness could be made more numbing by the screeching halt to which it might come.
You could say that the disappointment over the APC, if it comes to that, should have been expected, given the velocity at which Nigerians’ dream was travelling, the non-interrogation of the wings upon which it was flying, the unrealistic nature of the expectations.
But don’t Nigerians deserve to dream? Can’t a people bank on someone or some party for a change?