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OSUNTOKUN: Party Needs Rebranding, Rebirth

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Akin Osuntokun

Akin Osuntokun

Mr. Akin Osuntokun served as one of the campaign managers of President Goodluck Jonathan in the last election. In a chat with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he examines the role the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) should play after its electoral defeat.

After losing out in the last election, especially at the centre, what’s left for the Peoples Democratic Party; What should the party be doing now? THE problem of the PDP is like the problem of political party system in the country. It is a reflection of how developed or how far Nigeria has developed its political system.

So, it is not merely a crisis bedevilling the PDP, it is also a crisis of the party system. We have to note that democratic rule and political party system in Nigeria is relatively new.

However, that does not excuse the flaws and different shortcomings the party exhibited. Yet, the fundamental way you have to look at it is from the prism of the shortcomings of political party system.

The political parties we have, to say the least, are more or less mere avenues for contesting election; not political parties as such. They are not rooted in any identifiable ideological conformity.

For instance, a large chunk of PDP members are now in the All Progressives Congress (APC). So, how do you interpret any of these two parties in terms of ideological identity, if at least, 30 per cent of members of the PDP can go to the APC and become the bedrock of the party? We have a very peculiar situation here and it will take time for things to settle down.

Also, ethno-regional cleavages are very apparent in our selection process, and this was very obvious in the last election. You only need to look at the patterns of votes to understand what I mean.

You have a situation in which the president-elect got largely 90 per cent of his votes on the basis of where he comes from and where he stands in terms of ethno-regional identity.

Same thing goes for the president himself, where you have the south-south and southeast voting for him en masse. But looking at the problems afflicting the PDP, you will recall that the party did not actually start as a political party, but started as a nationalist movement, to fight, specifically, against the ambition of General Sani Abacha to perpetuate himself in office, and secondly, to fight down the entrenchment of military dictatorship, as well as, to fight for the restoration of democratic rule. Virtually everybody was there.

But since coming to power, the party has more or less been held together principally by power of the incumbency at the centre.

You will also recall that the other two political parties that emerged alongside the PDP in 1998 –– the All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) –– were part and parcel of the PDP. It was never a question of ideology; there was no serious ideological slant differentiating these political groupings. And of course, that brings up the question of allocation or zoning of power, which is good in principle.

But it also demonstrated that we are more or less institutionalising the recognition of ethno-regional divides. The outcome of the last election was determined largely by the perception of the people in north that it was their turn and that they were wrongly deprived.

So, they mobilised; it was an ethno-regional mobilisation like I said. That in itself is derived from the political parties saying that power should rotate among the zones.

They are more or less saying that each political party should adopt it as a policy, but that is not paramount. Meanwhile, you can look at the problems bedevilling the PDP in terms of social upbringing. Using, as an example, the analogy for social upbringing of having two children.

While one child has everything that he needs, the other just struggling to get somewhere. The one that has everything, the PDP in this case, gets so complacent and the other child, the coalition that that gave birth to the APC, were fighting as underdog and opposition.

While the opposition was throwing everything in the battle ring, the PDP, on the contrary, was getting soft and complacent. Don’t forget, this is the very first time the party was challenged very seriously. Also on the downside from the PDP perspective, what happened in the last election was reflection of the power politics in Nigeria.

We have the two most entrenched power blocs, as represented by the northern oligarchy and Yoruba political establishment, working against the party.

The former Eastern Region of Nigeria, comprising today’s southeast and the southsouth, in terms of capacity to exercise power and in terms of capacity to assert itself in Nigeria’s power politics, is the most vulnerable. The zone is not as strong as the north or the southwest.

Whether we like it or not, that is the only place the PDP was strong. Against that backdrop, will you say that the party could disintegrate? Of course, there is always a possibility of that. Since there is no more political power at the centre, the party could shrink the more.

It probably will shed some weight until it has a reasonable number of committed members that will play a viable opposition, until such a time that there will be an implosion within the APC.

The most realistic option for now is an implosion within the APC, and if the PDP holds its ground, it will be the main beneficiary. The APC consists of power blocks that will not often agree and the party is going to experience some kind of internal haemorrhage and when it does, maybe a faction out of it and the ruminants of the PDP could seize the initiative.

This is the direction I see of the political system in the country. The PDP falters and the opposition waiting in the wings benefits.

The APC falters and the opposition waiting in the wings takes over as well, until such a time membership of a political party is ideologically based. When we get to that point, the number of cross-carpeting from one political party to another would be drastically reduced.

While that may well be the situation in the nearest future, do you see the PDP discharging this role to the benefit of the polity and what can be done to save the party from self-destruct? The party can (play the opposition role), just that it will be a bit difficult.

If the APC had not come out to say that those of you coming from the PDP, you are no longer welcome, only God knows the number of PDP members that would be left. Political party survives if you have some personalities that can rally other members of the party.

President Goodluck Jonathan, by virtue of the position that he has held, should easily be able to play that role, but he is not a very assertive political personality.

I’m not very sure if he may be able to function in that capacity given his personality. No doubt, he is a good man, but to play that role of holding the party together requires a bit more assertiveness. I’m not sure if he can effectively play that role. As such, this is part of the problems PDP has to face up to.

There is also the role of financial support, which is a very crucial ingredient. I don’t know how much of that was obtained to ensure the durability of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) all through to the APC. The PDP today will soon discover that the country contains non-viable states.

But it is good that many people are now expressing the concern over having a strong opposition and they are looking in the direction of the PDP. It gets better when group of Nigerians have decided to put their money where their mouth is. There are some young Nigerians, who have expressed desire to rebrand the PDP, maybe some kind of glad tidings would emerge from this desire.

It is going to be tough going forward, but like you are inferring, Nigeria needs PDP for it to have a functional democracy. Specifically, and in principle, it needs functional opposition –– maybe PDP or any other party.

What we are saying is that the country needs a functional opposition party, whether that party is PDP is another thing. But frankly, it looks as if the only option we have now is PDP, that is in specific term, but generally speaking, there is nothing stopping Nigerians from gathering together to form a third party; that is a theoretical option. The good thing is that Nigerians are not oblivious to the need for a viable opposition.

Do you think the option of looking in the direction of PDP is informed by its national spread and the possibility of a new party emerging may not appear attractive to so many people? If I must be frank with you, I think many Nigerians, looking in the direction of the PDP, are shedding crocodile tears.

After you demonise people beyond redemption for regime change, you now want them to play a noble role. Now, that purpose of getting out of power has been achieved, but the stigma has come to stay from the extreme demonisation of the PDP. As we speak, you would hardly find any Nigerian who would want to identify with the party, and this is as a result of sheer propaganda and media bias. Don’t you think you are being a bit unfair to the media? No.

You people are the ones leading the demonisation. A PDP man you demonise today, the moment that same individual moves into the APC you will start celebrating him. And conversely, you celebrate a man today, but moment that individual joins the PDP you will start demonising him.

I can give you half a dozen examples of such double-standard, starting with the chairman of the Buhari’s transition committee. No one has been talking about charges against him. Perhaps, you are referring to a section of the media and surely not the entire media? How do you mean? I am talking of the entire media. You have done nothing but condemnation of everything PDP.

Is it not the media that is saying that the Jonathan-led government has done nothing and it is an unmitigated disaster? It is unbelievable.

I primarily started writing my column precisely because of this battle of mischief in the media. On one or two occasions the government has been forced to respond to some of these mischief. Until Nigerians learn to take responsibility for our failures, we would continue groping in the dark.

Hypocrisy is one of the things hindering the development of this country. One immediate challenge the PDP has to confront right now is the continuous stay in office of its national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu. There have been calls that he should resign as result of the failure of the party at the polls.

What is your position? Whether Muazu has done anything right or wrong is immaterial at this point and the reality of the outcome of the election; he should simply resign.

I’m not holding him, as an individual, responsible for the outcome, but somebody has to take responsibility for what has happened.

The national chairman of the party should be the first person in the line of duty to take such responsibility. I don’t need to say whether he has done well in his office or not; it has nothing to do with that, but let us try something new.

It is almost like football team, regardless of the coach, you change the coach moment the team fails to perform. The PDP needs to be rebranded. The party needs to be reborn and someone must take responsibility.


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