Divide the fire and you will soon put it out.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) ongoing meltdown is a rich source of lessons in the management and abuse of political power. A few weeks ago, Alhaji Sanusi Daggash jokingly told me that his status is best described as an internally displaced politician. He described this as a politician who is on his way out of the PDP, but is not sure of his destination. Between the PDP and a number of possible destinations, you will find a lot of politicians. Many would have been permanently retired by the 2015 elections, or the stench of the reputation they have garnered in the last sixteen years. Many others will eventually find destinations, but it will take quite some time and a lot of upheavals and maneuvers to sort out who will be where. In the meantime, it will be important for the ruling APC to pay close attention to the genesis of the collapse of the PDP, its dimensions, repercussions and ultimate fate.
The near-comical disarray which has produced three PDP national chairmen and many clusters from a party that once stood like a colossus on the Nigerian political landscape is a tragedy with a trajectory that was predictable. The type of mentality that gave one of its many former national chairmen the confidence to boast that the party will govern Nigeria for sixty years was informed by more than a posture designed to intimidate the opposition. The PDP actually thought it could not be defeated. It had a firm control over state resources, an elaborate patronage system that anchored a rent-seeking economy and a huge, parasitic layer of politicians. It had a solid track record in subverting political and electoral systems and processes. Since 1999, it got fatter with every election. Its leaders thought that entitled them to get away with everything. Today it is largely a regional party whose leaders are telling on each other to EFCC.
Few milestones tell the story of the PDP better than the 2007 elections. Described as the worst election in world history by some observers, even the most charitable among those knowledgeable enough to judge would have noted that the future of Nigerian democracy was unsafe in the hands of the PDP. Tragically for the party, it read a different meaning in the farce that was the 2007 elections: it thought that no boundaries were sacrosanct in its path. In the four years between that historic low and the next elections in 2011, two major developments occurred. First, many Nigerians apparently decided that waiting for another four years to be duped again was not an option. They will create their own outcomes of the elections with fire, stones, blood and lives if need be. They waited to see if 2011 will, in their judgment, repeat past elections. The second, (related) development was the decision of General Muhammadu Buhari to run for the third time. When his fanatical followers were told he had lost again, their indignation was expressed through the most damaging electoral violence in the history of Nigeria.
The 2011 elections were another major watershed. They handed the nation’s affairs to the most incompetent and corrupt leadership in the nation's history. PDP's opposition came to the conclusion that the party will run the nation aground unless they pooled their strengths and ambitions against it. The PDP missed all the lessons in the tragic 2011 post-election developments, and dug even deeper in its traditional contempt for propriety and due process. Massive defections and damaging rancour depleted it of major assets. The opposition gained most from the PDP, as it became a victim of its own contempt and arrogance. It approached the 2015 election limping from massive internal losses, bereft of respect and support of most Nigerians and the global community and threatened by a radically-improved INEC, while facing a confident and massively-supported opposition. It raided the nation’s resources as never before, diverting money meant for arms to fight Boko Haram among others, in the campaign against an opposition that looked certain to defeat it and record a historic first.
The nation is coming to terms with a potentially life-changing experience in its political history. As an APC administration grapples with the magnitude of mismanagement and abuse to which the PDP subjected Nigerians under its watch, the PDP’s formidable army of big men and fixers is in disarray. It is not unreasonable to assume that PDP as a party is dead, but not buried. It will haunt Nigerians for a long time to come, and its place is likely to be taken up by a number of imitations.
Any number of permutations are possible. One will involve fractions of the old PDP forming nuclei of two or three parties, all of them broadly reflecting existing clusters of grievances in the party. Another will be one major re-invention of the old PDP from what will be left of its leaders that will survive the gale of anti-corruption winds. Yet another could involve elements of the PDP and APC creating a party that answers to the limitations of the two parties. Finally, the remnants of the PDP could borrow a leaf from the APC and build alliances and coalitions into a party that could challenge APC in 2019 and 2024.
There is a powerful presence of PDP alumni in APC as well as other interests that have not entirely melted because powerful party leaders who facilitated the merger and the electoral victory are still taking up too much space. President Buhari does not appear to be intensely interested in engineering the emergence of an organic party, even one that bears his basic personal and political imprints. Ranged against politicians rich in experience and knowledge that in politics you never put away all your weapons, there are many in his party that will keep an eye on all options. Those who dismiss any talk of 2019 within APC are poorly-taught in Nigerian politics. Others who see the emergence of a genuine and strong opposition involving elements of the old PDP and some elements of the APC will be people who will make the case that much of the change in APC and the nation is limited only to President Buhari. Powerful and wealthy people held the PDP together until it could not contain their greed and contempt for their own rules anymore. Buhari is the glue holding APC together. It will be a fatal mistake for the APC to build a future on this factor alone.
PDP bigwigs will be doing two things now. One will be fighting to survive the stains and consequences of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. Many of them will not be making long term plans as free and innocent people, such being the depth and spread of the corruption and abuse which characterized PDP’s governance. The other will be searching for a lifeline to a political future. They know there is considerable asset of structures, relationships and grievances to mobilize towards building new political platforms. The period between now and 2019 is likely to witness the most far-reaching political changes the nation has had to go through.