If you think there is only one way to run a successful, winning political party, let me save you time; this is not for you. This article is for those who dream of building a democracy that delivers to the majority or suspect that what we practise now can be greatly improved upon. By losing the Presidency in 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party gained an opportunity to leave the old order of stage-managed democracy with undemocratic parties for a new order of better-organised, transparent political parties with liberal and democratic ideologies.
Instead, several things warn us that the PDP’s ‘change the change’ is merely a catchy, slightly menacing phrase telling us that the two major parties in Nigeria are really one coin with illusions of different sides. The first sign was that the party almost disintegrated from a supremacy tussle between the old guards. If the struggle were between the old guards and the PDP Reform Group, which was asking for accountability on party finances, reactivation of members’ dues collection and increasing the representation of women and youths, it would tell us that the PDP considered new ideas. But no, the struggle was confined to what winning party politics is always about: A platform for self-interests and the continued exploitation of Nigeria.
The second clue lies with financing. After the 2015 general elections, there were accusations and counter-accusations about how much the party raised and how much Ahmed Muazu, the then National Chairman, left behind when he resigned in May 2015. About N9bn was mentioned and denied and Ahmed Makarfi, interim chairman until last week, revealed that the party had undisclosed debts and access to less than N2m. The discord amongst party officials about the financial state of the PDP speaks volumes about how members and candidates will continue to mismanage public funds. In the aftermath of the 2015 elections, the PDP could have decided it wanted to register one million Nigerians across the country and ask them to pay N1,500 to register, N500 to process their ID cards and N1000 as their annual dues and they would raise at least N1bn. Instead, the party preferred the old way – to ask godfathers to donate and get governors to empty state coffers and continue the civil servant impoverishment scheme. Why? Because due paying members will ask questions, require more accountability and probably insist on the national convention and primaries being more democratic.
A third clue was the line-up of the contestants for the National Working Committee. All the contestants represented nothing new and a lot left to be desired and did little to inspire confidence that the PDP was ready to take governance and democracy in Nigeria seriously.
By the time the convention held on December 9, a few with knowledge of political party operations were expecting any pleasant surprises. We had the usual candidate denunciation less than 24 hours to the convention; allegations of underhand manipulations (including a favourite – hiding delegates in hotels); Unity, Citizens and Winning lists; and walkouts from the convention.
The PDP managed to throw in a few more indicators that they are serious about their devotion to business as usual.
The convention voted against an amendment to the PDP’s constitution to make it compulsory that one of two national deputy chair positions should go to a female member. The PDP was not done. Just in case 91 million female Nigerians missed the message, of the 19 positions on the NWC (excluding the two women leader positions), only one was won by a woman despite female members contesting most positions including deputy national chair (North), national secretary and national youth leader.
The PDP has advantages that one would like the only major opposition party in the country to have. National structures and outlook; educated members even at the ward level; and from their last eight years in power prior to the 2015 elections, when compared to the APC, the PDP is more willing to accommodate dissent. However, even the PDP’s messaging is off, with Goodluck Jonathan proclaiming last Saturday that “our party has done extremely well in managing the affairs of this country” when his government is considered one of the most corrupt. Recent revelations that $32bn were stolen during his six years as President highlight how unaware the PDP is of the role they have played in underdeveloping Nigeria.
The new NWC may set the party on a new, more disciplined path with better messaging aimed at amplifying the own goals the APC Presidency specialises in but a few would bet on that happening. Sadly, the APC is no different; there has not been a national membership drive and there is a strong sense of an abandoned, starving platform waiting for election season to trigger industry stakeholders. The APC convention, when members are brave enough to hold one, will be messy and contentious too.
The PDP cannot change the change for the same reason the APC cannot deliver change – both parties cannot give what they do not have. There may be a few within the parties who genuinely want things to improve but by using the current party structures, they compromise and disarm their vision for making the difference that will count.
Nigeria is ripe for a few political dark horses who can take advantage of the immense dissatisfaction with the state of things and the large number of registered and unregistered voters. Success will entail amongst other things organising across the country, refusing to use the playbook of the old order and using technology creatively. Many Nigerians are tired of the wolves and our experience makes it easier to spot those hiding in sheep’s clothing. Going forward winning elections is going to take a lot more than a lick of whitewash and the proverbial bowl of porridge that results in many selling their birth rights.
*Ms Osori, author of Love Does Not Win Elections, lives in Abuja