The party would have been over by now. Peoples Democratic Party stalwart, Raymond Dokpesi, had, in fact, organised a mock funeral.
When it seemed all but certain that the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the PDP was going to have the last laugh at the Supreme Court, Dokpesi registered the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), as a fallback.
That move was viewed with spite and suspicion, but at the time, I think mercy killing for PDP ought to have been seen as an act of generosity. The party had been hemorrhaging for years, and actually lapsed into the final throes of death after its defeat in the 2015 general election.
Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in May, however, the PDP has a second chance at another life. But PDP being PDP, the headline at this week’s convention of the party is power sharing. It’s a do-or-die affair not only for the eight main contestants for the post of Chairman and other executive positions, but also for their sponsors inside and outside the party for whom this convention is a continuation of war by other means.
The contest for the soul of the party this weekend is fully charged, especially with the defection, yet again, of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and the interim Chairman Ahmed Makarfi not ruling out interest in the PDP’s presidential ticket.
For a party coming from the brink and with less than two years to the next general election, the haste to get a new executive is understandable. In the winner-takes-all climate of the presidential system, particularly our own presidential system, it’s a miserable thing to be out of power.
Beyond power sharing, however, I’ve been looking in vain for signs that the party has learnt its lessons, without which it might continue to languish.
Contest for power will always be nasty. But PDP is where it is today not because it did not have power but because it got careless with it. If the convention will be a chance for a fresh start, it is yet to show from the posture, tone and actions of the leaders of the party.
Much like in the past when “share the money!” was the refrain from the rank-and-file in my village each time PDP was mentioned, the leaders of the party appear so obsessed with recapturing power in 2019 that the party may just be about to repeat the same mistakes that brought it down in the first place.
The biggest prize at Saturday’s convention, it seems, will go to anyone who promises to bring the PDP back to power in 2019. On Tuesday, Makarfi even begged Atiku to make it happen again. Before that, former President Goodluck Jonathan said he would not sleep until the party is returned to power.
The crisis in the party – to zone or not to zone, to micro-zone or not to micro-zone – is all about who becomes the party’s presidential material for the next election.
If the PDP will, for one minute, stop taking its time from the watch of the ruling All Progressives Congress, it might just find that the most important thing now is not who will win the next election for the party but which candidate has the smartest programme to rebuild the party from its present ruins.
This may be a hard thing to swallow for leaders of the party in the South South and South East who currently fund the party and still retain its largest active membership. They want a quick “return” on their “investment.” The same short-term thinking informs the decision to field a candidate from the North to hedge President Muhammadu Buhari.
A party that ruined itself over nearly one decade of reprobate orgies cannot rebuild its fortune two years to the next election cycle. Sure, the party can rise again, but not by glossing over the seriousness of its fall.
PDP may keep lying to itself and its remnants may even join Jonathan to stay awake till the second coming, but anyone with half an eye can see that the 2019 election is APC’s to lose. There’s not a PDP candidate yet that can win an election.
Not Atiku. Not Sule Lamido. Not Ayo Fayose. And not Makarfi.
Yet, the party is so desperate to regain power it can’t wait to put its worst foot forward. Everything about this convention is about who will become the next presidential candidate, and who will be the next puppeteer-in-chief.
Two vital things are lost in the obsession: How the party can rebuild and reconnect with its base, and how it can regain its stature and public confidence to play the role of a credible opposition for now.
The PDP claimed it was Africa’s largest party. That may have been exaggerated, but its extensive local network was hardly in doubt. Unfortunately, it became alienated from its base. It was pocketed first by moneybags, then by governors, and finally by Abuja politicians. The rank-and-file was cut-off and stranded.
Any attempt to rebuild the party must begin at the grassroots, which has sadly been infested by green-eyed youths and assorted scavengers.
Of all the candidates running up and down for positions at Saturday’s convention I haven’t yet seen one with a programme on how to rebuild the broken base of the party.
Not one has so far shown a plan on how to reconnect with millions of the nation’s alienated jobless youths or something to show that it has turned the page from impunity and its notoriety for eating its young alive.
We need to see a plan of action not photos of desperate candidates visiting the shrines of the same godfathers who ruined the party.
We also need a credible, vibrant opposition party. After 16 years as the ruling party and leaving as it did with its tail between its legs, not to mention the internal crisis that nearly drove the party to extinction, PDP may find it somewhat awkward to play the role of opposition.
Yet, its ability to present a leadership that can organise the party into robust, effective opposition is an important test of its readiness to return to power.
This week’s convention offers the chance for housekeeping. It gives the party the opportunity to reflect on its sordid past, to confront it openly and honestly and to find a leadership with the courage to rebuild, one step at a time, and emerge as a party that will outlast the next election cycle.
Yet something about the desperation of the remnants and the returnees tells me that Humpty Dumpty has learnt nothing from its last fall.
I hope I’m wrong.
– Ishiekwene is the managing director/editor-in-chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.