Re: Before PDP Does More Damage

To conclude that PDP is our major problem is to delude ourselves.

16.03.2008

PDPWe are living in consequential times. Sometime last year, I wrote an article on “the challenge of leading PDP” as my contribution to the convention of the party which was postponed at the time. My views represented my thoughts on the party as a member of an emergent political class of young professionals. For the benefit of those who did not read that article, I will refer copiously to it as I respond to Paul Nwabuikwu’s paranoiac piece on the PDP, derisively captioned: “Before PDP Does More Damage”, published in Thisday newspapers. To my mind, the article reveals the disconnect between impractical idealism and uninspiring realism in political commentary.

Somewhere in the beginning of that article, Mr. Nwabuikwu embarks on an assassination of political history by suggesting that PDP is even more unpopular now than the then National Party of Nigeria. Yet all the sins he subsequently accuses the PDP of committing were common currency in the NPN: the backroom choice of Shehu Shagari in 1979 as presidential candidate ahead of the favoured Ciromas, Sarakis and Maitama Sules; the rude stoppage of Chief Abiola from contesting the party’s presidential primaries in 1983; the capture of the South-West from their political title-holders in 1983 at all cost all of which generally made the polity fertile for a much-desired military coup. He also repeats the old canard about the PDP, internal democracy, quality and size of membership, democracy dividends and all that stuff. Clearly, this appears to be one of those moments during which the zeitgeist of mass confusion about development, politics and history comes together in one brew.

I would not attempt to mount a defence for the PDP because there are people in Wadata Plaza either paid or elected to do so, but my response is aimed at correcting the fundamental misreading in that article within the context of politics and the society, as they are.

Every political system in a democracy is an accidental outcome of the response to the challenge of managing change and continuity in the uneasy relationship between morality and politics. However, in an increasingly uncertain world it has become impossible to separate the behaviour of the society from any of its constituent parts. That is why, there is probably nothing wrong in the PDP that you would not find in varying degrees of niche conformity in say, MTN or First Bank.  Paul Nwabuikwu also wrote about the dearth of ideology. Thanks to the age of CNN we now know that political parties all over the world are in practice, what they are not expected to be in theory. For instance, there is everything neoconservatism about Tony Blair’s Labour Party (or his single-handedly stopping the Labour candidature of Ken Livingstone for the mayoralty of London, for that matter). Also, by proclaiming in 1996 that “the era of big government is over”, Bill Clinton embraced that political ideology of Ronald Reagan of the rival party. Even now, what do we make of Obamamania? How do we deconstruct Mandela’s South Africa as we gaze at the prospect of a Zuma presidency?

However, it is worth noting that in a 2003 book on democracy, “The Future of Freedom”, Fareed Zakaria noted that “public respect for politics and political systems in every advanced democracy is at an all-time low.” So there is something going on in the political architecture across the world that is anti-political which we cannot ignore and the point I am trying to make is that it is unfair and naïve to single out the PDP for derision in any political discourse without putting in perspective the consequential nature of the times we are living in as this lines are written. To conclude that the PDP is our only or major problem is to delude ourselves and self-delusion in place of rigorous productive discourse leads to commentarial phantasm. To even divulge this trend from the larger society is in itself a fatalist’s illusion.

What troubles me about such articles is not so much that they express indignation at the ‘dark spots’ of the PDP but that they should resort to explanations that are little better than regurgitation of their own collective unconscious programmed on a hidden animus towards that ‘incubus behemoth’  called the PDP.  Whatever is written or said about the PDP is almost always conjured from the perspective of the irrational. Even worse, such types of explanations are readily taken to be the most appropriate ones. It is not therefore, as if we lamented the fact that we do not understand the present state of our politics or our institutions, or even the society as a whole for that matter. Why, then, are we seemingly less eager rationally to grasp the PDP than we are, for example, (as I indicated earlier) the MTNs and the First Banks – which presents as many prima facie puzzles?

My argument is that we will make no progress in the understanding of the crisis besetting our institutions unless we develop the means to look at it from a more critical and historical analytical perspective. The most important observation to make is that the present crisis is most decidedly a crisis of institutional isomorphism in which as every institution enjoys its luxury of self-decomposition, they struggle to outdo one another on that track. Without a doubt, our politics is under-institutionalised and ripe for some creative thinking. But if politics is to successfully drive our regeneration, then it must be as part of a process which public intellectuals and commentators, especially within the middle-income political class should begin to find a genuine articulation of a new generation of thinking from the old degeneration.

Even though the party’s convention was an eventual furtherance of a distaste for internal democracy and an obfuscation of a culture of voting, still the PDP is not at all condemned to failure, incompetence and gloom – a myth often propagated by sceptics like Mr. Nwabuikwu. After all, it is still a PDP-run federal government that introduced the pension and health insurance schemes to the public sector, restored our confidence in food and drugs administration, secured a very substantial reduction in our foreign debts, opened up the economy to receive an influx of foreign direct investments, attracted unprecedented favourable ratings from international rating agencies and also reformed our airports, business registration regime and public procurements system. It is also a National Assembly controlled by members of the PDP that passed the Fiscal Responsibility Bill and the NEITI Bill into laws and very famously truncated the third-term bid. This brings me to the subject of membership. The party is definitely not intended to be an oasis of integrity or a conclave of cardinals but it is still the party of Alex Ekwueme and Adamu Ciroma. It is also the party of performers in government like Nasir El-Rufai and Dora Akunyili and other good Nigerians that do not make the headlines, not just members of the self-styled G-21 who Paul Nwabuikwu uncharitably referred to as patriotic and brave.

PDP still retains an enormous power for good and a number of people in the party are just as their colleagues elsewhere. It is just unfortunate that virtually every analysis of the political class is restricted to an assessment of the under-performers and, yes, for too long we have bowed too much to them and celebrated the delusion of grandeur that goes with it. This is true not only in politics but also in journalism, banking and just about everything else. But it is never too late to stop. In fact we should stop now because what we may have forgotten is that history does not hold a stopwatch on things like this.

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