The Challenge of Leading PDP

It is time to make our politics safe for democracy.


leading PDPThe stage is set for a change of guards at the leadership of Nigeria’s Peoples Democratic Party in line with the party’s new zoning formula for their offices. Given the maladies and histrionics of the opposition parties in our politics during the last eight years, it is safe to assume that the PDP will be around the corridors of power for quite some time. There is no better time than now therefore to begin a rare discourse on the future of a party that has controlled governance in our country since 1999, more so as presidential power is not only in a new pair hands but also one with the trappings of a paradigm shift in governance. For such a shift to become workable at this time we also need to reform our democracy and it is my view that there is not a more appropriate place to start as the major political parties, especially the ruling party.

However, I do not agree with the seductive arguments that as a party in government, PDP has performed below par – and I want to make this point right away. After all, it is the PDP-government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo that is responsible for the phenomenal successes in economic reforms which has delivered 25 sound banks now capable of funding big-ticket transactions and long-term investments in agriculture, infrastructure and SMEs desperately needed to jumpstart growth. It is still the party of the government that has introduced pension reforms ensuring that unlike in the past each retiree is guaranteed a basic pension as reliable income after retirement, created a health insurance scheme for a larger section of the national community, restored our confidence in food and drugs administration and control for a safer and healthier populace, 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, public procurements system and tertiary health facilities. Also, the National Assembly controlled by the PDP passed the Fiscal Responsibility Bill and the NEITI Bill into laws. As former US president, the late and much admired Ronald Reagan would say, “all in all, not bad; not bad at all”.

The PDP has been in power for eight years and still counting. A minister in the Tang dynasty listed the maladies that he had seen afflicting China’s rulers the longer they stayed in power. They included “preference for winning, embarrassment at hearing of one’s mistakes, indulgence in sophistic debates, showing off one’s intelligence, increasing one’s authority, and failure to restrain one’s strong will”. These are ingredients for obfuscating democracy which remains the engine of development. Development without democracy is like a human creature without oxygen and the absence of real democracy in a reforming country can lead to an early attenuation of the gains of economic reforms. The PDP must then become that modern political force for the democratic renewal of Nigeria by breathing life into itself in order to do same to an ossifying political system.

The challenge now is for the PDP to take advantage of this particular cycle of change to institute a leadership that will temper public passions, educate citizens, secure a regulated but representative democracy and avoid a party-state link that will doom our polity. Simply put, it is time to make our politics safe for democracy and it is the responsibility of the PDP to lead the way. In this regard, the party can renew our politics by growing future leaders, seeking more qualitative membership, engaging in policy research, design and communications, and working in improving our local communities.

Our politics is still under-institutionalized and ripe for some creative thinking and recalibration. Like in much of Africa, politics in Nigeria (as written by Jean-Pascal Daloz and Patrick Chabal in their book, Africa Works) is characterized by the collapse of the patrimonial state, the dereliction of accountability and the use of disorder as a political instrument. Renewing our politics will therefore require what former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, describes as anti-political politics. Today, a number of young professionals in Nigerians will not want to be identified as members of a political party, even the PDP. Yet politics is not just about the “technology of power” but also the quest for progress. For a start, PDP can begin a journey of self-transcendence and transform itself into a civic institution with a membership that reflects the will to reach out to the public. To do this, the party should heed the advice of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair for “political parties to go out and seek public participation, not wait for the public to be permitted the privilege of becoming part of the sect.” As a party in government, the PDP should also now be a catalyst for our much needed but often avoided deep-seated political reforms while maintaining the levers of control serving as the backbone for the bodies of government to give stability to the ship of state.

The PDP is also a powerful tool to grow future leaders for our democracy. Lord Bryce once asserted that “perhaps no form of government needs great leaders as much as democracy.” Leadership sustains democracy. It is a unique feature of democracy that it has to renew itself by growing future leaders and the PDP must begin to commit itself to it. If our politics is to make democracy the indispensable form of government in Nigeria, then it must begin as part of a process to find a genuine articulation of leadership for a new generation of thinking from the old degeneration. The party should encourage its high-fliers to prove themselves in local government before going to Abuja. This will enable the party to work in improving our local areas which are in dire need of reforms and development. It is also imperative that the party encourages its true performers and champions to climb the ladder of leadership into higher responsibilities as well as identify young people who are excelling outside the field of politics, woo them into political leadership and open up the creative potential of politics.

PDP also needs an identifiable ideology. The political commentariat have long argued that our political parties lack ideologies. Ideologies were the fad of the Cold War era when the forces of communism seemed to be in perpetual conflict with that of its opposite number, capitalism, thereby creating such ideological by-products as socialism and fascism. With the emergence of a unipolar world, it seems that ideologies are now confined in the museum of political history. The next leaders of PDP have to build a critical mass of thinkers to give the party an ideological identity that is pro-poor, developmentalist, pro-life, anti-gay marriage, promotes free enterprise, protects the vulnerable and has a foreign policy whose cardinal objective will now be to provide leadership to the faltering global South-South cooperation, among others. In this way, the party will embody a set of values and ideals with an ideological base and a policy establishment that will be constantly engaged in the research, design and communication of sound policies. In a normal country, a political party is also a policymaking machine. As these lines are written, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, is engaged in a policy conference. The PDP should be doing no less and in that way create a counter-elite for the proselytization of the mantra of development.

As a party in government, the Peoples Democratic Party still has the political kinetics to move faster in transforming Nigeria for good despite a scattering of ineffectual policies and despicable acts in the past. Even then, a number of people in position are just as their colleagues in opposition. Governance like any human venture can be full of error, fallibility, obduracy and hubris. But the PDP (as the party of the government in power) should avoid the temptation to succumb to the myth that they are condemned to failure and incompetence or else they will fail to rise to the big challenges that lie ahead. To do that needs leadership. Even more importantly, only the right leadership of the party will complement the efforts of President Umaru Yar’Adua in tackling the arduous task confronting his presidency – that of managing change and continuity in delivering on the promise of reforms. We now await that leadership.