Nigeria is effectively a two party state, and for the foreseeable future, the people’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) will continue to determine the collective futures of 170 million Nigerians.
In a few days, the PDP will hold its national convention in Port Harcourt. The party has much to be ashamed of. In the 16 years that it held power at all levels in the Nigerian political scene, it failed to use its domination to positively transform Nigeria. However, for all of its failures and errors, for all of its inconsistencies and insensitivities, the PDP also has much to be proud of. It remains the only party that is truly national in scope. It enabled Nigeria’s first successful transition of power from one civilian government to another and provided the platform for the first minority Presidency in Nigeria. It is also to the PDP that we owe the discovery of many talented Nigerians – many of whom had never been in or around Nigeria’s political circles prior to being tapped for office by the PDP.
Today, the PDP is a pariah. A party that once bestrode Nigeria like a colossus is struggling to regain the confidence of the Nigerian people. However to write off the PDP as a monument that belongs in Nigeria’s past will be a grave error. There was a reason for the PDPs success over nearly two decades. For all of its progressive claims, the APC does not even come close to the national spread that the PDP continues to enjoy. To spread beyond its strongholds in the North and Southwest, the APC will do well to learn how to foster inclusion from the PDP.
For Nigeria’s democracy to thrive, the PDP must survive. Nigerian’s embrace of change does not mean we should winnow down our options and tie our hopes to a single party. Nigeria needs a vibrant PDP. No democracy succeeds where there is no contest in the marketplace of ideas. In a multiethnic and multicultural setting, parties that face no contest can begin to take some groups for granted, and ultimately democracy risks becoming no more than a tyranny of the majority
Given the way Nigeria’s two major political parties are currently constituted, here are the simple facts: If an Igbo man or woman were to lead Nigeria, it would likely be on the platform of the PDP. If a Northern Christian or a woman were to aspire to the Presidency of Nigeria, it will also likely be on the platform of the PDP. The APC might be the party of change, but the PDP is the indisputable champion of inclusion. The APC might be the self-proclaimed center of progressive politics, but the PDP has established its reputation as a true watering hole for Nigeria’s multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious society.
The PDP has demonstrated a remarkable ability to navigate through, and even thrive in crisis. However, it must dig deep to emerge from its current crisis. If there is any solace to be had, it is the fact that majority of Nigerians are disgusted with both the APC and PDP, and over 70% indicate that they are not affiliated with any party.
Agbaje and the PDP of the Future
As the experience of the last 17 years has shown, without guiding principles, or ideological boundaries; without programs that tie the desire for fairness to projects, a drive for diversity can quickly degenerate into inclusive corruption – one that benefits only a few individuals who purport to speak on the behalf of the constituencies that they claim to represent. The PDP has become synonymous with corruption and greed. It needs a rebirth, and the outcome of its Port Harcourt convention holding in a few days will determine whether it has a chance to regain the trust of Nigerians.
To be successful in that effort, the PDP must come to the Nigerian people and ask for forgiveness. It must acknowledge that it was a party of excesses, that frittered away a historic opportunity. It must also recognize that it has lost credibility. It must demonstrate an awareness of the frustrations that it caused, which emboldened Nigerians to embrace change rather than continue down the path of familiar and insensate self-centered corruption.
This message needs honest messengers. The PDPs new faces and voices must be unencumbered by the past. The National Chairman of an opposition Party is its symbolic and titular head. In choosing a party leader, the PDP needs a clean break from the past. The party needs a man or woman of consequence and conscience, who has not been a beneficiary of the rot that has characterized government and government for the past 2 decades. Certainly, they should not have served prison terms for corruption, or be in the courts currently battling corruption charges. They must be men and women whose very names when mentioned in polite circles do not draw opprobrium or foster immediate animosity and resistance.
In its characteristic nature, the PDP has zoned every national office to one or more of Nigeria’s 6 geopolitical zones, and the National Chairmanship has been zoned to the South. So far, three major candidates have emerged in the race for the National Chairmanship of the PDP – Raymond Dokpesi (South South), Bode George (South West) and Jimi Agbaje (South West).
If the PDP elects either Raymond Dokpesi or Bode George, they would be demonstrating to all Nigerians that they are an unrepentant bunch of louts, who see no error in their ways. They will be choosing leaders who do not have the moral currency to speak of a future for the party that is a true break from its sordid past. People who personify the past, cannot be effective messengers of a message for new beginnings.
Who is Jimi Agbaje? He is a cerebral Lagosian who for the past three decades has been in the public eye without being in the limelight. He was a one-time National Treasurer of the Afenifere Sociopolitical and Cultural Organization, a member of the Concerned Professional group during the military era, an accomplished Pharmacist and a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. He was the candidate of the PDP in the last gubernatorial elections. Agbaje is a successful entrepreneur – not that capricious breed of Nigerian contractpreneurs who stalk the corridors of every government in power seeking contracts and import licenses that provide them with access to easy money, but the sort that understands what it means to start businesses and create jobs in the real economy. Those who know him describe him as a man of character and integrity. Lagosians know and respect him – and Nigerians will soon come to know the measure of the man. He is that rare breed of politician that has been in the murky waters of Nigerian politics yet remains unscathed and untainted by the filth. The PDP will do themselves and Nigerians a favor, if this man of principles and character becomes the face and voice of their party.
Dr. Malcolm Fabiyi coordinates the Governance Advancement Initiative for Nigeria (GAIN). You can follow him on Twitter @malcolmfabiyi and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.