Nigeria marks Democracy Day this week amidst widespread anger at the wasted past few years, growing fears of terrorism and crime under an unshackled administration, altogether calling into question the effectiveness and the future role of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party founded on the cherished values of liberalism, unity and plurality.
In many ways, the PDP has, in its 15-year rule come to symbolize democratic rule in Nigeria – and deserves credit for the longest streak of interrupted civilian (non-military) rule in Nigeria’s history. To its credit and that of the nation, PDP has given this country a seamless, civilian-to-civilian succession, another novelty because that had been the breaking point of many African democracies. It is however, sad to note that the party is today in disarray, having turned its back to the values it once so proudly stood for. It is, in addition, clearly out of touch. Parties are like pillars supporting democracy. For this reason, Nigeria needs strong political parties in line with vision of the founders of the PDP.
To retain its position as the country’s bedrock of democratic governance, the PDP needs to reboot so as to realign itself with the people of this country. No party or government can succeed with bad policies. A party that puts the President’s interest FIRST and the nation LAST is setting itself for a major embarrassment at the polls.
Three core areas which the party needs to rework are one, its commitment to internal party democracy. A party cannot give this or any country democracy if it is not beholden to it as an internal practice. There are hawkish individuals and groups that have hijacked the PDP, people who are more or less like a noose around its neck. Without freeing itself from these robber-barons, there is no way ordinary Nigerians will have a sense of belonging and ownership here.
Two, the party as it is, is obese with vested interests and corruption. Nigeria deserves a ruling party that is truly their own – not a party in the pockets of the President who is at best promoting the politics of patronage as manifested in the way he makes appointments and the granting of concessions and waivers. A party should thrive on the sustained growth of the people and their country not occasional crumbs. PDP doesn’t have a tradition of using its diverse talents. Rather it has the entrenched practice of putting the old wine in a new bottle.
Thirdly, the PDP must learn to tame the arrogance of its elected officials. It is time for the party to understand that people today live in a climate where news, regardless of good or bad, spread in seconds. The other day, as reported by the French News Agency, AFP, the President, Dr. Jonathan was greeted with shouts of “Bring Back Our Girls” as he made to enter the Union Building, venue of the inauguration of Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa. Shortly before he left here, he sent a very unkind message to parents and activists clamouring for a more decisive government action in the search of 276 girls stolen from their dormitory at Chibok by Boko Haram. They have been missing more than a month now. In what many termed as reckless and insensitive remark, the President asked stakeholders to stop worrying him with calls that he returns the missing girls. “Go (talk) to Boko Haram,” he reportedly said in a speech read on his behalf. Before this, he had spoken in Paris, France where he said a visit by him to Chibok town was not necessary. Upon listening to the crap, one almost felt like saying to him to get out of the kitchen if the heat is too much!
When the top brass of the military made a joint trip to the office of the Minister of Finance to protest the lack of funding for the war against the criminality in the North-east, an important message for the PDP to take away is that they are putting our democracy at a great risk. We are lucky to have a military that is reformed and nuanced in democratic order. In Mali a few years ago when they were starved of funding in the war against the insurgency in the North of that country, what they did was they returned to Bamako, the capital, put the elected President out of work and assumed leadership. That, they believed, was the only way they would ensure the funding of the military operation. In responding to the cries of the military, our Finance Minister, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala announced that she had so far funded the defence budget to the tune of N130 billion, which is about a sixth of the money appropriated for the year 2014. If she has parents and in-laws, (as I believe she does) let them warn her to handle this matter with reason and (political) commonsense, not an economist or a miserly aunt. People that did not fight for this democracy have no right to scuttle it.
The President visited Pope Francis on March 23rd this year. I wonder how he missed a classic lesson by the Pontiff, who said on one occasion that “every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: Do I love my people in order to serve themselves better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path? If you don’t ask these questions, your government will not be good”.
If Dr. Jonathan didn’t get that one, he certainly ought not to have missed the golden words of the legendary African leader, Nelson Mandela, who said: “a leader should lead from behind his people, but when danger comes, he should be in front”.
Or Alexander The Great, whose way out for Nigeria, as he spelled it out thus: “An army of sheep, led by a lion is better than an army of lions led a sheep.” Is the legend of the PDP coming to an end? I hope not. This democracy needs a reformed PDP, standing side-by-side with All Progressives Congress (APC) as pillars of our democracy.