By Suleiman Uba Gaya
It all started like a rumour. Or an expensive joke. And so, when a showman called Donald Trump formally declared to vie for the presidency of the United States on June 16, 2015, in the iconic Trump Towers in New York, not many took him seriously. Seventeen months later, however, that rumour became reality. It was no longer a joke. The man many around the world felt did not have the requisite qualities to lead even a Third World country became the 45th President of the United States. And what many see, rightly or wrongly, as America’s romance with perdition began. In just 11 months, and still counting, Trump has dismantled most of the things that make America the undisputed leader of the free world.
Credible opinion polls have continued to indicate that Americans are regretting electing him as their leader. But it is too late to cry over spilt milk. What Americans refused to accept was that the world had a stake in the choice of who becomes their leader.
Just like the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Its members and leaders must realise that the rest of Nigeria has a stake in who becomes the party’s national chairman. It simply does not have the right to continue to do things the way it wants, even if it wants to experience a second successive defeat in the forthcoming general election. This is because the PDP is the biggest opposition party in the country. Those who know the meaning of democracy and are serious about its survival know the important place of opposition in the sustenance of any democracy. In this connection, therefore, even members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, as well as other non-aligned Nigerians, are interested in seeing a PDP that is mindful of its important role in the survival of our democracy, and which takes that responsibility seriously.
The opposition forces the government in power to, as much as possible, not to take the people for granted. When the PDP took Nigerians for granted, after ruling the country for 16 uninterrupted years, the opposition had to organise a kind of gang-up to force it out and show it that there was a limit to which a ruling party could shortchange Nigerians. In a similar vein, as disorganised as the PDP has in most case been since it lost power in April 2015, it has forced the ruling APC government to wake up to some of its responsibilities, reminding Nigerians that in it lies an alternative platform for a better Nigeria.
But as we all know talk is cheap. Anyone can open his or her mouth to talk, whether meaningfully or otherwise. Let the PDP hear this and take it from me: no serious Nigerian will take the party seriously in its avowed mission to regain power and build the Nigeria of our collective dreams if it cannot get it right in the choice of its leader. The forthcoming convention of the PDP is, therefore, akin to a last chance for the party to show Nigerians that it is serious about quality governance; that it has really learnt its lessons, and that they deserve to be given a second chance to govern the nation.
At the state level, the PDP is lucky with the crop of governors it has produced in the current dispensation. From Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe to Barrister Nyesom Wike of Rivers, all of them are showing that societies need effective leaders to move to the next level and achieve their manifest destinies. The unprecedented achievements recorded by those governors continue to elicit hope that the PDP still has in its fold some of the best and the brightest that could move Nigeria out of the woods.
But even with that, Nigerians cannot take the PDP seriously when what looks very much like childish desperation has been defining the contest for national chairmanship of the party. It is heart-rending watching elders and, indeed, grandfathers, throwing barbs at each other. If the party wants Nigerians to take it seriously, it must stop the name-calling and character assassination that some of the desperate aspirants for the national chairmanship are engaged in against each other.
Clearly, some of the aspirants to that office are not even fit to lead their immediate communities. Or even their own families. For a party that was successfully painted as representing all that was evil and bad, it simply must realise that coming to equity with clean hands is indispensable for an assured, victorious future. The first mistake has been made, which was allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to contest the national chairmanship of the party.
The interim leaders of the party did that to make a show of fairness. But you don’t show fairness to an individual when doing so affects millions of others. It amounts to being unfair to other Nigerians whose sensibilities are daily being assaulted by the stench coming the mouths of most of these aspirants. The party leadership ought to have sieved the grain from the chaff from the beginning to ensure that those with excess baggage were stopped in their tracks. There is no time for trial and error, or seeking to please a tiny clique to the detriment of the whole.
The outgoing interim leadership of the PDP must stop the muckraking by some desperate aspirants, at least for its survival. Going to the extent of circulating rumours that a leading aspirant for the national chairmanship is being sponsored by a governor from his state of origin, and taking it ridiculously further to denounce that governor is a terrible mistake the PDP must stop with dispatch. The ruling APC is not sleeping. And they are recording every bad thing a PDP element utters against a fellow party member or leader, in desperation for power. Nothing will stop them from using that against the party in the next election.
The reality is that, without the South-South and the South-East, the PDP will have long been dead and buried. It produced only two governors in the entire North, and presently only one in the whole South-West. The PDP doesn’t need to produce a national chairman from the South-West to gain votes from that part of the country. But it must hold on to its stranglehold on the other southern regions of East and South-South. Failing to do that will leave the people of those shores with no option than to feel they are being taken for granted, and that their loyalty to the party is not appreciated.
Obviously, it is for that reason that the governors of that region have unified in calling for one of their own to be elected the next national chairman. The battle for 2019 is not for the faint-hearted. It is going to be very, very tough, and definitely the PDP must consolidate on its areas of strength and fight it out in the battleground states. It will easily be blackmailed by the ruling party if it elects someone with excess baggage.
If this sounds like a campaign for Prince Uche Secondus, there is hardly any apology for it. I do not belong to the PDP or any political party, but as a stakeholder in the Nigerian project, I know very well that Nigeria’s democracy can only be nurtured to fruition when there is vibrant opposition. And as things stand, only the PDP can provide that kind of opposition. And it remains the most potent way to get the Muhammadu Buhari administration to remain awake to its responsibilities.
• Gaya, a senior journalist, wrote from Abuja.