PDP, court victory and the future

PDP Secretariat, Abuja

Not many citizens outside the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were exultant when the Supreme Court recently ended its 14-month leadership squabble, which gave it a chance at a new lease of life. A political party that ruled for 16 years had come apart too soon and in too spectacular fashion after losing power at the centre that it would take more than one faction’s victory in the courts for the party’s torn soul to mend.

Senator Ahmed Makarfi, the former governor of Kaduna State and his counterpart from Borno, Alli-Modu Sheriff, had been locked in a protracted legal battle for the soul of the party, forcing the main opposition party to lose critical elections, including governorship seats in Edo and Ondo states and legislative seats in many others.

Across the country, the party has been grappling with loss of membership to the now ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) after it suffered an embarrassing defeat in the 2015 presidential election under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan. What is worse, most of the opposition party’s chieftains have been caught in the Federal Government’s crackdown on corruption.

In most elections and bye-elections after 2015’s, the campaign trains of selected PDP candidates in the states lost steam as rival candidates rose within the party to challenge the credibility of the faction that nominated them for the election. That is how factionalisation has dealt a deadly blow to PDP. In most instances, as was the case in Ondo State, litigations were resolved a few days to the election, giving candidates in rival political parties better chance of winning the elections. Hence it has been a tale of woeful results and misfortunes for the party that ruled for 16 uninterrupted years.

That was why the decision of the apex court declaring Ahmed Markafi the authentic chairman of the PDP and upturning the judgment given earlier by the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, which declared made Sheriff chairman of the party has been a relief of some sorts to the PDP.

The resolution by the court could, indeed, put the party on a recovery and restoration journey after a long period in hibernation.

Most political observers who have feared a descent into a dangerous one-party state are therefore justified to heave a sigh of relief that the apex court judgment would, at least, rally the opposition once again and re-energise the country’s democracy.

It is note-worthy that the judicial pronouncement on the crisis also has jurisprudential significance in political behavior. For instance, the Supreme Court warns about how multiple court actions should not be used by political leaders to perpetuate themselves in office. Reference was made to 10 different suits within a year by a factional leader. The court described such action as “infantile desperation” and noted that those suits were bound to “…end up gathering dust in the judicial archives of the court.”

While admonishing politicians to stop engaging in “forum shopping”, the apex court held that heads of courts should always assign cases of the same nature and content to a single judge so as to avoid getting conflicting judgments.

However, the PDP chieftains should note that the citizens of this country have not forgotten the 16 years of bad leadership and governance that ended in 2015 and the court verdict cannot erase the poor perception from the minds of the people. It is still a fact that if PDP’s 16 years had deepened democracy as expected and built strong institutions of democracy as desired, the APC which succeeded it at the centre, would have had no other option than to continue to build its own legacies on a 16 year-old good foundation. PDP leaders should therefore reflect on their party’s poor stewardship for 16 years even as they bask in their victory at the Supreme Court. They have a responsibility to sit down and design a new strategy for nation-building through the political party system. The 1999 constitution entrenches the political party system as the legal recruitment platform for the office of the president and other offices in the federation. No one gets to any elective offices without passing through a duly registered political party in Nigeria.

But unfortunately, the political parties that have been in power since 1999 at all levels have been unimpressive. Nigerian politicians, who are never loyal to any party or principles merely use such platforms as ladders which they discard as soon as they gain the heights they desire.

Political parties are essential institutions of democracy that offer citizens choices of ideas, and while in opposition, parties can hold the one in government accountable. When citizens join political parties therefore and they volunteer their time, donate money or vote for their leaders, they are exercising their basic democratic rights and genuinely building the nation. Participation of citizens in political parties therefore offers unique benefits, including opportunities to influence policy choices and engage political leaders of their preference for different assignments.

It is sad that in Nigeria, the modern-day political parties hardly attract the respect of citizens and are hardly accountable to voters.
Vibrant, accountable and inclusive multiparty system that offers citizens meaningful choices and opportunities for political participation is the ideal.

Since the PDP now has its new lease of life to be a platform for leadership recruitment in the country, the party should seek knowledge of how to mend its shredded soul and also build the nation’s broken walls. Its leaders have been part of Nigeria’s destruction and the ruins are there for all to see. It is now redemption time. Celebrating the victory in court should end and PDP’s leaders should begin the process of developing how to engage the citizens in partnership for development.

PDP thus needs to seek a deep knowledge base that can serve as a practical tool to assist it in thinking through specific needed reforms. It needs internal and cognitive restructuring before aspiring to recruit leaders again. The leaders of the party need some soul-searching and a renewing of their minds if they want to be considered for nation building and transformation again.

That (knowledge) can only empower and equip them for the multifaceted challenges ahead. And like most purpose-driven political parties around the world in thriving democracies, the PDP must immediately set up research and policy development units that can make it a party of ideas.

In many ways, other political parties in Nigeria should learn from the pitfalls of PDP and build their bases along the finest lines and traditions of democracy.

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