WHEN the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) faced revolt in its ranks before the 2015 general election, the Goodluck Jonathan presidency oscillated between coaxing the rebels into conformity or deploying strong-arm tactics to crush them. In the end, after coaxing and crushing half-heartedly, and torn between bowing to an unsettling form of democracy or embracing the less demanding return to autocracy, the former president and PDP leaders left the rebels alone, abandoned the stalemated fight, and turned their gazes towards the more promising strategy of buying up the electorate and, if that failed, engaging them in verbal warfare. Less than a year to the 2019 elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC),a beneficiary of the acrimonious war that sundered the former ruling party, is similarly embroiled in a fierce political combat to determine which way the country should go next year.
Despite the lack of discipline among its ranks and the corruption that pervaded its leadership, the PDP had a better understanding of democracy than the APC. That makes the APC more dangerous and unscrupulous. Therefore, faced with rebellion in its ranks, particularly among its leaders, the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari is in the process of determining how to deal with the rebels threatening to scuttle the party’s hold on power, rebels who come under the name of Reformed APC or R-APC. The APC can choose to deploy strong-arm tactics, as seems natural to it; or it can meet the rebellion with the pusillanimity entrenched in PDP’s genes. If history is any guide, the APC is institutionally and idiosyncratically more inclined to crushing than appeasing, and more eager to justify the subsumption of democratic values under its ephemeral and sometimes controversial ethical campaigns.
The rebels that undid the PDP banded themselves together under the new PDP (nPDP) label, an agglomeration of hotheads, placid souls and confident schemers, some of them governors, and others legislators. They timed their defections fairly expertly, and carried them out incrementally. It is not clear whether the timing and spacing of the defections were planned, and the effects of their injurious disengagement anticipated. But in the end, the PDP was never able to recover from the bleeding occasioned by the nPDP, nor were they able to summon the wits needed to sail through the electoral storm the furious movements before the 2015 elections stirred up. The nPDP, give or take a few subtractions and additions, is essentially the same as the R-APC. Its leaders justifiably complained that they were never really integrated into the APC. And much worse is the fact that they felt they were never really wanted as a coequal entity.
The alienation of the nPDP was complete when the president, who is himself incapable of showing warmth and running an inclusive organisation, turned his back on the leaders of the breakaway PDP. It was in the president’s power to bring all legacy parties of the APC together under one umbrella, project democratic values, and espouse human feelings. By choosing to rigidly implement his own worldview in place of the consensus needed to bind the APC legacy parties together, it was clear that such political awkwardness was bound to end in one form of explosion or the other. That explosion was predicted to come before or during the party’s convention last month. It didn’t, not because the president took extraordinary steps to remedy the factionalism within the party, but because some party leaders summoned superhuman efforts to paper over the gaping cracks in the party.
At last, however, the cracks have widened to a point that the schisms within the party can no longer be hidden or glossed over. The leaders of the nPDP are also the leaders of the R-APC. They include Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, both of whom are still shuffling their feet in the ruling party until they sense the moment clement enough to bare their fangs and play their joker. The hawks in the APC also appear to be ready for the upstarts, determined to play hardball and deploy state power to either ruffle their feathers or completely unhorse them. But no matter how viciously the APC deals its cards, they are unlikely to stave off the open revolt certain to cause tremors in the party in the coming months on a scale that may trigger deep and foreboding anxieties. The problem was avoidable; it is now inescapable. The party will now have to fight the enemies within and without, unsure whether it would not shoot itself in the foot or be injured by friendly fire, and unsure still how the whole imbroglio would be resolved. The APC will have to find ways of calibrating its fiery measures in order to avoid deploying disproportionate force, and it will not be able to tell until perhaps too late whether those measures have not become counterproductive.
The R-APC leaders who announced their open split from the ruling party last week insist all they care about is reforming the party. No one believes them. If they could not cajole the party into any kind of reform when they wielded a strong hand within the party, it is inconceivable that they could propose and promote even the smallest of reforms when both fate and the APC leaders have dealt them a cruel and remorseless hand. What is, however, clear is that no matter how harshly the Buhari presidency tries to deal with the rebels, the calibre of fighters and brawlers leading them, not to say their swelling ranks, indicates they possess a strong chin and firm knees strong enough to absorb APC’s brutal blows. More, now, it is also clear that the party will go into the next elections divided, depleted, weakened and incapable of presenting even the imprecise ideological front with which it bamboozled the electorate in 2015 and confused and unnerved the then ruling party.
The split is virtually complete and irreconcilable now. Neither President Buhari nor APC leaders are minded to seek a rapprochement with the angry and aggrieved R-APC leaders, including those yet to come out of the closet. In fact, it seems the ruling party and the president want to be rid of the rebels, in order, as they elegantly framed it, to get a grip on their party and focus on the business at hand. The new party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, is a conciliator, though his glibness sometimes compounds the problem confronting him and his party. Left to him, he will bend over backwards to reach an accommodation with the rebels, concede positions and policies to them as much as he can, and sustain a friendliness with them that is both practicable and enriching. But everything is not left to Mr Oshiomhole, for the problem that gnaws at the party is at bottom not really his making. He will, therefore, need to frequently have recourse to the president whose penchant for blaming others is as legendary as his sanctimoniousness.
The split in the APC may be complete, but splits well managed do not significantly undermine the growth of democracy in Nigeria. Indeed, the split, not to say the constant frictions between politicians and their parties, often conduces to the solidification of democracy. There are still too many defections, amorphous ideological positions, strange cohabitations, the election and appointment of incompetent party leaders, and oversimplification of party processes and politcking itself. Undoubtedly, these problems need some shaking and shuffling and refining to form recognisable political shapes. The constant defections may appear like political prostitution, and internal rebellions may sometimes be painted as indispensable to the eviction of flotsam and jetsam, or even to the weeding of the so-called corrupt politicians fighting back, but in the end it should engender the political distillation needed to fine-tune the practice of democracy in Nigeria.
No one doubts that APC leaders have made up their minds to be rid of R-APC. The rebels are also apparently resolute in seeking succour and refuge elsewhere. The dividing lines are ossifying, unfortunately not along ideological or even policy lines, but along the putrefying lines of partisan animosities. No one, not even the president and his hawks, knows how the rebellion will end, both for the ruling party and for Nigerian democracy. The APC were themselves rebels in 2014 when they rose to challenge the dominance of the PDP and won. In the next few months, it will be clear whether history will repeat itself, whether the R-APC will be able to harness the disaffection they claim to perceive to engineer the defeat of the ruling party. (THE NATION)