If you wanted proof that Nigeria is bereft of hope, look no further than this fact: that, on the Internet and elsewhere, many Nigerians have gone heady with celebration of the schism in the (misnamed) Peoples Democratic Party. All of last week, several friends and acquaintances phoned to ask why I had not tweeted (much less written a column) on the issue.
Some of the callers wanted me to celebrate former Vice President Abubakar Atiku and his group for doing something seldom seen in the ruling party: staging a walk-out to protest the party’s ingrained disdain for the ethos of internal democracy.
One caller exuded cheer for a different reason. For him, the protesting wing of the party now coalesced under the “new PDP” represented the worst, most reactionary elements. Their exit, he said, had lifted the exact weight that had inclined the PDP towards impunity, corruption and failed leadership. “Mark my words, the PDP (by which he meant the Bamanga Tukur version) is going to surprise Nigerians by coming out with progressive policies and fielding good candidates in forthcoming elections.”
The majority of my callers focused on the collateral bump they expected to accrue to Nigeria’s “opposition” parties, especially the APC, if the fission within the PDP lasts or widens.
To each caller, I patiently explained that the so-called split in the PDP was, by any significant measure, a non-event. It is an event only in the most sordid, contemptible and effete manner. To speak of the old and new PDPs, as much of the Nigerian press has taken to doing with an over dose of glee, is to fall for a cheap, semantic deceit.
The “old” and “new” PDPs are the same PDP, period. There’s no question in my mind that Mr. Bamanga Tukur and Mr. Kawu Baraje who runs the Atiku faction are ideological bedfellows. And both men, along with their respective cohorts, are actuated by roughly the same political impulses that move President Goodluck Jonathan. The point, quite simply, is that there’s no ideological underpinning to this fake feud. Neither camp has staked out any remarkable principle that distinguishes it from the other. For both sides, it’s about raw power which means that the argument, in the final analysis, is about who and who are going to oversee the continued looting of Nigeria’s (fast dwindling) resources, the mindless abortion of Nigeria’s (fast diminishing) prospects. President Jonathan is a confused, bumbling leader, but the members of the so-called new PDP have offered no systematic critique of his ghastly presidency to say nothing of proposing an alternative course. Their rhetoric is a simplistic one. It amounts, in the end, to no more than a bankrupt demand that an incompetent president should surrender the office to an incompetent successor from a different geopolitical zone.
The same stipulation applies, I suggest, to Nigeria’s most visible “opposition” parties, especially the uneasy coalition called the APC. Interviewed by Kayode Ogundamisi on BEN Television, I stated that the ostensible opposition’s brandishing of brooms I imagine, to signify the sweeping away of the PDP was hardly a substitute for a real, painstaking formulation of a roadmap to Nigeria’s rescue. The gestural is important and has its place in political jostling, no question; yet, without a set of principles to give spine to gestures, all we have is silly, sophomoric theatrics.
Nigeria awaits a political party with the right mix of vision, conviction, passion and cash. A winning formula for any serious opposition party is, one, to point to the vacuity of ideas in the political space and, two, to proffer sound panaceas for Nigeria’s deeply embedded crises and challenges.
An opposition political party worthy of the name ought to set out to define an ethos and identity different from the current ones. For a start, its thinkers must identify the moral, historical and developmental roots of Nigeria’s malaise. Such a party ought to underscore the fact that Nigeria is far from a formed nation, and that it’s even less an inevitable collectivity. I have argued elsewhere that Nigeria is, above all, a source of aggravation, great pain, even trauma, to most of its constituent elements. Sooner or later sooner, in fact, rather than later Nigerians will have to decide whether this vector of agony is worth the cost of its preservation or deserves to be pronounced an irredeemably bad job.
The Igbo say, Alu gbaa aro, obulu omenani. A rough translation: A sacrilegious act that stands for a year becomes accepted custom. That saying strikes me as summing up Nigeria’s multifarious moral crises. Nigerians speak about combating corruption, but many can hardly contemplate the hauling before a magistrate of an allegedly corrupt former or serving head of state. So we have a country of odd expectations: we don’t expect our ex-rulers to be jailed for corruption, but we don’t let it be known that we expect them NOT to enrich themselves illicitly.
Nigeria has veered and wandered so far afield in the wrong direction that any engaged political party is called to draw attention to the moral dimensions of our developmental woes. It is awful enough that Nigerians have erratic, spotty electric power; yet, the greater tragedy is the existence of numerous highly organized and powerfully connected groups (generator importers and staff of power corporations, among them) determined to keep things just the way they are. The secret is that there’s a lot of money being made by a small number of people from Nigeria’s monumental failure.
Nigerians have permitted far too many sacrilegious acts to fester for far too long, acquiring the imprimatur of acceptable conduct. We refined the language of “stakeholders” to denote the big-time, agbada-wearing “thieftains” who must be appeased at the expense of the generality of the people. We accepted the idea that cash-crazed godfathers may impose their minions as candidates for one elective office or another. We adopted the patently ignorant idea that all power comes from God and began to use it as a mask to cover the shame of rigged elections. A man steals an election and then compounds his act of treason with a bizarre theological rationalization that implicates God.
I’d be impressed the day a faction of the PDP or one of the “opposition” political parties begins to address the manifold pathologies that debilitate Nigeria. I’d like to see some faction or party take on the obvious things that fertilize corruption and bad governance in Nigeria. How about pushing for amendments that would remove security votes from the control of the president, governors and local government chairpersons? How about reshaping the immunity clause to make it narrower, so it doesn’t cover the president, governors and their deputies when they commit crimes in office? How about taking steps to achieve a truly independent judiciary, with judges who are both versed in the law and ethically sound? How about measures to ensure that officials of electoral commissions are consistently impartial, their verdicts reliable? How about living by the principle that all Nigerians, regardless of position, are equal in the eyes of the law? How about professionalizing the Nigerian police and customs, equipping them to fight criminals instead of harassing innocent commuters for bribes? How about developing a healthcare policy for all Nigerians and doing something to stop and reverse the shameful state of education in Nigeria? Above all, how about strategies for discouraging a cultural attitude that seeks profit in planned, avoidable failure?
Until the Barajes and Tukurs turn their minds in the direction of grappling with the things that count, my friends must excuse my absolute indifference in their affairs. For that matter, when the Tinubus and the Buharis signal a fascination with ideas that transform people and places, instead of their current obsession with power, I will tune in.