When many thought the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is ticking the right boxes for 2019, the party leadership came up with something unique. There appear to be a drama series which never in want of Acts and Scenes with its peculiar dramatis personae as professional politicians or “garrison commanders”. When one is left to think that one event is at anti-climax, another event within same plot is in ‘raising action’. The question on the minds of the audience is: When will this film come to an end?
Since its shock defeat in the presidential election in March, 2015 the party is still licking its wounds. Will the party ever be able to play the role of the opposition? Will it just self-destruct or seek a merger with other political parties to challenge its bitter rival, the All Progressives Congress (APC)? Should it change its name to a more acceptable name that Nigerians will easily identify with? All these are the questions bothering the post-Presidency PDP.
Sometimes in January, a former political adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Ali Gulak stormed the Wadata Plaza (also known as PDP secretariat) and openly declared himself as the chairman of the party. Many thought things can only get messier as a court declared that any politician from the North East geo-political zone could take over the office of national chairman meaning that that Uche Secondus was occupying the position illegally. No one then needed to tell Mr. Secondus that his romance with the title “acting national chairman” is over and a substantive national chairman will soon be appointed!
On Tuesday 17th February, we received the much-awaited news of whom to occupy the exalted position. It was not to be Mallam Nuhu Ribadu neither was it to be Gulak. But to our greatest surprise it was to be the ex-Borno Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff. I had to run multiple tests just to be sure of the authenticity of the news!
On the same day, the blogosphere was filled with information of a man “accused of sponsoring Boko Haram” as being “unanimously nominated as the substantive national chairman” of Nigeria’s largest opposition party. I came across a post on Twitter by a known PDP supporter who maintains that Modu’s appointment is a “Good strategic decision”. My first instinct on reading his tweet was to know if this man knows what constitutes a “Good strategic decision” at all in relation to Sheriff’s appointment.
My best guess about the “Good strategic decision” PDP made about Modu Sheriff is probably based on the assumption of his political and financial prowess. Some of Modu’s supporters recall his experience as two term Borno state Governor and his understanding of the politics of the North East as an important advantage the party may capitalize on in 2019. These people also maintain that considering the financial challenges the party may be facing, Modu appears to be the “game changer”.
While on the surface, these two positions may look potent, let us be quick to register our reservations. First, the PDP looks to be making the same mistake again. The case of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, a former Governor of Kano in 2014 should be instructive in this regard. With the way the party leadership celebrated (including President Jonathan’s famous “Azonto” dance) when he defected from APC one will think the state was already in the bag. Second, one also recalls how the party overestimated the political prowess of people like Musiliu Obanikoro, who promised to “deliver Lagos” and groups like Afenifere which promised to deliver Yoruba votes in 2015 to the party. If the result of the recent Borno elections are anything to go by, we may not too far from correct to think the party is still overrating some politicians. The rest, as they say, is history!
For the records, the situation the party found itself today is not new. The party will not be the first to lose its “priced possession”; neither will it be the last. So no one should continue weeping for, or lose sleep over that for the party. The party has to be able to weather the storms, so it must work extra hard, if not harder; fight tooth and nail; and go the extra mile to maintain its only one thing left – its brand.
For the purpose of this piece, we will look at a brand as an image or feature that suddenly comes to mind when a product, service or idea is mentioned. We may also try to see it – in the traditional sense – as a name, design, symbol or distinguishing feature that sets a product or service apart. Giving these two definitions, can we say the PDP needs a brand?
If the party’s brand must be worked on, then whatever the party strategists were thinking about before appointing Modu Sheriff as national chairman needs some thorough analyses.
It was Mr. Olisa Metuh, incidentally the same man who accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014 of housing sponsors of Boko Haram, was the man who reportedly made the much-awaited announcement. Metuh said. “However, the peculiar trend of the Nigerian version… summarizes a well-considered agenda of national destabilization for a purely selfish political cause. We pointedly finger the opposition.” And the evidence for that pointed fingering is: “we recall statements by some politicians, vowing to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan on the eve of the 2011 general election.” At the time he made this statement, Modu Sheriff was still in APC. The question Metuh will struggle hard to answer is, “What has suddenly changed?”
For those who do not know, Modu Sheriff has been at several times been linked with the notorious insurgent group in the North East- the Boko Haram. In fact, some sources claim he was the principal financier of the group since its inception before his fallout with Muhammed Yusuf, the group’s leader who was murdered in 2009. Associating the party’s brand with this man-bad enough as it is- cannot be regarded as a “Good strategic decision” as my friend will want us to believe.
Now, I will not like to act like a deaf man who only sings the last song he heard before becoming deaf. Rather, I believe the politician should be made to come out and clear his own name. I recently ran into a transcript of his interview with BBC Hausa Service in a frantic attempt to clear his name. He said, “Therefore, I am more concerned than anybody in this country, because what Borno State did for me has not been done to any other indigene. You know, in Borno State, a governor has never been re-elected apart from me; in Borno State, no senator has ever been elected thrice apart from me. So, Borno people have done everything for me, and there is no one in this world that I know other than Chad, which I think could help Borno,”(Leadership 21 December, 2014). The truth is that Modu may be innocent of all the allegations about his sponsoring book Haram, but another thing is whether anyone believes him!
Let us be quick to admit that all political parties in Nigeria presently, without exceptions, suffer from the “brandlessness”, but the PDP’s case looks peculiar. When one talks about “small governments and big businesses”, we are either thinking about the United States’ Republicans or the British Conservatives. When the issue is about the “welfare state”, we need not look further than the Democrats or the Fabians. What image does the party portray to Nigerians and the world with the face of Sheriff as its national chair?
Let us equally think with the PDP’s think-tank in assuming Modu Sheriff knows and can ‘deliver” the votes come 2019. Since every serious political party have the primary objectives of winning elections, the party’s strategists may be right in this regard. (I do not know of any party, if not properly so-called that is formed for the purpose of being in opposition.) Having said that it is my considered opinion that Sheriff as national chairman may not achieve optimal results for the party in the next election. This is because, the fact that APC presented a certain General Buhari who won 12 million votes in the North, and ultimately won the presidential election, does not automatically translate into “victory” for PDP if they present say, a Sambo Dasuki even though he is a Sokoto prince or make billionaire Sheriff its chairman!
There’s only one reason why people vote an incumbent out of office: when they find someone better. You have to present the voters with a better alternative to your opponent. Show them why your candidate is clearly different, and why that difference makes him a superior choice. The party will have a difficult task convincing the typical Northern voter, considering the terrible reputation the PDP has with Northern politicians, especially the insults its members hurled at the APC on African Independent Television (AIT), making it look like being a Northerner was evil during the 2015 electoral campaigns. We keep our fingers crossed to see how the party rebrands its image in the strategic Northern region, the worst hit since the inception of Boko Haram insurgency. Let us keep fingers crossed how Modu salvages this situation for the party!
If PDP strategists do a proper diagnosis of its post-presidency era, they should realize the fact that even with a block vote from the South-East, their ambition of staging a comeback into Aso Rock in 2019 remains a pipe dream. This is because the only base the party can boast having real political presence is in that zone. This is why there is a school of thought that the party the action(s) of Gulak and his supporters the other time in the party’s secretariat is to prevent the party from degenerating into a south east party. Justifying this position will be that the perhaps most visible leaders in the party (Secondus, Metuh and Ekweremadu) are Igbos. Though many party supporters may not like to admit this, most PDP supporters I know today on social media appear to come from that region!
If, by chance, (I am just engaging in speculation) the party’s strategists are only interested in considerably reducing APC’s and Buhari’s strong showing in the North east by Modu’s appointment, it may consider drawing to its side the North-Central geopolitical zone where Buhari has not historically had it so good. In this case, maybe, the party could consider presenting Bukola Saraki, a party protégé in APC. But Saraki will need to first survive the onslaughts of the hard-fighting APC on his position as Senate President.
Whatever the PDP strategists were thinking before appointing Sheriff, I may not know since I am not a member of the party. But something is sure- the party will do a hard job reconciling their earlier views that APC sponsors Boko Haram. Another job will be how they explain to us who stole their thinking cap when taking the “Good strategic decision”?
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