Writing about GEJ and 2015 is a tempting but difficult exercise because one could, unknowingly, end up promoting something he is unaware of or a cause that is not radically an alternative to GEJ. And because it is also a very dangerous thing to tell the king the truth as no king likes to be told the truth. But Nigeria of today is simply a national pregnancy. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan did not bring about the pregnancy. Rather, the pregnancy is the outcome of recklessness in the exercise of power in the past three decades, producing the present crisis situation.
Where the president comes in is the fact that the crisis requires a new face around whom the deeply fragmented power elite can re-connect and rally around as its resolution. That rallying point individual cannot be the same GEJ whose candidature has been a source of the fragmentation in its current dimension in the first case. This is the sense in which it is failure to read History properly by insisting on contesting in 2015 which is where all the problems are coming from, both for himself and the country. Since the country has mastered surviving at the expense of the individual, (Gowon, Buhari, IBB, Abacha, Obasanjo), Dr. Goodluck ought to have thought very deeply about Ahmed Joda’s advice last year to withdraw from the race in 2015 unconditionally.
Realists around power would say that politics is not the arena for this kind of high mindedness but the president would not be the first to do so in Nigerian history. In the immediate post independence era, Zik made the kind of sacrifice we are talking about. In 1998, several Northern leaders also made similar sacrifice by killing their presidential ambition in the national interest. Reading History well should not be too difficult for someone like the president who packs so much history in himself, being the first person of peasant origin, the first person of Southern minority origin and the first PhD holder to become president of Nigeria. In fact, all of these make him a classical grass to grace story, even by American standards.
The president still has roles in history cut out for him. Withdrawing from the race and bringing down the country’s temperature is more history making for GEJ now than any other thing because it also gives him the added advantage of supervising the conduct of the 2015 elections towards attaining historical credibility. The president can also play a role in national reconciliation.
The next president of Nigeria would have to be a Northerner once GEJ is out of the way. But the North is not at peace with itself. Everybody knows this and everyone accepts that instead of allowing such deep divisions to fester, there is need to restore the old North of which every Northerner is proud, (of course, yes because no Northerners carry any baggage which will be cured by seeing themselves any less, beyond the discursive mischief called core and peripheral North by those who stand to profit from instability in the region. What is the North if Benue, for example, is not its core?).
A sitting president automatically has a role to play in bringing about reconciliation by forging a consensus on managing Northern Nigeria’s pluralism. That is a consensus toward something comparable to the way the North itself reconciled the country in 1999 by anointing the best man for the job. Objectively, whether seen from the point of view of history, experience or knowledge of the country, performance in the past or compensating the Yorubas or the international personality status, Obasanjo was the best man for the job. What happened thereafter is a matter of details, important details though.
The last point is the need to preserve the PDP. Although it is clear that both the PDP and its central government are suffering from acute deficit of ideas, it must still be even clearer to anybody in his right political senses that trouble in the PDP is trouble in Nigeria. This is not just because it is the party in power but also because it is still the closest to the possibility of ‘One Nation, One Destiny’. The symbolism of the PDP cannot be lost on any student of nation building in an extra-ordinarily complex and deeply divided society like Nigeria. And so, the great animus against the PDP in Nigeria does not annul the fact and the promise of the PDP.
Some of us cannot disconnect the PDP from our memory of the newspaper interview where Chief Solomon Lar tried to capture that moment when he was waiting for Abacha in the Villa to deliver to him the letter of the G-34. Or that moment when the initial masterminds of PDP ran to someone like Dr Alex Ekwueme, requesting him to lead their challenge to Abacha’s authority. Ekwueme took up the gauntlet and provided leadership for the national coalition that subsequently took Abacha on, becoming the PDP thereafter. These are the stuffs of History which we must note in our perception of the party even as we must continue to excoriate the party for the great rascality it has brought to politics in the last one decade.
But, in spite of everything that have happened, the PDP is still a national institution with a soul. It is one thing for a temporarily strong individual to get a political party to move in a particular direction as someone like Obasanjo successfully did, several times. But the party remained a party, evidence for which is the fact that Obasanjo himself paid dearly and is still paying for mismanaging the party, what with the dirts Atiku Abubakar and other close collaborators of his are throwing at him many years after they all left office. That shows that the tradition of contestation is still alive in the party. Otherwise, Atiku would not have been able to release a book challenging Obasanjo’s monopoly of being the only former ruler who could afford to throw stones at every successor of his, military and civilian, and yet survive it.
As long as there are no alternative political parties or even a civil society establishment with greater clarity about the Nigerian crisis than the PDP, we must be concerned with the PDP. Because, if power struggle is allowed to escalate in the PDP at a time when Nigeria is already in the womb of a New Social Order, then there is little chance for the country to be safely delivered. Rather, it would be aborted, particularly in the context of an ideologically bankrupt elite committed to nothing.
It is much easier and better to arrange to manage the national pregnancy. All the possible options for managing the current social cross road privilege the PDP because that is where all the people with the political technology to accomplish the management are. We are entitled to our reservations about such people but they are for real.
It is important to bring this up. If the PDP mandarins could tear at each other successfully without any consequences for we, the people, that would be ‘fine’. But it won’t be like that. Rather, it is going to be a classical case of when elephants romance, the grasses suffer just as they do when the same elephants embark on elephantine test of strength.
If any evidence were needed, the Obasanjo-Atiku War of 2003 -2007 is a perfect one. Many individuals, communities, groups, businesses and even states with absolutely nothing to do with the two elephants were ruined beyond rehabilitation. So, it is not in public interest for ‘our great party’ to fragment.
Rather, as the party in power, the PDP ought to be in a position to be the thinking arm of the Nigerian State, coming out with and popularizing the positions on how this country can attain progress and social reconciliation. This is because no presidents or core political leaders have got the time to think or do any serious analysis beyond those of survivalism after all the courtesy calls, audiences, files for attention, local and foreign trips, etc, etc.
So, it is the party headquarters that does the thinking. This was why the General Secretary of the classical communist parties was more powerful than anyone else. That is not the structure in liberal democratic arrangements but it suggests the place of the party in the management of power, historically and comparatively. In other words, we need or we ought to have a stronger party than a stronger government. Interestingly, President Goodluck Jonathan agrees with this because when he came back from the centenary of the African National Congress, (ANC), last year, he said that is his model.
The PDP cannot be like the ANC because each is a product of different challenges but the president is still right in the sense of a party that captures the soul of a nation. At the moment, PDP’s symbolism for Nigeria is thoroughly compromised. The PDP central government is not managing the explosion of corruption in any exciting ways. The ideology of deregulation which the Federal Government has centralised is alienating it badly. Even if it were handled transparently, it is still against the spirit of national survival in an age when even the industrial economies are back to the mixed economy paradigm or what we in Nigeria have also known as Guided Deregulation. The PDP and its national structures are stressed in the election of a BoT chair as well as from the recent coup against the National Chairman. It is not a revolt to be dismissed because it is coming in the context of an unfolding power struggle.
The PDP needs peace to survive. It cannot have peace if the president and fellow Garrison commanders should opt to go for a broke. By age and level of involvement, I have nothing to teach those on top of things in Nigeria today. But we are also students of History.
University of Ibadan, Nigeria