“Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.”
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The controversy and anxiety that trailed the tenure of the suspended National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, may have been finally put to rest following the emergence of former Senate President, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, as the leader of the newly reconstituted National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
Secondus fought hard to retain his job, but the opposition against him was so overwhelming that one could feel it from the frenzied political atmosphere that culminated in the consensus jamboree that took place at the just concluded national convention in Abuja. Despite all the apprehensions generated by the anticipated court ruling on the tenure of the ousted NWC hours before the convention, the prolonged controversy turned out to be a storm in a teacup for the party.
The original plan orchestrated by the forces of change was to affirm consensus for all the 21 elective offices, but agreement could not be reached for three positions namely Deputy National Chairman (South), Deputy National Chairman (North), and National Youth Leader.
Consequently, Ayu got 3,426 affirmative votes out of 3,511 accredited voters to emerge as the national chairman, while former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and Inna Ciroma battled Taofeek Arapaja and Umar Damagum who won the positions of deputy national chairman (South and North) respectively. Arapaja was the anointed candidate of the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, just as Oyinlola had the backing of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Senator Bukola Saraki, the immediate past Senate president.
The Chief Returning Officer, who is the governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Fintiri, announcing the results of the elections, said that Arapaja emerged the deputy national chairman (South) with a total of 2,004 votes to defeat Oyinlola, who polled 705 votes. Also, Umar Damagum scored a total of 2,222 votes to defeat his main challenger, Inna Ciroma, for the position of deputy national chairman (North). Ciroma polled 365 votes. The position of National Youth Leader was won by Mohammed Suleiman with 3,072 votes, while his co-contestant, Usman Elkudan, scored 219 votes.
“It is very significant for me to have the privilege as the chief returning officer of the 2021 PDP National Convention Election chairman to announce and declare His Excellency, Senator (Dr) Iyorchia Ayu as duly elected and returned national chairman of our great party,” Fintiri declared.
Also, the new chairman in his acceptance speech said: “Today is simply a thank you address. When we started this party 23 – 24 years ago, we never in any way imagined that the journey will get us to this stage – a stage where we ruled for 16 years, we went into rough times, but for anybody who will bother to see, PDP is back. And it is back to rescue Nigeria from the terrible mess we have been in the last six years.”
Moving forward, there are three major challenges before the newly elected NWC. These are the restoration of internal democracy, reconciliation of aggrieved members, as well as ensuring a level playing field for all prospective presidential aspirants amidst the loud agitation for power shift.
Part of the argument in favour of consensus arrangement by political parties is to avoid the usual rancor and acrimony that often characterize direct primary. But on the demerit side, it has politically paradoxical consequences on the new trend of bottom-up politics which is sine-qua-non to participatory democracy. Participatory governance requires, among other things, giving the people the opportunity to have a say in the choice of who governs them.
For the glaring lack of internal democracy within political parties in Nigeria, including the PDP, Ayu obviously has an uphill task ahead of him to change the narrative about candidate imposition that makes the people mere spectators in the affairs that concern their lives.
He was quoted to have said in a recent interview: “I personally will prefer indirect primary, but the base for participation should be expanded enormously so that money bags will not be able to easily buy.”
No doubt, eliminating moneybags in politics is a change that could restore sanity into the system. But as no one can rise above the circumstance of his emergence, it is quite doubtful if Ayu can actually go far in his desire to bring a change in the party, judging by the dictatorial disposition of the governors who put him there.
As far as power politics is concerned, governors are the de facto authority in the country. Either as individuals or collectivity, they dictate the shots and decide who gets what. You dare them, you get the boot.
Already, the Senate has included direct primary in the ongoing Electoral Act Amendment Bill to strengthen internal democracy. And since there can be no single solution to any problem, it has only opened a fresh debate on the desirability or otherwise of direct and indirect primary approaches to the selection process within political parties.
Whichever option is adopted as a preferred method, the important thing is to give a voice back to the people to strengthen effective participation in governance.
PDP, like other political platforms, has had its own sour taste of internal crisis arising from candidate imposition, suppression of dissenting views, and outright disregard for the rules of engagement. These and many more are some of the ills the new national chairman will need to fight in order to reposition the party.
Iyorchia Ayu is an old warhorse in politics whose experience dates back to 1993. He was elected Senator in the Third Republic on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and subsequently emerged the Senate President.
He was, however, impeached by the Senate on account of his strong opposition to the Interim National Government which was put in place after the annulment of the June 1993 presidential election won by the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (MKO). He later became the Minister for Education under the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha.
At the advent of the present democratic dispensation, he was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs in July 2003 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Following some political disagreement with his boss, Ayu left the PDP and joined the Action Congress (AC) where he led the presidential campaign for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the 2007 general elections.
The onus now lies on him to create a level playing field for all aspiring presidential candidates, including Atiku.