By Yusuph Olaniyonu
On Saturday, leaders, stakeholders and members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will gather inside the velodrome of the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, for the national convention of the party. This convention will witness the primary election to elect the standard-bearer of the party in next year’s February presidential election.
As an aside, it should be noted that the man after whom the venue is named, Chief MKO Abiola, should provide good symbolism and inspiration for the PDP leaders and delegates to make decisions that will benefit Nigeria, uplift democracy, and promote good governance.
Following the provision of the Electoral Act (2022), the nature and number of the electorate have changed from what they used to be since 1999 when the PDP had its inaugural presidential convention in Jos City, Plateau State. The usual situation where certain elected public office holders, party chieftains at local, state, and national levels, candidates of the party in the House of Representatives, Senate, and governorship, as well as former elected public office holders were automatic or statutory delegates with voting rights, has changed. The only people who would have voting rights now are the ad hoc delegates specifically elected two weekends ago for the national convention.
There are 774 of these delegates elected to represent the respective local government areas. They will be joined by 37 people living with disability, each of whom was selected to represent their respective states and the Federal Capital Territory. This gives a total figure of 811. The sudden realization that a lot of the people who were expected to be voters at the convention are no longer qualified has changed the calculation.
Ordinarily, by the old calculation, over 3,700 delegates would have been qualified to elect the presidential candidate.
However, with a smaller number, the convention should ordinarily be easier to manage, faster to conclude, and less expensive for the parties and the aspirants, if you know what I mean.
It also means that the 811 wise men have a date with history. The future of Nigeria and her ability to pull through the present challenges facing her place some responsibilities on the leading opposition party in the country to lead in the search for solutions. The country is at war on many fronts. Nigeria is assailed by the war waged against her by insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, secessionists, cultists, religious bigots and advance fee fraudsters. The citizens, therefore, have to grapple with mass unemployment, endemic poverty, high inflation, economic crisis, hunger, daily threats to their survival and frequent bloodletting in which, in many areas, non-state actors have seized control of the instruments of violence from the state and now dictate the rule.
These conditions have made experts across the world describe Nigeria in her current state as a failing state, having tumbled from the ranks of strong, too weak, and now failing states with the possibility of descending to a failed state. All the characteristics of a failed state are manifesting in the country. Government has tried its best but it seems the best has not been good enough. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has only demonstrated that it is good as an opposition coalition but not a platform to offer effective governance.
The people, therefore, will look to the PDP as the only alternative, even though there are a few who may want to argue to the contrary. The PDP delegates, therefore, should realise that, at this convention, they are making decisions on whether Nigeria should go down the precipice or rise and march forward to realise her potential as the true giant of Africa.
The delegates should realise that they are to decide whether Nigerians should rely on them to produce a leader who can work hard and work with the people to unite the country. They should not make the mistake of voting for a politician whose biggest credential is knowing how to manipulate the political process. They will be required to vote for a person who has the courage, knows what the problems are, what to do, how to go about doing it.
The PDP delegates should not make the mistake of turning the convention into a bazaar where the highest bidder carts away the trophy. The winner at this convention should be expected to go home with the headache of how to produce workable alternative ideas and policies that will demonstrate to Nigerians that he can lead the country better and provide good governance, restore the dignity of the nation, and set her people to work for the redemption, rebuilding and resetting of the country.
Nigeria should not be for sale at the PDP convention. The delegates should not make the mistake of selling the ticket to the one who can pay or offer the highest price. They should not make the mistake of electing an aspirant who lacks the energy, vigour, ideas and agility to work round the clock to save Nigeria. No aspirant who cannot put in the work of 26 hours in one day as Nigeria’s President should mistakenly emerge as the candidate from this PDP convention.
The delegates should not elect anybody who will rule by proxy or spend more time attending to himself than attending to the affairs of his nation. We should not also elect an inexperienced person, with a provincial worldview or a bully. There should be no mistake in electing a person with a short fuse or the one who cannot unite the country but can easily throw fuel into the naked fire by his words, actions and temperament. We need a 100 per cent sober, reflective, sane, mature, calm but damn effective, bold and experienced President to fix the multi-dimensional problems facing Nigeria.
The delegates should not make the mistake of voting for just a politician whose expertise is the manipulation of the process to emerge. There must be obvious substance to who will emerge from this convention. The delegates must avoid making the mistake of voting based on sentiment about who they have known or who has done personal favours to them or who is from their zone or who has been with them in the old political groups or parties. It is a time to do away with these sentiments.
The PDP delegates must not make the mistake of ignoring the quality and age of ideas of the aspirants and only listen to the noise of their drums and the quality of the food and drinks they offer to people while the convention lasts. There should be no mistake about what the country needs at this point.
One will also be happy if the delegates make no mistake about the importance of uniting, stabilizing, and energizing the country. The delegates must vote for a candidate of unity, the one who can build bridges across all our divides – region, ethnicity, religion, age, party, and professional sectors.
The delegates must also avoid the error of not properly interrogating and scrutinising the antecedents, personal records, and profiles of the aspirants. And in doing this, the plan is not to listen to the noise from the market, the campaign of calumny, or the deliberate profiling. It is by looking beyond the facade, cross-checking the truth, and matching the conflicting information.
I am hoping the delegates will do a review or revisit the campaigns embarked upon by the aspirants since they make public their aspirations to be president. They should avoid being taken in by those who have been creating jests, acting in drama sketches, and throwing expletives at others. They should not make the mistake of also giving recognition to those who have been grand-standing and making empty boasts. They should look at who among the aspirants is staying on substance, issues, and practical ideas.
The delegates should not make the mistake of not understanding what each of the aspirants promise, what is the relevance of their promises to today’s Nigeria, how real are their proposals, and what capacity they have to deliver on these promises. The delegates should not make the mistakes of assessing how each aspirant understands the dynamics of governing a complex society like Nigeria. It is not just a matter of what offices a man has occupied.
Finally, the delegates should look at the aspirants and see who is presidential in speech, conduct, carriage, the company they keep, their goals and aspirations, and the network they have. It is my prayer that the PDP delegates will choose right and that their choice will contribute positively to the search for solutions to Nigeria’s various challenges.
• Olaniyonu, a communication strategist, journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja