The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was Nigeria’s ruling party for 16 years from 1999 to 2015. It’s as old as the 4th Republic and remains the largest political party that has survived the turbulence and implosion that have stripped other parties of their identity, philosophy and national spread. It’s largely a neo-liberal, centre-right party which once prided itself as the largest party in Africa.
To a large extent, you could easily place a sticker on PDP as the only party in Nigeria not built around one or two individuals. The Group of 34 statesmen (G-34) who played the role of forerunner for the party must have thought of building it into a national institution, shorn of ethno-religious bias. Again, it is fair to say that this is what the party has remained – a national behemoth propped up on strong, nationally spread ramparts.
On that note – as a truly national party – the PDP could be said to have done well. As a ruling party for 16 years, the party cannot be dismissed as a failure. While the argument that it could have done better remains germane, it’s hard to dismiss the PDP as a monumental failure during the 16 years it held the lever of power at the centre. President Olusegun Obasanjo, by far the best President among the lot, came with a grand vision to retool Nigeria. Socially, economically and politically, he tried to re-engineer a nation that was almost grounded by long years of military misrule.
As a former military ruler, Obasanjo knew that at the core of the nation’s backwardness is the pandemic of corruption. His government birthed both the EFCC and ICPC. The PDP itself did not look away from the rot of graft. Obasanjo government got a few party chieftains, some direct friends of Obasanjo, jailed for corruption. Sunday Awoniyi, a minister; Olabode George, the leader of the party in the South West zone; Tafa Balogun, then Inspector General of Police, among other top players in the PDP government of Obasanjo all got jailed for corruption.
Safe to say that as a ruling party, PDP girded its loins to build a better Nigeria. But as the opposition party, the same cannot be said of the PDP. The party which was almost chased out of town and cowed into defeat by the well-heeled opposition parties has lost steam when it mattered most. In party politics, whether presidential or parliamentary, the opposition is usually swift-talking, loud and always has a tendency to have a superior view on any issue.
In the days of the PDP as the ruling party, the ANPP, CPC, ACN and others were up and about heckling the PDP and drawing the attention of Nigerians to the weaknesses of the PDP and how the ruling party was busy looting the national treasury. Ahead of the 2015 election, the opposition had sufficiently bullied the PDP into accepting its fate as a failure. On account of this, it was easy to sell the CHANGE message to Nigerians.
Within the last six years as an opposition party, PDP has remained largely clueless as to its role as opposition in party politics. Whereas, the inert and poor performance of the APC government at the centre has provided the PDP enough fodder to dim the fortunes of the former, it has failed to do so. Despite the looting bazaar that still defines the APC government, it’s the PDP that has been made to look like the real rogue in the mix. APC has shown a superior fire power in publicity and propaganda which it has used to tar the PDP in dull and dour colour.
The emergence of Prince Uche Secondus as Chairman of the party was thought to be a masterstroke. But it turned out an albatross. Under Secondus, PDP lapsed into a deep slumber; lost steam and became a burden unto itself. First, it has a weak and dumb media team which lacked the presence of mind and intellectual grit to engage in public discourse. Whatever happened to strategic political communication skills. The PDP media team shows no spark of cognitive intelligence, failed to counter, wit for wit, the lies and spurious claims of the ruling APC. Each time the APC switches to the next gear in its rich arsenal of political propaganda to rubbish 16 years of PDP as wasted years, all the PDP could muster is a poorly cobbled press statement, bereft of sagacity and sound logic. You don’t fight political communication battle with saturnine pressers none of which shows elements of research and logic.
For all his foibles and predilection to hyperbole and fibs, Lai Mohammed, the mouthpiece of the APC who transited to Minister of Information and Culture, still holds the ace in the squared arena of political communication. He has continued to floor the PDP, both as spokesman for the APC and now as spokesman for the Buhari government. He never fails on this; grabbing every opportunity to de-market the PDP as a party of crooks and failures.
Aside Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike and a few other PDP faithful, including the articulate and effervescent Katch Ononuju, the PDP as an opposition is nothing but a dull dog – sleepy, can’t even bark let alone bite. Its media team needs to take some lessons from Lai Mohammed on how to play the opposition using the power of the media.
By just a whiff of political communication adroitness, the APC was able to dismiss 16 years of PDP as the years of locusts of plunder. The PDP has not been able to get as much as a toehold in the media to clear its sordid image and carve open for the world to see the rotten underbelly of the APC. Not even on the free-for-all social media is the PDP showing strength. On all fronts in the media war, the APC has demonstrated a far superior flair and flourish, both in the deployment of words to market itself and in actual participation in and dominance of the media space.
But Nigeria democracy is still fledgling. Still in its pupillage. It requires a strong and vibrant opposition to keep the power at the centre in check. APC did it to PDP when the latter was at the centre. Now as an opposition, the PDP has shown it’s incapable of doing same to the APC. This is bad for the people. The beauty of democracy is the robustness of the opposition. Every healthy democracy is adjudged so by the soundness of the opposition. And where there is no virile opposition, the government at the centre tends towards autocracy. Nigeria cannot afford such anomaly at this time, especially after surviving the boisterous whirlwind of military rule with all its vile attributes including abridgement of people’s fundamental rights including the right to free speech.
The PDP should wake up. It must take its place as the opposition. APC even as a hurriedly assembled coalition played a better role as opposition. The nation’s young democracy would be better served if the PDP could moult its timid skin and put on the garb of a spirited opposition. The party should use the opportunity of its size and spread to do a better job as the opposition