A new Sherriff is in town, spanking new and smoking. No, not the nation’s number one citizen, who, after dilly-dallying, reluctantly signed the budget of change. I’m talking of the swashbuckling, fire-eating son of a gun former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff. Now, any adventurer, who takes on the challenge of resurrecting the near comatose former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), must have either been watching too much of Mel Gibson’s Brave Heart or thinks he is the reincarnation of Hercules. But having been senator and governor – a cherished career progression for many a politician, Modu-Sherrif is clearly a clear-eyed, professional grandmaster of the chess game of power. He must also have the instinct of Houdini to agree to do the job at a time when the reigning party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has almost “finished” the PDP with sustained attacks, portraying the umbrella as the hideout of robbers. Today, PDP that planned to rule for another 60 years is in disarray with its lieutenants, running from their shadows. Financially, the party is bad business too many investors would not touch. Even staffs are leaving in scores over unpaid salaries.
Yet, Modu-Sheriff accepted the challenge. And when the rambunctious spokesman of the party, Olisa Metuh, was finally put in chains and paraded, it was the most poignant symbol of the fall of the party. But when Metuh slumped the other day, it was as if the PDP was on the floor with him. For when you take away the voice of a man, and rub his face in the mud, and chain his hands and feet, what remains again? Apart from Metuh, other top leaders of the party are fighting to keep their head above the waters, as they are either in jail or on their way there.
And the sad thing is that many of them can’t even prove their innocence, even though they keep shouting they are not guilty. The unfortunate truth is that the APC, riding on its current wave of an all-time popularity profile has already pronounced them guilty. And so they are! Ok, I know what you are thinking. Only the courts can pronounce anyone guilty or not. Well, it means you have no clue what media trial is all about. Once, you are picked, you are already guilty.
It doesn’t matter if the courts later set you free. Today, criminals who cross over to the APC have been baptised and beatified. A few good men like Malam Ibrahim Shekarau and Sule Lamido have been tainted with the black brush of a party said to be harbouring only sinners. And to escape the labelling and possible prosecution, the tactic adopted by many is to transit to the ruling party where they get forgiven and are promptly canonised. Yet, Modu Sheriff accepts to be called Mr. PDP. But before I digress, please, if you are a PDP sympathiser, don’t blame the plight of your party on the APC. To be sure, the PDP did some pretty nasty things in these past 16 years to deserve the current bashing. Is this not the party that always callously handpicked candidates for positions? Is this not the party that appointed garrison commanders? Is this not the party that often said there were no vacancies in elective offices? Was this not the party that was adept at cancelling the name of an aspirant two hours to a poll?
Is this not the party that introduced the brilliant idea of substituting a candidate? Is this not the party that had state chairmen, who often boasted that they had tickets in their front pockets? Is this not the party that treated everything as a family affair? Is this not the party that introduced the nefarious policy of “closed doors”( in other words, after every open meeting, another one happens behind closed doors, preferably at mid nights, where the earlier decisions taken were jettisoned.
So, you wake up in the morning to discover all that was reached had been dropped.) Is this not the party that knows how to use the electoral bodies, soldiers, and police to thwart the people’s will? Is this not the party that has a slogan “power to the people” but turns around to do the exact opposite? And when the same people you said you were giving power but actually oppressing got tired, they threw you off. Please, don’t blame the APC.
At a point, the PDP was behaving as if the people’s votes didn’t matter. I used to ask some of the “politicians” what they thought of the people and their will. With a wink, they would give me a mocking look and say with a dismissive air “Emma, that is our problem with you. You are just a reporter. You don’t understand politics.” And I honestly wondered what they meant. So, what exactly makes one a politician? What makes you a politician when all you do is perfect the act of rigging elections?
What makes you a politician when your people are often only forced to vote for you with all sorts of threats? What makes you a politician when you have only disdain and contempt for your people? What makes you a politician when you have the biggest house in your village and treat even the traditional rulers as errand boys? I met politicians secretly despised by their people. For such power mongers, all that mattered was the ticket the party ‘dashed’ them at skewed primaries. “Just get the ticket” was the mantra. Winning the election was always a matter of forcing the voters, intimidating them or buying them. For years, both electorate and aspirants lived with this. First, the party denies you the ticket. You are then forced to tide over to the other party where you stand no chance.
Out of frustration, you head for the tribunals where it was always cash and carry. At the end of the day, voters are saddled with a candidate they didn’t vote for. The “winner” is also forced to deal with a constituency he knew doesn’t like him. But with the coming of APC, hope renewed. First, the new party tried as much as possible not to impose candidates on the people, the way the PDP did. They had their issues too but they were able to deal with it. At least, they made an effort at transparency, accountability and fairness. No wonder they became an instant hit.
But APC shouldn’t gloat. The PDP might be down but not out. Here is a party with structure in some of the richest states of the federation. Here is a party that many so-called born again politician of the APC still respect and adore. Here is a party with connections outside the shore. 16 years of history cannot be wiped out so easily. And, I dare say, many ordinary Nigerians are starting to pine for the days of power and splendour. Their only annoyance is the high handedness that was PDP.
For the new the acting chairman of the PDP, this is where he must start. The party must address the issue of imposition of candidates. A situation where the peoples’ will is toyed with in a brazen manner shouldn’t be condoned. And there is no better place to start than the on-going party primaries. As I write this, while some states are getting it right, others are latching into the old manual that has brought the party where it is. Some state party chairmen shouldn’t just return for their anti-people stand and lack of appeal.
Yet, this is not the only challenge the new Sheriff faces. He has to find of a way of rebranding the party and presenting it as one that is prepared to be contrite and do the right thing. One of the problems in doing this is the man himself. Modu-Sheriff has been accused of many things I don’t need to repeat here. But if he must be taken seriously, he has to showcase himself as a born again bridge builder. This is no time to engage in pettiness. He must be accessible. If the old PDP associated with so much corruption would be buried, it must take an undertaker working with new tools. The old styled PDP whose leaders were sacrosanct; who like to rub raw power in the face of people; where transparency was an alien word; where impositions and closed doors were the imperative; that PDP must give way for a new one using modern democratic methods. PDP has to retool to become more appealing and less repugnant. It can start by apologising for some things and promising to be a better boy next time. Nigerians are forgiving and, who knows, in the face of the current growing disappointment, may give their beloved PDP a chance again. Modu Sherrif has to be crazy to believe he can achieve this but then Albert Einstein and Karl Marx were once thought to be mad men.