Can We Trust The MDD

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Can We Trust The MDD?
 

By

 

Reuben Abati

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, November 20, 2005

 

 

The Movement for The Defence of Democracy (MDD) was launched last week in Lagos as a pressure group to rescue Nigerian democracy, provide an alternative to the current asphyxiation of the political space by a behemoth called the Peoples Democratic Party, and prevent the drift towards an anarchic one-party state. The group is made up of aggrieved, disgruntled members of the PDP, those who feel that the PDP has been hijacked by power mongers and particularly President Olusegun Obasanjo whose word has since become law within the party and the country, PDP stalwarts who were wrong-footed in the recent PDP zonal congresses, plus a few members of a faction of the Alliance for Democracy who seem to be playing smart politics by fishing in the troubled waters of the PDP and helping to play the role of undertakers.

 

The full membership list of the MDD is not yet known as there are others in the background: Governors, legislators in every Senatorial district, big party men, and foot-soldiers who are determined to divide the PDP down the middle, and who may possibly show up at the follow up meetings of the group scheduled for December 7 and 12. It is particularly ironic that the city of Lagos was chosen as the venue for the announcement of the birth of the MDD. A few months ago in this same city, PDP leaders held a rally where they promised to ensure a "Tsunami" in the politics of Lagos and sweep Bola Tinubu and his men out of power forever. But now, with the emergence of the MDD, and the implosion within this self-styled "biggest political party in Africa", what is happening to the PDP, is poetic justice: self-inflicted and inevitable.

 

We do not need any soothsayer to confirm that this is in part, a by-product of the clash between the President and Vice President Atiku Abubakar, whose supporters across the country suddenly became targets of a great witch-hunt by the former's agents. Although a court of law had ordered the PDP to follow due process in its zonal congresses and allow free competition, lists of state executives were faxed to various PDP branches from Abuja and anyone who at any time sounded as if he was critical of the President, was shut out of the party. Old members who started the party even before President Obasanjo joined politics were denied registration cards; the entire exercise became a form of sorcery, such that in virtually every state, the PDP abandoned democracy, opted for tyranny and discouraged free speech. The underlying agenda was: "stop Atiku by all means. Reduce his influence within the party. Make it impossible for him to succeed Baba on the platform of the PDP. And if there is any other person who may prove to be a potential trouble maker, get rid of him, embarrass him or her." Although Vice President Atiku has not identified publicly with the pressure group called the MDD, it is obvious that the group is a coalition of anti-Obasanjo forces; they are driven by anger if not disgust, frustration if not despair.

Senator Mohammed Ohaire (PDP, Kogi Central) summed up the grievances of the group as follows: "There are signs that things are not really going on well with the PDP, especially when a notable personality like myself can be denied registration in my constituency. And all those people that we have struggled (to get into)... positions at ward and local government and state levels can be removed without any cognizance of the efforts that we have put to build up this party, I think something is wrong." He added: "if you own a house, a house that is jointly owned and a mad man comes in and removes all your property and other stakeholders are staying there watching the mad man doing it, what do you expect will happen?" Ohaire is complaining about mad men in the PDP; another PDP stalwart Bamanga Tukur had before him complained about "armed robbers" taking over the party.

 

The situation in the party has thus degenerated so badly that party members no longer trust each other, they trade abuses; personal differences have become the main preoccupation of a party that is supposed to defend the interests of the people. What does the PDP stand for? When this same party came to power in 1999 and again won majority seats in 2003, its members were so triumphant they behaved like a happy family; they dominated the space like conquerors, and boasted about the future. Other political parties: the AD, ANPP and the odd 27 others were sidelined, or sucked into a grand conspiracy against the people.

 

Politics in Nigeria is about what anyone can get, it is about allocation and the sharing of resources; for an average politician, in the face of allocation and sharing, party affiliations are unimportant, expediency is all that matters. And so at all levels, members of the AD, ANPP and the other political parties who were supposed to provide an alternative to the PDP simply joined the PDP train. Their big men accepted contracts and political appointments from the ruling party either for themselves or their children. Lawmakers from opposing parties collected money and other forms of inducement from the ruling party.

 

What has then been demonstrated is the underdeveloped nature of Nigerian politics and the failure of the country's political party system. Politics in Nigeria is about the self not the common good; political parties do not promote ideas or programmes; they are vehicles for self-promotion and enrichment. The party that holds majority power can distribute patronage and compromise the entire political party system. The PDP in six years has been the champion of this vision-less, direction-less politics. It is invariably a kind of politics that focuses on personalities rather than ideas; territorial control rather than the people. And so, it was inevitable that the PDP soon found itself in self-fulfilling turf wars. In every state, this turf war has taken democracy out of the governance process, it presents the PDP as a party of power mongers without principles.

 

Femi Okurounmu writing in the Tribune (November 16) has said that the break-away faction of the PDP that has now formed the MDD is a renegade faction that is opposed to the reform or "internal cleansing" or "purification" (!) that President Obasanjo is carrying out in the PDP. Okurounmu's pro-Obasanjo, anti-Atiku, anti-Tinubu analysis plays politics with the subject, definitely the recent PDP congresses do not point to any reform or revolution. He writes: "The recent ward, local government and state congresses of the party indicate clearly that the president wants to sanitize it, give it focus, instill discipline and use it to move the nation in a reformist direction. It will be no exaggeration to call the current happenings in the party a revolution. It is however a revolution that is welcome to those who have always argued that a political party must have clearly defined goals that bind its members, that its members must be subject to party discipline and that money should not be the dominant factor that provides access to leadership positions but rather the commitment and loyalty of individuals to the overall goals of the party. The recent congresses of the PDP are clearly suggestive of reforms along these lines." But oh no, Okurounmu is wrong!

 

In an editorial, the Vanguard newspaper (November 17) says the MDD is a welcome development, because an alternative voice in Nigerian politics is urgently required. The New Age in its November 17 editorial opinion says the emergence of the MDD is "perhaps the most significant political development since the return to democracy in 1999" But can we trust the MDD? It is true that alternative voices are urgently needed at the moment in Nigerian politics. The political space has been taken over by only one theme: 2007 and the politics of succession, extension and exclusion. There is also great anxiety about the future.

 

There can be no doubt about this: we need alternative voices that can remind the politicians in the PDP and elsewhere that the future of this country is greater than the dreams of self-appointed messiahs. We need voices that can articulate the basic priorities that we need to address as a nation. Our institutions have failed. INEC is a political party of sorts. The main political parties do not respect court rulings... We need to reinvent the political party system, and draw up a transparent electoral framework. Political parties are supposed to be mirrors and expressions of the people's choices and aspirations. They seek power to promote a vision of society and translate same into programmes for the benefit of the people. Alas, our political parties are special purpose vehicles for getting into public office; the process of social and political advancement is truncated; the PDP in particular has been handed over to one man.

 

The euphoria over the emergence of the MDD may have arisen over the comfort that is derived from the fact that nemesis has at last caught up with the PDP. But the MDD can only become an alternative if it is driven by high ideals. The group is populated by the same old brigade, by the same men and women who are part of the Nigerian problem. To provide an alternative or quality opposition, anger or disgust is not enough. A new movement that is built on hate or disaffection is not what we seek in the long run. The MDD should not be driven simplistically by a revolt against Obasanjo or a desperate search for power and relevance.

 

It can only become an alternative if it is driven by clearly enunciated policies and programmes, and if its men and women inspire confidence. The danger is that some of the spokespersons for the MDD sound as if the group is a blackmail construct: that is, if some of the aggrieved members are appeased and re-integrated into the PDP mainstream, they would most likely stay inside the PDP. No great movement can be built on such an opportunistic foundation. Nigerians do not want another party like the PDP which is organised strictly for the purpose of gaining power, for witch-hunt and thievery.

All things considered, Nigerian politicians, whatever may be their affiliation, have failed Nigerians. Great nations are built by political and pressure groups, by men and women who subordinate their private urges to the needs of the people. In Nigeria, there is too much hypocrisy. Every man who goes into politics wants to ride a bullet proof car, keep money in foreign bank accounts, build houses in every state capital and own an oil block through which he can collect rent from the Nigerian state. Every big man wants to use his position to steal opportunities for his own sons and daughters, for his wives and concubines, and for the many sycophants that surround him. It doesn't matter if the people have no food to eat, no schools in which their children can be taught and prepared for the future, no hospitals where access to quality healthcare can be guaranteed, no roads on which they can travel...This is the legacy of the past six years.

 

Sadly, there is no single person in Nigerian politics today who commands a large national following and who can serve as the symbol for national progress. Obasanjo could have risen to that status but he has allowed himself to return to the original level of a village royal chief, and if he further allows himself to be tempted by the thieves who are campaigning that he should remain in power beyond 2007, he would have destroyed whatever is left of his hard-earned place in the public arena. When he eventually leaves office, he would be no better than the prisoner of Minna!

 

It is unfortunate that as the politicians jostle for power and the legislators watch the pendulum of political influence, the machinery of governance is gradually grinding to a halt. Mark my words, by January 2006, no real governance would take place again in Nigeria; it is the game of political survival that would dominate public discourse fully and unfortunately. Already, every politician is looking for where to pitch tent: with Obasanjo or Atiku, with the democrats or the dictators, with the constitutionalists or the buccaneers, the federalists or the power mongers?

 

The greatest disservice that the PDP has done to Nigerians is to reduce Nigeria's Fourth Republic to a choice between two political camps and personalities. Truly, there is need to defend the people's democracy, but even more importantly, there is need to save Nigeria. It is not the professional politicians that would do it, it is only the people who can save the country and its future. Arise o Compatriots!


 

 

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