On the face of it, the dramatic formation of the Movement
for the of Democracy (MDD) on the 7th of this month in Lagos would appear to
be a product of mass hysteria. Apart from the rallying war cry implied in
the movement's name, as many as 60 heavy-weight politicians (to use
Nigeria's English) queued up to join. Among them were immediate past
National Chairman of the Ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Audu
Ogbeh, former Kaduna State Governor, Lawal Kaita, and political godfather,
Yahaya Kwande. The list is a formidable record of battle-tested
politicians, men and women who cannot be brushed aside.
A closer look at the agenda of the MDD shows that the fears of the members
are quite founded. With the PDP government, democracy has been under serious
strain, and if left undefended, would inevitably snap. The MDD is a movement
foretold. The only wonder in the matter is that it took so long in coming.
Infact, the MDD is a continuation of the unfinished battle between
dictatorship and civil society when Gen. Sani Abacha died abruptly in 1998.
A little analogy might help our understanding of what happened at the time.
Under Abacha, the situation the country found itself was that of a people
rendered immobile on a rail track while the train came hurtling down at
great speed. Then within an inch of crushing the people, the train came to a
sudden halt, all by itself. The people, though happy to be saved, were
baffled and disoriented by the nerve-wracking experience. Upon recovering
their sense of direction, they went to the opposite side of unthinking
jubilation. In their happiness, they forgot that the train (Abacha's
military regime) only came to a stop and therefore never bothered to make
the extra effort required to dismantle it.
In truth, Abacha was only the driver of the train; there were other persons
responsible for its locomotion. In our haste to celebrate the new lease of
life, we equally forgot the men and women behind the train. As a result,
they refurbished the train, and re-named it the Peoples Democratic Party.
Now, the PDP, which is only a transmutation from a military to civilian
dictatorship is back in motion, albeit slowly, since 2000. It now appears to
be gathering the maniacal force associated with the Abacha era as it careers
towards 2007. Nigerians have come to the grim realization that the battle is
far from over; like the G.34 did before it, the MDD is now mustering the
troops once more to return to the trenches in of democracy.
It is a painful irony that the group of 34 (G.34) was founded on love of
freedom and democracy, but its offshoot, the PDP, thrives on the
companionship of autocracy and might. The party didn't waste time displaying
its disdain for the finer points of democracy and the rule of law. Founded
in 1998 under the chairmanship of Solomon Lar, the PDP became the ruling
party the following year. In 2000, it felt it must have another brand new
When it was time to elect the new chairman, Nigerians could not understand
why despite the overwhelming support within the party for Sunday Awoniyi,
the austere, honest, knowledgeable and hardworking technocrat and astute
politician, was being opposed trenchantly by the president and his cohorts.
Worse, the president favoured Chief Barnabas Gemade, one of the chief
mechanic of the Abacha train, to take over the chairmanship of the PDP under
this our democracy. Placed side by side with Awoniyi in terms of service to
fatherland, politics and democracy, Gemade was light years behind. Yet the
president insisted that he was the right man.
The president's choice would have been regarded as a matter of taste if his
men had not gone further to manipulate the electoral process so brazenly in
favour of their preferred candidate that the electoral authorities had to
shout out that the PDP chairmanship election was massively rigged. The
contempt with which the party, led by the president, treated the internal
democratic process so riled many of the founding fathers of the PDP that
they left in droves, beginning with Awoniyi himself, Isyaku Ibrahim, Bamanga
Tukur and others. Another highlight of PDP's democratic and legal perfidy
was recorded in 2002. In the dead of night, the president huddled in a room
in the villa with the leadership of the National Assembly, and proceeded to
alter substantially, the provisions of the electoral act that had been
passed by both Houses of the National Assembly, with the intention of
passing off the cookery as the handiwork of the federal legislators. This
criminal conspiracy, so demeaning to the office of the president; so
contemptuous of the saving grace called separation of powers; and so
disdainful of the people's representation was somehow allowed to pass, just
Since 2003, the cosmic break-down of law and order in Anambra State called a
PDP "family affair" has served as the counterpane to the party's other
numerous democratic and legal atrocities. As everyone knows, success in
little things, whether good or bad, emboldens one to aim higher. Getting
away with one atrocity here and another there, the PDP has over-reached
itself to the point of being consumed by its own hubris.
In 2000, it was Gemade who was force-fed to party members. When the PDP
puppeteers found him unsuitable for what he was brought into the party to
execute, they dumped him and went for Chief Audu Ogbeh. When Ogbeh dared as
much as cough over the officially-sanctioned villainy in Anambra State, he
was forced out of office, literally at gunpoint. From there, presidential
henchmen dissolved the party's executive committee and hand-picked their
loyalists to occupy the vacated offices.
In the president's efforts to seize the PDP structure and stifle all dissent
in the name of discipline, the party has veered towards the lunatic fringe.
For the first time, Nigerians and the rest of the world, were treated to
the bizarre spectacle of a political party under a democracy, doing its
utmost to force out a large chunk of its old members, and frustrating new
ones from joining, all in the name of re-registration and party congresses.
From the PDP, we have seen a situation where the governor and members of his
cabinet, the state legislators, council chairmen and council lors, nearly
all the serving members of the party executive in the state, not to talk of
all the federal legislators from that state, were not present at their own
party's state congress.
Chief Tony Anenih, chairman of PDP's board of trustees has described those
forming the MDD as political failures who couldn't win any election. By
this, I think he means that either themselves or their candidates could not
get elected as delegates during the infamous state congresses of the party
held two Saturday's ago. the PDP has many wonders but the most wondrous I
have seen was the state congress in Adamawa. In one camp was Mohamed Marwa,
a political neophyte, though backed by the more relatively political Senator
Jibril Aminu. At the other end was Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, political
master strategist and tactician, ably backed by Boni Haruna, the governor of
the very state in contention. In the supposedly two-conered fight, Marwa,
the neophyte, worsted Atiku, the invincible, to the point of taking 29 of
the delegates, and magnanimously leaving one for Atiku! The only charitable
explanation I can put to this electoral upset is to be found in the
philosophical song rendered by that Ikorodu musician but made popular by
Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It warns: "A community in which a dog kills a tiger
is not safe to live in." It has become plain that the so-called PDP's
democratic community, with all its strange inversions, has certainly become
unsafe to live in. I suspect that the MDD people are rousing themselves to
action before we get to that critical stage where an ant begins to kill an
There is no doubt that it is going to be a hard and bruising task. To start
with, not everyone is in the fight because of democracy. Many in the MDD
are there because they lost out in Nigeria's cannibalistic politics. More
than that, the ancien regime, as represented by people like Anenih, will put
up a ferocious fight. In this, they would pull no stop, including using
agencies of state in harassing, intimidating and blackmailing the democracy
defenders. The faint-hearted will fall by the way-side.
Is hope lost then? I don't think so. What is set to be the undoing of the
PDP is its over-weening pride as ably represented by its chief trustee,
Anenih. At the south-south zonal congress of the party last Saturday, Anenih
was his usual boastful self. "We in the PDP," he thumbed his chest, "will
not lose sleep over the formation of the MDD because looking at the list of
those behind it, it is clear that these are people who cannot win any
election in the country." Typical of the man from his NPN days during the
second republic, Anenih boasted that all the parties in Nigeria put
together would not stop the PDP and that the decision by MDD promoters to
leave the PDP and float a new party is to their own disadvantage. His
conclusion smacked of a man about to meet his hubris. "From what I have read
in the newspapers," Anenih sneered, "those whose names have been linked to
the new group cannot take the risk to leave the PDP."
Yet, they would leave and more are bound to follow. By next year, I can
almost see a stampede out of the PDP and into MDD-like parties for obvious
reasons. This is one party that has gone out of its way to hurt those it
could, and to sideline the others it couldn't. And it has never made any
virtue of reconciliation. Those who pull the PDP strings have since become
blind to reality. They see themselves as omnipotent in Nigeria's political
space. That is why they can't see the upwelling undercurrents right under
their feet. What the MDD stands for resonates with millions of Nigerians.
The personalities behind the idea, whether they can win elections or not, is
not the issue. Nigerians know that Abacha, the Ali Baba, has left them but
his forty political thieves are still very much around. My colleague on this
page, Olusegun Adeniyi, demonstrated the over-arching presence of Abacha's
men in this dispensation with his famous book launched this year and
entitled, The Last Hundred Days of Abacha. it is these men who have revamped
the Abacha train, and are now taking us to a better forgotten era.
In these times, I keep asking myself: "was Abacha's death all a blessing?" I
no longer think so. Though it would have cost more lives and mystery, I now
believe that it would have been better if we had fought Abacha and his men
to a standstill, and established his case as a covenant between Nigerian
leaders and the people that tyrants are no longer welcomed here, whether in
uniform or mufti. Though we must give thanks to God, His divine intervention
stopped us from making that point, once and for all.
And because what is easily got is not greatly valued, we failed to
appreciate what God did for us, at no cost. Now, we have allowed the forty
thieves to re-group and we must now have to fight afresh to dislodge them.
In the battle ahead, I can already see signs that despite all the
chest-beating, the PDP is mortally afraid. Unlike its well-known approach,
the party has gone into serious truce talks with those Anenih is labelling
publicly as political failures. Even the frequent excoriation of the MDD
people is a testimony to the fact that they are people to be taken
seriously. Which, I suspect, is the reason the party is threatening them
with suspension and expulsion if they continued to fraternize with MDD. If
they were actually political nonentities as claimed, the party would not be
bothered about them. And they would certainly not be getting the unsolicited
advice from Anenih that if they left for other parties, they would meet
empty houses as members of those parties are billed to cross over to the PDP.
And if we may ask, why is the PDP excoriating their members who want to
defend democracy? I believe that it is this very question, framed by the
actions of the PDP henchmen, that will draw the battle line between the
party of oppression and movement for freedom. In line with the global trend,
the forces of democracy will triumph over the forces of autocracy in this
country, if not now, than certainly later.