Embattled national chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, escaped immolation by the whiskers last week when some members of the party leadership mutinied against him. The crisis had been simmering for years, and worsened in the past few months, but everything came to a head last week when seven national officers, all of them deputies, put their monies where their mouths were by relinquishing their offices. Though the revolt was neither planned nor led by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, he was the spiritual mastermind, the chief rebel who had the courage of his convictions. Voluble, peevish and lacking subtlety of speech, Mr Wike was unafraid to personify the rebellion against Mr Secondus. The revolt has, however, miscarried, leaving the rebel leader with egg on his face.
Five other national officers, this time of more weight than the previous seven, were slated to relinquish their positions had the Board of Trustees (BoT) not stepped in to stanch the metaphorical flow of blood. Mr Secondus is largely the creation of the party’s scheming governors; it was to them that he made recourse last week to survive the putsch against him. Collectively, and together with the imprimatur of former vice president Abubakar Atiku and BoT chiefs, they signaled their opposition to the dethronement of their somnolent chairman. He might be sleepy and unpolished, but he was still their safest bet until a convention is held. Mr Secondus and his team have just four more months to go before elections to fill the party’s national offices; it therefore seemed unreasonable to party chieftains to sack the chairman and emplace a caretaker committee. The bloodletting in the All Progressives Congress (APC), not to say the clumsy subversion of their constitution, is still very fresh in the minds of PDP leaders to countenance treading a path that leads to confusion.
Mr Secondus may have survived the revolt against his leadership, and Mr Wike may be a deplorable political tactician, but the Rivers governor is right in every way about the ineffectiveness of the party chairman. While overthrowing the party regime barely four months to an elective convention may be improper and even irrational, especially in light of the experience of the APC which also embarked on self-help to party members’ dismay last year, there is no denying Mr Wike’s observation that Mr Secondus is unsuited for the exalted party leadership he has held down for years. The chairman wants to see out his term in office, and his wishes seemed to have been granted, but the next few months will be useless for the party and hostile to the plotters. Having spent a lifetime reinforcing his uncharismatic leadership style, the PDP chairman will not change suddenly simply because the BoT had given him a slap on the wrist regarding his unexciting administration. Similarly, the rebels will not suddenly become affectionate towards Mr Secondus simply because they had been prevailed upon to sheathe their swords. The think their chairman is ineffective; they will keep thinking so, and will probably soldier on melancholically until the convention puts his nose out of joint.
PDP chiefs may have quieted the symptoms of the crisis seething in their party, they will, however, not be able to perform a resection on the disease. Their party is rotten to the core, and had always been rotten since the beginning. Mr Wike did not, of course, make it so, but it is significant that he possesses no political virtue himself to ameliorate the evil that besets the party nor has he demonstrated any other culture other than the nihilism his party had made famous. The PDP needed to purge itself after the shameful beating the victorious APC inflicted on it in 2015. But for the first four years, the party lived in denial, announcing to everyone on whom they thought their talisman still worked that in 2019 they would be back. Clearly they watched too many Terminator movies. Not only were they not back in 2019, they suffered a far worse trouncing than they experienced in 2015. Four years, it was thought, should give them the impetus to fit into the role of an opposition party, and give the APC a run for their money. Alas, four years saw nothing but the PDP’s regression to nothingness, and this in the face of the APC’s self-destruction and incompetence.
Mr Secondus obviously did not birth the mess in the PDP. The decay began as soon as the party took office in 1999. Removing him a few months to the expiration of his mandate, as Mr Wike unreflectively wished and ham-fistedly plotted, would both be counterproductive and incapable of engendering a new, invigorated party fit to present the APC a worthy opposition. Mr Wike is still sulking from his inability to have his way with Mr Secondus. Even his former allies, such as Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal, and Alhaji Atiku, were chary of assenting his brash and purposeless drive for new, probably caretaker, party leadership. How he will respond in the next few weeks will be hard to determine. He cannot leave for the APC or join forces with the so-called Third Force political party of the former INEC chairman’s conjuration. In fact his temper and manners are really best suited to a party like the PDP, an opposition party hobbled by two defeats in a row, shorn of charismatic leadership, destitute of principles and values, and unable to rouse itself into a fervor of any comparable amperage with the vindictive and ethically confused and often lawless APC.
But while Mr Secondus is not the cause of the crises in the PDP, he has been unable to address the problems. He does not have the talent or the energy to even attempt any amelioration. His foolish response to Mr Wike’s plot indicates how both intemperate and undiscerning he is. Assured that he had nearly all of the party behind him, but unable to judge just what that support meant, Mr Secondus lampooned Mr Wike in unexampled language. He described the Rivers governor, whom he lacked the courage to name in the bad-tempered statement he issued on the intraparty crisis, as a Father Christmas deploying huge public funds to corrupt and destroy the party. Said he: “We, therefore, wish to alert the general public, particularly media houses and party stakeholders, to look out for strange deployment of luring gifts from this destructive ‘Father Christmas’ all aimed at having a grip on the soul of our party by having a caretaker Committee. What continues to shock many party observers is the real reason behind the desperation of this man to get at the National Chairman and the quantum of public funds being expended to achieve this illicit goal a few months to the National Convention.”
Mr Secondus still has significant support within the party, not on account of his competence or judgement – and was therefore destined to survive the Wike-led plot – but on account of party chieftains’ reluctance to toe the ruling party’s self-destructive methods. The chieftains did not wish to deliberately or inadvertently trigger forces and factors in their party they could not hope to control. The brief revolt has, therefore, damaged both the party and its chairman. Instead of concentrating on dealing with the ruling party, and purging themselves of deadwoods and redesigning their party to present a viable alternative to the APC, the chairman will in the foreseeable future preoccupy himself with placating or fighting the rebels around his table, and party leaders will be obsessed with electing a more energetic and competent chairman and national officers in December. Their crisis management capability is meager, just like that of the APC, and their vision of the future too opaque to be of any use in rediscovering their essence or engaging in a noble fight with the opposition. They ruled poorly for the 16 years they were in office, but surprisingly they governed far better than the APC has done in six catastrophic years. Yet, going by how badly they run their party today, it is hard to see them supplanting the APC.
Could there really be a third force then? It is hard to say, just as it is also hard to rule out both parties at the moment. They can still engineer a turnaround in their parties, if the reactionary politics of their governors would allow. Should that turnaround occur and one or both parties rediscover their identity and vision through a massive purging of their ranks and reshuffling of their leaderships, a third force would be superfluous. In the APC, now led from Aso Villa through the machinations of a motley menagerie of cabals and unintelligent aides, caretaker Mai Mala Buni, Governor of Yobe State, has cavorted endlessly amidst party chieftains and sycophants, while abandoning his primary responsibility of presiding over blighted Yobe. After overcoming the initial shock of the Ondo Supreme Court verdict, which gifted them a technical victory despite being embroiled in legal and political snafu, APC leaders will continue to try valiantly to reinterpret the judgement as favourable. But there is no conceivable way to interpret it other than to dismiss the Buni leadership as illegal. In the PDP, which is paralysed by fear and political inertia, eminent politicians will continue to jostle for power rather than face the enemy. Former INEC chairman, Attahiru Jega, observed last week that no amount of doctoring would do either party any good, hence the need for another viable political force. It is not clear whether there is time to build another coalition or, in the light of the betrayals unnerving the APC and the mediocrity perforating the PDP, whether such a party could muster the will, courage, honesty and intellect to galvanise the country against the incumbents. The next few months should clear the fog.
APC should lend Oshiomhole to PDP
IT is one of the most exquisite ironies ever that the victorious ‘general’ who led the APC to victory in 2019, Adams Oshiomhole, has been put to the sword, while the defeated ‘general’ who led the PDP to ignominious defeat in the same year and serial poaching of its governors and lawmakers barely two years later, Uche Secondus, continues to enjoy the confidence of party leaders. APC loathes the person and symbolism of its former chairman, and would have done more harm to him had he not quietly accepted his fate and sunk into anonymity. On the other hand, the PDP has celebrated and rewarded its defeated general with more laurels and certainty of tenure, and denounced those within their ranks who pointed at the travesty of keeping their shell-shocked chairman. Delicious ironies will not end, nor will travesties ever be in short supply in the opposition party.
It was, however, not smooth sailing for Mr Secondus, as a few party leaders and national officers decided to weigh him in the balance, and found him wanting. They blame him for the defections, the defeats, the colourless leadership, the confusion. They can’t seem to understand his glacial indifference in the midst of so much trouble. They can’t understand why he is not rallying the troops to fight the APC enemy weakened by multiple treacheries, by years of poor leadership, and by the escalation of violence, bloodletting and division. They see an enemy ripe for the taking; but they see their battle-weary chairman reluctant to join the battle or even engage in theoretical war games. They fear that a general who does not have the honour to fall on his sword after a heavy defeat cannot be trusted to understand the price of victory.
Beyond the surface, the PDP, probably more than the APC, understands the futility of building a fine edifice on a structurally weak foundation. They would have loved to have a chairman as dynamic as Mr Oshiomhole – a man who is neither afraid to take risks nor frazzled by setbacks, a compulsive political gambler willing to stake an entire party on one crazy throw of the dice. They would have loved to have an Oshiomhole with warrior instincts, who would not shirk a battle, and who would not be fazed by blood. The placid Mr Secondus faints at the sight of a drop of blood; Mr Oshiomhole is animated by it. Since the APC – president, governors, lawmakers and all – want a quiet, self-effacing and pliant chairman; and the PDP to the last man, despite their temporary support for their chairman, want an exuberant warrior prince, perhaps then, a trade by barter would not be inappropriate.
But PDP apparatchiks rightly sense that what their party needs is not a boisterous and agitated chairman, no matter how competent, but the right political structure in which any chairman, no matter how lethargic, can function untrammeled by governorship intrigues and presidential malfeasance. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo constipated them with his malfeasant revolving doors and banana peels upon which PDP chairmen squeaked and fell. They also recall the megalomaniacal drivel which one-time interim chairman and journeyman, Ali Modu Sheriff, inflicted upon them, not to say the apocalypse he nearly brought upon the party through his reckless politicking. And finally, they see the despair and disrepair in which the APC has sunk in their mad gambit for a messianic leader. They got their Teflon messiah alright, but the country is now deeply chagrined. Nevertheless, the country would be honoured should the APC lend Mr Oshiomhole to the PDP; after all, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. A role reversal in this most atrocious of times would relieve the dullness and mediocrity of Nigerian politics – except the APC can find the wry amusement, as they do in football, to pay Mr Oshiomhole to stay unemployed.
Abducted students and impotent government
More horrifying videos are emerging of young Nigerian students and pupils whose lives are being destroyed by bandits and kidnappers as the government engages in hand-wringing. The official government policy is that ransom payment is fuelling the kidnapping business, and so the government will no longer pay. Kaduna State governor Nasir el-Rufai recently gave voice to this vexatious policy when the Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, students were abducted and the government did little but quibble. The president himself has prevaricated over the matter, but seemed in support of the Kaduna argument. Now, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwemeka Nwajiuba, has reiterated the federal government’s attitude to abductions. Ransom payment, he says, worsens insecurity.
Nigeria, in short, is saddled with incompetent and cruel governments. They choose to see the ethical fineness of not paying ransom; why do they not see the more damaging and unquantifiable trauma of abandoning Nigeria’s young and defenceless pupils and students in the cruel and bloodied hands of kidnappers and bandits? If they don’t want to pay ransom, they should ensure that students and indeed abducted Nigerians are protected. And if they can’t do the job, they should vacate office. Apart from displaying their callousness and incompetence to the world, as more macabre videos of mistreated students in the dens of kidnappers emerge, the government also shows that they do not even have a clue as to the relationship between the untenable political structure of the country and the impotence they manifest. Well, it is not their children in the hands of the soulless bandits.