The defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan and most PDP governors and members in the National Assembly in the last general elections ended the dream of PDP to rule Nigeria for 60 years. The party was defeated not because President Muhammadu Buhari came with anything newer than what he came within his past three attempts to defeat the ruling party, but because of dishonest leadership, both at governmental and party levels – the consequences of which came to its head in 2015.
On the first count, the PDPled federal government mishandled the affairs of the country while it held sway. In 1999, Nigerians were promised good life by the PDP. They were assured of peace, security, education, healthcare, power, economic prosperity, political rights and freedom, etc. Yearning for such ‘high standard of living’, Nigerians trusted the PDP and voted it into power. But, after 16 years, how so disappointed Nigerians became! While the ‘democratic constitution’ of the country brought in liberty, rights and freedom to individuals and groups, the expected ‘high standard of living’ to the generality of citizens woefully failed to materialise.
Elected government officials became lords of the manor. They were no longer accountable to the people and the provisions of the law became virtually inapplicable to them. Overnight they became stupendously rich as corruption became pervasive. While public treasury became dry, elected officials grew wealthy; while large scale and widespread poverty and hardship spread across the land, chiefly brought about by poor or failed public policies, the high level of corruption and dishonesty on the part of the very politicians elected into public offices, election and electoral malpractices by incumbents, among many other vices in public service, became pervasive.
Consequently, in so short a time, there emerged in the country a glaring disparity in the earnings and living standards amongst the citizens, never seen before in the history of economic and social mobility of a people anywhere in the world; such that while less than two percent of Nigerians (most of whom were the elected politicians) lived in obscene opulence, more than 98 percent of the citizens struggled daily to even survive. As those super rich were over the years seen to be PDP politicians and their supporters, by 2015 there naturally developed antipathy of majority of Nigerians towards the PDP political class. Furthermore, the negative outlay of the national politics as a result of two fundamental elements of the Jonathan regime helped in the defeat of the PDP.
First, the president exhibited politics of exclusion rather than inclusion. He seemed to have made up his mind who he was with and who he was not with. Those who happened to fall in the latter category, no matter how talented and competent they were, or what positive contribution they could make to the regime and the nation, remained effectively excluded from the affairs of state.
On the other hand, those who belonged to the former category, no matter how poor and ineffective, were included in every affair of state. Any leader who adopts this as a cardinal policy of his regime inevitably risks wide, stiff and strong opposition. Second, as a direct corollary to the first, virtually all the policies of that regime were abysmal failures, with their grave consequences being suffered by the people. These invariably created a nationwide view of the president as lacking in capacity and ability to govern the country.
Hence the general concession among Nigerians that President Jonathan’s victory in the 2015 presidential election would be injurious to Nigeria’s national interest. Nigerians might have individually or as groups built their self-interests or emotions around his re-election bid, but deep down in all of them, that was the truth. The facts on the ground spoke volumes about this. At the national level, Nigerians were getting more and more divided on sectional, ethnic and religious bases. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum was fractured, further bringing out the divisive tendencies in the polity. The governing party itself was fissured, wobbling towards collapse.
The president had to assume emergency powers, the most extreme of presidential powers, to give citizens mere security, to the point that the entire effort of government was devoted to providing security alone; but failing even at that. Critical issues like the fight against corruption, provision of good governance, accountability, transparency, basic infrastructures as power, roads, water, health care delivery, education, credible election, etc. had all taken back seats in national governmental drive.
History has shown that a leader whose policies divide society cannot survive because he will find himself in thrall to the interests of a narrow support group, while what the country needs is visionary leadership to transform the state into a nation, built not just on shared interests but on shared identity, willfully constructed. It is the task of a visionary political leadership to forge it. But President Jonathan, having by his politics and policies accentuated and nurtured national divisions instead, thereby destroying whatever that was built of the Nigerian identity, was in no position to provide the needed leadership.
One cannot destroy so as to be brought in to re-build. Nigerians, needing to build a united and prosperous nation, thus needed to vote him out. On the party level, as well, the story was the same. The various party national leaderships consistently failed to administer party affairs to reconcile, restructure and reform the party apparatuses in the country to engrain confidence among members. All efforts of well-meaning PDP members to achieve this objective through the entrenchment of internal and participatory democracy, and the creation of institutional collaboration and cooperation within the party structures were rebuffed as people of questionable character were allowed free hands to do with the party just as they willed. Ethics and values were thrown to the dogs.
Election of party executives had long ceased as powerful interests appointed their lackeys into all party offices at will. Nomination processes were equally compromised as party candidates were filled in arbitrarily. Strange slogans such as ‘endorsement’, ‘right of first refusal’, ‘sole candidacy’, etc. took centre stage. PDP became an unjust and unfair political party, with no truth in it, no compassion in its heart, no sincerity in its purpose and its actions always intrinsically self-serving and deceitful.
Hence, to all intent and purposes, the PDP became to most Nigerians, including its members, like the biblical harlot whose lips in the beginning spat forth words as sweet as dripping honeycomb, from voices as soft as olive oil, only in the end to turn out to be as bitter as crocodile bile, and as poisonous. Thus, while the PDP-led government disappointed Nigerians, the party itself by its actions created enemies within its membership.
As rightly maintained by Ted Gurr, a world renowned Criminologist, “when expectations go up and realities go down, men rebel”. For all the facts have shown that the anger in the country against the PDP is basically the result of injustice and failed expectations of ‘dividends of democracy’ by way of improving the living conditions of the people. Contrasting the personal and collective freedom and liberty of citizens ushered in through constitutional democracy with the failed promises and expectations of high standard of living of citizens and lack of internal democracy within the party, one then sees clearly the seeds of defeat being sown against the PDP by the PDP.
Add the polarisation and great disparity of wealth amongst citizens, the overt and insensitive corruption by public servants, the increasing widespread poverty and deprivation within the vast majority of the people, the extreme forms of election frauds by incumbent leaders, a dishonest, unjust, corrupt and compromised judiciary, etc., relations between the government and the governed invariably had to come under severe stress, naturally breeding disappointment and anger against the ruling party. These issues collectively made the PDP unpopular in the country, mainly for which reasons it was therefore voted out of power.
-GUEST COLUMNIST UMAR ARDO