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Limousine Driver vs. Truck Driver; Understanding the PDP

By Udo Silas.

The travails of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as a battle between the Sherif and Markafi factions is akin to the imagery of a limousine driver and a truck driver.

When he struck this chord immediately preceding the PDP presidential primaries of 1999, little did Bamanga Tukur realize that his imagery would remain relevant over 16 years later. Whereas Sherif could well be the truck driver, Markafi fits the saddle of a limousine driver.

It was Alex Ekwueme, the ‘limousine driver’ who brought this imagery to prominence, in his explanation debunking the fallacy that it was mainly the military that supported Obasanjo in the first PDP presidential primaries held in Jos, Plateau State.

“It was not quite right to say that politicians were for me while the military was for Obasanjo. Two politicians, for example, were for Obasanjo. Rimi was a politician. Even in the stadium, where they were choosing the candidate, he was campaigning for Obasanjo in Jos. And then Bamanga tukur, for instance, who was in ANC, who I campaigned for in 1983 when he was running for governorship of Gongola, campaigned for him. He gave his reasons for supporting Obasanjo in the book: ‘This House Has Fallen’. You see where he was interviewed and he said Obasanjo was like a truck driver and I was like a limousine driver. You know Obasanjo is a rough person and I was a gentleman type politician and that what Nigeria needed at that time was a truck driver and not a limousine driver. So he was supporting Obasanjo”

Historians, and I agree with them, are quick to pinpoint Ekwueme’s gentlemanly politics as the beginning of PDP’s recourse to impunity and flouting of party guidelines. If Ekwueme were to be a Sherif, there was no way Obasanjo would have become our president in 1999.

In November, 1998, the National Executive Committee of the PDP, the party had agreed that winning the local council elections was a sole prerequisite for eligibility to contest in the presidential elections. Obasanjo did not win his local government so had no basis to contest the primaries. It was decision of the party written in black and white. The party knew Obasanjo should not have contested the primaries. Ekwueme knew all he had to do was allow the rule of law to come alive through him. He did not. He knew there would have been confusion in the party. He knew he had the legal upper hand in whatever confusion that would have ensued. But the limousine in him allowed the truck driver to coast home. So without any shred of doubt, Ekwueme by not insisting on right over providence, by not insisting that the party adhere strictly to its own decision, unwittingly sowed the seed for the impunity that would become the ‘lifeblood’ of the PDP.

So the PDP really lost its soul a long time ago. Not yesterday. Not when it lost the 2015 election. Not when it botched the controversial Port-Harcourt convention. Not when the Appeal Court gave vent to Sherif. The soul, the heartbeat of a party is its rules of engagement. A party that decides to jettison decisions taken by its highest decision making body just to pacify certain people or for reasons best known to it, cannot in any sense stand for anything.

So if the PDP stood for nothing for the past 16 years, from the presidential primaries of 1999, how did it manage to remain in government and in power for this long?

A cursory answer would definitely not do this question enough justice. The question speaks to the heart of our society as much as it seeks inquiries into our understanding of the complexities of our nation-state.

The use to which power is put is directionally proportional to the means by which power is checked. The truck driver would do anything to subjugate the people’s will. Might hold sway in the flight of reason. Apathy surged in the people when the strong man roared. Political lexicon soon changed to reflect the mindset of the jackboot. Political primaries gave way to ‘consensus’. Money and more money became the yardstick to measure political relevance. Dissenters were hounded, impeached or cowed into compromise. So the PDP continued to hold sway, that is until the ‘limousine driver’ came on board. Like Ekwueme before him, Jonathan chose pragmatism as opposed to confusion. If he were a truck driver perhaps PDP would still be in power today.

“As I have always affirmed, nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian. The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else,” Jonathan said in his concession speech.

It was clear in 1999 that all what the PDP wanted to achieve was win the presidential elections and any other election. Its character was formed at that point. This became the overriding philosophy of the party. It was a mere platform for anyone interested in running for political office. It became a party for elections without the nuance of governance.

In a sense that is what both Sherif and Markafi are looking to in this fight of control. It is not so much about installing or nurturing a party as it is about giving tickets. All what the PDP thinks about is elections. The battle is not about enduring policies. It is not about enunciating principles of governance that would benefit the people. It is still about dishing out tickets to the highest bidders, relatives and cronies.

But there is more. It is indeed ironical that even when the PDP is solely concerned with elections, it has a deep-seated phobia for internal democracy. Over the years it has become a place where candidates are selected rather than elected. It was no more how popular a candidate was but whom he or she knew. Tickets were bought and/or retrieved on the whims of the giver. The governors held the card in this regard. They decided who became anything or who got what. Power ceased to belong to the people. It now resided in the gilded mansions of the governors.

Tony Ben writing in Orbitnews reiterates this point.

“The political arrangement which places the party machinery in the hands of governors has made them the most powerful political office holders in the country. Though the President is regarded as the leader of the party nationwide, this is only in name as in reality he has little influence on party affairs. In intra-party elections the governors call the shots as they control most of the delegates. The result is that governors pick the party functionaries from the ward level to the national level, party flag bearers for elections right from councilors to even the President, it is not surprising therefore that most of the councilors, local government council chairmen, state House of Assembly members, National Assembly members were handpicked by the governors”

Party elites were, and still remain the main impediments to the growth of the PDP. In the heat of the party’s crisis, they it were that invited and hoisted Sherif on the people. When they felt Sherif would not do its bid, they again contrived to rubbish him.

The Supreme Court may or may not accede to the demands of the PDP elites. But whatever the outcome, the PDP needs to seriously shake off the hangover of the past. It needs to, very quickly, give back power to the people. It should immediately begin to work out machineries that would ensure strict adherence to not only the will of the people, but also its own guidelines. Party leaders are not gods. They are leaders because the people say so. Without the people there can be no party.

This fact also places some modicum of responsibility on the people. A people so concerned with crumbs from the master’s table would more often than not sing praises of the ‘truck driver’. They do not pay attention to what the leader does only what he says, as long as what he does lines their inner pocket.

Barack Obama said this much in 2006. “I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics”

The PDP and its followers must strive to end the era of shortcuts. It is the only way to build a virile party.

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