PDP: Time to Confront Our Past through a TRC By Adagbo Onoja

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One does not have to be with or against Sule Lamido, the Jigawa State governor to take an objective note of his organizational thinking thereto whenever I reflect on today’s intra-elite wrangling which have crippled the PDP and, by implication, the nation. As someone who sat through that particular interview, I can’t help recollecting that particular portion of the response in the hot and unfriendly encounter between Mister Governor and the editor of Sunday Trust on the zoning palaver raging early September 2010.  And the portion is where Lamido said “I know I am from the North. I know the mood and the sentiments. That is why I am saying the PDP, no matter what, must unite, must reconcile because the consequences could be very dire if we are divided. It will not help the country. If we do things wrongly, we could win and plunge the government into crisis. No matter what, we will win, but we should win with a party at peace with itself; fully reconciled and united; working on the basis of the rules of the party to achieve the objectives of a peaceful, prosperous and stable country. We could create tension in the country, creating division along North and South and religious divides. We will win, but we will be confronted with crisis after we win the election. We have to decide, whether to lead Nigeria into prosperity or the win only to manage crisis. Either way, we’re winning”.

If a notable PDP player and one of its governors has been this perceptive in an interview which caused considerable quake in the party and in the North, why is it still the case that Nigeria under the same PDP is so unstable to the point that all the leading elite are confirming fears of a downward plunge into anarchy?  The president was the first to declare that the situation is as bad as the civil war. Then Obasanjo and IBB, generally and correctly perceived as the architects of today’s social turbulence, followed suit. They were coming after the cleric, Bishop Mathew Kukah, couldn’t help shouting that time is fast running out for Nigeria. Long before these men, (the women are probably too shocked to speak yet), General T. Y. Danjuma who has been warning against this possibility since 1976 declared that he was seeing Somalia on the horizon.

In the absence of opposition or radical parties with the theoretical sophistication and organizational capability to provide alternative leadership for Nigeria now, PDP’s sickness should be an object of patriotic concern vis-à-vis the question of the strategic direction for Africa’s muddling giant. No student of political parties will not be saddened by PDP’s fortune today. Although founded on consensus of tendencies and groups, it is today a house to which sticking by consensus is strange. Built on the foundation of pan-Nigerianism never seen before in the history of political parties in Nigeria, it is today an apology in the management of the North-South ditchotomy or even Islam – Christianity schisms. Founded mainly by ideologues of one variant of leftists or another, it is today a party in which ideological debate is unheard of. A party formed with the core objective of providing safety nets for the people of Nigeria is today implementing a so-called reform programme understood only by those who have either attended some short courses in Harvard or were specifically recruited from the IMF and the World Bank for that purpose without being party members at all. What a pity?

To think that all these happened simply because the military wing of the power elite prevailed in 1999 makes it most painful. But then, there was no alternative to General Obasanjo in 1999. He had pedigree of having handed over power to a civilian regime at a time such was not very popular in Africa; was acceptable to the Western world; a perfect civil-military bridge; Northern Nigeria looked up to him; he came from MKO Abiola’s axis in spite of the Yoruba’s reservations about him in the context of their own fears; he had mastery of statecraft and he satisfied popular sentiments after having called for SAP with a human face. All in all, he was particularly appealing for a nation that always had the ambition to speak for the rest of Africa.

And he started almost perfectly in 1999 even if one looked at it only from the quality of his first cabinet which paraded the likes of T. Y Danjuma, General Aliyu Gusau, Sunday Afolabi who was Obasanjo’s senior in school, Adamu Ciroma, Bola Ige, General Abdullahi Mohammed, etc, etc. Objectively, these were individuals who knew their onions and whose power in government resided more in their previous interaction and intersection with the president than their designation. In Africa, such is a very important aspect of the way power works.

But the 1999 optimism did not think of what Professor Isawa Elaigwu has memorably referred to as Obasanjo’s residual militarism and messianic arrogance. It also never anticipated the possibility of Obasanjo’s infatuation with anything called Third term in office which is at the heart of the confusion that marred the Obasanjo prospects. The long and short of it is that Nigeria did not make the leap from poverty to plenty under Obasanjo. Chief Audu Ogbeh regrets this sorely. He wonders if Nigeria can still make it after having failed to do so under Obasanjo. It is a pity that someone like Ibrahim Tahir who felt that the Obasanjo phenomenon should be looked at from a deeper academic frontier in relation to the future of Nigeria is no more.

This not having been done, we are basically stuck with unhelpful moral judgment about the ruling party and its crisis, a lot of it centering on and around Obasanjo because of the politics of his own Second and Third terms and the crisis of zoning that followed the death of YarAdua and in which Obasanjo played the leading and decisive roles like no other member. If Obasanjo could, therefore, experience something akin to the Pauline conversion in the Bible and become a consensus builder, the disorientation in the PDP could begin to be addressed. What is the chance of this happening?

This is the basis for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the PDP now. Bitter elite in-fighting is not new in Nigerian politics. Some of us grew up to learn how Ahmadu Bello and Aminu Kano slugged it out in the old North; how the NPC regional government also slugged it out with Joseph Tarka in the Middle Belt. In the West, Awo and Akintola had theirs. The mother of all such spats was between what passed for the centre and Awo’s Action Group. Whether one studied these spats as intra-elite or intra-personal or inter/intra-party or inter-regional, they were all circumscribed by elite fragmentation and the consequences for Nigeria were the subsequent unacceptable convulsions.

More recently, we also saw how struggle for power within the military sent the country on a free fall, from the June 12 convulsion to Abacha’s variant of dictatorship, the imprisonment of Generals Obasanjo and Shehu Yar’Adua in the 1995 coup, the death of Yar’Adua, Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Abacha himself and the magical resurgence of General Obasanjo in power at the end of the day. Therefore, the way forward cannot be the assumption that this chaos can be managed without a deliberate programme of looking at the fragmentation in the PDP in the face and confronting it.

There are many ways that this can be done but the truth and reconciliation approach recommends itself more than others. The two most articulate advocates for the truth and reconciliation approach remain Archbishop Onaiyekan and the late Ibrahim Tahir. Although they developed their argument in relation to the larger Nigeria, they are equally applicable to the case in point.

The basic point is that the PDP is bleeding from serious acts of mutilation carried out against the party by several operators at several levels. There are very few exceptions. The party should be in a position to forgive those who have carried out such acts, whether against the party or against other members as a response to that ugly and tragic past.

There is need to quote at length from Onaiyekan’s argument that there are always a few basic elements necessary for this kind of healing. “First and foremost is the truth. The truth means that everybody is ready to admit what he or she has done. It is not time to apportion blames or accuse one another. Nor is it time to drag in prestigious lawyers and advocates. Rather, it is time to accept that we have done wrong. Those who have stolen our money should admit that they have stolen. Those who have killed others, even in successful coups, should admit that they have killed one another. If we have not got the courage to do this, we will continue to dance around in circles. And in order that the telling of the truth may not just become racking up old wounds that will lead nowhere, it must be part of a process that leads to the next stage, namely repentance, forgiveness and reparation”.

The PDP TRC would, therefore, not be one where little truth and definitely not much reconciliation would come out. It would neither be a forum for a few aggrieved people to tell their story and cry for people to see or a “bizarre spectacle of high-level lawyers leading big time liars to package their misleading stories for us to hear”.

Before he died, British trained Sociologist, Ibrahim Tahir had wanted some kind of decided action via something like a resolution of the National Assembly absolving everyone of guilt in all events in our history since January 15, 1966. That would require replacement of something like the EFCC with a National Restitution Council with power to lay all materials with respect to various acts of omission or commission.

Applied to the PDP, that would mean a party Act of Absolution regarding the deposit of anger and disaffection in that ‘great party’. At the level of the most dramatic individuals, the PDP TRC would look into the Obasanjo-IBB spat; Obasanjo-T.Y debacle; Obasanjo-Atiku collision; Obasanjo-Gusau fracas; Obasanjo-Anenih twist; Obasanjo-Ahmadu Ali incongruence; Obasanjo-disciples’ confrontation; Obasanjo-NASS cross fires and so on and so forth.

This sampler alone shows that if there is no opening for truth and then reconciliation within the PDP, Nigeria would soon reach a point where each of these men would be our post conflict peace building envoys and comforters. What is happening in Nigeria today cannot be explained by the much trumpeted cluelessness or otherwise of government officials alone because an organised party would have replaced the space left empty by the personal charm of high state officials with programmes and projects which would be the subject of debate rather than those personalities. In this wise, the PDP at the moment is not in a position to help its government. It has no thinking arm. It is structurally constrained by the rentier mentality that defines social life in the rentier state.

This is worrisome because, in the last instance, it is the people who are suffering. The more the people suffer, the more alienated they are from the state and the more illegitimate the state becomes. A combination of an alienated citizenry and an illegitimate state is the surest recipe for authoritarian breakdown.

Can ‘our great party’ make this move then?


Onoja, an Abuja based journalist, is reachable through [email protected]

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