By Idowu Akinlotan
BEFORE the Supreme Court gave judgement in favour of the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Tuesday morning, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) thought it still had the luxury of nearly a year to get its act together, mend broken fences within the party, and quit itself like a real political organisation. The next general elections will be conducted early 2019. By the end of 2018, the election will have virtually been won and lost. Any party between the APC and PDP that hopes to pull its weight in the next general elections has approximately until August next year to make a stand and fight for its place in the sun, regardless of the looming shadow of a third party or a dark horse.
It was inconceivable that the Supreme Court judgement could have gone any other way. Readers of this column will remember that every analysis on the quarrel within the PDP done on this page indicated that the Senator Makarfi faction was likely to clinch the victory. Except in the early months of being drafted as a political pugilist to counter the rampage of the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, led the PDP since February 2016 with a boisterous but offensive style. Barely six months into his pro tem leadership, the self-made man and billionaire senator had alienated everyone that mattered in the party. He did not worship at any political shrine, and saw no reason to bow down before any political god. Self-willed, stout-hearted, iconoclastic, and defiant but full of schemes and stratagems, the intransigent senator believed that he was capable of vanquishing his new enemies within the party. But his brinkmanship failed.
After months of legal fireworks, the PDP is finally free to soar. Sen. Makarfi says the judicial victory amounted to no victor, no vanquished. He exaggerates. His faction has just achieved a spectacular victory, and has begun to constitute the worst nightmare to a fractious and disputatious APC. Sen. Sheriff never had a sizable number of followers even when the Appeal Court presented him with the upper hand. The few people who followed him will now melt into the Makarfi PDP, for after all, Sen. Makarfi himself is just a national caretaker Committee chairman. It is unlikely that the proud and independent Sen. Sheriff will eat humble pie and submit himself to the leadership of his rival. He will do no such thing. He is spurned in Borno State where the affable Governor Kashim Shettima nurses a trenchant loathing for him. In addition, he never really had a following in the PDP to which he defected in an inelegant fashion after his dalliance with the neophyte APC came to grief. And whether he likes it or not, and whether Sen. Makarfi decides to show magnanimity or not, many truculent and influential leaders in the newly invigorated PDP will demand not only a pound of Sen. Sheriff’s flesh but perhaps two enervating pounds of blood.
The PDP is lucky that the struggle within the party before the apex court vote was essentially one of style rather than substance, personality clash rather than ideological clash. It will thus be far easier than many think for the party to come together to prepare for the battles ahead. Some analysts have suggested that the PDP does not have an ideology, let alone clash over the many variants of that inexistent ideology. It is not true. The PDP is in fact generally conservative, and proud to pronounce itself so where the APC has been contrastingly and generally progressive but unsure what that means. The opposition party may not have had the opportunity to refine its ideology, but it appears more likely to engage in that enterprise now considering that its new leaders are more intellectual on the average than the set that led the party after ex-president Olsuegun Obasanjo hijacked it. It is expected that the PDP will now really define its ideology and concomitantly begin the process of refining it.
If Sen. Sheriff had won the prolonged legal wars within the PDP, the party would have been rent in two, with a disproportionate part escaping into Nigeria’s widening political void, perhaps to remerge in an alliance with some other stragglers from the APC or any other cuckolded and bitter party. Many members from the Makarfi faction would have quietly returned to the Sen. Sheriff fold, but they would not be sizable enough nor of ample girth to help the unlikely and undeserving victor form a formidable opposition party. As it is, the Makarfi majority faction won, and that victory will portend great things for the party and augury of pain or even dismemberment for the APC. Had Sen. Sheriff won, the APC could safely continue to luxuriate in its internal rebellion, assured that the opposition was unlikely to present a united, not to say, formidable front against the ruling party.
Alas, now, with the Makarfi faction’s victory, the APC will be forced to finally fight its own internal wars to end the brutal and sanguinary stalemate making life miserable for everyone. The APC is an amalgam of strange bedfellows that reacts to external stimuli differently. With President Buhari a hors de combat, and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo seemingly apolitical, the more ambitious and wily but ideologically vacant Senate President Bukola Saraki may make a bid for the soul of the party. For nearly two years, the hijacked Buhari presidency had elbowed the party away from the centre of power unfortunately into the waiting arms of the Saraki crowd. Having schemed their men into positions in Ondo during the governorship race, and having adopted the newly elected senator in Osun State consequent upon the unsteady, presumptuous and unsavoury politics of Gov Rauf Aregbelsola, and having wooed many other states and political leaders, the Saraki group is clearly on the ascendancy. The APC is indeed imperilled. Stopping Sen. Saraki will be a herculean task, especially given the inurement of many Southwest politicians to the danger he presents to their political future.
The urgent task of rebuilding the PDP has just started. It will gather steam after the party has successfully conducted its elective convention. Everything indicates that the task will be crucial but easy, and the convention fairly successful. The Sheriff crowd will be checkmated even if they stir themselves to menace the newfound spirit of the party. After the convention, the party can then begin to rebuild its decimated ranks, and sharpen its ideological platform and focus with 2019 in view. But it is too early for them to speak of reclaiming power in two years. It is true the differences in the APC appear irreconcilable, and the combatants in that unruly party truly and inflexibly dug in. It is true, too, that the Buhari faction of the APC knows next to nothing about complex partisan politics, not to talk of the dynamics and mechanics of winning elections. It is also true that the Saraki group is obsessively ambitious. And it is true that the original and battle-hardened Action Congress faction will not give any quarter, sapped of all vitality and depleted in number as it may seem. But despite these reverses in the APC, the PDP will be unrealistic to wish away the power and enduring influence of the ruling party.
What is more, the PDP has stubbornly refused to make atonement, let alone restitution, for the incalculable damage its elected and appointed officials inflicted on the country, particularly during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. Not only has the PDP failed to show remorse, it continues to live in denial by refusing to purge its ranks of party leaders who masterminded the pillaging of the country’s economy and destruction of its ethos in five short, dizzying years. The best chance the PDP has of reclaiming high office is to wish the APC should either split down the middle or be incapacitated from reconciling its proud and quarrelsome members. But often wishes are not horses. There is a chance, no matter how small and narrow, that the APC might reconcile its warring members, reset the party and imbue it with fresh unction and ideas. Should that happen, the PDP will face the arduous task of convincing the electorate that its five inglorious years in power, during which perhaps the worst stealing ever perpetrated in Nigeria took place, ought to be discountenanced in the race for office. It is hard to see Nigerians forgetting the last five years, not to talk of forgiving what took place.
With power restored to the Makarfi faction, both the PDP and APC will now embark on a dangerous, frenetic race: the former largely to re-strategise and regain power, and the latter to reconcile its members and retain its hold on power. How each party governs its temper and give leadership to its undisciplined ranks will determine who gains the upper hand. With the implacable but surefooted Sen. Makarfi in the driver’s seat at the moment, the PDP’s prospects appear exhilarating. Unfortunately, the APC does not have a resolute leader. Instead, it has many centres of power which continue to harry worried members and perplex the cynical public. Considering also that too many issues are crying for attention and swift and inclusive resolution in the ruling party, opportunistic raids from outside enemies may further fracture and weaken the APC until it becomes destitute of soul or principles.
The PDP has now got a second undeserved chance to redeem itself, repair its poor image, forge internal consensus, and retool and rearm itself for the struggles ahead. With the exception of Sen. Makarfi, PDP’s array of unexceptional leaders neither inspires nor exudes the confidence and philosophies a supposedly great party must possess and project. Even if they win anything at all, as their victory in Osun West senatorial district shows, it is more likely because APC leaders themselves are unable to display the imagination and the ideas, and the discipline and judgement their moralisations and propaganda often clumsily suggest. At the moment, the PDP seems more likely to get its act together quicker than the APC. The former has apparently turned the corner, albeit a dangerous corner; while the latter appears primed to get its members to fight to the death, a death it has seemed fatefully and inescapably besotted with since infancy.
Akinlotan writes for The Nation