Abdulmumin Ajia: Don’t be fooled, change is not a destination

by Abdulmumin Ajia
PDP changeWhat they fail to realize or perhaps understand is that at its most basic level, public service is about affecting peoples’ lives and I am in complete agreement with Tip O’Neill that all politics is local.
When I quit my job as a Multi Brand General Manager with a leading fortune 500 company in the summer of 2010 and relocated back to Nigeria to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, and even worse, joined the Peoples Democratic Party in Kwara state, many of my friends on the ideological left and center both at home and in the Diaspora were gasping for breath.
They couldn’t fathom how a dyed in the wool middle of the center ideologue like me can even contemplate joining the most dreadful political party in Africa rivaled only by The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) which has been the ruling party in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

What they fail to realize or perhaps understand is that at its most basic level, public service is about affecting peoples’ lives and I am in complete agreement with Tip O’Neill that all politics is local. I was convinced based on the realities in Kwara at the time that in order to have a real shot at the National Assembly one will need a political party with a significant political structure across the state and even better one with a national spread – all of these were present in the Kwara PDP.

As at 2010 when I made the decision, it was the PDP and others; because there was virtually no other political party in Kwara that had any major political structure.
During the campaign, my approach to the job of the legislator was different than most and my policy positions were second to none. Yet, I couldn’t get the necessary support to clinch the ticket. I was later approached by the fledging opposition Action Congress of Nigeria to be the House of Representatives candidate for Ilorin West/Asa Federal Constituency. I asked the A.C.N officials that I would need to consult with the ordinary people backing my campaign. Later, I informed them that my consultations revealed that it will be too hasty to leave for another political party simply because I didn’t get the necessary backing that I needed in order to win the PDP House of Representatives primary. They respected my decision and we remained friends till date. Ironically, the governorship candidate of the A.C.N at the time is now one of the leading lights of the new Kwara PDP.

In staying back in the PDP after the 2010 primaries, I also got the opportunity to learn about the workings of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party. Sometime in February of 2011, about forty days after all the primaries were concluded, the former National Secretary of the ruling PDP offered me a job as his Special Assistant/Advisor. This job took me to the belly of the PDP tiger and I am thankful to God that I am still alive to tell the story.

By the end of 2013, I was done with the Kwara PDP in particular. There were many contradictions in what the principal actors were doing and what they were telling the general public. Kwara under Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed had fallen much deeper in the hole. Many activists have listed the glaring incompetence of the AbdulFatah Ahmed led Kwara state government. I do not need to rehash them here. A casual visit to Ilorin.info will reveal a litany of atrocities perpetrated by the Ahmed administration. Readers should please read authors like Abubakar Baba Sulaiman, Dr. Abdullahi Imam Abdullahi, Tijanni Saheed and many others who have made it their job to educate us on the lack of governance in Kwara state.

Thereafter, I was prepared to quit partisan politics and return to academia and was already in talks with Trine University, Angola, Indiana – where I was going to teach courses in Organizational Leadership. During this same period these same forces decided to leave the PDP because President Jonathan wasn’t extending enough patronage to them. Barrister Muhammad Dele Belgore, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and other progressives who had painstakingly built the Kwara APC left the APC for the PDP as soon as Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu gave the party structure to them. I decided right then to stay back in the country and work with the likes of Mr. Belgore (SAN), Dr. Abubakar Sulaiman (The honourable minister for National Planning, Akogun Iyiola Oyedepo, Dr. H. B. Oyedepo and many other progressive Kwarans who were yearning for a new order in Kwara state. I felt right at home with these political and intellectual giants and finally the chickens have come home to roost in Kwara politics so we thought.

Since the fish our elders say rots from the head, I understand perfectly that in order to rescue Kwara from predatory forces, we needed someone with a good pedigree and record. In 2011, Muhammad Dele Belgore (SAN) had proven to us cynics that all that is needed to bring fundamental change are just a few good men banding together (apologies to Margaret Mead).

Naturally, during the 2014 PDP gubernatorial primaries, I supported Muhammad Dele Belgore (SAN) for Governor of Kwara state. The same forces that wouldn’t allow the old PDP to work vowed to resist the adoption of this progressive politician. They threw everything at him – including the kitchen sink. They left their surrogates behind with huge slush funds to perpetrate disunity amongst the rank and file of the new PDP. While opinion polls revealed that Muhammad Dele Belgore is the most popular candidate across all party divide in Kwara, the mercenaries that were left behind made sure that he did not emerge as the governorship candidate.  They understood very well, the malleable nature of President Jonathan to work the system and get away with their deceit. Investigations later revealed that they sponsored no less than six out of the twelve governorship candidates of the Kwara PDP.

The irony in Kwara and in a few other states is that while APC claims to be the party of change across the country – some of us know that Kwara APC wasn’t the change vehicle that is needed to rescue Kwara from a 12 year misrule. In a twist of fate,by January of 2014; PDP in Kwara became the party of change! Today in Kwara state, change and freedom is more associated with the PDP and the emergent Labour party. Kwara APC is seen by many Kwarans as the party of the status quo.So change can come from within the PDP, the APC and any other political party.

In spite of the fact that my family has a legal residency in the USA and I could have easily relocated my wife and kids out of here in a nanosecond, I have chosen to stay back out of defiance and in the belief that the good Lord will watch over us. I continue to remember the scripture that says even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for He is with me; His rod and His staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

And I am no hero, I have written all these to show what some of us have been going through in order to bring some change in our own little ways to Nigeria. We ought to understand that change can come from both the inside and the outside. In my own experience at Wadata Plaza, change was when Olisa Metuh then in his capacity as the South East PDP National Vice Chairman, during a National Working Committee meeting that I sat in to take notes – sided with the Nigerian people during the removal of the subsidy regime in 2012. I was shocked that Metuh spoke eloquently and passionately in the inner recess of the ruling party headquarters against the removal of the subsidy regime but painfully – Metuh was alone in his activism. He had no support from the rest of the members.

Perhaps, if the others had seen merits in what Metuh was saying – they could have jointly taken a position and take this to the President as their common position. But in the PDP I later learnt every top dog is afraid of his shadows. Most of the members at the time do not trust each other one bit and are always scheming to outwit one another. Because of this glaring leadership disunity, there were implications on party administration.

The PDP under Jonathan

In the eyes of former PDP top dogs, the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega was the beginning of the end of the PDP. Hitherto, these top dogs were accustomed to just merely writing the electoral results in the inner recess of the Aso villa. This was the norm in PDP from 2003 till 2010 when Jega took over. Since then the top dogs have never forgiven Jonathan for hiring someone who cannot be bought. Now they have to test their popularity at the polls.

The old PDP warhorses were not used to one man, one vote. They are very comfortable with their Baba Obasanjo’s elaborate rigging machine which allocate votes in PDP friendly states and leave the difficult states for the opposition – that way – they wouldn’t be seen as taking every state. More like giving Nigeria a semblance of democracy when in actual fact what we have is a collection of both civilians and the military feeding fat on the public treasury. What the PDP has succeeded in doing is to evolve an elite consensus that brings in civilians into what hitherto was a territory solely reserved for Nigeria’s military rulers.

Yet there is an irony in the civilian/military collaboration. The military have mostly conducted fair elections. The 1979, 1993 and 1999 elections are cases of such. The civilians on the other hand have an elaborate rigging machine and even where they are popular – they always paddy the results. This sadly is the Nigerian electoral ways. The major political parties can deny this all they want, deep inside, they know this is the truth.
The Second Jonathan Error According to PDP Top Dogs

President Goodluck Jonathan I agree with the PDP top dogs has not been honoring his commitments with some of his party men and women. Beyond the issue of Jega, this is the one issue that broke the camel’s back. These party men – some of whom are serving state Governors were outraged that the President chose to ignore their contributions to his re –election but instead started empowering people whom they considered as their political enemies in their respective fiefdoms otherwise called states.

Personally, I think this was a wrong decision by the President. You would think that at the very least, there will be honor amongst thieves. The top dogs were mad that while Jonathan prevented them from enjoying the loot that they have turned the Nigerian treasury, he has allowed his minions to go on a stealing spree. In some cases, the President went out of his way to make unnecessary enemies of this class of people. One of those people so offended was Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former Osun state Governor and former National Secretary of the PDP. What were Oyinlola’s sins? Why does he have to be removed from office so suddenly?

The next error was the Chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors Forum. The President’s handlers are poor strategic thinkers in spite of the presence of our brother comrade Oronto Douglas amongst them. As a leader, one ought to be perceptive enough to pick his battles. There are some battles that are beneath the office of the President. How could his Advisors allow him to fight over the Chairmanship of the Governor’s forum? Don’t they realize the President was losing grip already? Readers would remember that this was coming after Tambuwal’s election as Speaker against the President’s wish. The President should have ignored the Governor’s forum and consolidate his powers before venturing on a fruitless wild goose chase.

And then you have the President’s acquiesce to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur’s erratic behavior as the National Chairman of the PDP. Bamanga Tukur was running the PDP like a bull in a China shop, suspending serving Governors, throwing verbal punches against self styled leaders of the party and generally wreaking havoc on the self esteem of PDP top dogs.
And then you have the mother of all sins, the sidelining from PDP affairs the “Father of PDP” “The Father of Modern Nigeria” the Balogun of Owu, former President of Nigeria, and former PDP Board of Trustee Chairman Chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo. Now, the top dogs were not about to lay low and have their Baba disrespected. This was it and the President must be made to understand who the real owners of Nigeria are.

The New Peoples Democratic Party

After all efforts to make Jonathan see reason and behave the PDP way failed, the top dogs walked out on the President on the 31st of August, 2013. They held what they called a parallel congress and appointed themselves into offices. The New PDP was formed by those whom the President has alienated from the party. The President was rattled. While Aminu Waziri Tambuwal sat comfortably in Eagle Square with the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President and Emeka Ihedioha, Aminu’s own deputy (who may or may not be involved in the New PDP plot), his other comrades were executing to the letter what they all agreed to.

A structure – less contraption called the New PDP came to life and from then on, the center can no longer hold. The Presidency initiated dialogue with the group but they had already reached a point of no return. After the dialogue failed, the original PDP got the courts to bar the New PDP officials from parading themselves as parallel PDP National officers. And then the plot moved to another level. The erstwhile proscribed New PDP tried unsuccessfully to float a political party to be called the Voice of the People (VOP). VOP was foiled immediately by the Presidency.

All these while, the ACN, the ANPP, the CPC and some other smaller political parties were far gone in their merger talks. Sensing a golden opportunity, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the estranged PDP top dogs opened a conversation corridor. The result of that conversation was their eventual membership of the opposition newly christened All Progressive Congress.

The Buhari Phenomenon

General Muhammadu Buhari before now has contested the Presidency thrice. The PDP has over the course of that twelve years successfully pigeon holed General Buhari as not only a core Northern candidate but an Islamic fundamentalist as well. This tactic worked well as long as the PDP was cohesive and everyone was looting the treasury collectively. The moment Jonathan stopped some from enjoying the perks but allowed others to continue, the PDP started having internal convulsion. This convulsion has allowed the rest of the nation to see Buhari more clearly for who he actually is – a humane, unassuming officer and gentleman. Some of us have always known this but the majority of Nigerians bought the lie.

As soon as the New PDP and the APC merged, Nigeria birthed the first viable opposition political party since independence. The NRC and SDP was a Babangida contraption, it did not occur organically like the APC did.
The APC was smart to recognize that the Buhari effect was all they need to sweep the polls so long they wouldn’t betray the General at the last minute. From day one, they zeroed in on the General’s candidacy and knew from available data that they had the numbers to win the elections any day – if it was free and fair. They also had to their advantage the modest credibility of the A.C.N governors. Nigerians began to feel hopeful and saw in the APC, a credible alternative to the PDP status quo.

APC: A Case of Apples and Oranges

The All Progressive Congress is an amalgamation of several political parties with divergent interests.  While I admire the outside look of the APC, from my inside knowledge of Nigeria’s political parties – I do not like its internal composition. The APC may perhaps be the only self acclaimed progressive political party in the world that abhors its antithesis. How could a self styled progressive political party become an all comers affair?

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu may have his faults like anyone of us but the ACN states which he led are better managed than their contemporaries across Nigeria. The ideal situation ought to be Asiwaju leading the southern flank of the party and growing it while General Buhari leads the Northern flank. By all accounts, in a free and fair contest, General Buhari will deliver the majority votes in 13 Northern states; the states are all the seven in the North West, five in the North East (excluding Taraba) and one in North Central (Niger). Asiwaju on his part will deliver all the six south western states. Muhammad Dele Belgore (SAN) of the former A.C.N would have comfortably won the Kwara governorship in a free and fair contest. Getting the constitutional requirements of two thirds and a simple overall majority would have been easier and more honorable than allowing leprous fingers into an emerging progressive political party.

If Goodluck Jonathan had any inkling of relinquishing power to a popular opposition, the admission of his arch enemies into the APC camp ensured that he continues to dig in. The elections that was recently postponed is just one in a series of arsenals to stop the APC in its tracks. Like one APC chieftain told me, the moment that Asiwaju allowed the modest APC apples to be mixed with PDP bad oranges, that was a kiss of death. In Yoruba, he said “won ti ko eran mo ero” loosely translated it means Asiwaju has packed animals in the same bus with human beings. Recent events have shown that this is not about to end well. Nigeria is about to engage in a contestation the like of which has not been seen since the mid sixties. We all knew how that ended.

The appointment of Jega, the election of Bamanga Tukur instead of Musa Babayo, PhD and the convulsion in the PDP is one of the best things that has happened to Nigeria. Without all these and more, the PDP of Baba Obasanjo would have continued to trample on the fundamental human rights of Nigerians and also continue the looting of our commonwealth by the top dogs who just a few years ago could not maintain two vehicles successfully but now fly around in private jets. I heard the same is true of the A.C.N governors and the successor All Progressive Congress. I am always baffled to say the least when I see our state governors, major political party officials and now some ministers fly around in private jets that cost around $15, 000 per trip. How conscienceless – In the same nation that some live on less than $2 a day.

So at the core of the fight between the PDP and the APC is the insatiable greed of our political leaders across the divide to be on the table when our commonwealth are shared amongst and between them. That we the people count is an afterthought only because they still needed us to show up on Election Day to affirm the legitimacy of their candidacies.

Change as an Ongoing Effort not a Destination

The civilian and military elite arrangement that has maintained the status quo is about to be broken and the unraveling of Nigerian elite conspiracy has just begun. If we survive this election, it has the potential to lead to better governance across the country. If that were to happen, we shouldn’t rest on our oars but continue to soldier on till Nigeria is completely free.

Abdulmumin Ajia served as a Special Assistant to a former Acting National Chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party. He tweets from @AbdulAjia

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