THE Economist Intelligence Unit, EIU, recently predicted that Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, would lose next year’s election. Seizing on the prediction, Bola Tinubu, presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, mocked Atiku, saying: “Once again, another bid for the presidency of our country by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is slipping away.”
But the EIU’s predictions are not determinate. In 2019, the same EIU predicted that Atiku would defeat President Muhammadu Buhari. Yet, Atiku lost; Buhari won! So, the EIU could be wrong again. Thus, Tinubu was presumptuous to write off Atiku. That said, Atiku and PDP are doing everything to prove the EIU and Tinubu right. The EIU argued that Atiku’s prospects of becoming Nigeria’s president are being undermined “by wrangling within the PDP”. Of course, that’s true. Divided parties don’t win elections!
Recently, at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the veteran US pollster Frank Luntz told the warring Tories: “If you want to win, stop bitching, stop griping, stop complaining and get together.” He was right: voters hate divided parties. We won’t go further afield for examples. Ahead of the 2015 presidential poll, the same PDP splintered after five governors and many other influential party leaders, including Atiku, left the party in a bitter opposition to the then president, Goodluck Jonathan. As a result, in 2015, PDP lost five of the eight Northern states it won in 2011, and the presidency. Well, itseems it’s déjà vu all over again; it seems history is repeating itself.
Two albatrosses could lose Atiku the presidential election next year. One is Nyesom Wike, the narcissistic and combative Rivers State governor. Wike leads a gang of five PDP governors and other prominent PDP leaders, all of whom boycotted the flag-off of the party’s presidential campaign in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, this week. Utterly vindictive and vengeful, Wike recently de-recognised Celestine Omehia, an Atiku ally, as a former Governor of Rivers State. He’s pivoting towards Tinubu’s APC; he wants Atiku to lose next year!
The other albatross is Iyorchia Ayu, the PDP’s conniving and hubristic national chairman. Recently, Ayu said: “I came to return PDP to power.” Yet, everything he has done over the past months has pushed the party further away from power. His leadership of PDP reminds Nigerians about the party they rejected in 2015: corrupt, dysfunctional, crisis-prone and captured by vested interests. If Ayu thinks PDP can enter next year’s presidential election warring and divided and still win, he must have learned the wrong lessons from the party’s humiliating defeat in 2015!
What’s happening in PDP is mutually assured destruction – call it MAD! No one would emerge unscathed. First, if Atiku loses next year, his sixth attempt, he would cement his place in Nigeria’s presidential history as the pre-eminent serial loser; second, the PDP would be in opposition for at least 16 years and could become extinct; third, a PDP defeat could inflict serious personal pains.
Take Chief Bode George, a prominent member of Wike’s gang. He says repeatedly that he will go on self-exile if Tinubu becomes president. But that could become a self-fulfilling prophesy because if he undermines Atiku’s prospects, he might enhance Tinubu’s. It would be a self-inflicted, stomach-churning pain if he has to leave Nigeria having contributed to Tinubu’s victory. PDP leaders are cutting their noses to spite their faces!
But what are the issues? Well, everyone quotes the party’s constitution to justify their position; everyone cites equity, justice and fairness to paint themselves as principled and cast others in a bad light. Yet, it’s all self-serving. In their book The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind, Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban argue that politicians engage in unconscious rationalisation of their political positions, portraying them as fair and benevolent, whereas, they are governed by self-interests.
Take Wike’s gang of dissident Southern PDP leaders. They said the party’s presidential candidate should have come from the South, citing section 7(3)(c) of PDP’s constitution, which says the party shall “adhere to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principles of equity, justice and fairness.”
But a party’s constitution is for its internal politics, democracy and cohesion, and equity, justice and fairness principles must apply internally if a party must survive. Given that, how could anyone interpret the above provision to mean that PDP should zone its presidential ticket to the South when, out of PDP’s 16 years in power, the South ruled for 13 years, the North for only three?
The counter-argument was that a Northerner shouldn’t succeed a Northerner as president. Fair enough. But in 2007, Southern PDP governors, led by then Governor Peter Odili of Rivers State, wanted a Southern candidate to succeed President Olusegun Obasanjo. Surely, if Southern PDP governors thought it was alright for a Southerner to succeed a Southerner in 2007, their successors couldn’t credibly argue in 2022 that it’s wrong for a Northerner to succeed a Northerner. But Southern PDP leaders often disguise self-interest as principle!
What about Ayu? Well, he created the current poisonous atmosphere in PDP. By embracing and calling Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State “the hero of the convention” after he withdrew for Atiku during the presidential primary, Ayu showed he wasn’t a disinterested and even-handed umpire. The perceptions of bias, collusion and complicity fuelled division in the party, and led Wike’s gang to call for Ayu’s resignation, saying the party chairman and presidential candidate shouldn’t come from the same region.
But precedent exists. Umaru Yar’Adua and Ahmadu Ali were, respectively, PDP presidential candidate and national chairman at the same time ahead of the 2007 presidential election. Ayu’s case is different because of his divisive leadership, which makes his chairmanship of the party an obstacle to its victory in 2023.
PDP is self-destructing; it must tackle its Wike and Ayu problems and unite if Atiku must enhance his prospects of winning in 2023. Remember: divided parties don’t win elections!