Anambra PDP: Dialogue of the deaf
By Levi Obijiofor
THERE is a political dialogue (or diatribe - whichever you prefer) currently taking place simultaneously in Anambra State and in Abuja. It is a dialogue (or diatribe) of the hearing-impaired. No one is listening. There is only one item on the agenda. Participants are canvassing the best way to elect or select one candidate from the list of 47 candidates who have put up their hands to represent the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 2010 governorship election in Anambra State.
Sitting round the table are leaders of the PDP who feel they are equipped with the best knowledge to determine what is best for the party. What is in the best interest of the party, they say, is that Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank, is the finest candidate to contest the governorship election on the platform of the PDP. Other participants include: 47 PDP candidates from Anambra who are seeking to represent the party in the governorship election next year; PDP delegates to the ward and state congresses of the party; and lawyers and security guards.
Every political candidate fighting to represent the PDP in the Anambra governorship election believes that he or she has the most formidable credentials to win the election. Although the PDP leadership claimed that "The National Working Committee had done everything possible to ensure a selection process that is democratic, transparent, and acceptable to all since the release of the election guidelines by INEC," many aggrieved candidates and delegates argue that the process that led to the selection of Soludo (and Senator Emma Anosike, as his running mate) was neither democratic, transparent, nor acceptable to everyone.
It is tragic that the PDP leadership did not allow its governorship candidate to emerge through a free and fair election. However, it should be noted that the ward and state congresses which would have elected the candidate ended in a free-for-all, leading to a court injunction that terminated the process. Still, the idea that a clique of PDP leaders empowered themselves to select Soludo as the governorship candidate represents the hallmark of political dictatorship, injustice and manipulation of party rules for electing governorship candidates.
The manner of Soludo's selection, the selection of a governorship candidate through a process that was neither legal nor morally upright, and the oratorical false piety displayed by the PDP leadership suggest that peace will not return to Anambra soon. Even if Soludo manages to scale all the legal hurdles within the PDP, which he is sure to confront as he prepares for his final race to the Government House in Awka, even if he wins the February 6, 2010 governorship election, the legitimacy of his government would be the subject of endless legal challenges, editorial cartoons and public ridicule.
I don't know how Soludo, a man who managed Nigeria's Central Bank (an institution in which honesty and transparency are keywords) can afford to participate in a process in which the dark forces of politics thrive, where politicians deal and wheel without ethical consideration, and where fraudulent practices are compulsory prerequisites for success. Soludo must avoid turning himself into a sponge on which other aggrieved PDP candidates will dump their anger. It is a delicate situation because he did not select himself. However, he has the authority to reject the manner of his selection.
The way Soludo was selected as the PDP candidate for the February 6, 2010 governorship election does not bode well for democracy within the party. It is a ghastly signal to the people of Anambra State about how the PDP plans to govern if it wins the governorship election in four months' time. The manner of Soludo's selection not only violated the rights of other candidates to contest the election in a fair manner, it also rubbished public understandings of the concepts of transparency and evenhandedness.
In many ways, the PDP has mocked its own ideology of candidness. A political party that cannot adopt and reflect the principles of democracy in its internal affairs has no business trying to govern a state. A political party that cannot respect a court injunction is not capable of respecting its own "rule of law" philosophy. It is a disgusting scenario. The PDP is so determined to disentangle itself from the political logjam it created in Anambra that the party leaders were prepared to adopt less than sincere strategies to beat the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for parties to submit the names of their candidates.
Rather than entrench peace and unity within the Anambra wing of the PDP, the dodgy procedures adopted in selecting Soludo have only deepened widespread disenchantment among members of the party at the ward and state levels.
Someone once said that the product of illegality will always wear the mark of illegality. This is what Soludo must avoid. If he must remain in the governorship race with his reputation intact, he must reject his nomination and ask the PDP kingmakers to conduct a fresh election that would give all candidates equal chance of victory. The process must be clear, fair and open. Delegates at the state and ward congresses of the party should exercise the freedom to vote for a candidate of their choice.
Part of the reason why the PDP is currently entangled in a bitter dispute with its own members over the election of a candidate for the governorship election in Anambra State has to do with the dominant influence of political godfathers in the party. In the PDP, as in some other parties, godfathers are untouchable. They are like inviolable precious commodities. They cannot be sanctioned because they are above the law. Over the years, the godfathers in the PDP have served the party so well in many ways that no one has the guts to curb the disruptive influence of these soldiers of fortune.
In Anambra State, no one in the leadership of the PDP has the courage to confront a particular godfather named Chris Uba. President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua lacks the political guile to engage Uba or to disrupt his network of troublemakers in Anambra. Even Olusegun Obasanjo, with all the powers entrusted on him as president, opted to dine with Chris Uba rather than to discipline him. In Chris Uba, Obasanjo found a fall guy who willingly helped him to actualise his sinister politics of divide-and-rule in Anambra. The PDP leadership must now accept that those who dine with the godfathers must be prepared to allow the godfathers to dictate how the party should be governed.
The disruptive influence of godfathers in Anambra politics did not start overnight. When Chinwoke Mbadinuju served as governor, he was regularly at war with his godfather - Emeka Offor. But the dispute between Mbadinuju and Offor was nowhere near the deadly entertainment that Chris Ngige and his godfather Chris Uba served the people of Anambra for more than four years. At one point, Ngige was kidnapped and trapped in a toilet, making him the first elected governor in Nigeria to be subjected to such indignity because he disagreed vigorously with his godfather.
If the PDP cannot eradicate the disorderly conduct of the growing band of godfathers within its household, it must learn to tolerate and live with the godfathers' kind of politics. If the PDP insists on retaining Soludo as its governorship candidate, the party must provide him with the mechanisms that would guarantee him a trouble-free run to the governorship election in February next year. It will not be easy because the 23 candidates who have visibly expressed their disagreement with the selection of Soludo could constitute major obstacles.
While Soludo could turn out to be a very good governorship candidate for the PDP (not minding that his enemies constantly remind us that the man is "politically inexperienced"), the key challenge for the PDP is to demonstrate that, in selecting Soludo, the party followed appropriate legal procedures, that it observed democratic norms, and that it provided other contestants a level playing field to be elected.
The challenge for Soludo is to find ways of drawing everyone to his side, to heal the wounds opened by the selection process, and to convince everyone that he is not a political "lightweight" as his detractors like to point out. Uniting the party should be the ultimate objective of the PDP and Soludo. Anything less would be a rehearsal for more disasters.