By Samuel Ogundipe
A campaign year that began with considerable hope for the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, who had ample reason to believe they could retain power at the center, was shattered last Saturday, leaving the hitherto Africa’s largest political party in a cloud of gloom.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, a former military junta who ran with his brutal dictatorial past and uninspiring stump speeches managed to fulfill his dream of running the country once again after 3 failed attempts.
A golden opportunity to use the remarkable humility of Goodluck E. Jonathan to secure a second term for him slipped away, despite funneling a significant amount of money to targeting voters across the country.
The party also lost its grip on the National Assembly, adding a hopeless insult upon a devastating injury. The gubernatorial elections hold next week across the country, but no one expects the party to do anything to give its exasperated supporters their much-needed succour. The rout is expected to continue.
The PDP has failed to budge the status quo.
At first, the party attempted to challenge Buhari’s victory, but the early concession of its candidate effectively preempts the move.
Now to the inevitable question the party’s supporters across the country will ask: What went wrong?
There are certain to be rounds of recrimination and second-guessing as politicians try to answer that question. The young supporters will say the party erred by failing to take advantage of the social media, which now drives the narratives across the country, see: #BringBackOurGirls.
Loyal insiders will finger the party’s state primaries which left a lot of its bigwigs battered, and since no one cared to reach out to them, their followers simply took unilateral decision of working for whoever appealed to them. Case in point: In Ogun State, bigwigs like Jubril Martins-Kuye and Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole were wronged during the statewide primaries, and their political machineries were left in disarray. Even if they didn’t vote for the APC, the fact that they sat out the election was enough to defeat the president in the state.
Ondo State is another state where the outcome of primary elections put the PDP at egregious disadvantage. These cases are rife within the party’s state structures from Calabar to Potiskum.
But the most significant critique will be the one that says the party simply failed to catch up with the changing face of Nigeria’s democracy. Those within the president’s inner circles are rumored to have shielded a lot from him. The electoral map showed that although President Jonathan won handily in his strongholds of South-South and South-East, he failed to energise his base prior to Election Day. The return votes in Abia, Anambra and even the president’s home state of Bayelsa revealed an alarming disillusionment amongst PDP voters.
Mr. Babatunde Gbadamosi, a two-time PDP gubernatorial primary contender in Lagos State, said his party faces a big “institutional challenge” in figuring out how to connect with minority voters who make up an ever-bigger part of the electorate and country’s social fabric.
“The Peoples Democratic Party,” he said, “simply has to learn to appear more inclusive to youths, especially those in the southern part of the country who dominate Internet penetration.” There is the “objective reality that if young voters and ethnic minorities voted for their economic interest and entrenched democratic principles, we would have a PDP majority nationally.”
Instead, the PDP continued to lag behind the progressives in winning the heart of the youths and politically-charged Nigerians.
For the APC, of course, the reverse is actually true. The party is loosing its grip amongst a large chunk of the Yorubas and the Igbos are wary of the APC, this fact manifested in last Saturday’s results.
But the results showed the campaign played out against the backdrop of powerful communication skills that the progressives, led by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Lagos media, have applied more effectively.
Of course, the apathy in Nigerian politics are hardly restricted to the PDP. The APC also had a significantly low turnout in its stronghold of Southwest. In Lagos, where pre-election sentiment was considerably thick, only about 29% of the over 5 million voters in the state turned out last Saturday.
Nigerians’ confidence in the economy seems to be on a similarly slow but stead situation. At the beginning of Jonathan’s term, Nigeria’s economy was far behind that of South Africa, but a rebate under the administration of Jonathan propelled Nigeria to the attractive position of largest economy in Africa.
Yet, significant shares of people continue to assume things won’t be better for their children than they are for today’s adults, an erosion in traditional Nigerian optimism that Mr. Jonathan and his party failed to allay during their campaign across the country.
Still, the broader problem with the PDP is that it now appears to be a party whose greatest appeal is with the two smallest zones in the country–the South-South and South-East.
Mr. Gbadamosi, a real estate mogul, suggests the PDP should see its defeat as a blessing in disguise. He said the party can continue to pride itself as not just the largest in Nigeria but also amongst the most democratic.
“Our party has managed to even the jubilation after this elections. We’ve received as much congratulatory message as the party that won the elections,” he told WESTERN POST. “When you have President Jonathan eyeing Mo Ibrahim Award and even a Nobel Peace Prize, then you can tell our loss is definitely a blessing in disguise.”
“We’re going to organise a retreat where we’ll decide on the parameters of our opposition grand game, Nigerians should expect to see a better PDP.”
The APC also faces new challenges as well, warned political analyst Margaret Atseyinku.
Having lost its opposition status, the party “will be compelled to start assuming responsibility and focus on solving sundry pressing issues like insecurity and endemic corruption.” Jonathan is also likely to bequeath the “Chibok girls debacle to Buhari’s administration,” she added. “And Nigerians don’t look disposed to accommodating excuses or partisan bickering from those that promised them change.”
They new ruling party, Mrs. Atseyinku warns, has only a “matter of months to show that it can break out” of the old patterns and “make distinctive progress that puts the PDP to shame.”
“If they allow Abuja to be business as usual, the old patterns will persist and we’ll just continue this bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball between two failed political parties.”
Nigerians may have rightly done away with Goodluck, because the country obviously needs more than that to attain its 21st century goals.