By Edwin Madunagu Bottom of Form
One of the central propositions of last week’s opening segment of this new series may be re-formulated and expanded: To understand the current rapidly developing political situation in our country, Nigeria, you have to understand the crisis in the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP); and to understand the latter crisis, you have to go back to the origin(s) of the party, particularly the ideological conceptions of “national unity”, “national movement” and “national party” that informed PDP’s methods of organisation and the structure of leadership and control it adopted.
The last part of this proposition can be put differently: the current crisis in PDP is bound up with the party’s foundation and structure; the crisis cannot therefore be resolved – or, rather, it can be resolved only to be replaced by another crisis of greater seriousness – unless and until the very foundations of the party are revisited. This is a logical condition, but not the end of practical possibilities. In the meantime, while the party is battling with its problems, the other political forces cannot “wait”. In fact, PDP’s crisis accelerates developments in other political forces (especially in the opposition forces). The emergence of All Progressives Congress (APC) is a testimony.
The core of PDP’s ideology, said to have been strengthened by the lessons of the Civil War, can be expressed as a compound formula: “National unity – the unity of the ruling classes; and the unity of the ruling classes is rooted in equitable and fair distribution of, or access to, the national wealth”. In this ideology “classes” – which are rooted in the political economy or the mode of production and distribution – are reduced to, or rather disguised as, “leaders” and “elites”. In Nigerian political lexicon “national wealth” is rendered as “national cake”.
In the course of examining this proposition, an effort which began last week, we saw the logical emergence in the PDP (just as in the party’s antecedent, the Second Republic’s National Party of Nigeria, NPN) multiple centres of power and control, rather than single centres (as in most of the other mainstream ruling class political parties). We may add here – for analytical completeness – what may be taken as obvious: the multiple centers of power and control that emerged in the PDP were not and could not have been) of equal strength.
The strength of a centre is measured and fully appreciated in times of internal party crisis; but each centre had remained a centre nonetheless. I am also assuming that the multiplicity of centres did not, could not, and was not expected to, dissolve or neutralise the power blocs. In fact the reality of Nigeria’s power blocs (which reduced to two through the Civil War) lies at the root of the inequality of the centres.
As expected, or perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, this regime of multiplicity of centres of power and control that emerged in the PDP (as it did in the NPN 20 years earlier) soon-even before the 1999 elections – ran into several contradictions and internal crises. The party leadership responded to the most immediate and open contradictions or problems (as the NPN did) with the dual principle of “zoning” and “rotation” of party and government positions.
This was a theoretical resolution which, even if it was strictly and honestly followed, could not, nor could it have been expected to, resolve the problems continuously thrown up by primitive capitalist accumulation, ethnicity, religious bigotry as well as personal “attributes” of philosophical cynicism and insincerity.
Every serious political party is expected to be conscious of the fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation which is, additionally, endowed with multiplicity of religions. It is also expected that, in every serious party, these national characteristics will be reflected – even if instinctively, even if the country’s constitution does not mandate it – in its organizational structure and leadership.
Such a party is also expected to know that if it wins power at any governmental level, these national characteristics will be reflected in the composition of the government it runs – even if this is not explicitly demanded by the Constitution as the latter actually does.
The difference between PDP (and NPN before it) on the one hand, and other postwar mainstream ruling class parties, on the other hand, is that the former announced to the world that it had raised this constitutional requirement (which the Constitution calls “federal character”) to the level of core and irreducible ideological and organizational principle. The history of PDP’s zoning and rotation principle is well known.
A protocol on the other hand, is a secret addendum attached to an agreement. It is a secret “explanatory note”: the contents are known only to the authors who are the powers behind the agreement. A protocol tries to indicate what should be done in case the agreement runs into difficulties; this secret clause may, in essence, differ from the letter and spirit of the agreement; in extreme cases, a protocol directly contradicts the agreement to which it is attached. There may also be one or multiple protocols to an agreement.
To illustrate from world history: During the Second World War (1939 – 1945), the Allied Powers (America, the Soviet Union, Britain and France) signed several agreements on how to guarantee “world peace” after the war. But attached to the agreements were protocols on carving the world into “zones of control”. Just before that war broke out the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed an agreement called a “non-aggression pact”; but attached to that agreement was a protocol on how to divide between them, and absorb, Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 was an agreement rapidly put in place to meet the requirements of General Abdulsalami Abubukar’s short transition programme. The protocol attached to it was a series of secret agreements on transfer of power from the military regime to a civilian administration to be headed by General Obasanjo and how this country would be run after military disengagement.
Behind the protocol were the military high command, fractions of the power blocs and our foreign “friends”. The 1999 Constitution was necessary but not too important at that stage. I joked to a late comrade about a year after General Olusegun Obasanjo assumed the office of President on May 29, 1999, that the retired army general might not have read or even seen the Nigerian Constitution.
Long after this the comrade publicly said that what I thought was a joke was not a joke after all, that he was convinced the President had not read the Nigerian Constitution. But he was a key signatory to the protocol. Like other party constitutions, the PDP’s 1999 constitution was also an agreement. Attached to it, however, were several, mutually – contradictory protocols.
The party constitution talked about “federal character”, “zoning” and “rotation”. But it would appear that either the drafters of this constitution were oblivious of the country’s new Constitution especially the two-term provision and the article on unanticipated vacation of the presidential seat.
The PDP began its life as a ruling party in May 1999. Before the party’s core leadership were two agreements – the country’s Constitution (the supreme law of the land) and the party’s Constitution. Beyond these there were two sets of protocols: one set attached to the country’s Constitution, and the other attached to the party constitution. In and between all these were many contradictions and silences.
For instance, the country’s Constitution had, and still has, no provision for zoning and rotation. It talks of federal character and maximum of two terms for President and State Governors, but nothing more. The party protocols that are by definition secret created the most difficult problems: the protocols, rather than the party Constitution, rule the party in actuality. But since they are secret, the existence of some or all of them can be denied, and disputes between them only be resolved by the creation of new protocol whose existence can also be denied as soon as it is cited.
Most of the committees or individuals often appointed to settle party disputes are completely ignorant of the existence or contents of the protocols from whose interpretations disputes had arisen in the first place. In consequence, they achieve nothing. So, whenever you hear or see that a serious dispute between party centres or important personages has been “resolved” what had happened, in effect, was that a new protocol had been created.
Finally: All the power centres in the party publicly accept the supremacy of the country’s Constitution. But in practice the PDP and, indeed, in all the existing successful mainstream political parties operate, with disdain, on routine violation of the letter and spirit of this same “supreme” Constitution. Yet the political system continues to ride!