The Rumour Republic

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By SONALA OLUMHENSE

I did not know that President Goodluck Jonathan had such a robust sense of humour as to declare the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Nigeria’s only democratic party.

The effort was met with a lot of derision by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) soon after. Replying to the proposition through its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the ACN was bristling with anger. “Saying the PDP is the only truly democratic party and that other parties are one-man shows is a cruel irony,” it scoffed, “coming shortly after this same President brushed aside the constitution of his party and single-handedly installed the Governor of his state.”

It advised the president, if he truly wanted to see the face of a party leader who is fast turning his party into a one-man show, to “take a long, hard look at himself in the mirror.”

If you were to ask me, my answer would be that when Mr. Jonathan takes a long, hard look in the mirror, he breaks into raucous laughter. Sorry, ACN, but I do not think he sees, or can see, a party leader who is erring.

I think the last thing he sees before be begins to laugh are the tears racing down his face.

While the words may be difficult to make out, he would be saying to himself, “Yes, it is me! I made it! I am the President! The President of Nigeria! President and Commander-in-Chief! Yes, me, the boy from Otuoke. They did not think I could be Deputy Governor, but I became Deputy Governor. And I became Governor. And I became Vice-President. And I became President! I am the President!!”

That probably explains the tenor of the response to the ACN by presidential spokesman Reuben Abati. “It is Mohammed who needs to take a long, hard look at himself in the mirror and ask whether his party is truly a democratic party,” he replied within 24 hours.

Abati celebrated Mr. Jonathan as “a humble gentleman who has shown his value at moments of deep crisis as a loyal and thoughtful leader.” Mr. Jonathan, he said, was a “highly experienced, scholarly and non-partisan” President who has handled unprecedented attacks on his character and Presidency with dignity and humour.”

Evidently, the spokesman has taken a longer, harder look at his principal than any of us. That would account for his ability to write things of this nature with less than one year of retraining.

But it is an important discussion. What Mr. Jonathan is implying, regrettably, is that democracy is defined by the winner. He has won the presidency, as has his party, and the end has justified the means.

The presidency is completely right when Abati writes, “President Jonathan’s description of the PDP as the only truly democratic party should be seen as a wake-up call to other political parties, as well as political leaders, to live out their democratic pretensions in the full glare of the public.”

And he is right when he poses the query, “Is it not public knowledge that some political parties, despite preaching democracy, lack internal democracy and thrive in imposing candidates?”

Yes, that is public knowledge. The ACN, which is in the glare of the national mass media in the Western part of the country, is a popular party among the Yorubas. But it is even more popular among Yoruba leaders who manipulate the party machinery not in support of democracy, but in support of themselves. In the hands of such men as Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande, the ACN has often forgotten what democratic practice is all about, as party primaries have been run like an awards ceremony for the benefit of the well-connected.

As a result, to look at a map of “successful” ACN candidates in an election is increasingly to see an assembly of wives and children and cohorts of party bigwigs and assorted kabiyesi.

To that extent, among others, Abati is right when he challenges such parties to “to live out their democratic pretensions in the full glare of the public.”

Now, let us briefly extend the same standards of “democratic pretensions” to the PDP, which claims to be known as Africa’s most powerful party. In public, it swears allegiance to the most basic tenets of democracy. Regrettably, that rarely extends to practice, and its contempt for the law is without precedence.

In the four national elections from 1999 to 2011, the PDP exemplified fraud, deception and manipulation of both institutions and processes. The clamour for electoral reform in the country arose because of the PDP’s penchant for widespread manipulation; just as the clamour for good governance has come close to a riot because of the damage it has done to the very concept of governance.

Nobody knows any of this better than Mr. Abati himself. In a scathing testimony, “PDP Is Ten, Nigeria is Ten Years Behind,” which he wrote to mark that anniversary on November 2, 2008, Mr. Abati lamented that the PDP had inflicted great damage upon Nigeria and its people.

“Consistent with the mood of the times in 1998, the founding fathers of the PDP promised Nigerians a political party that will uphold the sanctity of the rule of law, human rights, strong political culture, equitable wealth distribution, minority rights, infrastructural development and high standard of living. They have failed Nigerians on each and every one of these issues.”

He called the PDP “a divided political party, a party where the end justifies all the means and the meanness, and where the party register is full of obituaries…”

And he asked: “Who does not know that the PDP is a party of Godfathers, family members, thugs and ballot box snatchers? It is also a party of corrupt men and women…”

Mr. Abati concluded that the PDP was not popular, but had “used the power of incumbency to crowd out, intimidate, and eliminate the opposition. In a country where politicians are opportunists, the bandwagon of the stomach has driven too many politicians in the direction of the PDP, creating the semblance of a one-party state.”

Four years later, the PDP has grown worse. The cause of democracy is not being better served today than at any time in the past 12 years.

If democracy is the subject, then, I wish the government represented by Messrs Jonathan and Abati were talking about how well the people of Nigeria are now being better served.

I wish Abati were talking to the country about how remarkably well his government is doing in uplifting the people and enhancing the economy, education, agriculture, security or infrastructure.

I wish Mr. Abati were talking about how faithful his principal is to his promises, and how he is fulfilling the electoral pledges he made one year ago, and striving hard to implement the Millennium Development Goals.

I wish Mr. Abati was proudly discussing the impact of his boss’ declaration of assets on the battle for the soul of our country, but Mr. Jonathan continues to defy the constitutional requirement to do that.

Let us be clear: Nobody outside the Presidency can desecrate the Presidency except its occupant. Only the President, by his own achievements or lack of them, can uplift or desecrate that office.

If democracy is the will of the people, and relates to service and respect for the law, it is but a rumour in Nigeria, particularly in the PDP. It is part of the ethic or insincerity that has made us the laughing stock of Africa.

In that regard then, I fully agree with Mr. Mohammed that President Jonathan must look at himself in the mirror and—appreciating that this is no laughing matter—ask the man looking back at him: Who am I?

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