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Soludo, the PDP, and impunity

October 12, 2009

Image removed.If the Peoples Democratic Party is Africa’s largest political party, then it is also – by the evidence of its conduct – the largest concentration of anti-democrats on the continent. At each opportunity, the party displays a fundamental hostility to the most basic tenets of democracy.

The latest such demonstration came in the sneaky way the party handpicked Charles Chukwuma Soludo as its candidate in next February’s governorship election in Anambra.

In the beginning, the party invited aspirants to purchase governorship forms for the scandalous sum of N5 million each. It was the party’s clear statement that, should its candidate “capture” Anambra, the victor and his cohorts could proceed to treat the state as a personal fiefdom.

Far from dissuading aspirants, the high entry fee yielded a bazaar of forty-seven bidders. Each candidate knew what was at stake, the size of the loot to be carted away by the eventual winner. Nigeria is, after all, a place where governors can pocket hundreds of millions of naira of public funds each month in the name of “security vote.” Sometime ago, an American student asked me at a lecture to explain the meaning of security vote. I answered that it’s a peculiarly Nigerian invention that empowers public officials to – the oxymoron is apt – “steal legally.”

A party committed to the ideals of democracy would have seen the large field of competitors as offering an excellent opportunity to choose the most acceptable candidate through an open, transparent process. That’s not the PDP’s mode of operation. No sooner did the party’s would-be governors file their forms – accompanied by huge fees – than party chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, began to sell them the idea of adopting one of their number as the “consensus” candidate. Consensus, a staple of the PDP, is an asinine and narrow concept that enables a tiny few of the party’s ample supply of “thieftains” to impose their choice. 

It was no surprise that the vast majority of the candidates disdained Mr. Ogbulafor’s prescription. How do you justify collecting N5 million from seekers of an office, and then talking them into relinquishing their dream in the name of a nebulous idea called consensus?

Once it became clear that “consensus” was doomed, top officials of the PDP made the obligatory (seemingly earnest) pledges that the ward congresses to determine their governorship flag bearer would be a model of democratic credibility. The party even composed high-powered committees led by, among others, Speaker Bankole Dimeji and Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan and Gabriel Suswam, to oversee the process. These custodians in turn promised to be unimpeachable shepherds of the party’s internal process for determining a governorship candidate.

All of that high-minded talk was soon silenced by the staccato bursts of gunshots and the dreadful chants of war songs by heavily armed gangs retained by different camps. The people of Anambra had front row seats from which to gaze in bewilderment as the PDP once again remade democracy into a do-or-die affair, a fists-knuckles-and-guns monstrosity.

The signs were there from the outset. Not one of the party’s candidates –not even the supposedly cerebral Soludo – ever bothered to articulate a vision of governance, or to define a program of action to uplift the state if elected. Instead, the candidates went from dropping off their forms straight to recruiting gangsters to establish themselves as “serious stakeholders.”

That this depraved process should ultimately throw up Mr. Soludo as the party’s “default” candidate raises several deeply disturbing questions.

With the PDP so inflexibly resistant to democracy within its own ranks, what then would inspire hope in Anambra that the party would come ready to play by the rules in the governorship election on February 6, 2010? Or is Anambra fated for the Ekiti treatment, the treasonous misuse of military and police personnel and arsenal to ensure victory for the PDP’s candidate?

Governors Uduaghan and Suswam as well as Speaker Dimeji flunked the simple task of conducting successful ward elections in Anambra. How then are Nigerians to be confident that these incompetents can ever remedy the nation’s infrastructural and myriad crises?

Mr. Soludo’s tenure as governor of the Central Bank is undergoing an unofficial review, and his grade is not looking particularly stellar. Still, some say he’s a fine economist. One wonders, though, if he has a sense of history. For he ought to remember that many Nigerians lost their lives in the struggle to achieve democratic governance.

By all accounts, Mr. Soludo was catapulted by a cabal, including Tony Anenih, whose tenure as Minister of Works was a disaster for Nigerians (even if good for Mr. Anenih), and Dahiru Mangal, a rather shadowy friend of Umaru Yar’Adua’s. Mr. Soludo risks becoming one of the poster boys for the anti-democratic bastion that will be swept away sooner or (rather than?) later when Nigerians awake to reassert their democratic will.

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