What Can Opposition PDP Learn From APC?

“The was classical in opposition. The members of the party rattled us, put us on our toes and eventually pushed us out of government. We must retaliate and pay them back. To do this we need teamwork and we must have character” – Emeka Ihedioha, June 2, 2015.

The loss of an election, even in the best of climes and circumstances, is for parties and individuals an unfailing dampener, a setback in some instances irreparable to political careers. Regret, self-pity, feelings of rejection and paranoia are the inevitable emotional fallout. If as in the case of the Peoples Democratic Party, which styled itself Africa’s biggest party, the loss is indexed by a seminal reduction in sphere of influence, the impact can range from alienation to trauma.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the which at the height of its power in 2007 controlled, some would say captured, 28 states, but reduced in 2015 to a mere 13 has been tormented by blame games, self-lacerating post-mortems and moral devaluation. To be sure, the PDP’s loss, though significant, it can be exaggerated. It today controls more states than any Nigerian opposition party before the merger that heralded the formation of the All Progressives Congress. Better than that, all the oil producing states in the new electoral map fall under the suzerainty of the PDP creating thereby a near balance of sorts between political weight and economic wherewithal.

The PDP attempted to shrug off its despair last weekend in Port Harcourt where its officials gathered to re-strategise on ways of repositioning the party for surmounting its electoral setback, and giving the APC a good run for its emergent stature in 2019. That objective happens to coincide with what many analysts regard as the desirable goal of having fully functioning, vibrant two major parties alternating power at the centre, and acting as mutual checks on each other’s excesses. In other words, even if one for good reasons does not wish the PDP to be back in power so soon after 16 years of predatory, underperforming advent, it is still beneficial to have it around as a healthy opposition watchdog that could step back into power should the APC fail to make good its campaign promises. It is from this perspective that one finds interesting and worthy of comment the reflections of the outgoing Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, cited as an opening quote, suggesting that the opposition PDP could learn some lessons from the APC.

Ihedioha was spot on in rating the APC as a vigorous opposition party which carried the battle to the gates of the PDP by constantly subjecting it to devastating scrutiny. That is another way of saying that the APC seized the discourse arena, set the parameters for national conversation, dictated the agenda by selecting and amplifying the issues it chose to focus on most of the time. How was it able to do this? The party is in possession of thriving adversary media which were deployed so terrifically that the PDP was reduced to defensive postures and stammering incoherence. Which is to say that even before the campaigns broke, the PDP had lost the election in the court of public opinion, a fact which its belated attempt to hit at the APC could not alter and in some cases, because of its harsh tenor even backfired. Hence, for example, as the ranks of the APC swelled with party switchers some of who had been in the PDP since 1999 and won elections on its platform, the feeling was somehow created that their transgressions had been forgiven even forgotten because they had now “seen the light” by joining the “progressives”. For the PDP to have enjoyed anything near the commanding media stature of its rival, it would have had to invest in a party newspaper of substantial stature. It failed to do this partly because its early leaders were Generals or retired Generals that do not believe in the media as an arbiter of political events or in any case could get away with blatant misrule by rigging elections. To reinvent itself after a stunning electoral defeat, the PDP must copy the capacity for dominating national conversation of the APC. Had it done this earlier, it might not have needed to spend so much on communicating itself to an unconvinced electorate during the campaign season.

Image-making apart, the PDP must rediscover the moral essence of leadership by parting company with the idea that the electoral value of political barons is to be priced above their moral credentials. The importance of soft power exemplified in the stature of such leaders as Thabo Mbeki and Jose Mujica compels attention to moral leadership. That is another way of saying that the only way the PDP can come close to undercutting Muhammadu ’s famed self-denial is by throwing up in its ranks leaders who at least lay claim to a modicum of moral hygiene in a polity wracked by monumental corruption. In retrospect, the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s greatest deficit was to have given the impression that just about anything goes, or that moral squalour counts for nothing in the public space.

The other lesson that the PDP, in search of redefinition can learn from the APC concerns the power to influence the public by impressive performance in states where it is currently in government. This principle was explicitly enunciated by the late economist, Professor Sam Aluko, who argued that rather than the Unity Party of Nigeria bemoaning its loss of the 1979 presidential election, it should concentrate on transforming the states in which it had won elections into models of purposeful governance. That, Aluko said, would be the best way to advertise the party manifesto, thereby offering the argument eloquently that it should be allowed to control the centre in the subsequent presidential elections.

Although matters did not turn out as Aluko envisaged, that template had become a classic for opposition parties seeking to wrest power from established ones. It is to the credit of the APC in opposition that it could boast high-flyers such as former Governor of , Raji Fashola, and Raufu Aregbesola, who gave governance their best shot becoming prototypes of what the opposition when it gains power could do. The PDP also had a few remarkable leaders such as Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State and Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. But these were few and far between and the party failed to make communication capital out of their achievements. The aggression and drive for power of the APC in opposition epitomised by the hard tackles of the PDP by the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lai Muhammed, contrast with the low key and laid back publicity campaigns of the PDP. A reinvention and rebranding of the PDP should include the impressive tabloid style antics of robust spokespersons.

Perhaps, it is time too for the PDP seeking a new identity to consider defining itself ideologically by creating mental mementos and arresting code words on the lines of conservative parties in Britain and elsewhere. In sum, the party should go back to the drawing board in order to reimagine its role and character as an opposition party capable of returning to power.

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