Nigeria: PDP and its retooling strategies for 2015
EON USIGBE reports the two-day capacity-building retreat organised by the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as it begins the process of enlightenment of its critical stakeholders over the 2015 general elections.
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), always wanting to have a head start, has commenced its preparations for the 2015 election even though the ruling party will not want anything to be said openly at this time about the election. It has a policy of not discussing 2015 because as President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party argue, dabbling into the politics of 2015 now will be an unnecessary distraction for governments at all levels. The party faithful have mainly stuck to this position but it has hardly stopped discreet preparations by prospective aspirants around the country who want to assume vantage positions for themselves before the lid is officially lifted on campaigns. However, PDP has signaled that even when it wants to be seen as not showing interest in the 2015 polls at this time, it would not leave anything to chance in preparing its key stakeholders for the battle ahead.
Towards this end, between December 12 and 15, 2012, the party organised a two-day capacity building retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for its zonal/state publicity secretaries, organising secretaries, publicity and organisation staff of the national secretariat of the party and members of the resident press corps. Coordinated by the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, the enlightenment retreat attracted resource persons from various fields of endeavour, including Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State; PDP National Chairman, Alhaji. Bamanga Tukur, ;his predecessor, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo; PDP Board of Trustees [BoT] member, Chief Ebenezer Babatope; former Political Adviser to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Akilu Sani Indabawa; former presidential spokesmen, Mallam Abba Dabo and Olusegun Adeniyi, Senator Aniete Okon as well as a Media Consultant, Colet Odenigbo.
The PDP’s motivation for the retreat was to give the critical stakeholders a better idea of the internal workings of the party.
The National Organising Secretary of the party, Alhaji Abubakar Mustapha, explained this, pointing out that it sought to build capacities and capabilities required at all levels of the party to drive the vision of the 3Rs :Reconstruction, Reformation and Rebuilding) agenda of the present leadership. Beside the need to ensure uniformity in party organization and communication process, he informed that it was aimed at intimating zonal/state organizing secretaries and zonal/state publicity secretaries with the new policy direction concerning party administration and communication strategies.
Host Governor Akpabio held nothing back when he spoke at the event, criticising the party publicity machinery for not communicating enough, the achievements of PDP governors in the country, and wondering “if you don’t talk about your achievement, how would you know about your achievements?” He believed that the presence of PDP officials in Uyo for the retreat would acquaint them with the achievements of his PDP government, which may not have been known to the party officials.
To Akpabio therefore, it will be nice for the party officials to expose themselves more to the efforts of other PDP states so that they can have good selling points for the party. Akpabio was effusive about his own achievements, arguing that with what he has done in the last five years, he had proved that, contrary to speculation that the huge money allocated to Niger Delta states went down the drain, such resources could actually be utilized for concrete development.
“Before I became governor, what was the story in the Niger Delta? That so much money goes in there, but that there is nothing on the ground to show for such fund. But today, within five years of my being in office as a PDP governor, the story has changed. People are saying this governor is doing so much; where will he get the money to pay?” The governor was of the opinion that the PDP publicity machinery had lost the initiative to the opposition because the efforts of state governments of opposition political parties appear more celebrated in the public domain even when they are less than what their PDP counterparts have done.
Beyond this, Akpabio was concerned about the ongoing attempt to revisit the onshore/offshore abrogation. He reiterated to the participants at the retreat that such a move had the potential to break up the country. For him, the proponents of the move should rather concern themselves with issues that bind the country together than focus on divisive issues or creating ethnic, religious and tribal barriers. He said such divisive factors were responsible for the siting of refineries in places not close to their sources of raw materials. “Industries are cited on the basis of where the mineral is deposited. Refineries should have filled everywhere in the Niger Delta because they have the raw materials but they are saying don’t build refineries there.” He believes that there is the need for those behind the resurgent onshore/offshore debate to look inwards and find ways to increase their revenue base,” Akpabio stated.
On his part, Dr. Nwodo, who delivered a paper entitled, “Deepening Democracy through internal Party Democracy, Strategies for conducting Credible, Free and Fair Elections,” explained that the reason why many governors were under performing in office was because of the need to satisfy the godfathers who helped them to positions. He contended that such godfathers sit on large portions of state resources because such governors are in the habit of taking their state’s financial allocations to the godfathers who take away huge chunks for their personal use. The former party boss said what was left in the allocations was not always enough to implement developmental projects in the states.
Nwodo blamed the situation on the manner of selecting party candidates for election where he observed that rather than going through a free and fair process, candidates emerge because of the strength of their sponsors. He argued that leaders produced through robust internal democracy have a social contract with the people as in their conscience; they know they have made promises which they must fulfill. “They know that they may need to go back to the people to renew their mandate. In doing so, they must approach the people with a report card of their success with their current or past mandate.” The former Enugu State governor noted that the motivation of elected members to perform in office should be the trust of the people but “In our party, nay, Nigeria where we have replaced this with godfatherism, we continue to produce the leadership we complain about.”
In a keynote address he delivered at the occasion, Alhaji Tukur promised that the party would not compromise internal democracy but ensure that fairness guided its operations. Noting that the era of imposition of candidates or parallel lists of congresses was over, the party boss also stated that the “era where the wishes of the people are whimsically annulled as far as our leadership is concerned is far gone forever.” He said that his leadership intends to introduce strategies for national political re-engineering designed to achieve the desired energy, security, education, empowerment and environmental sustainability. “That way, our country Nigeria will be on the path to peace, unity and stable democracy, which are constant parameters of security and investment.”
Indabawa, who was the Political Adviser to late President Yar’Adua, warned that the PDP might run itself aground if it failed to adhere strictly to the values of internal democracy, Positing that the PDP’s major opposition is not other political parties but the PDP itself, he maintained that the party stands the risk of what he said is self-liquidation and now faces the big challenge of justifying the massive confidence that Nigerians had in it. Speaking on the topic, “Building Strong Party Chapters and Raising the Political Consciousness of Party Members,” Indabawa stressed the need for the party to uphold internal democracy in all its dealings to be in a position to build strong institutions as well as give Nigerians the quality leadership they expect from the party.
He outlined some of the challenges confronting the party to include erosion of confidence, diversity of interests and consensus building, party supremacy and god-father syndrome; emergent political forces and politics of relevance; elevation of factions over the party; lack of capacity to manage the party, among others.
He stated, “If positive changes along the lines discussed are not initiated and vigorously pursued, the PDP stands the risk of self- liquidation. After all, it is becoming self-evident that the only serious opposition to PDP is PDP itself. In this project of panel-beating and renewal, the party must search for that big idea that stands it out from the crowd. Institutions survive the dynamics of constantly evolving forces of time and space only if they are clearly identifiable by what they stand for. So, PDP’s strength is guaranteed if only it is organized around the defined big idea that gives it unique and distinctive identity. The mark of such a big idea is the political praxis that is unique to it. Without this, whatever strength is injected into the party will only be artificial and temporal.”
In his paper titled, “Connecting with the Public: The 10 Media Commandments,” former Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Olusegun Adeniyi, warned politicians to learn to treat reporters with dignity. Listing 10 pitfalls that politicians should avoid while dealing with the media, the Chairman of Editorial Board of Thisday, stressed the need for politicians to give the media up-to-date information. He stated: “if you must engage the media and you don’t not have ‘juicy’ information to give, make irresistible phrases. A dull press conference or press statement will not make the news just because it is coming from a big man. When they have failed to write it as you would have wished or you were innocently misquoted, ignore them. Only gross acts of bad faith and unfairness merit a complaint. You must recognize that there are hostile reporters and you also have the aggressive ones. If you think a story is misleading, inaccurate or unfair, call the reporter and say so calmly, yet firmly. With that you may win him/ her over. After all, believe it or not, reporters are human beings too,” he advised.
Chief Babatope advocated in his paper on “Motivational Method for Membership Recruitment, Retention and Loyalty,” that there should be fair spread of benefits of government economic programmes to as many members of the party as possible. He advised that the party at all levels must identify those who are genuine businessmen and who will need government support, saying that while governments must cater for the interests of the entire people of the country, the party must ensure that its active members benefit from the programmes.
After the two-day session, the participants at the retreat came up with a nine-point communique where they agreed that Nigeria is at a critical development curve and therefore, to move to the next level, the PDP must continuously improve on the workings of its processes and practices. The retreat urged members to show more interest in the management of the media while the PDP must engage in wide publicity and propagation of its policies, programmes and achievements to enhance greater understanding by the citizenry. It also advised the party leaders and all members to tap the full advantage of the social media such as facebook, twitter, etc, to combat negative perception as well as sell the agenda of the party.
Similarly, the retreat noted that there is no alternative to internal party democracy and to enhance this therefore, it recommended, as a matter of urgency, the introduction of e-registration and computerisation of party membership as this will ensure transparency in party electoral processes. On the strategic importance of the offices of organisation and publicity secretaries at all levels, participants agreed that they are vital for the progress and success of party and government policies and programmes and challenged them to rise up to the serial distortion of the achievements of PDP-led governments by the opposition.
Furthermore, the retreat advocated less turn-over of party officials to make for continuity and stability, stressing the need for the PDP to encourage loyalty and hard work through incentives, patronages, merit awards, letters of commendation among others.
The 130 participants at the retreat applauded the uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom State under Governor Akpabio and noted his support and that of the people of the state towards the successful hosting of the event.