PDP members are likely to remember Bamanga as the man who didn’t hold NEC meetings, the only chairman against whom two sets of National Working Committee members rebelled, the man who alienated every major bloc in the party, the chairman who suspended a governor because he did not answer his phone call, the only PDP chairman since 1999 to preside over the defection of a large party bloc and under whose nose the opposition crystallised into a very threatening bloc for the first time since 1999.
We must be fair to Bamanga Tukur. He did all those things in pursuit of a certain idea in party leadership. Was it all worth it? If one were to gather PDP strategists in one room and ask them the question “is the party better off today than it was when Bamanga became its chairman?” they are all likely to answer with a resounding no. To that extent, his tenure was a resounding strategic and political failure.
Two short years ago, PDP looked unbeatable in Nigerian politics. All defections since 1999 had been a one way ticket to PDP. Through elections and defections it had increased its stock of governors from 21 in 1999 to 27 at one point. It established a firm grip on federal Executive power and at one time it had nearly 90% of National Assembly members. But by the time Bamanga left the scene last week, many Nigerians think PDP stands a real chance of losing the next presidential elections for the first time in its history.
Now, one would have thought that Bamanga was in a position to have learnt a lesson or two about surviving as party chairman from Chief Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye. Bamanga was a prominent NPN member in the Second Republic and he must have seen up close how Akinloye survived as its chairman from inception in 1978 until it folded up in 1983. Akinloye may not have survived without the support of President Shehu Shagari. Yet, no one ever said that Akinloye, a First Republic NNDP chieftain, was a “Shagari boy” or that all he did in NPN was Shagari’s bidding. He somehow found the right balance; Bamanga could not.
As far as can be discerned, the idea that defined Bamanga’s tenure, propelled all his actions and ultimately ruined him was his desire to whittle down the power of state governors as local demigods in the PDP. The idea would have sounded appealing to a democratic Puritan. Apart from a governor’s constitutional monopoly over the appointment of commissioners, advisers and assistants he also determines who becomes a senator, a federal representative, state legislator, state party officer, national party officer from the state, and also minister, ambassador, board chairman or board member from the state.
Let’s qualify that a bit. A governor may not always get what he wants. It depends on how powerful he is politically. Some governors are more powerful than others depending on personality, mode of acquiring power, political character of the state and the presence or absence in the state of local power brokers and powerful national figures.
Still, the PDP arrangement as it evolved in the last decade and a half is that a governor is the clearing house for almost every elected or appointed position from his state. If he is clever, he would give the appearance of merely acting as a broker who balances contending interests but in reality, he is the paramount factor whose actions are mostly guided by the need to secure and enhance his own political position.
What is responsible for this? Mostly it is about money. A governor has a lot of reach and power but it is his dubious role as the sole financier of the party at state level as well as a substantial party financier at zonal and Federal levels that gave him this much power. To that extent it is not healthy. While it may not be democratic, it served PDP’s purposes very well since 1999. Most of the governors can be relied upon to deliver votes from their states to the party’s presidential candidate, which adds up to power at the Federal level. A weak PDP presidential candidate such as Umaru Yar’adua or Goodluck Jonathan stood no chance of winning an election if not because PDP governors could corral the votes.
If a new chairman were looking to reform PDP and instil some discipline in it, as Bamanga claimed was his mission early last year, the right place to start would have been to evolve a coherent party ideology and program beyond just winning elections by means fair or foul. There are reasons to believe that Bamanga was not pursuing his goal of whittling down governors’ power for altruistic reasons. His main reason was to secure the position of President Goodluck Jonathan, the man who pulled him out of the crowd and railroaded him in as party chairman.
Proof of this insincerity is that whatever happens at the state level also happens at the federal level, if not worse. Bamanga showed no inclination to whittle down the president’s overarching control of the party at the centre. As a matter of fact, he showed every intention of increasing, rather than reducing, the president’s control of the party not only at the federal level but in the entire Federation as well. Bamanga wanted Jonathan, like Obasanjo, to reach deep into every corner of Nigeria and determine who becomes what.
The only reason for this overarching ambition is 2015. Ordinarily, Jonathan does not look like the kind of man who would like to reach into the farthest corners of the country and determine who becomes what. He hardly seems to know or wishes to know people in most corners of Nigeria. However, he badly wants another term in 2015 and he calculated that the governors could become an impediment, hence the appeal of Bamanga’s “reform” idea.
Jonathan’s belief is not unfounded. Normally, there is a quid pro quo between the president and PDP governors wherein they prop him up at the centre and he reinforces them at the state level. This also happened between Shagari and NPN governors in 1983. It happened again between Obasanjo and PDP governors in 2003 and it happened once more between Jonathan and PDP governors in 2011. In the year 2007 when Obasanjo was not running, this arrangement was further elaborated with an understanding between Obasanjo and the PDP governors that his successor must be chosen from among their ranks. That arrangement schemed out vice presidents, senators, ministers and other party chieftains.
Now, the problem with 2015, from the perspective of PDP governors, is that it is 2007 without an open presidential slot. Most of the serving PDP governors are due to depart from office in 2015. They want nowhere to go but up. They believe they had an agreement with Jonathan to back him in 2011 for a term only. There seems to be some truth in that because Jonathan did say in Addis Ababa that he won’t contest again after 2011. From all evidence, he decided soon after he won the 2011 polls that he would run again in 2015. He knew the governors could pose an obstacle; he set out to whittle down their capacity; Bamanga probably told him how it could be done.
Bamanga Tukur was however too steeped in elite politics not to have an agenda of his own. To the program of seizing control of all levers of party power for Jonathan, he added his own plan to seize party structures in his native Adamawa State, the main event that triggered the implosion. Have lessons been learnt? I doubt it.