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KALU, ATIKU, PDP AND 2011

By NBF News

But ideology-based politicking was something Nigerians used to enjoy not too long ago. As recently as the 1980s for instance, the late Malam Aminu Kano's radical tendencies provided a convenient platform for those with socialist/Marxist or even communist tendencies to indulge themselves in their dreams. At the other extreme was the enclave of the ultra conservatives which was nourished and controlled by the aristocracy. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes can be placed the pragmatic doctrine of the late political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who would advocate free education as a cardinal obligation of the State while defending, by words and action, the right of the individual to accumulate and enjoy as much wealth as he or she could earn. In some cases, political parties actually had sympathizers and cells even in tertiary and secondary schools. In those times switching political parties was the spiritual equivalent of blasphemy and the few that dared to try usually lived to regret their actions.

Not anymore. Politicians now move from one party to another with the audacity and recklessness of a half-drunk taxi driver during rush hour. Their target is how and where they could obtain a ticket that could win them a particular elective position. The only criterion they consider for joining a political party is the capacity of the party to rig election in the constituency of their choice. Once that is settled, our politicians are usually not bothered that the party has no solution to any of the myriad of problems that are of concern to the people they hope to represent. In fact it is now laughable to speak of a party manifesto. A good number of them indeed don't even know what a manifesto is.

Easily the most interesting cases of cross-carpeting are the cases involving two political heavy weights in the persons of former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former Abia state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. Both Kalu and Atiku left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under very controversial circumstances in the months leading up to the 2007 general elections. The two were also perceived as heroes by the generality of Nigerians in view of the brave and successful resistance they put up against the overwhelming might of the federal government which, then as now, was controlled by the PDP. The two are also widely seen as being among the founding fathers of the PDP, having made substantial financial sacrifices for the party at a time when many other politicians were hedging, unsure whether the military would indeed hand over power to the civilians or not.

In the end, both Kalu and Atiku left the party , but rather than join forces to fight the 2007 elections together, each went his separate way. Kalu, who was just rounding up a two-term tenure as governor of Abia state went on to single-handedly form the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) and Atiku to join forces with the then out-going governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to form the Action Congress (AC). In an epic battle that nobody thought he could win, Kalu's PPA captured Abia state and later added Imo after a legal battle, while Atiku after an equally grueling legal battle was able to contest the presidency on the platform of AC. Though he lost, the party nevertheless captured the prestigious and juicy state of Lagos, and later after another legal tango, added Edo state to its fold.

At the end of it all, Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu emerged the most successful former governor among his peers, straddling the South East region as the most influential politician while Tinubu positions himself to wrench the South West from former president Olusegun Obasanjo. But this happy ending didn't end there.

One after the other the two PPA governors in Abia and Imo states turned against their benefactor. Ohakim of Imo went over to the PDP while Theodor Orji cross-carpeted to APGA and lately to the PDP. In Lagos things were equally falling apart, even now Babatunde Fashola, to whom Tinubu handed over Lagos is barely hanging on by the skin of his teeth. As for Atiku, it became just a matter of time before he left the AC himself.

That time came soon enough when he recently announced his return to the PDP.

Shortly afterwards, Kalu also made his own announcement. But this is where the similarities ended between Kalu and Atiku. While Kalu was readmitted into the PDP with fanfare and ceremonies, Atiku is still somewhere in no man's land. The PDP has bluntly refused to reabsorb him into its fold, citing his disagreement with his state chapter of the party as its excuse. And it was not as if Atiku's exit from the PDP was in any way more bitter than Kalu's. If anything, Kalu was even more combative than Atiku in the way and manner he confronted the former leadership of the party. So why is Atiku having such a rough time returning to the PDP while Kalu is already thinking of what role to play in the 2011 elections in the party?

Perhaps it has to do with Atiku's motive and his inability or unwillingness to conceal it. Everybody knows by now that the only reason Atiku is desperate to return to the PDP is because he knows that he does not stand a chance of winning the presidency if he should contest in any of the other 90 or so registered political parties. One interpretation of Atiku's persistence is that being the architect of the party's legendry rigging structure he knows what the party is planning for 2011. The party leadership in turn knows that Atiku cannot be trusted to support what is clearly the party's agenda for 2011, which is to bend the rules in favour of President Goodluck Jonathan to pick the party's presidential ticket for 2011.This can be the only reason why the party leadership is as desperate to block Atiku as Atiku is desperate to return.

Citing Atiku's differences with Adamawa state chapter of the party is only a convenient excuse. Of course, this is not to overlook the fact that hopping from one party to another as Atiku is doing is, to say the least, a disgusting political behavior unbecoming of someone that has held the office of the vice president of the country. It is rather an attempt to place Atiku's travails within the context of the 2011 plans of the PDP leadership.

As for Orji Uzor Kalu, since he was quick enough to move back into the party before the doors were shut for independent minded people like him, he has a responsibility to redeploy the courage and political sagacity he displayed when he pulled out of the party in 2007 and against daunting odds managed to win two states in the South East. If Kalu could challenge the combined forces of the Obasanjo-led federal government and the massive PDP machinery in 2007 when he was governor and technically vulnerable to the federal might, he would be helping Nigeria's democracy under present circumstances by entrenching himself deeper into the party's inner caucus with the aim of ensuring that a level playing ground is provided for all contestants during the party's primaries and in particular the presidential primaries. In this regard, Kalu's return to the PDP is as much for his own political good as for the nation's struggling democracy.

The PDP and the nation definitely need people with some guts; otherwise the same generation that callously destroyed our future is set to do the same with our children's.