President Obasanjo made a magisterial pronouncement on the health of the two political parties last week. He said: “APC is weak; PDP is dead.” It perked up my interest because the health of the two parties matters more to us and the country than most people probably think. The parties are the governments in the land. Without them, there would be no governments, warts and all. Let’s discount the former president’s propensity for hyperbole and mischief for a second and look at his statement with, well, an empty mind. Is APC weak? Is PDP dying or dead?

Obasanjo’s diagnosis of the health of the two parties should invite us to undertake an honest interrogation of the state of our democracy and its future in the hands of the two parties. One thing sticks out like a sore thumb, if you would pardon a hackneyed expression. Both parties have failed, quite remarkably, to transform themselves into political parties with the right ideological bells and whistles.

PDP, the older of the two parties, was for 16 years our unshakeable political behemoth; the largest political party in Africa, on which, like the British Empire, the likelihood of the sun ever setting on its enormous powers were pretty remote. It was set to rule for 60 years in the first instance. I think the gods were not quite in agreement on that one. They brought in General Muhammadu Buhari last year to force the sun to set on the party. Some empire; some behemoth.

Both parties owed their birth to exigencies, and, therefore, had unremarkable births as political parties. For instance, the late Chief Solomon Lar’s group of 18 and later 36 made up of former politicians began the delicate process of making a political party out of their common interests to persuade General Abacha not to succeed himself. They had the patriotic objective of putting the officers and men of our armed forces back in the barracks and locking the gates. Their approach to politics and power at that stage was pure pragmatism.

Those illustrious men were not concerned with the niceties of party politics, such as a party’s ideology and philosophy and what it stands for in the context of its objectives of power and its concept of the imperatives of social and economic development. The correct political wisdom was, drive out the local colonisers first and all other things were bound to be added unto us.

In this circumstance, as a registered political party, PDP, under General Abdulsalami Abubakar, inevitably attracted a motley crowd of men and women with a mutuality of primitive interests: to grab power and use and misuse power democratically. I do not think anyone is surprised that the party is still bereft of ideological underpinning. We still do not know what it stands for in terms of articulated principles. People join political parties because they find their ideology and philosophy attractive and wish to subscribe to them. The absence of a philosophical or ideological underpinning ensures that the party is committed to nothing and offers us nothing as a political party.

APC came into being in almost similar circumstances. It is a remarkable collection of other parties willing to submit themselves to a larger group to achieve their singular objective of stopping the PDP bulldozer in its tract.

As it is, my take is that in the classic definition of a political party, the claim by each party as a political party is tenuous at best and false in its entirety. Democracy is political party-driven. How much do the parties drive our democracy along the desired narrow path of political salvation? The parties cannot properly drive our democracy unless and until they recognise the urgent need to transform themselves from a mere gathering of people who need one another to smoothen their path to power into formidable institutions of democracy.

The institutionalising of democracy must flow from the institutionalising of our political parties. If we continue to treat the political parties as nothing more than the means to grab, retain and exercise political power, I doubt that our democracy would ever develop and strengthen its tap-roots. Their statutory responsibilities of the political parties go far beyond winning elections. They are the guardians of the best practices in democracy. Or they should be. They can make or mar democracy – democratically.

PDP is not dead or dying. The story of its inevitable demise is clearly exaggerated. The party has been going through the trauma occasioned by its loss at the centre in last year’s general elections. It is not always possible to manage electoral losses with a smile.

The party’s current leadership problem has refused to go away because the huge animals in the ring are well-fed African elephants. Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff are formidable politicians. They are former senators as well as former two-term governors of their respective states. Their pockets are deep and their quivers are full of poisoned arrows. Their bitter struggle has inevitably polarised the party into two main factions. Factionalism is anathema to party unity and could, indeed, threaten the survival of the party itself. Those who think the party is dying base their conclusion on this premise.

Despite its current leadership travail, some important things are worth nothing about the party. Firstly, at the inception of the Buhari administration, it haemorrhaged badly with even its well-heeled members that had chopped bellyful in its 16 years in power as governors, deputy governors, ministers and commissioners, abandoning ship in a hurry. That haemorrhaging has been stanched.

Secondly, the party still has its feet firmly on the ground in the Southsouth and the Southeast geo-political zones. All the geese that lay the golden eggs are in the Southsouth zone. It has a good war chest to fight its battles at national and state levels.

Thirdly, the party provides the prop for Bukola Saraki’s senate presidency. Should he kiss the dust over his alleged poor mathematics of his assets declaration, PDP would step back into the senate presidency. Do not tell you have inkling of who and who are waiting in the wings.

Is the PDP dead? Do not rush for your hymnbook for the funeral dirge.Is the APC weak? I find it expedient to speak from both sides of my mouth here for fear the big men might lay me by the heels.

Still, what I see is that the party appears to be tip-toeing even in its corridors of power. Perhaps, this is inevitable, given the circumstances of its emergence as a political party. The parties that dissolved into the party and the powerful political leaders who gave up their political ambitions for the party created powerful centres of political power. When a situation like this arises, centrifugal forces are inevitable. Thus, as the centres of power pull in different directions, they weaken the centre. APC cannot transform itself into a formidable political or democratic institution in the circumstances. It is a long walk to institutionalised democracy driven by the political parties.

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