Crisis Management should be a required course for Nigerian politicians as it provides training in the management and resolution of crisis within an organisation. The formal study of crisis management originated in the 1980s, in response to major industrial and environmental disasters. However, it has since been extended to include the management of crises arising from both internal and external threats to political units, ranging from family units to whole states as well as other units and organisations in-between.
Such a course is particularly necessary for the management of conflict within and between political parties in Nigeria, because conflict is as endemic within Nigerian political parties as corruption is within the body politic. Incidentally, the causes of both diseases overlap considerably. First, the leaders engage in endless struggles for power and influence, motivated either by sheer personal political ambition or by regional or zonal claims of “it is our turn to rule”. Once power is attained, the power holder tends to appropriate as much resources as possible to his own coffers. Ultimately, the politics of self-interest underlies most of the conflicts within the parties.
Second, the winner-takes-all philosophy adopted in our presidential system and the concentration of power in the hands of presidents, governors, and local government chairmen had increased the stake in the access to power, especially at the centre. As a result, individuals and groups within each political party engage in various tactics to position themselves for available or potential positions. Such attempts are particularly heightened within ruling parties at the federal and state levels. Conflict arises because systematic democratic principles are not adopted when different individuals or groups struggle for the same position.
Third, the conflict worsens because of delayed response or lack of it by the party leaders, who often use the party machinery under their control in favour of candidates in whom they have vested interests. In the final analysis, the aggrieved candidates and their supporters often form a faction, which threatens the unity of the party. Where such factions are not adequately pacified, their members often defect to other parties.
Although all Nigerian politicians are ideal candidates for a course in crisis management, members of the Peoples Democratic Party are prime candidates. Since 1999, their party has faced various threats, some of which have threatened the survival of the party, while others have affected the quality of governance because their party has been in power at the centre and in the majority of states in the federation. Ultimately, it is the entire citizenry that suffer as their welfare is put on hold while party leaders struggle to appropriate rewards from one crisis or the other.
What is particularly troubling about the PDP crises is that they are never about ideological or policy differences. Rather, they are about power, that is, about who controls what office or resource. That’s why the party is always fractionalised as a major election or the distribution of positions or resources approaches.
Given the way that the PDP leaders have dealt with those crises in the last 14 years, none of them could have passed Crisis Management 101, let alone be allowed to enrol in the 200 level course. One major reason they don’t do well in the 100 level course is their inability to provide a democratically approved procedure for dealing with intra-party disagreements. Instead, they concentrate on punishing members of dissenting groups, and possibly driving them out of the party. This is because their concept of party discipline does not give room for dissent. Yet, dissent is the basis for debate, an essential feature of democracy.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the PDP has been in a series of crises as different groups within the party struggle to position their members for the 2015 general election. Central to such struggles is the positioning of members in different committees that could influence the choice of candidates in the party primaries. This explains why, since the inception of the present administration in 2011, factions have developed around particular candidates or groups (a) as members of the National Working Committee and State Party Executives were being elected and (b) as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was being elected.
Disagreements over these elections led to the emergence of two major factions within the party. One faction, now branded as the Old PDP, is led by President Goodluck Jonathan and loyal party leaders. Given the powers of the Presidency and its control of the party machinery, the Old PDP could be regarded as the mainstream. The other faction, the so-called New PDP, is the splinter faction being led by a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, with Alhaji Kawu Baraje as Chairman. Fuelling the splinter group is regional or zonal politics as most of the key participants, especially governors, are from the North. Governor Chibuike Amaechi, a key participant from the South, is believed to be working in collusion with the Northern governors who supported his election as the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Chairman, a support suspected to have been motivated by Amaechi’s plan to run as Vice-President to a Northern candidate in 2015.
It will be unfair to dismiss the actions of the splinter group, without looking closely into their grievances. On the one hand, its candidates were allegedly schemed out of the election to the National Working Committee, which explains why the group walked out of the party’s recent National Convention. On the other hand, its candidate’s victory in the NGF election was turned on its head as the mainstream chose to recognise the losing candidate.
This is where the question of crisis management comes in. Knowing well in advance that different party members would like to strategise for the same positions, why did Jonathan and party leaders allow factions to develop in the first place? Moreover, what has he done to manage the subsequent crisis?
There is a straightforward answer to the first question, namely, the lack of internal democracy within the party, which is the strategy often employed by the party leadership to sideline others, who are constructed as non-loyalists. In Nigerian politics, you are readily regarded as disloyal if you have a dissenting view on major policy issues or you do not toe the party line in the allocation of positions and resources. The result is the stifling of dissent in any shape or form, including the suspension of dissenting members from the party.
As for the second question, Jonathan’s slow speed in responding to members’ grievances allowed for the full development of factions. His wobbly approach to crisis management is equally questionable. Resolution meetings are scheduled but never held, while actions continue to be taken by both factions that could aggravate the situation. For example, Jonathan should have waited for the ongoing crisis to be resolved before reshuffling his cabinet. Ordinarily, a cabinet reshuffle is an occasion for party members to jostle for available positions. In this particular case, the splinter group is the more aggrieved because of the perception that the ministers removed from the cabinet were those loyal to the group or sponsored by its leaders.
As the splinter group widens its membership, the Old PDP under Jonathan’s leadership must act fast to prevent the defection of the splinter group and its members. True, Jonathan has reportedly reached out to some former presidents and elder statesmen for their intervention, he must develop a template upon which to base any intervention. Crisis Management teaches us that the more a crisis lingers, the more difficult it is to resolve and the graver the consequences.