(Vanguard of Sunday, August 4, 2002)
Parties and rallies are both gatherings, both assemblies. And both of them are for a purpose. A rally may well be in aid of something – an out-door assembly orgainsed to register a point, to draw attention to something.
The Nigerian Labour Congress often organizes rallies to let people know what is going wrong in the polity. Such rallies come and go, and do not even have the status of ad hoc parties. For although parties may organize rallies, they should not be rallies.
One thing a party has that a rally does not or may not have is that members of a party are, by and large, united in opinion. They share a belief, and it is this shared interest that brings them together. If we have six political parties, these six should have something the members share. But where there is a rally, that rally may well be constituted by many who have nothing but that gathering in common. A rally is therefore made up of disparate groups. Some may be there to satisfy the curiosity instinct. Some may be there to earn a living through praise-singing, through selling food and drinks, through maintaining the peace. Some, surprisingly, may be present to cause trouble, to break up the rally.
At rally, you will find politicians, okada riders, drummers, women, the youth, policemen, un-uniformed security agents, groups in favour of the rally and groups against the rally, the print and the electronic press. One thing about rallies is that they are pointers to the presence of free speech, some evidence that there is more democracy than autocracy.
Police states are autocratic and do not encourage rallies, nor more than one party. They ask for the permission that was given to you to call the rally you want to address. Even where such permits are given, only pro-government groups have access to them. A two-million man-march can be accommodated, with fanfare and two full days of non-stop television coverage, only if it is meant to endorse the candidature of one man in a polity where five political parties exists! Laws to entrench more government are legion in autocracies, and the private sector is cripples by rules and regulations that undermine free enterprise.
Whether they exist in democracies or autocracies, rallies are not associated with cohesion, and even more important is that there is an absolute absence of coherence where they are held. Although people speak from a podium, there is hardly anyone there who can put a finger on what is being said, except the tape recorder and the television camera. That journalists successfully report rallies is more than the camera picks the sea of heads than that anyone heard what was said. Print journalists have to depend on hand-outs or the recorded proceedings to make sense of speeches at rallies. As an aside, if you want to enjoy a rally, watch it on television in your home. You will see the sea of heads and perhaps, hear what the speaker is saying, but you will not experience the atmosphere of chaos.
Oh yes, parties are different from rallies. Parties have something in common, if they do not want to be rallies. They have a soul. A soul is one unit of energy centred in a body. It is not the body itself. The soul is not there because of the body. The body is there because of the soul. In fact, the soul is the author, the owner of the body because the soul fashioned the body. The head, the trunk, the heads, the legs, they are glued together to accentuate harmonious movement, as members of one body; and the one responsible for this is the soul. In material terms, a party’s existence is a statement that draws people to it. It has a dream which, even if not fulfilled, points out a direction every member must strive to move in.
Many believe that central to a party is a statement of its belief, what it should be held responsible for doing, the name it bears as an embodied soul.
How many parties have we in Nigeria and how many of them are rallies? Looking back, I have no doubt in my mind that the first republic associations, at least the Action Group, the NCNC, and the NPC were parties. The Nigerian National Alliance and the United Progressive Grand Alliance were, to apply the unique definition of PDP national chairman Audu Ogbeh, rallies. The National Republican Convention and the Social Democratic Party were, surprisingly not rallies but parties. There was an attempt to focus them ideologically. One was a little to the left, the other a little to the right. You chose whichever you wanted to join as everybody was a joiner, not a founder in which one man invites people to a rally rather than a meeting to found a party.
Today, we have six registered “parties”. Because the latest three are new, let us look at the first three – the Alliance for Democracy, the All-Nigeria Peoples Party, and the Peoples Democratic Party. Is AD, a party or a rally? The first question to ask is which AD, the official one or the unofficial one; the political one or the cultural one? Whatever showing it puts up in the South West where it has its main base and following, AD wears the tattered dresses of the old Action Group and the Unity Party of Nigeria, both founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Awo aura can therefore be identified in this struggling body that is seriously trying to reach inwards for the soul that it should be.
The ANPP is nearer a rally than a party, but it is being restructured to wear the robes of the old Northern People Congress. Why not? The PDP has been seized by the non-core Northerners. The PDP is embraced by the South-East and the South-South. The AD is owned by the South-West. What can the Core North say is theirs? So the rally that the APP/ANPP seems to have been is being refashioned into a party with a soul.
The PDP was made up of as many as 105 groups. The only evidence of a soul in the party has been the PMD of the Vice President, a heritage from Yar’Adua. But how much of the soul of PMD is there to give a name to nowadays when the major actors in that only coherent member of the PDP body is a house divided? The oxygen mask of the PDP is being drained of its content and will be a mere husk if nothing is done to focus the party.
I wanted to say re-focus, then recalled that it had never been focused. So, what Audu Ogbeh seems to be saying is that the PDP is not Africa’s greatest party, but its biggest rally. Parties have a thing to live for, and a dream to fulfil. Our party, sorry, rally, the PDP, is the most dangerous enemy of the PDP – the quarrels, the maiming, the killings! See how the primaries for the local government elections are being handled! How can the greatest rally in Africa be the continent’s greatest party?
Audu Ogbeh is a very serious-minded man, and is very focused. He has the opportunity to make the difference, but in a rally, there are many who have their reasons for being present. Will those who believe more in rallies than parties let Audu and his team build the PDP into a party, into a body energized by a soul? Time shall tell.