It is true that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was enmeshed in internal crisis until Supreme Court verdict in July, 2017. Apart from that, the party’s engagement with the masses through the media appears to be low rated when compared with the All Progressive Congress (APC). Now that PDP is “un-caged”, Daniel Obi asks if it is possible for PDP to match APC media power in a ‘mediatised’ society, for a vibrant democracy.
Media as connecting tool
Can the un-caged PDP now match the ruling APC party on media power? One thing that is going for the APC is media clout. The party members seem to understand that the media, which has the ability to reach millions of people, is at the core of influencing and controlling the minds of majority of people, for good and at other times, for bad. The media, no doubt played a major role in the victory of the APC in the 2015 general elections, a fact acknowledged by stalwarts of the party.
Similarly, certain individuals have climbed to positions of authority on the understanding of the concept and the appropriate use of the media. Adams Oshiomhole rose through the ranks to become the president of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) between 1999 and 2007. During his tenure, he spoke vehemently and passionately on socio-economic issues. His outbursts against what he termed suppression of workers attracted him more to the media. His media profile continued to rise as Oshiomhole applied tact knowing when to speak, how and where to speak on certain issues.
His authoritative outbursts and struggles for workers amplified by the media attracted the down-trodden labour force to him. In 2007, Oshiomhole contested for governorship of Edo State under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which he won. Analysts also believe that he could have also won under any party.
Also, in 2007, Albert Arnold ‘Al’ Gore, who was the US vice president under Bill Clinton between 1993 and 2001, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
Maarten Hajer said in his book ‘Authoritative Governance’ that “it seems that it is not what Gore said that explains his new status. It has more to do with other factors, such as how he said it, where and when he said it and to whom”. After all, it was not only Al Gore that talked about climate change to qualify him for the honour. There are many other examples.
APC media power
In Nigeria, APC and its communication machinery appear to understand this increased ‘mediatised’ society. It’s not sure how the larger percentage of the media aligned to its whims, but this largely assisted in the party winning the election in 2015.
Even when the ruling party did those things it criticised the former government for, the media seem to look the other way. For instance, Ojota in Lagos boiled for weeks over removal of oil subsidy under Goodluck Jonathan, but when the oil subsidy was subsequently removed by APC, there was calm. The recent massive retrenchments in banks and other organisations, have not received the equivalent publicity in the media. Again, it may not be possible for APC members to tolerate a president from another party to stay outside the country for over two months under any excuse. They would have shouted to the high heavens.
According Kenneth Eze, a media practitioner, APC by construction is built with people-components from the activism manufacturing plant. “They are well schooled in public agitation and effective public speaking. They know how to scream and grab the headlines. So the media and by extension the public fell for their pranks”.
He said aside President Muhammadu Buhari who appears not to be in control of the party, even when fully healthy, all other major party stalwarts are media personae. “People who through consistent public speaking earned larger than life images for themselves. Now, they have the mantle and it has dawned on them that there is a difference between rabblerousing and effective leadership. Unfortunately for Nigeria, there is no strong opposition to orchestrate their shortcomings and harvest therefrom”.
Eze believed that across the Nigerian media landscape, there are practitioners dedicated to the two leading political parties – the APC and the PDP but that APC has more media fanatics for obvious reasons, some being that they communicate more strongly and put more on the table. “Actually, some of their loyalists were people who would ordinarily have been classified as unsuccessful until they found allies with the APC power-seekers who lubricated their brazenness. Generally, the media perceives the APC as being more ‘loyal’.
He also noted that the stalwarts in the APC who own some media organisations use such platforms to the party’s advantage; they establish some level of cordial relationship with their colleagues and the highest echelon of practitioners in the industry.
PDP victory in Supreme Court
After losing election in 2015, the People’s Democratic Party seemed to have become a weakling. This is understandable as the party was enmeshed in internal crisis later. With the eventual victory of Ahmed Makarfi faction at the Supreme Court early July, 2017, analysts see it as a dawn for the party to rise again.
Observers say with the victory, the country’s democracy will witness a vibrant opposition that will put the ruling party on its toes. But this will not happen if the masses are not carried along through the mass media. PDP members appear to either shy away from the media or do not really understand or take account the impact of the media in politics.
Today, politics and media are entangled and this has assisted to deepen masses’ interest in politics for whatever reason. As said by Hajer, “it is not only that media need politics for news; those active in governance often need the media to reach their target audience.” During the last general elections, according to observers, PDP was economical in the use of media to convince its target audience until toward the later part of the campaign time. While APC who understood its mission, ab initio, mounted pressure through the media and this worked for them.
Why PDP seems to have weaker grip on media
Eze further thinks that right from inception, the G34, led by Alex Ekwueme that metamorphosed into the PDP was populated by comfortable elements, people with little hunger and less need to engage in brutal warfare. They meant merely to give a gentle push. Incidentally, their coming together coincided with the end of the military era.
But because the group had some elements that Nigerians could connect with and somewhat trust they clinched power in 1999. According to Eze, with power in their hands, the PDP turned into a pretty innocent lady that could not discern the intent of the men that knelt before her to solicit love. “She could only hear them. She could not discern their intents and she fell prey to power mongers and monsters; people that wanted some protective cover from the government of the day.
“Sadly, some of the monsters and power mongers already had baggage and grouses to settle with the media. So their soiled individual personae further weakened the PDP’s hold or loyalty in the media.
“Again, you have to ask, ‘who are the PDP’s propagandists?’ I cannot recall any. And to my mind this is the APC’s greatest gain. The scramble for media loyalty is made easier for one party by the failures of the other. It must be borne in mind that the game of politics will always profit from a plethora of propagandists,” Eze said.
Other observers believe that had the PDP played up the APC’s inadequacies, such as the party’s failure to deliver campaign promises to Nigerians, PDP’s chances would have been brighter and probably could have won some of the gubernatorial and senatorial elections in some states.
If PDP lives to its true opposition, then the Supreme Court judgment would have really saved Nigeria from sliding to one party state. Nigerians need strong opposition for check and balances. Can PDP measure up to APC media clout? Nigerians are watching.