• Monday, July 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Political parties, social stability, national security and democratic consolidation

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Your excellencies, distinguished guests PROTOCOLS.

It is my privilege to be able to stand before you today to present this lead paper on Political Parties, Social Stability, National Security and Democratic Consolidation. I would like to offer my thanks to the convenors, who have taken it upon themselves to bridge a political divide that is threatening our national future.

On this day 21 years ago Nigeria experienced one of the saddest days in our history.For reasons which will remain totally unfathomable the 1993 Presidential election was cancelled, despite being perhaps the most free and fair we have ever conducted. It is right and fitting that the commemoration of that day be used to discuss and debate the state of our current political dispensation. The fallout from that experience has left us scarred until today. We must learn the lessons of both that and others events in our history that are comparable to what we face currently.

I believe that today, our national security is at its most fragile at any time since 1964. The combination of political uncertainty, social unrest and specific security threats means that the looming election in 2015 will be a severe test of our national unity.We are dividing along ethnic, regional and religious lines. We must put a stop to that here, today. If we had an election tomorrow and the North voted one way and the South another, would we have a country? If we had an election tomorrow and Christians voted one way and muslims another, could we sustain our unity? If all oil resources stayed in the South, and all food and minerals stayed in the North, could we survive?

The simple answer to all of these is no. We would have a constitutional crisis, and no government. Maybe that is what some of you here want?

We must have a higher cause

The challenges Nigeria faces today are as great as any we have ever faced.The needs of Nigerians are all tangible, persistent, unforgiving and would not give way to the simple palliatives of religion or ethnicity.  They are the challenges of a nation, not the challenges of an ethnic group or a religious order. Our people need food in their stomachs and clothes to wear. They need roads on which to drive their cars and transport their goods. They need houses in which to live and bring up their children. They need an education system that delivers graduates capable of adding value to a burgeoning economy and a health system that protects them when they are sick. These are the challenges of a nation. These are the debates that should dominate our political discourse. The politics of ethnicity, regionalism and religion are pathetic in comparison.As one of your esteemed colleagues, Governor Fashola once said, ‘if I build a road, is it a muslim road?’ We must rise above divisionand focus on the greater cause. 

That cause demandsan explosion of competence, the understanding of complex problems and the ever demanding search for innovative solutions that cut across all boundaries. For far too long we have been pinned down by these shibboleths of religion and ethnicity.Our world has room for a diversity of faiths and peoples; what it does not have is room for is a belief system that constitutes a ball and a chain on our collective progress.  We must advocate and promote pluralism and tolerance. We must be our brother’s keepers, not our brother’s oppressors we must give, not take. We must have the strength to rise above what we think divides us and reach for something greater. That has always been the great challenge of politics.

The real Nigeria – what unifies us?

As is the norm in politics, we spend far more time debating the things that divide us, than understanding and promoting the things that unify us.

In my village in Abonnema there are Northerners who are fishermen, farmers, money changers, butchers and councillors; they speak Ijaw, have many children and even more wives than I can contemplate.  I am sure that the same applies throughout the land.  It is you politicians that continue to raise this spectre of ethnicity and religion to the level of unacceptability.  But I am glad to say that you will fail – you need to fail for Nigeria to survive.

We have a federation presumably to take care of our differences.  There are many other federations in the world, the US, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Germany – the most enduring characteristic that they cherish and observer is an innate nationalism, their oneness within their nation. The differences within this become quaintness not obstacles but simple shades of personality. Let me give you an example. Only Quebec speaks French in Canada but all Canadians learn English and French. Has anybody thought about teaching Nigerian children other languages apart from their own?

Our pluralism has the potential to be are greatest strength, we must stop using it to divide.As politicians gathered here today to seek common ground, we must all be bold enough to play the politics of a constructive future, not take the easy route to destruction.

The kind of people that we need to run and serve this country must be unifying, not divisive. It is easy to divide. It is difficult to rule and be accepted by all. Politicians must step up and lead.

I have been asked to consider four elements in the course of this paper, as we seek to understand the best approach to collaboration. They are political parties, social stability, national security and democratic consolidation. I will take each individually, but, as you will see, the issues in each are intertwined. There is no single solution.

The first topic I will discuss is the role of political parties.Unfortunately, political parties areonce again a large part of the reason we find ourselves under threat. The solution must begin with them.

In 1965 it was the inability of the political parties to talk amongst themselves that brought the military into power. Our failure to be able to find acceptable solutions, through consensus building, is what brought in the coup on January 15th. It was bloody and it was misguided. Politicians were generallyregarded as crooks and many were killed. Shortly afterwardswe found ourselvesin a civil war. Millions died.

Whatever justification you felt you had for your grievances then were not sufficient for the chaos that was created. You must bear that in mind when you consider your actions today.

There are a number of fundamental areas where our political parties are failing today and which must be addressed if we are to have a sustainable political future. 

The first is internal democracy. Political parties must focus their attention on instituting internal democracy within their systems. That is where the basics of political accountability must be. I know this is a hard thing to ask for, but it must be done. We must no longer accept the imposition of Presidential, Gubernatorial, Senatorial or House of Representatives candidates on us by powerful individuals.

The second is funding, which is inherently linked to the role of individuals, and so internal democracy. Our elections are amongst the most expensive in the world and yet the majority of our parties funding comes from individuals. In such a context, the loss of internal democracy is almost inevitable. Many countries, knowing the potential corrupting influence of this, find ways to curb them.  The best way remains in engaging the people – let the ordinary party member pay a party membership fee and tailor expenses accordingly rather than relying on a few oligarchics who would, should, extract their pound of flesh. N10 million sourced from 1 million people creates an accountability level so much greater than N1 billion sourced from three individuals.

The third is adherence to political structures and systems. I am here to ask that the rules that govern our political system be followed. They are there for a reason.Unfortunately, I know that many of you sitting in this room today have no intention of abiding by those systems. I am here to tell you that if you do not stick to those systems we are unlikely to have any system at all in the very near future.

The fourth is ideology.A party must stand for something and it must run on the basis of that which it stands for. Our politics today is not based on political movements. We have gangs of political thugs going around telling people what they want to hear. 

Finally, we must be allowed to have a debate. Political systems are built on the ability to maintain constructive discourse and yet, in our current dispensation, any question of policy is perceived as criticism and stamped on. When we quell the ability to debate, we remove a fundamental element of political stability.

As political parties, if you continue to act as you have been, without following even the basic rules of structure, democracy and ideology then the problems we face today will only be exacerbated.

2015 looks like it will be election within which there can be no space for compromise or doubt. In order to avoid those things, all the political processes that happen between now and that day must be transparent and believable. That must start with the parties and be governed with an iron rod by INEC. 

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The second topic I have been asked to address today is that of Social Stability.

In order to have social stability our citizens must have a feeling of wellbeing. While we here may be feeling content, our country is not. Whether in universities, on farms or across the labour unions there is widespread discontent. 

People’s contentment is driven by their level of engagement with the system that governs them. People must feel good as a result of engagement, whether mental stimulation or physical provision.Our discontent today is caused by the failures in our political system. Our people are not inspired by political debate, they are not involved in political movements. Political discourse should be anchored on achievements, hopes and the fulfilment of promises.No one is engaging them in a discussion about their futures. People must believe that those elected to serve them have their interests at heart. There must be a social contract.

How many of you in this room approach politics as a calling to serve the people? How many of you regard it as a route to riches and self-service? There seems to be a warped notion that the people expect you to benefit from the positions you occupy. I can assure you, you are WRONG. I am reminded of the famous Governor in whose house a large sum of state government money was found. He was not impeached. He was not sanctioned. In fact, he felt strong and confident enough to quip ‘of course state government money is in the Governor’s house. Where else would you expect it to be?’ Has our politics become so warped?

Many of our people are hungry. There is no food on their tables. If they are both physically and mentally deprived, what reason should they have to be content? Our social stability must be built on a re-established relationship of trust between our politicians and the people they serve. That relationship, when established between politicians and the people, must be extended across our people themselves.

The survival of the country means that when a part of the country is disaffected it should become the hope of the WHOLE country that this disaffection should not spread. If your neighbour is unhappy then you too should be unhappy. You should express solidarity with the feeling of your fellow man.When there are riots in Kano every heart in Nigeria should bleed, all emergency services all over Nigeria should be ready to go and quell the riots; it should NEVER be seen as a Kano thing that does not affect other Nigerians.

If we allow ourselves to divide along ethnic, religious or other lines then our nation will inevitably divide. 

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I have said already that I believe we are facing the greatest threat to our National Security since the 1960s. The failures of our political system; and the social instability it has created are the cause of this. We do not face foreign threats to our stability that we must repel. The threats to our national security come from within. They are driven by our own internal divisions. By ethnicity and by religion.By corruption and by greed.The politics that overlay these issues is and must also be the solution.

The state of our national security is inextricably linked to our system of voting and driven by our political arena. If a voter believes there will be rigging then legitimacy has been lost. If voters believe that their vote has not been recognised and they have no viable recourse to express their position then they will resort to anti-systemic measures. If a voter does not believe the statistics presented to him by government because they have been manipulated so often to become almost farcical, then a true breakdown of trust and accountability has taken place. That a political debate can take place as to whether US$50 billion, or only US$300 million has somehow gone missing shows the level to which our system can be manipulated. It should not be possible to challenge the figures we have. There should be no room for it. Our refusal to improve transparency allows it.

Those of you that believe you can continue to ignore the will of the voters, and some of you here believe that, then you are also facing an impending catastrophe.

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While I believe that we are facing significant challenges, I also believe that all is not lost. One of the positives is that we have a little time to overcome the challenges in front of us. Responsible dialogue can go on between responsible people, who are ultimately interested in the survival of the country and the survival of democracy.We can only achieve this by talking. Not by fighting.

During the time of ShehuShegari there were similar threats to our unity. At that time,a series of bi-monthly meetings was instituted at which all political parties came together and set a tone for debate and ground rules for campaigning, that none should violate. There was a mechanism for diffusing tension. I believe that what we have here today can act as the beginning of a similar structure.

I wish you well for the rest of your day and hope that this gathering can help us turn a corner.We must build consensus that represents the best interests of Nigeria. We must learn the lessons from our past and learn to live and work together to build a country that truly reflects the vitality, diversity and beauty of our great nation.

God bless Nigeria.

Patrick Dele Cole