• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Reforming the practice of politics in Nigeria 

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I had always felt that there was something wrong with the way politics was practiced in Nigeria. First, I had thought that political parties were formed by groups of individuals who shared common ideologies that were distinguishable – in which case the ideology of one party was different from that of another party, at least in some significant aspects. In the United States, for example, the ideology of the Republican Party is distinguishable from that of the Democratic Party. One party supports big governments while the other espouses small government; one party promotes the greater control by government of businesses, the other promotes divestment of government from businesses and prefers that the factors of production are left in the hands of the private sector. Or the difference between the Labour and Conservative parties in the UK, where one party promotes full employment and full availability of social services to all citizens while the other insists on allowing market forces determine the allocation of resources, promoting capitalism.

Except perhaps for some distinguishable differences between the ideologies of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) in the First Republic (1960-1966), which were also noticeable in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) ideologies in the Second Republic (1979-1983), not much emphasis has been placed on ideologies since then. In the First and Second Republics referred to above, it was clear that the AG or the UPN espoused socialism where the government was going to use state resources to provide cross-cutting social services, while the NCNC or NPN would allow a greater participation of private initiative and resources in providing social services, thus espousing a pro-capitalist ideology. But since the Third Republic until now, Nigerian political parties have been operating without distinguishable ideologies. Though Babangida’s factory-made parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), pretended to espouse different ideologies on paper, on the ground they were the same – or worse. How could a known arch-conservative like Anthony Anenih be the chairman of SDP which was touted as progressive, with arch-capitalist MKO Abiola as the party’s presidential flag-bearer? That was a misnomer and made nonsense of any ideological relevance. Of course, the “five leprous fingers” or parties of the Abacha political transition had their manifestoes written by one man, Bola Ige, and so there could have been no meaningful ideological differences. Ditto all the political parties of the current Fourth Republic. There were no significant ideological differences between most of the over 100 parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Indeed, when some of the opposition parties were merging to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), we had hoped for a major ideological shift. But the moment we realized that half of the critical members of the new party were disgruntled members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), all such hopes expired. And so until we have parties with distinguishable ideologies, making choices at election time becomes difficult. For now it is like being asked to choose between monkeys and baboons.

Secondly, and perhaps deriving from the above, the culture of ‘carpet-crossing’ or migration from one party to the other is so pervasive and truly demeaning. A man who campaigned and was voted into office on the platform of one party will just wake up on the wrong side one morning and announce that he has changed his party. And from that moment he becomes a member of the new ‘great’ party (every party in Nigeria is a great party) without a care of how those who elected him on the platform of the other party feel about this sudden change of party. Sometimes his supporters are rail-roaded into the new party willy-nilly. For some, to decamp from one party to another does not as much involve the rigour of divorce rites in some traditions where you are required to announce to your spouse, ‘I divorce you’, three times before you can walk away. In addition to many things that are wrong with this ‘political prostitution’, what upsets me most is that the electorate is taken for granted and his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of choice is supplanted by these acts of political whoredom. If I voted for a candidate on the platform of Party A and then he wins and without shame decamps to Party B and remains as governor or senator, he has abridged my rights of choice. Maybe someday soon we shall have a decampee president! I have often argued that the right thing to do is for such a politician to resign his position, decamp to his newfound ‘lover’ party and then stand a fresh election on that platform. Anything else is injurious to the electorate. We therefore must find a way to reform this aspect of our political practice. Campaigns are on full steam right now and people are investing their fate on specific parties, perhaps because of party manifestoes. What a travesty it would be if the winners take the ‘liberty’ to decamp to other parties after elections. This is not the way politics is practiced in other climes. It is absolutely primitive.

Thirdly, and perhaps the major motivation for this intervention, Nigerian politics is played without any morality or ethics. Politicians make promises at election campaigns and they deny them flatly thereafter without batting an eyelid. They conspire to rig elections in their areas of comparative strength and then turn around to accuse the other party of rigging elections in their areas of comparative weakness. They agree with you on an issue this hour and then the next hour they take the opposite action. They lose elections at the polling booths and they try to compromise the judges to overturn the verdict in the courtrooms. And I have always wondered why. But I stopped wondering last week after reading the statements credited to Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State. He was quoted as telling some party men that “those who cannot lie should leave politics alone”. He admonished those who are honest to go become pastors and imams as there was no place for honest men and women in politics! Wow! Can this be true? This was the most shocking and damning thing I have heard all my life. I have waited for other politicians to refute these assertions which were on the front pages of national newspapers and I have not read or heard any contrary characterization of Nigerian politics and its practitioners. Those I discussed with agreed with Governor Aliyu. They said it was the bitter truth! Another friend told me another story of how the late strongman of Ibadan politics asked another political aspirant who came to him for endorsement if he could bear false witness against the innocent or kill in cold blood, and when the guy answered in the negative, he dismissed him on the grounds that he was not yet ready to be a politician. Haba!

These stories made me really sad. And I asked myself what kind of profession or vocation insists that only liars and dishonest men are qualified to be admitted as practitioners. Is it then surprising that we have a corrupt country? If liars and dishonest men govern us, what then should we expect? I really hope that the younger Nigerians, especially those aspiring to go into politics, did not read that story because it is very disturbing and distressing. My real hope is that either Governor Aliyu was misquoted or that he really did not mean what he said. Or even if he meant it, that it does not apply to all politicians and that there is space for honest men and women to succeed in Nigerian politics.

Whatever may be the true situation, it may be wise to take the story on its face value and be careful with Nigerian politicians. Many are jumping from one state capital to another, from one local government area to another, making promises. We had better not allow ourselves to be sucked in by the hyperboles they are selling. My advice is that we must check the record of those making promises. No one can rightly project what a man can do in the future, but we can be guided by what he did in the past. Anyone who promises to build a skyscraper for you when he comes to power, let him show you the high rise he has built in the past. Anyone who promises to make our economy the best in the world in 12 months must show us what he did in the economy in the past when he had an opportunity. Anyone who promises to create millions of jobs if we vote for him, let him show us how many people he had employed in the past. When politicians promise us food for all, they should show us the size of their farms or how they have promoted agriculture in the past or what effort they have made to provide food for those currently under their leadership. People cannot give what they do not have! People who have set fires burning in the nation should not hoodwink us to vote for them so that they can go and put off the fires they instigated. No, it is amoral to benefit from the crisis one engineered. With this revelation from Governor Aliyu, every sensible Nigerian should insist on scrutinizing the past records of our leaders or aspiring leaders. The chances are that human beings seldom change when they are above 21, except those who have had an encounter with God. So the only way to minimize taking too much risk is to look at what a man has done in the past and bet that he may improve on those records. But there can never be a guarantee even when you are dealing with honest men, because of the uncertainties of the future and the changes in the socioeconomic environment. What more when we are dealing with Nigerian politicians. Look guys, we must reform the practice of politics in Nigeria. And only truth-speaking, God-fearing and honest men and women can do this. So Lord, please give us honest men and women who will lead Nigeria at all levels of political governance as we go to the polls in a few weeks!

 

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa