Friday, 3 May 2013

Article: Progressive Lethargy In Nigerian Politics




By Salihu Moh. Lukman

Party politics in Nigeria is for all comers where identity and values mean nothing. Members don’t need to have any special attribute. As a result, for instance, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is for everybody including the corrupt, ex-convicts, questionable Nigerians, etc. just as it also has a good mix of some of the good and positive citizens. The party doesn’t have to respect its members and make itself available to the Nigerian people. Democratic values mean nothing to the party. Elections hardly take place and when they do, the results can be vetoed by party leaders. It has gradually emerged as a party without democrats and permanently antagonistic to Nigerian people. At the same time, it proudly bears the name Peoples Democratic Party.

The fact of PDP’s control of the Federal Government and most state governments, which conferred on it the commanding control of the resources of the country since 1999 mean liberalised access by corrupt Nigerians and geometric rise of the problem of mismanagement, looting and theft of public resources. The outcome is that virtually every PDP functionary at party or governmental levels is contaminated with varying degree of the public treasury loot allergy. The absence of democracy and being antagonistic to Nigerian public has also resulted in very high membership turnover. The consequence is that the Nigerian political landscape at all level is littered with ex-PDP. Sadly, Nigerian politics is yet to acquire any capacity for healing or quarantining ex-PDP members, especially those that have proven cases of public loot allergy or public evidence of authoritarian amity.

Largely on account of combinations of lack of internal party democracy, high membership turnover and absence of values in our polity, almost all our parties have been infected with the public loot allergy in varying degrees. As a result of which both in terms of the different parties and the government they produce, poor services and contempt by officials to public outcry for good governance is a recurring characteristic. This is the progressive lethargy that today represents a major source of public frustration, cynicism and democratic inertia. It has in significant ways reduced democratic governance in Nigeria to a state of joke and clamour for national development to rhetoric. Nigeria is therefore a country without national development targets, a country where public officials govern with impunity, where citizens’ lives are at best statistical expressions, where the rise of anarchy and relapse to Hobbesian state of nature is the commandment.

Is this our national destiny? Is there any way to remedying this ugly situation? Do Nigerians have any hope that anything positively different can come out of any of today’s initiative? In terms of politics, is there a way to introduce some values and character to any of our parties? Can the effort towards introducing values and character also take on board the need to cure the public treasury loot allergy?

Almost every Nigerian is asking these questions with special interest mostly based on the hope that Nigerian politics can be refined such that public frustration, cynicism, democratic inertia, absence of national development, culture of impunity, loss of lives and property, anarchy and relapse to Hobbesian state will no longer be our defining feature. In response therefore our Nigerian opposition politicians have taken up the challenge and since January this year (2013) commence national negotiations to merge our opposition parties, notably ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA and have since February 6 announced agreement to form All Progressives Congress (APC). While for many Nigerians this is a welcome development, it is also being received with doubt given that many leaders of these parties involved in the merger negotiations are to some extent ex-PDP with varying levels of contamination and public treasury loot allergy.

This may only serve to reinforce public frustration, cynicism and democratic inertia. It demand for a conscious response from the merging parties, at least to stimulate public confidence that the new party, APC, will be founded with the capacity to, at the minimum, to provide healing for public treasury loot allergy and/or authoritarian amity. Somehow, perhaps on account of over confidence arising from the perceived high public support for the merger, our opposition leaders have almost ignored this expectation completely. Issues of leadership selection process for the merger, at best, insult public sensibility given the decision to vest the leadership of the merger negotiation in the hands of Chief Tom Ikimi.

Not even the choice of the name, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the fact that by any parameter, Chief Ikimi will never qualify as progressive moderated our opposition leaders. If anything, he is a conservative through and through who never hid his preference for private accumulation, private enterprise, capitalism, etc. Although, it can be argued that given the state of things in Nigeria, private accumulation, private enterprise and capitalism if founded based on application of rules, liberalised environment and equal access could represent progress. However given the antecedent of Chief Tom Ikimi, it is doubtful if his choice of private accumulation, private enterprise, capitalism, etc. is located in application of rules, liberalised environment and equal access. Besides, his democratic credentials as the foreign Minister of Gen. Sani Abacha’s administration and his role in the international defense of the criminal state murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1996 were certainly a huge mark that meant anything but progressive. Perhaps his role as PDP returning officer in the sham contest between Chief Obasanjo and Chief Alex Ekweme in 2003 is progressive credentials.

Nigerians have lived with this ‘progressive’ assault for about four months. Some commentaries, critiques and public opinions have drawn attention to this. In virtually all cases, the response is some subtle rationalisation, stubborn silence and meek arrogance. This could be a way of highlighting the prerogatives of our political leaders to take all decisions without worrying about public expectations including wrong choices of party leaders. This can only further fuel public frustration, cynicism and democratic inertia and consequently make APC to emerge only as a vehicle to entrench our progressive lethargy. With this kind of disposition, conservatives with strong authoritarian streak such as Chief Ikimi or any other person can emerge as leaders of APC.

Therefore, instead of emerging as a progressive party, one founded based on a commitment to social welfare services especially education and health, like the case of ‘people’ and ‘democratic’ in the name of PDP, ‘progressive’ identity will just be another taxonomy meaning virtually nothing to APC. With the presence of many ex-PDP, some with advanced signs of the public treasury loot allergy, problems of national development targets, impunity, anarchy and relapse to Hobbesian state of nature will remain our national commandment.

Our leaders in the Nigerian opposition parties negotiating the APC merger need to take urgent steps to redirect affairs so that APC truly emerge as a progressive party. Progressive loosely defined based on a strategy to develop APC as a party that can guarantee steady incremental positive changes in our political life. These incremental changes should take their bearing from good demonstration of commitment to develop a party that can regulate the conduct of every member. The starting point may have to proceed with strong commitment to guarantee fairness within the party. Progress in this respect will assume a reverse order and the calamity facing the nation will continue.

What should our opposition leadership do in order to guarantee fairness? There are three principles that can be recommended to guide APC negotiations especially the process of leadership formation. The first should be the need to address problem associated with combination of treasury loot allergy and authoritarian amity. The second will be the need to ensure fair representation of the parties in the merger process. And the third is the need to come with strong commitment to ensure equal representation of all parts of the country and interests in the leadership of the party.

It is important that the party begin to use the issue of principles as a guide moving forward given that by May 11, once ANPP and CPC successful hold their merger conventions, the next stage will be that of leadership formation. Given the reality of Nigerian politics largely being driven by personal aspirations, the democratic and progressive outlook of APC risked being sacrificed. This underlines the need to urgently appeal to our opposition political leaders so that they don’t recklessly squander the huge democratic opportunity the APC merger process present.

With respect to the principles highlighted above therefore, the first task before our opposition leaders is to take all the necessary steps to ensure that as much as possible all those holding principal position in the party can be adjudged to have tolerable levels of ex-PDP symptom, public treasury loot allergy or authoritarian amity. Principal Officers in this case should include National Chairman, National Secretary, National Treasurer and Chairman BOT. The process of leadership formation must factor a strategy for comprehensive due diligence, including public scrutiny. A situation where the approach is blind to ex-PDP symptom, public treasury loot allergy and authoritarian amity, can only result in creating a shadow PDP in APC.

The second issue is that once the principal offices are agreed, fairness requires that these offices are equitably shared among the merging parties. The factor that should determine equity must take into account the need for every party and all members to make sacrifice for the good of the country and enhance the electoral prospect of APC. To that extent therefore it may require the need to have an attitude of let go just so that unity is achieved.

The third bordering on the need to come with strong commitment to ensure equal representation of all parts of the country and interests in the leadership of the party demand that all parts of the country are reflected in the leadership. Given current perception whereby ACN is perceived as a South West party and CPC as a Northern party, and against the background of cynicism that the merger is mainly between the North and South West and ANPP is being relegated to a junior status in the merger, there will be the need to take conscious measures to factor a strong presence of all parties and all parts of the country among the principal officers of APC.

All things considered, it will appear that options before our oppositions politicians are limited. Unless our APC want to opt for a complete gamble with untested individuals for the positions of National Chairman, National Secretary and Chairman BOT, it will appear that based on current leaders of the parties, the best choices that would meet all the three conditions are Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu and Chief Ogbonnaya Onu. All the three can be adjudged not to have ex-PDP symptom, no proven case of public treasury loot allergy and in many respect tolerable levels of authoritarian amity. Controversial as the assessment of these leaders would appear to be, it represented about the best in relations to other possible candidates within the merging parties.

Weighed against the advantage that with these three personalities – Gen. Buhari, Asiwaju Tinubu and Chief Onu - in the leadership of APC, three critical parts of the country are already reflected. The challenge then will be to proceed to recruit good leaders with, at the minimum, tolerable levels of ex-PDP symptoms, low cases of public treasury loot allergy and authoritarian amity from other parts of the country and interests.

Some of the areas that attention must be paid in constituting the leadership of the party include the issue of recruiting youths and women leaders. The way things are, if care is not taken, leadership negotiations leading to the emergence of APC leaders may reflect dominantly older people and mostly men. Since it is only logical that the leadership of APC will be constituted from among current leaders of the merging parties, APC risk coming up with a leadership whose youngest will be in his/her 50s. And since no age limit has been placed so far in the harmonised APC constitution for the APC Youth Leader and Deputy Youth Leader, people in their 60s or 70s may emerge as Youth Leader and Deputy. There is therefore the urgent need for our opposition leaders to consciously take steps to ensure the representation of youths (those under 35 years) and women in the leadership of APC.

Once APC is able to handle the task of leadership formation based on respect for principles; public frustration, cynicism and democratic inertia will begin to give way to confidence, support and participation in party activities. This is the only guarantee for electoral success in 2015. This demand that, first thing first, the process of APC leadership formation must get certain things right. It is must not be driven by purely personal aspirations of individuals, pure exercise of leadership prerogative, blind recognition for our diversities both with respect to identity and interests, etc. Our Nigerian opposition leaders must act based on principles as the qualifying credential for being a party of progressives!

(Lukman can be reached on: smlukman@gmail.com)

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