Sunday, 2 June 2013

Speech: Challenges Of Reforming Nigerian Politics

(Being address by Salihu M.  Lukman at a public book presentation on 2nd June, 2013)

When in 1998, the government of former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar announced its intention to hand over power to a democratically elected government by May 29, 1999, many hailed the decision as indicative of the military’s strong desire to vacate the political scene and return to its constitutional functions within the state.

Following that announcement, every imaginable political group – no matter how disparate – began the frantic search to find platforms under which to contest elections. The only exception perhaps are activists human rights and pro-democracy activist who decided against participation in the Gen. Abdulsalami transition program. All the groups that decided to participate had little thoughts of developing shared political ideologies or even manifestos to sell their proposals to the electorate. The situation was further compounded when the emerging parties began to rally and grow around the political ambitions of a few individuals. Membership recruitment and mobilization was hardly a priority.

In the end, that hurried political transition and its inherent contradictions dictated the character of party politics and the dynamics of political leadership/party supremacy that has become an albatross in Nigeria’s politics today. If anything, this can be held largely responsible for the chaos in the ruling PDP and to a lesser extent, opposition parties. The danger is, as long as political parties remain mere platforms for elections, where the leadership of parties remains subservient to elected or appointed functionaries of government, the kind of rascality and brigandage evident in the PDP may manifest in any other party that takes control of the federal government. Already, there are clear examples of this situation at state levels.

Having won the 1999 elections, the PDP has had all the opportunity in the last 14 years to put Nigeria on the track of democratic development founded on party supremacy whereby members of the party could exercise supremacy and direct the actions of governments based on the interests of membership. Unfortunately, this has remained elusive and today, like our experiences under military regimes, the wishes of rulers at all levels have become supreme. Any disagreement is interpreted as subversive and illegal. The democratic right to disagree is therefore criminalized. This has not only returned Nigeria back to the dark days of dictatorship but is gradually and systematically narrowing the scope for citizens’ freedom.

As a nation, we need to go back to the political drawing board to reconstruct and re-orient our democratic bearing. Going back to the drawing board to reconstruct and re-orient our democracy would require strong focus on party development first and foremost. We cannot have a democracy without well-organized political parties driven by competent and visionary leaders.

This is precisely the essence of this book. Its fundamental objective is to offer advice to the leaders of Nigeria’s opposition parties, namely, ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA, currently negotiating the merger towards the emergence of All Progressives Congress (APC). No doubt, Nigerians desire the emergence of a party that will commit itself to foundational democratic values based on the supremacy of members of the party.

The APC merger negotiations therefore present an opportunity with the potential to record a major political milestone in the history of party politics in Nigeria. It represents significant opportunity for Nigerians to wrestle their country back from the dangerous brink that the PDP had led it to. This means getting things right from the very beginning; this means ensuring that APC has something meaningful to offer every Nigerian; this means setting roadmaps and time frames to eliminate poverty and unemployment and setting an agenda for economic and social development; this means transparency and accountability in government; this means allowing internal democracy to grow within APC; and this means the party must be superior to the political leadership, including the president, which barring any PDP-INEC hocus-pocus, the APC will produce in 2015.

The question is, how can this be done? What does APC need to do to engender the kind of progressive politics that is required to respond positively to Nigeria's numerous and intractable political challenges? For APC to serve as the catalyst for engendering progressive politics in Nigeria and put it in a position to change the destiny of Nigeria and Nigerians for the better, the book – Engendering Progressive Politics proposes 20 checklists contained in pages 84 - 89. They are not exhaustive, but combinations of assessments that would confirm or negate the progressive character of APC. For APC therefore to emerge as a strong progressive party, the following could present excellent signals:

1. The Interim Leaders of APC should be well respected Nigerians whose integrity can hardly be faulted and would represent the best and most knowledgeable. Should the Interim Leaders of APC turn out to be second rate based on the usual partisan design since 1999 of reserving the best for electoral contest, the potential of APC to emerge as a progressive party would be  greatly compromised;

2. APC should be rolled out with a strong membership mobilization programme across the country. All Nigerians irrespective of differences of ethnicity, religion, etc. should be invited to join the party;

3.In order to stimulate good interest by patriotic Nigerians, such a membership mobilization programme should also come with a short transition programme which should end with the election of substantive leaders of the party. As much as the current parties negotiating the merger have the responsibility of producing the Interim Leaders, the substantive leaders of the party should emerge through elections; and

4.The party needs to come with strong commitment for democratic funding sources. This is a big challenge, but the way to start is to democratize processes of fund mobilization towards renting neutral party offices at all levels. The party must not make the mistake of taking this for granted based on which individuals with ambitions to contest offices would hijack states, local governments and ward structures.

In conclusion, I wish to thank every one of you for taking the time to be present at this media presentation. It demonstrates the strong aspirations of most Nigerians for the democratic development of the country. What is required is for us as a people to stop lamenting and take concrete political actions to direct the affairs of our parties and thereby change the destiny of our country for the better. We need to develop the confidence that the situation facing us as a people is not hopeless and that it is possible to rebuild Nigeria again. This is the task before all patriotic Nigerians!

We should welcome APC with a strong resolve to make it a PROGRESSIVE PARTY. The book, Engendering Progressive Politics is my contribution towards achieving just that!

Thank you.

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