The Politics Of Doing Politics In Nigeria
“The Security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
The exercise of power to ensure the security and welfare of the people of Nigeria is the main function of any government of the country. As far as I have experienced it, the politics of exercising that governance responsibility is carpet crossing or deflecting from political party to another from time to time.
In this responsibility of the government, what is the role of the political party? Political parties can be said to be at least three things in a country. A political party can be an aggregation of social and ideological interests. This is usually the case in the older and more mature democracies of North America and Western Europe. There are usually the conservative (or Republican) parties and the Labour-Liberal parties. Carpet crossing or deflecting from one party to another in this type of political party situation is seldom. The famous British politician Winston Churchill crossed carpet from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party in 1904. In 1924, he crossed back to the Conservative Party. It may be remarked that the British Liberal Party has always been perceived to be closer to the Conservative Party than to the Labour Party. While there have been coalition governments made up of The Conservative and Liberal Parties there have been fewer coalition governments made up of the Labour and Liberal Parties. There was one in 1924.
A political party can represent specific constituencies. It can be claimed that the political parties of the first and second republics represented specific constituencies. These constituencies were ethnic and tribal in specification with the Northern Peoples’ Congress representing the Hausa/Fulani (Jamaat Mutenen Arewa) of Northern Region, Action Group representing the Yoruba (Egbe Afenifere) in the Western Region and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens reluctantly representing the Igbo of the Eastern Region. Within these Regions, there were smaller parties, which arose out of divisions within these ethnic/tribal political parties and carpet crossing and deflections from one party to another occurred. Such crossing were usually from the group losing political power to the group gaining the political power.
A political party can also serve as an intermediary between the state and the society. This particular type of political party proliferates in a situation of ethnic/tribal parties where some members of the society could claim that they have been marginalized and side-lined, thus missing out on infrastructural and the delivery of social services. Particularly in Nigeria, with the multiplicity of regions-replaced-by-states political parties became mere intermediaries for the securing of participation in the governance of the country.
s if the format of political party did not make the consolidation of democracy in the country less achievable, there is a third element that has come to constitute the tripod politics of Nigeria. The other two are Ethnicity/Tribalism and Intermediary political party. The Army is the third. In the elections of 1983, it was widely canvassed that the party the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) of President Shehu Shagari had to defeat was the Nigerian Army. The result of the elections declared that the NPN defeated the UPN, the Unity Party of Nigeria, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. On December 31, 1983 the Nigerian Army defeated Shehu Shagari by overthrowing his government in a military coup d’etat.
It was only during the dictatorship of Major-General Sani Abacha that the retired military were deliberately enriched to stand on their own as a property commanding class in the Nigerian economy. With economic power they have sought and found political power. Thus, the previously ethnic/tribal tripod of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo (the infamous Wazobian Tripod) has become Ethnicity/Tribalism, Intermediary Political Party and Retired Military Officers.
There is no need to speculate here if the consolidation of democracy is achievable through this new Tripod. Simply that it has not happened in any other place does not mean that it cannot happen in Africa. The point being made here is that the politics of doing politics in Nigeria calls for the periodic deflection of politicians from one political party to another, the seasonal carpet-crossing of persons of political consequence from one party to another.
How else could the APC have been created to defeat the PDP that had been in power being an intermediary of ethnicity and retired army interests today? The government is not just an APC government. It is a government that stands on three legs – the ethnicity or perhaps ethnicities (?), the intermediary political party which is APC (but could be PDP) and retired army officers.
Let us go back to the 1999 constitution as amended. It states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The major reason that the previous government was defeated was because the primary purpose of government had become Corruption. It did not matter that President Jonathan was in power, the Decision Maker in Nigeria had become Corruption. So, the questions we need to ask now as we face the next four years of the government of President Buhari are: will he be the one in power? And will he also be the Decision Maker?
All through the breadth and length of our big and rumbustious country we have always held on to more than one position. Whether it is in terms of religion, or in terms of cultural expression, or terms of economic venturing forth, we have always held on to more than one position. That is why we sacrifice to one god and ask if there is another one we have neglected.
That is why we are traditionalists but send out children to the schools of the newly arrived preachers of the three in one God. That is why we are Muslims but send our children to the schools of the Christians. Let’s hear from one of our founding literary documents – the novel Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe: “The world is changing. I do not like it. I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring my share. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying had we known tomorrow.”
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