It was a notion that gained traction in the wake of the interregnum created after the tortuous push back of the Nigerian military to the barracks in 1998 and the return of civil rule to our polity effective May 29th, 1999. To be sure, the Nigeria political powers, expressed in the sovereignty of our country laid practically on the proverbial streets of Nigeria when the critical mass within the constituencies that struggled for the return of democracy instituted no succession plans to consolidate on the gains of the struggle. This was true regardless of the fact that Nigerians at all material times remained the authentic repositories of our sovereignty pursuant to S.14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution from whom government through the organic law derive all its powers and authority.
Indeed, very little attention was paid to the compelling needs to determine who controlled state power after the struggle all to the detriment of our people and our collective struggle. The failure to align the rules of engagement along the exigencies of those times cost us an incredible opportunity in a manner that yielded crucial political space to known anti-democratic forces, agents of imperialism and neo-liberal democracies. The result was a quick regrouping and gang up of discredited politicians around common grounds which included but not limited to the occupation of the abandoned space by activists across the board from Labour, media, professional bodies, ASUU, NMA, human rights groups and even faith-based organizations. In effect, we were merely cutting the tree with no interest in the direction of the fell even though it tended towards hitting our structures. That was, no doubt, a strategic mistake from which we have not fully recovered.
As it was then, so are the indications today which affirm the fact that Nigerian political power will soon lie on the metaphorical streets again. The same situation presents itself again but largely defined by a different set of factors showing that history may soon repeat itself if we refuse to learn from it and act fast. An appreciable start point is the apparent leadership vacuum that exists in the Federal Executive Council presently. We have witnessed a total absence of an effective and coherent communication and coordination of the affairs of governance which has now degenerated to a sharply divided ruling All Progressive Party. Under their watch we have observed embarrassing divergent views expressed and pursued by principal state actors even after executive council meetings where positions of government ought to be largely harmonized for operational purposes. The country has been perplexed by the inability of the APC government to craft a coherent leadership structure at the federal parliament which has now crystalized into a congress of commotion and a forum for aggressive opposition and intolerance to major government policies and appointments. The dilemma suffered by the President Buhari in his bid to seek confirmation for the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Magu at the Senate underscores the enormity of this challenge regardless of the powers he has under S.171 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. The background to this particular situation can be easily traced to President Buhari’s apparent naivety in party politics as the basis of the present liberal democracy. The now famous and inimitable phrase “I belong to everybody and I belong to no one” credited to Mr. President at his inaugural speech was quite profound but failed to take into account the realities of party politics as against military rule which recognizes robust interfaces and engagements at several levels in search of consensus. The worst episode played out when the Department of State Security Services (a security department under the executive) openly and repeatedly flouted Mr. President’s nominee for confirmation as the substantive chairman of EFCC pursuant to S. 2(3) of the EFCC Act 2004.
Imagine a President that practically distanced himself from the political processes and calculus that produced the leadership of the legislature. Unwittingly, he permitted the emergence of a rival arm of government almost as powerful as the executive with capacity to a strike down, most, if not, all policies and projects of government. We have seen the disastrous possibilities of erecting a dysfunctional administrative architecture programmed to operate at cross purposes on the one hand and energized by deep contradictions that are steeped in divergent interests regardless of the fact that they control majority seats in both chambers of the National Assembly. The same President that showed no interest in who emerged at the leadership of the congress on the premise that he could work with anyone has now constituted a high-powered committee led by the Vice President to seek truce and reconciliation with the leadership of NASS after harvesting crises, distractions, blackmails and oppositions by that singular indiscretion.
Closely related to the foregoing in our interrogation of the locus of power in Nigeria today is the abysmal role of the ruling political party APC to provide leadership and steer the ship of state. A critical appraisal of existing political parties in Nigeria revealed that there are no fundamental differences between the parties in terms of ideology, orientation, tradition and even solutions to the challenges of nation-building. Yet it was dangerous to continue with the previous precarious era of impunity with which all manners of transgressions were committed. Precisely what the Nigerian people needed was an alternative to the present political class and culture. Unfortunately, the critical mass within the conscious population of Nigerians that could drive the process were thoroughly demobilized in terms of capacities and orientation and remain so till date. A political party particularly one in government like APC across the world remains an engine room for any political movement where the transformational ideas are conceived, nurtured, analyzed and synthesized. The robust debates and engagements that benefit from party interrogations of those ideas crystallize into the tradition and philosophy of the party. It is these well thought-out policies, philosophies and ideals that represent the ideology and brand of the party which attracts or repel people as the case may be. Inherent in this general outlook of a political party is the ingredients of party discipline and supremacy. A party that is devoid of discipline of both members and leadership is bound to collapse and crumble under the weight of managing the affairs of the country which has entrusted leadership on it. Similarly, a party that is unable to assert its supremacy and mobilize its human capital resources towards the actualization of its programs and manifestoes faces early extinction because it will be overwhelmed by the constant contest of self-interest above the collective programs of the party. This is precisely what APC suffers presently.
At the moment, Nigeria is reputed to practice multi-party democracy with over (80) eighty registered political parties in the fray but I dare add without a single opposition party. This is not only dangerous but politically depressing. A virile and formidable opposition party is the key for the survival of party democracy because it does not just keep the incumbent party on its toes in relation to its promises to the people but also identifies their mistakes and inactions and points to the possibilities that exist through alternative action plans and policies. It is healthy and enriching to both the polity and the system. Since the defeat of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections, they have not got their acts together and possibly may not soon underscoring the point that they may not be able to survive as a political party out of power. What has been established, thus far, is the factor of slush funds freely in circulation through graft and corruption which remained the only mobilizing catalysts as they clearly did not subscribe to any clear-cut ideology or program of action. No doubt, there is a serious leadership crisis at the national level of the PDP despite the ruling of the Court of Appeal recognizing Ahmadu Sherriff as the Acting National Chairman of the party. This role of an opposition party cannot be assumed by pressure groups, NGOs or civil society organizations since they are not programmed for the same purpose. The overriding interest of a political party is to access state power and run a government while civil society organizations like NGOs operate more to influence and impact the policies and programs of government. They are largely alienated, from the government itself but independent and objective. From that perspective, the operational limitations can be appreciated. Surely political parties with mandates to wrestle, compete and contest political power and provide leadership in governance are better positioned to function as opposition parties.
Another critical development that compounded the economic situation was when the nation officially slipped into recession and came close to depression on the side of the people who bore the burden of those long years of economic holocaust in a country where over N24 billion is presently being investigated as bribes given and received in prosecuting the 2015 general elections. Over two hundred INEC officials are currently on interdiction for sundry graft offenses. Humongous and inexplicable amounts are presently being recovered on daily basis in the wake of the whistle blower’s policy of the Federal Government. They are very little signs of early recovery. At that stage of deprivation and crunch, the people now feel vulnerable with an increased sense of uncertainties as the entire country has also become exposed to high-level violence and insecurity besides the isolated attacks on Boko Haram insurgencies which is presently degraded. In the South East and South West, there is a corresponding rise in other variants of social vices in the brand of kidnapping, armed robbery and pipeline vandalization. Desperation is now at its peak in a country where people now prefer suicide missions to living.
On the whole, we have tried to raised valid concerns by the foregoing account of the state of our nation which is to the effect that the Nigerian political power is neither domiciled with the registered political parties at the moment, in the military or other notable power blocks and constituencies nor is it by the people as legitimate repositories of our national sovereignty. The inability of any of these centers of power play to firmly appropriate state power and validly dispense same on behalf of the people explain our conclusion that power is presently lying on the streets of Nigeria
How we exit this imminent and ominous situation will depend on how well we appraise the situation for what it is and the determinable approaches we adopt as genuine agents of democracy to seize the situation and take our future in our hands.
MALACHY UGWUMMADU is a Lagos-based Legal Practitioner and the National President, Committee For The Defence of Human Rights (CDHR)