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Nigeria: Of Political Parties And Alliances By Babatunde Rosanwo

January 5, 2014

The high point of political party discussion for 2013 in Nigeria was the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the outcome of a merger between Nigeria’s four largest opposition parties. Subsequently the overtures made to attract members of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led to acts of decamping (from PDP to APC) which will make 2014 a year to watch as the 2015 elections gain momentum. There has been much criticism of the ideology of political parties; what is the difference between APC and PDP? Does it lie with the political party or with its members? For all that may exist in different theoretical postulations, Nigeria is a difficult nut to crack.

The high point of political party discussion for 2013 in Nigeria was the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the outcome of a merger between Nigeria’s four largest opposition parties. Subsequently the overtures made to attract members of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led to acts of decamping (from PDP to APC) which will make 2014 a year to watch as the 2015 elections gain momentum. There has been much criticism of the ideology of political parties; what is the difference between APC and PDP? Does it lie with the political party or with its members? For all that may exist in different theoretical postulations, Nigeria is a difficult nut to crack.

Political parties constitute a social struggle between different classes based on principles of common interest. A platform which serves the general interests of individuals who may not have much in common is a convenient vehicle for achieving political objectives.  These political objectives are usually embedded in a call for change that carries the idea of what best suits the people. The political machinery is put into action by generating campaign-based opinions which are not necessarily evidence based. Depending on how sophisticated the electorate is, the ability to discern what is genuine or not    is largely dependent on their economic and social status. It therefore becomes very important to understand the relationship between the internal structures of these political parties versus their actual engagement when voted into power.

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Political parties are organized structures which the political class needs to convey their objectives; their collective will comes to the forefront as they set aside their individual differences. Success via the political platforms is a confirmation that any platform will succeed only to the extent in which the individual interests is built into solidarity.  This solidarity may be vertical or horizontal in nature depending greatly on social and economic conditions. Without an economic advantage, qualitative numerical strength is of equal importance and influence- the emphasis on participation cannot be over stated.  Every party has its own hierarchy and norms and, democracy ensures its survival by depending on the principle of delegation and representation of the masses via its structures.  It becomes cumbersome to practice direct democracy on every policy of the government in a populous country like Nigeria therefore representation must come forth through the political platforms. These political platforms with the economic means and shared interests are expected to act in the best interest of the masses.  However class interests cannot be overlooked neither can the leadership of respective political parties be ignored in the grand scheme of events.

Although the leadership of each political party is a minority in numbers, yet they sign off the most important decisions of the party. Thus establishing a form of oligarchy which can only be challenged from within the system, where such internal system check is unavailable, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is these party oligarchies that decide where the party parade moves to in Nigeria, wining and dining with the society’s most talented and intelligent individuals whilst seeking to build a consensus of interests across the divide and recognize individuals who will help to mid-wife their aspirations. They hunt out those institutionalized individuals who will deliver wards, states and entire regions to them at the next elections; for it is in these characters their aspirations may be fulfilled.  We should treat the political party like any other business organization; a platform created to secure an end.

Our 1960 independence was not without the influence of the global Second Wave Democracy.  One can assume from several indicators that Nigeria’s aristocrats and ruling elite gave in to democracy in theory, but remained anti-democratic in nature. Their quest for power and relevance compelled them to join the democratic movement by floating political parties especially when in possession of the wherewithal to fund political parties. In theory it appears that political parties are about the majority, but in practice the minority rules from within.

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There are many individuals who join political parties with the aim of making change; they have lofty dreams of how they can effectively redirect the destiny of the country.  Each individual has to however contend with the vested interests of the generations before him who have created an order that must be followed.  Ye this may also be a new generation with access to power. He is now at the risk of standing alone unless he builds an alliance with others- not necessarily those with which he shares similar core interests- but those on platforms with a generalized interest. 

A conservative candidate, who declares to his electors that he does not regard them capable of playing an active role in influencing the destiny of the country, and proceeds to tell them that for this reason they ought to be deprived of their universal suffrage, would be a man of incomparable sincerity but politically insane.  Roberts Michels, 1915.

This is the moral dilemma most politicians have to endure; they have to descend into the politicking of the system where they engage everyone as equals in order to win. They set aside their primary aim to frolic with whoever matters (what Robert Michels describes as howling with the democratic wolves) in order to secure the coveted majority. The inability to appeal to people of every class and veiled economic interests will guarantee failure at the polls.

General Muhammadu Buhari, popularly known as GMB is one candidate who decided to stick to his principles in the general presidential elections. His political ideology of what Nigeria should be is largely predicated on his anti-corruption stance. His inability to tolerate certain quarters that are perceived as corrupt in the polity earned him the support of some which unfortunately did not constitute the majority needed to win in the last 3 presidential elections.  Over the past year, the same man has been a key part of the merger that led to the formation of what can be called the mega opposition party. Beyond the quest to be the president, has Buhari now come to an understanding of how essential it is to build a political party with and without like minds? Would he willingly accept the verdict of the party if the presidential ticket is not handed to him? Time will tell but one thing is evident, GMB’s position on who to associate with on a political platform has changed. One thing that is certain is that he must accept the fact that the APC is now a political party of interests that goes beyond his person and for a chance at victory; the collective interests of the party must be accepted by all members.

In the past we had the likes of Gani Fawehinmi and Wole Soyinka floating political parties with the subsequent results speaking for their performance at general elections; activists alone don’t win elections but politicians and political parties do. The APC has been termed an unholy alliance, which when placed in context of the ideal society, is not a brilliant idea. The odds in Nigeria are not favored by idealistic western political ideologies and orientation because the independent variables which determine the outcomes of elections are not largely dependent on ideological factors. The average Nigerian politician recognizes this- votes count when they count and this in turn determines the ultimate goal, which is to gain access to power. Except in rare situations where there is an outright rigging of the ballot box against the will of the people e.g. as was the case in Ekiti and Osun State, the ability to rig elections successfully in any area is largely dependent on the support for a political party with an electorate majority who turn out on election day.  It is undeniable that this support may have been induced; the build up to elections is full of Greek gifts from politicians to the elector.

Every state in Nigeria has its own peculiar political machinery and modus operandi that is largely based on the support of the people.  To dwell entirely on the political parties as a structure of ideology without analyzing the faces behind each party is a fruitless exercise. There are many factors responsible for late Obafemi Awolowo’s inability to build sufficient consensus across the divide to back his ambition, both in 1959 and in 1979. In the last 14 years of our pseudo-democracy, Kwara state reinforces the postulations that in several instances, individuals who influence the electorate in a certain region remain influential, regardless of the political parties they find themselves in.

Continuing with Kwara as a case in point, a quick glance on paper at the main political parties that have held sway in the state looks like an evolution from ANPP to PDP to APC. Without a background context analysis, one would think it is a swing state where there is a large pool of independent voters. This is not true; the political apparatus in Kwara has remained under the control of the Saraki dynasty for over three decades with genuine support of the people and it seems other political elements have become a thingamabob. Under the military junta, it was widely reported that the military head of states consulted the Sarakis before any military administrator was appointed to the state.  The Sarakis were in ANPP for the 1999 elections and practically seated Mohammed Lawal as Governor. By 2003, their fallout with the incumbent and subsequent support for PDP ensured yet another victory. Despite the cry of nepotism by a large number of non-Kwara residents over the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Governor, it seems a good percentage of Kwara residents did not seem to share similar sentiments.  Today, the same Saraki dynasty has moved on to the APC- without vehement resentment they have the clear understanding and support of the majority of their people in Kwara.  After all, democracy is about numbers.  A simple majority of the Kwara electorate supports the Saraki dynasty without questions, many claim elections may have been rigged with convenience but the courts say otherwise.

Recently one of the members of the Federal House of Representatives from Kwara was asked about moving the mandate of the people from PDP to APC and if their cross carpeting was fair to the electorate or the political party which sponsored their candidacy. He responded by saying, “we enjoy the support of our people in Kwara state, the people made the party and not the other way round; we have moved on”.  Perhaps the APC political machinery has come to the understanding that Kwara state will remain in the control of the Saraki dynasty for years to come and reasons along the lines of an alliance through which presidential votes could be delivered. Under the leadership of Tinubu, the Action Congress/Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was not without worthy candidates for the leadership positions in Kwara but after four general elections they should know better. Perhaps the APC has come to understand the essence of embracing other grounded political elements in order to achieve its aims.  After all, cosmopolitan Lagos has been following a single trajectory in electing governors.

While the echelons of political parties continue to shield their self-interests, they hold no reservations in running any sellable agenda in the name of the people.  Nothing is more convincing than fighting in the name of the people and for the people- a crucial thing to be learnt in politics. But the political class cannot be done away with especially in a democracy. Yet some young people in the name of change seek to demonize or do away with them despite not having the organized numbers or the wherewithal to fund political parties.  They are not even the least of political “outsiders” who may be expected to make inroads when elections come up, politicians contest elections and win elections. Anyone willing to win elections must participate in the political process beyond merely casting a vote.  Economic empowerment can be balanced out with good organization of numbers, provided there are shared interests. Activism and advocacy serve as checks and balances in democracy, the actual political participation is on multi-level. The ideal versus the reality in politics is many shades of grey that is blurred with compromises. 

Nigerian political parties will continue to manifest themselves within the context of the space in which they operate; an Angela Merkel may never win a ward election in Nigeria. Unlike the monarchy system where blood and lineage is a determining factor, it is possible to grow through the class system of what we have in our country, if one understands how this particular system works. Either you work from within the party or you have a movement worthy of attention by the political class, at the end of the day it’s all about power. What is done with this power is another cup of tea, just like Obama and the drones. The ideal versus the reality in the Nigerian polity requires much more understanding and engagement with the reality as the order of the day.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters 

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