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As Oshiomhole and Obaseki slug it out…

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It is perfectly natural for the rest of us to ignore what is happening in APC, Edo State chapter. Nothing to it. The heavens are not about to fall. Nothing to make us lose our sleep. Our democracy is not threatened just because two powerful political leaders in the state choose to entertain us at the market square, fully clothed – thank goodness.

We must be used to the usual contest of will between a godfather and a godson or even between gods of equal fiscal muscle and influence by now. When the world is invited to the market square to watch the power waltz, we, the veteran watchers of these sickening dances, shrug and say, so what else is new?

What has been with us since the return to civil rule in 1999 and managed, as such things do, to define and re-define our party politics, can no longer be strange to the Nigerian political system. However high the politicians go and however low they descend, they always manage to patch up their differences when the threat of power slipping out of their hands looms visibly. Thieves do manage, believe me, to have some degree of honour too among themselves. No offence intended; none should be taken.

So, why should I bother about the contest of will between governor Obaseki and the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole? True confession: it gives me a chance to once more harp on the nature of our political parties and how we play the game in the hope that the rest of us would end our indifference to the pronounced shenanigans of our politicians and be converted to my pet theory, to wit, our democracy is the way it is because our political parties are the way they are.

The political parties are the physical expressions of democracy. I cannot say it too often: political parties in all democracies, settled or struggling, are the pillars of democracy. A strong political party system is the bulwark against the regression to autocracy; therefore, if the political parties fail to be the bastions of democracy and the rule of law, they can only institute governments through means mostly foul. And truth be told, they do. If they do not give hope, democracy would be hard put to give hope. I think it is important to bear that in mind when you watch the frequent drama of the absurd among our politicians.

At least three fundamental issues confront us as regards the nature of our political parties, namely party supremacy, party autocracy and corruption. They are all serious problems. But sadly, our political leaders are not minded to fix them because doing so has its consequences, as in the loss of privileges, influence and power. They leave well alone and thus subordinate this great nation to the reign of small-minded men who refuse to play by the rules because they can.

The erosion of party supremacy began in the Obasanjo administration when the then president arrogated to himself the right to be the crowned head of his party, PDP, as its national leader. In that position, he placed himself over and above the national chairman of the party. The president alone decided who would be where in the party. It flowed down to the states. The state governors too followed their leader and became leaders of the party in their various states. And much good did it do the party.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the then vice president, decried the supremacy of individuals over the party and warned of the consequences. No one bothered to listen to him. But it continues to haunt the political parties. None of them is a genuine political party of men and women with a common national agenda and goals they can only pursue and realise through the instrumentality of the party system. All of them are patch works of individual interests. I doubt that we can count up to ten people who have remained in one political party since 1998/99. They have all changed political parties many times either in search of greener pastures but mostly to escape the suffocating dictatorship in their parties.

This, certainly, is not the way to grow strong political parties able to make contributions to national development. If our political parties are not strong, it would be stretching it to expect our democracy to be strong. If our political parties are hijacked by autocrats, it would be too much to expect that democracy and autocracy can cohabit in any meaningful sense.

Yes, it is interesting to see Oshiomhole and Obaseki slugging it out. If we cannot help being amused, let us not forget that this and similar contests of supremacy point to two fundamental problems inherent in our political system. One, they reflect on the instability in our political parties at all levels. I do not think it is unrealistic to expect that more than 20 years of civil rule must have helped to ground our political leaders on the basics and nuances of managing and strengthening political parties for the public good. After all, the political parties have their constitutions and regulations to help keep the leaders and the followers on the right path in managing their critical affairs such as the routine conduct of party primaries. That the party primaries degenerate into wars of attrition occasioned by the struggle for supremacy suggests that the political leaders see nothing wrong with treating their constitutions with absolute contempt because they can and because it serves their temporary political interests.

Two, it shows that we lack political tradition in our political parties. They seem to have resisted every attempt to build and sustain such a tradition. Consequently, they are all really blowing in the wind and are unstable.

Corruption is, of course, a major failing of the political parties in providing the kind of leadership we expect from them. Corruption in the political party system has invariably arrested our development as a nation. People buy their political positions in the executive and the legislative branches of government. Some of them go into offices heavily indebted to Shylock lenders and are forced to steal and manipulate state resources to pay off their debts. Then, of course, the godfathers who made their emergence possible are put on generous thank-you-allowances monthly. Quite often problem comes when the allowances are either reduced or stopped. The criminal fleecing of the people and the country is a tradition cast in stone.

Blame corruption for political parties putting up men, mostly, who have no antecedents in managing human and fiscal resources as state governors. Money talks and the party leaders walk. Where else but in Nigeria would such people be entrusted with leadership positions? I think we should be honest enough to admit to ourselves that the mess we are in governance could not but be expected.

There is hardly anything to be proud of in this great giant of Africa with the largest economy on the continent. That economy today rests on mounds of other people’s money. Our elections command global derision, not respect. Our democracy is not the shiny example of best practices in democracy on the continent. Our political leadership on the continent has progressively diminished such that we have lost our economic and military muscle and can no longer quite assert ourselves as of right. In the past, Nigeria spoke and Africa listened. Today when Nigeria manages to croak, it grates on the ears that once listened to its wise counsel.

A country this big and this important should expect to be unique in a positive sense. But it is unique in a negative sense. We are thus left with only one option, to wit, to watch our politicians in the endless struggle for supremacy at the expense of the people, good governance and democracy.


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