Atiku’s pathological defections and the party system
One major difference in the politics of the advanced democratic nations and that of contemporary Nigeria is that one is highly “individualistic” while the other is still largely “communal”. By this I mean there is a greater degree of independence in one than exists in the other. Whereas the divorce lawyer may not be summoned because a wife has chosen to hold a political view that is different from that of her husband, this may not be the case in a communal society where the choice made by one person could be taken, invariably, as the choice made by others. It is precisely because of this communal culture that the phenomenon of defections, i.e. crossing over from one political party to another, attracts the attention it hardly deserves.
When a key political actor has defected from one political party to another, there is a “bandwagon” effect helped by a very low level of political education as well as economic poverty on the part of others. I remember when my father, the late Chief Josiah Akinola Oisa was “coerced” into transferring his loyalty from the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) in the late 1950s, quite a number of erstwhile supporters of the party followed him to the ruling Action Group (AG) in the then Western Region. He was quite an influential chief, very intelligent as he was equally principled and bold. However, the “regional government” threatened him with deposition if he did not switch loyalty. Deposition was, and still is, some kind of disgrace no one would wish for. My father reluctantly abandoned the political party he so much cherished, thanks to the intolerance of those in positions of power and authority. He was not given the option of being paid “a penny a year salary.”
Armed with what I observed as a very young child, I took exceptional interest in the phenomenon of defections during the Second Republic (1979-83). I was about arguing a thesis that the presidency would bring about a two-party system in Nigeria, hence the excitement in an observation that members of minor political parties were defecting in large numbers to the then two relatively successful parties, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I saw the development as a process of “party cross-breeding.” The termination of the then democratic experiment, not least because of the culture of election rigging, frustrated whatever outcome or conclusion one was anticipating.
There have been quite a few noticeable defections since political party activity resumed in 1999; however, no individual has been identified with this phenomenon more than Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile Vice President between 1999 and 2007. He has moved from one party to the other on several occasions and any prostitute could easily have become jealous of his shifting loyalties. Even when his most recent defection from the ruling All Progressives Congress “APC” back to his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party “PDP”, could be justified by his avowed supporters, there are not a few who would be incensed by what has become his pathological obsession with the presidency. Many had predicted he would quit the APC for another political party if he was not going to grab the presidential candidacy of that party for the putative 2019 election. Whatever might be his strength and good qualities, critics would nevertheless say that Atiku is a politician with unstable character- someone who has never been a good team player.
The ease with which our politicians change political party support clearly suggests that ideology is of little relevance in our politics. Our politicians are divided by their greed and selfish interests than by anything else. Where there is commitment to ideology, a politician will not transfer his or her loyalty for the fear of competition by potential rivals. They will not be running from the political party they believed in for the fear that its structure could be hijacked by another. On the contrary, an ideologically-informed politician will remain in his or her party and sort out whatever problems might have arisen therein. In the well-established political parties with broad-based support, politicians belong in varied wings of the ideological divide-left, right, centre or moderate, etc. Their views may diverge in specifics, but what they share is unanimity of purpose.
It will take quite a while for the Nigerian party system to stabilise. The party system is evolving, still some kind of work in progress. The one good thing to take from current observations is the potential for integration being exhibited by the presidency as a political institution. There will be those arguing for Nigeria to return to the parliamentary system of government which was practised in the First Republic, not least because it is believed to be less expensive than the presidential alternative. However, when it comes to the issue of political integration, I shall be one of those arguing that the presidential system should be accepted as having come to stay. A return to the parliamentary system will be a return to another era of ethnic political parties and the erstwhile culture of conspiratorial ethnic alliances.
There is nothing to be nostalgic about in the practice of the parliamentary system as witnessed at the federal level of political governance until its deserved death on 15 January 1966. The emergence of the PDP and the APC, as broad-based political parties, has revealed the centralising influence of the presidency and proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no place for ethnic political parties in the current dispensation. The future of the party system depends on how disciplined the politicians can be, as well as the sophistication of the electorate.
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