Buhari and his party
NIGERIA has a long way to go to fully entrench democracy, the last 16 years and the successes of the last elections notwithstanding. And Muhammadu Buhari has a lot to do to nurture the seeds, his first or most urgent assignment being reformation of his party into a real political party.
When the British politician and political philosopher, Edmund Burke, defined a political party as “a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours the common national interest, upon some particular principles in which they are all agreed”, he did not mean the special purpose vehicles that the political parties in Nigeria are. Parties are underlined by discipline and principles as well as policy. Not power for its own sake.
The principles of a party are often expressed in commonly held convictions regarding the direction of the state, while policy is the vehicle for their attainment. Hardly can any of these features be found in the complexion and character of the political parties in the country today. Especially in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, essentially due to their obvious deficits, the so-called political parties are merely so in name.
Composed of divergent interests, strange bedfellows with no clear-cut ideological position or even vision, the parties are nothing more than special purpose vehicles for acquiring power and gaining access to the nation’s treasury. Which is why movement between the parties is an unregulated traffic, neither governed by commitment nor principles. It was in this fluid unprincipled turf that the All Progressives Congress (APC) was cobbled together. Buhari’s APC, like the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which it has displaced at the just concluded general elections, is a medley of divergent interests, including protesters from the PDP, all united by only one denominator – power. This deficit in core principles is so entrenched and fundamental that if not well managed, it could impede the expectation of real change.
Against the foregoing, the relevant question is: How would the President-elect manage his personal space, his party, the much misused first ladyship and primordial nexus that is real. In his relationship with his party, General Buhari must encourage debate within the party structure so as to grow internal democracy. He must avoid running a political government if he intends to deliver the ‘dividends of democracy’. The well-known logic of politicians in this part of the world is that politics must take precedent over merit. The latter is often whipped into irrelevance by such criteria as where you come from, which zone has had it and whose turn it is.
The President-elect should choose the men he wants to work with. Those to solve the problems he has on ground, and even when he defers to party sentiments of zoning of some public offices or the constitutionally dictated federal character, such persons must be chosen on merit. But when issues get to the crossroads and there is a contest of supremacy, the President must appeal directly to the people who elected him. It is to be remarked once again that he is President because Nigerians elected him. Therefore, to be successful, his style must be different from when he was a military dictator, proving that he is truly a born-again democrat. It is also for this reason that the people should hold the President-elect accountable for all his actions and inactions. Such close scrutiny would serve to both strengthen his hands and ensure he does not degenerate into a hostage of his party and other nebulous interests.
At all times, the logic of merit must prevail over politics especially because the rot in Nigeria today is deep and the work at hand is enormous, requiring the best of hands. The party needs to reform itself so as to infuse into its structure discipline, principles and policy, strategy and vision. Indeed, that reform would include a more productive, merit-based elite recruitment process. There is, for instance, a wave of decamping to the APC by many of those enamoured of the spoils of office and loathe playing the role of opposition. These new comers largely from the downside of the defeated PDP have their shortcomings that may hamper the goal of party reformation. Caution, therefore.
Equally to be guarded against, is an intrusive first ladyship. Buhari’s first coming, mercifully, did not embrace such distraction. But most recently, those who occupied the unconstitutional position of first lady have behaved as though they were the elected President of the country disregarding the constitution and deploying state resources in an obscene manner to the ridicule of public decorum. Buhari must shun this.
A potentially volatile political behaviour to watch by Buhari is a central primordial consideration that would seek to institutionalise itself. There are those who may believe erroneously though that the President-elect is the North’s own president, proceeding to take and behave therefrom recklessly, against the whole nation’s interest. This President must not fall for such base sentiments. Such would be divisive and counter-productive to the pan-Nigeria mandate Buhari received.
What the people require is change beyond sloganeering. Nigerians across the country voted for him and as noted on this page yesterday, Buhari is President of Nigeria and not of northern Nigeria. Therefore, he must listen to all grievances from across the country and deal with all sections of the country on the principle of justice and equity.