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Carpet crossing

By Dan Agbese
19 February 2017   |   4:00 am
It is the season for a new wave of carpet crossing by the politicians. The wind of pragmatic politics is blowing men towards the APC political camp.

It is the season for a new wave of carpet crossing by the politicians. The wind of pragmatic politics is blowing men towards the APC political camp. It does not take rocket science to appreciate this. The party is the government. It owns the cow and it owns the milk. Those who wish to put some flesh on their hollow cheeks need no one to tell them where to go for the magical transformation.

The real struggle for our next general elections in 2019 begins about now. Those who cross the carpet early are likely to find an empty ringside seat or two in which to ensconce themselves. I have heard people criticise Chief Ken Nnamani, former senate president, and Chief Jim Nwobodo, former governor of the old Anambra State, for recently abandoning PDP for APC. Their critics are uncharitable to the two gentlemen. They have done nothing new or unusual. They followed the traditional beaten path to APC’s door. They knocked and it was opened unto them.

It is the way of our national politics. It has been so since 1954 when Zik’s hope of becoming the first premier of the Western Region evaporated right there in the Western House of Assembly. There, the great man watched with shock and unbelief as some members of his party, NCNC, crossed the carpet to AG and gave Awolowo the coveted political crown. They introduced a new phrase into our political lexicon, carpet crossing.

Carpet crossing has become the defining expression in our kind of political pragmatism. When people see the light, for which, read opportunity, in another political party, they flock to it. You should recognise this as chop-chop politics. It is the only kind of politics we know; it is the only kind of politics we practice.

We are generally amused by the to-ing and fro-ing of our politicians desperately in search of opportunities even in small fish-ponds. We should not be amused. Their behaviour is deleterious to the meaningful growth of our party politics. I put it to Nigerians (sounds lawyerly, right?) it is time we woke up to the damage carpet crossing has done, and is doing, to party politics in the country. It is extensive. And disgraceful.

Spare a thought for the second republic. In 1979, five registered political parties contested the various elective offices at federal and state levels. Each of them won at least two states. By the time the 1983 general elections came around, only the NPN, which offered its leaders and members rosy cheeks, stood strong. NPN had damaged the other four political parties beyond repair. We did not bargain for a one-party rule. It had become anachronistic. But one-party rule was forced us because, you got it, members and even leaders of the other political parties crossed the carpet to the embrace of the NPN moguls.

Think of carpet crossing as a worm in the apple of our party politics.

Since we returned to civil rule in 1999, carpet crossing has become the rule rather than the exception. There is not one political party registered by the generals in 1998 that has remained the same and intact. Not many of the politicians have remained in one party since 1999. They have crossed the carpet back and forth. Not for ideological reasons but for reasons of what has been dubbed stomach infrastructure.

This is no way to build strong political parties.

After it won two consecutive presidential elections and firmly controlled two-thirds of the 36 states, PDP moguls were confident that the party was too big and too strong to lose any elections. They predicted it would continue to win any and all elections in the country. They concluded, with the benefit of the performances of the party in the elections, that it would rule the country for 60 years. They were generous in setting a time limit for when power would pass from their party to another party.

It did not happen. Because the party leaders forgot that the demon called carpet crossing was nibbling at the innards of PDP. Thus did it happen that by 2014, PDP had begun to bleed badly from wounds inflicted on it by its leaders and members crossing the carpet in search of greener political pastures.

In 2015, the once impregnable political party, touted by its leaders as the biggest political party in Africa, fell apart. It became a sad and pathetic victim of carpet crossing. It was once the greatest beneficiary of carpet crossing and destroyed the other political parties in the process. The biter found itself bitten. It is not always pleasant to swallow one’s poison meant for others. Men who became president or state governors or senators or members of the House of Representatives or speakers of the houses of assembly, etc., suddenly abandoned the party. They hitched their political waggon to the new and untested political party, APC; an amalgam of mostly carpet crossers. Thus did it happen that in the 2015 presidential election, the sun suddenly set for PDP. Its once arrogant leaders who made a virtue of impunity, began to pick their way along the side of the road.

Think of carpet crossing and think of the damage it continues to do to our political parties and party politics.

Arguably, carpet crossing hews to the right to choose inherent in a democracy. It is a right it would be unwise to deny anyone. Carpet crossing can, therefore, be viewed as a personal decision to abandon a political party that no longer serves one’s political interests. That, of course, is simplistic.

Carpet crossing is a malaise with a capacity to spread its poison to all things political and decent. The generals who gave us the 1979 and the 1999 constitutions knew the damage free roaming by the politicians via carpet crossing would do to party cohesion and our national politics. They took constitutional steps to discourage it. The constitution says national and state legislators who cross the carpet must automatically lose their seats in parliament. PDP systematically ruined that provision because it faithfully observed it in the breach. Senators and others who crossed the carpet from the other political to find shelter under the umbrella, were protected from the harsh heat of the law.

Ali Shinkafi of Zamfara and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, showed the excesses of impunity and the untouchable when, along with the entire members of their respective state houses of assembly, crossed the carpet from NPP to PDP. The constitutional provision outlawing this sits there, a helpless, toothless bull dog. Using carpet crossing to breach the constitution is the ultimate excess in cheap political power play. Sadly, that is the way wind blows here.

Because of carpet crossing we cannot have political parties formed and built around a well-articulated ideology intended to promote economic and social development. Our political parties are thus bereft of progressive and developmental ideas. And so, we take one step forward and take two backwards.

Because of carpet crossing, we have no real commitments to our political parties. We are there long enough for opportunities to open up in another political party. and then we cross the carpet.

Because of carpet crossing, our political parties are merely convenient legal tools for oiling our political aspirations. Carpet crossing begins at the end of election. The cynical abandonment of parties that put their platforms at the disposal of ambitious seekers of elective offices tells everything the non-Nigerian needs to know about our lack of sense of gratitude.

Because of carpet crossing, families cannot build legacies of ideological commitment to particular parties so that generations of such families remain true and faithful to such parties.

Because of carpet crossing, our political parties sway in the wind. They are unable to drive good leadership recruitment, are detached from their statutory responsibilities and the moguls take advantage of the vacuum created.

I would like to argue and argue again, that carpet crossing is the bane of our party politics. The consequence is surely creeping up on us. At the moment, we are not playing true party politics; we are merely playing the political power game. It is deleterious to our national political health.