Do we need a new political party now?
New political parties are emerging from the trenches. The Abundant Nigerian Renewal Party (ANRP) being championed by my friend, passionate patriot and people-oriented economist, ‘Tope Fasua is one of them. We should be excited. Should we not be? Well, there are 40 registered political parties in Nigeria at the moment. Apart from that, as at last week, 60 associations have sought registration, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
As an aside, I do not even think INEC has the power to ‘register’ political parties the way it presently does, going by the spirit of the court judgement secured by Gani Fawehinmi on the process of party registration. I would think INEC’s business is to simply ‘list’ and not‘ register,’ as it presently purports to do. If that is the case, what business has the Commission then in de-registering a political party, as it claims to have done in the case of some parties? That seems to be the point established in the court judgement obtained by Chris Okotie’s Fresh Democratic Party, which INEC has chosen to interpret differently.
But that is not even the issue at stake here. This is more of an interrogation of the political logjam we have found ourselves at the moment and the wisdom in setting up of a new political party as the ‘Bolekaja’ to take us out of it. Harold Lasswell tells us politics is about who gets what, when and how. As power will not simply drop in the palms of one who simply wishes it, the need to actively engage the system and work it to one’s advantage towards the realisation of betterment of the society is of paramount importance. It is in that light that the bold move by Fasua ought to be situated and commended.
Obviously, as evident here, the problem with Nigeria is not an insufficiency of political platforms or parties through which one can ventilate one’s political philosophy or actualise the ambition for power. The more the merrier, they say. But any meaningful effort to take on the system cannot simply be about making up the numbers. Our problem, in fact, is the ease with which we take to charting our own course, seeking to singularly take on a new path rather than joining hands to build one house and not dissipating energy in different directions.
It is that wanting to go it alone that manifests in the proliferation of worship, where one man leaves to set up his own church simply on account of not liking the colour of the pastor’s tie. It is the reason why almost every professional body has multiple voices speaking for it. The Nigeria Labour Congress is broken right through the centre. It is that thing that makes Nigerians lay personal ownership to banks, even when the law does not allow them to own more than a minority stake in it. It is that same philosophy that has taken over the political space where persons now own political parties, which are supposed to be institutions themselves.
Political parties are dead on arrival if all that there is to them is the actualisation of the personal ambition(s) of the principal promoter(s). It is counter-productive to have someone who has already declared aspiration for the most important office in the land promote a political party, as its all-inclusiveness and ability to create a level-playing field is already jeopardised by that ambition. Who will stand up in contest against the founder? Will the founder be willing to stay with the party and not complain that it has been hijacked if he were to lose in the primary election? Can there even be a free and fair election where some see themselves as founders and others as joiners?
But even as I argue that the problem is not a short age of political platforms in Nigeria, I can see why more people are seeking to setup political parties. Some genuine reasons can be adduced for such – a loose, yet stifling political space; perpetuation of the same persons and tendencies in politics and government; as well as the increasing urge to look backward by those in power in order to move forward, thus leading to a monotonous recycling of old wine in new bottles and a perpetuation of jaded ideas, packaged in recycled packs.
But even with this challenge, is setting up another party the solution? Should we not seek for the root of the problem? Is it in the nature of our political parties? Is it the absence or death of ideology? Is it how we fund political parties? Could it be the lack enlightenment, abysmal level of literacy or other factors? Should we not dig deep or have we done so already? Should we not proceed on the basis of careful retrospection and sober introspection?
The presidential system, as configured and practised now, is so nebulous and unwieldy that it is almost impossible for an independent voice to emerge on his own strength or platform. That is the problem Okotie and Fawehinmi faced. Same problem confronted Buhari, even with his millions of devoted followers, until he tucked his dream under the strategic wings enabled by Bola Tinubu.
I argue that what we need now is to join hands and focus singularly on how we can infiltrate and weaken existing structures to the point where we can successfully force a constitutional amendment that will herald, at the least, the birth of a unicameral parliamentary system. That is our best shot at being able to produce a leader of the kind we are pushing for. The parliamentary system is considerably less expensive for the system and contestants. A Prime Minister/President or whatever we choose to call the head of government has only the task of selling his candidacy, policy and ideas within the party’s collegiate system, which will be akin to a group of philosopher kings.
All that an Okotie or a Fasua will need is to focus on his constituency and ensure success at that level and with many more like-minds and technocrats winning in the different constituencies, the battle for the right kind of person to emerge as party leader and eventually primus interpares in the parliament will be a simpler task. It is easier to accomplish than this impossible task of setting up a nation-wide structure, with offices in all the states. It does not require having agents in all the polling booths across the country and collation points to secure votes. The elaborate, expensive requirements expected of an aspirant under the present system makes the emergence of an independent almost impossible.
What do we get with the parliamentary system? More accountability on the part of government, fusion of legislative and executive functions, leaner public service and real-time monitoring of activities of government on the floor of the parliament. Also, it is easier to boot out a non-performing government, as a vote of confidence is all that it requires and elections can also be called before the end of prescribed tenure.
But how do we get this present crop of legislators to commit class suicide by effecting a constitutional amendment? Well, there is something about people not being averse to securing their enlightened self-interest? The legislature is largely emasculated across the states, seeking to make it be the centre of power might not be too difficult to accomplish across two-thirds of the states, once the ones at the centre presently at war with themselves and the whole world, are tactically pushed by advocacy and strident protest into doing this to redeem themselves. We will also be able to have a laissez-faire system of free entry, free exit for political parties with their fortune determined by electoral forces, as a set number of seats will be allocated in the parliament to parties based on their performance, also ensuring the protection of fringe and minority parties.
We must take on this battle in bits and pieces. Pushing in this direction is an easier task than setting up a brand new platform. Already, the promoters of this new direction are already feeling the heat coming in from the direction of well-meaning people as well as perpetual whiners and cynics. That is the way it goes with the turf. They need not be discouraged. Cynicism is beginning to take on the form of religion in our land. They must realise also that a nation of cynics is difficult to rouse to action. A nation of cynics is difficult to inspire and lead. A nation of cynics kills the spirit of altruism and destroys the willingness for personal sacrifice, but the journey must continue. Change is difficult to come by in the face of overwhelming cynicism, but it will come. We have to take on-board the experience of previous attempts in strategising for the future. We will need to build from the bottom and not the top if we must get there.
Olorunfemi works for a Nigerian communications consultant.
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