Rejigging APC bottom-up
Coming on the heels of the change of guards in the armed forces, rejigging is set to transform itself from a fancy word to a concrete process of national recovery. I do not remember anyone calling for rejigging the ruling party but it helps for a party to periodically reinvent itself and be seen by the public in a new light in the light of new political and social developments and exigencies.
This process of rejigging by the APC is known, with a touch of dark humour, as bottom-up. Nothing to do with bottom power, I presume. It is an attempt by the party to return to the basics of fair and honest management of the political party system in which the people have a voice in the running of their party and are a party to the choice of party leaders and its representatives in both the executive and the legislative branches of government.
It hacks back to the first and second republics when party leaders were known as party servants, not masters. There were no party godfathers then or party moguls who dictated to the parties from the comfort of their sumptuous country homes. The NPN in the Second Republic captured this in its popular slogan as “power to the people.” Try not to remember the cynics who then turned it into “power to the people on election day.”
Bottom-up as a party management system is thus not new. In a participatory democracy such as ours, warts and all, the people are the custodians of the party. It is always bottom-up, not top to bottom. Still, I welcome President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to give bottom-up to APC as his legacy to the party that twice gave him the thumbs up to do what he had always verily wanted to do: rule Nigeria. The president now wants the party to abandon its current top-bottom system and instead revive the bottom-up system “to ensure the return of the party to the people…” Under this new system, the president said, there would be “no more crowning from Abuja downward. Let the people know this,” he charged the Mai Mala Buni caretaker committee of the party, “and appreciate it, that they are in charge of their constituencies and they are in charge of the party…”
It counts as a minor miracle. That the vilified past is being pressed into service in the management of a political party now is a fair indication that human progress is circular, not linear. Perhaps the management of the political parties was not to blame for the military propagandic failure of democracy in our recent past.
I thought the president was past caring what history would think of his time atop the political totem pole. I was wrong, apparently. It now seems that the history book matters to him too and, not unnaturally, as he contemplates the end of his second and final term in office, the prospects of his transition from a private citizen to the number one citizen and back again, could not fail to impress upon him the need to begin the process of transforming the patchwork of political interests that formed APC into a solid political party that respects the rights of its members and is in their service.
I should think Buhari is doing this because despite the fact that critical views grate in his ears, he is not unaware of the dark predictions by the elite, no less, that the party would head for the dustbin of history when he leaves office in 2023. The president is the moral glue that holds together the patchwork of political interests that converged at the feeding trough in 2015 to birth a new party to take on the PDP behemoth. It is fair to see his decision to reposition and strengthen the party to prepare for the possible political storm or tsunami ahead as politically wise and pragmatic.
It is important that we get our party management right to enable us to move to the next level of making our national politics respectable and imbue our national elections with integrity. Everything that needed to go wrong with the management of our political parties has gone wrong, badly wrong. Bereft of ideologies, the political parties offer the people nothing other than the sickening parade of men with two left hands and whose soiled hands are dripping with the palm oil of a moral blight called corruption. Money matters; political parties not that much anymore.
As kids in the First Republic, we did not understand capitalism, socialism, democratic socialism and other variants but from the thundering of their proponents, we understood that a political party must stand for something as a basis for effecting social and economic changes and development in a given polity. By marketing their ideologies and programmes based on them to the people, they make informed political choices and pluralism possible. None of our parties stands for anything, hence the crass ad hoc approach to governance. Alas, the glorious days of the democratic management of our political parties and the party system itself are long gone. No political party promises the people anything; nor do they care. The politicians throw money at the people, capture power and lord it over the party and the people. This is not a democracy but an ugly variant of autocracy.
Our current political parties are hollow contraptions contrived entirely for purposes of capturing, not winning, power at all levels of government – and at all costs. Political parties make political pluralism possible; they drive development based on their competitive ideologies and, most importantly, they recognise the right of the lowliest of the lowlies to have a voice, no matter how shrill or muffled, in government. Despite this and despite our past history before the guns shoved off the ballot box, our political leaders continue to treat their political parties like convenient nuisances – convenient as a ladder to power and nuisances as unnecessary restraint in the power game.
Can the revival of the bottom-up approach in APC, as Buhari verily hopes, give the party back to the people and birth a new party philosophy in which the contents of the pockets are subordinated to the contents of the brain in the leadership recruitment process? Nothing is impossible. But it is clearly a long shot.
I do not intend to discourage the president from giving a full effect to his bottom-up party management formula but I cannot but offer him my commiserations. He is taking on an entrenched system that cannot be dislodged with the presidential say-so. I see him butting his head against a solid slab of marble. He is also acting too little, too late. Had he acted much earlier, he could have had a chance to monitor the new system in his party in the 2019 election conducted under his watch.
He was fully aware all along that as a matter of policy, his party crowns favoured men and women in Abuja and sends them forth to the states to capture power. I am sure, he could not have failed to see that godfatherism has had a profoundly deleterious effect on our leadership recruitment process with the result that there are nastier, corrupt and incompetent men in power today than at any other time in our national history. The fault is in the top-bottom system flowering under Buhari’s watch.
It is right to give the party back to the people as its custodians. But this is not a simple matter of preaching a new political gospel anymore. The situation is both complex and complicated. I see some mini-Berlin walls sticking out. It seems to me that the president has become wiser after the fact. He benefitted from the flawed system. This alone would erect the solid walls of opposition from his party men who would object to being denied the right to equally benefit from the same flawed system.
The parties have lost their supremacy. We are dealing with the anomaly of the president and the state governors being the leaders of their parties. This was not the case in the first and second republics when party chairmen had the clout to call a president and state governors to order. One good result of this was the orderly execution of development and other projects by men elected on the platforms of the parties consistent, of course, with their manifestoes.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar once complained of lack of internal democracy in his former party, PDP. It is the same in APC. There is some sense in the bottom-up approach to party management. The snag is that the past gives no one a chance to recapture it.
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