The failure of party politics
Political parties, as incidents of the democratic culture, are formed to project or promote group interests within the context of their national reality. By their expressed philosophy or ideology, they are adjudged along the political spectrum as right wing or conservative, leftist or progressive, centrist or liberal, etc. In extreme cases, ultra nationalists or fascists aggregate their views to form a party reflective of their diagnosis of the polity’s difficulties and their considered solution thereto. In effect, political parties are each a product of the world view of their membership or of their directing minds. Their attitudes, carriage or expression are often indicative of the groups’ underlying body of beliefs, catechism or affirmation of faith.
The democratic tradition of alternating governments, evolving policies, pragmatic choices, etc theoretically presents us with some choice with regard to the management of our economic and other affairs. In Nigeria, the giddy structure of political parties, as it has evolved, drives them inexorably into attitudes which render them almost impossible either in office or in opposition to pursue genuine national objectives. Their aide memoir or constitution is a mish-mash of ill-digested or incoherent ideas. Their commitment, for example, to private ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, of all enterprises engaged in manufacture, distribution and exchange, etc is equally impishly shared by all of them, especially the major political parties. So there is truly no difference in structure, poise and prognosis as between or among Nigerian political parties. This fluidity is practically exemplified in the ease and convenience which attend the change of play shirt or party flag as politicians remorselessly announce their decamping from one party to another with unabashed glee or rude pomp. In a mature party system, this feature is unhealthy or tacky. Each party ought to be distinctive regarding the shared values of its membership, its programmes, thrust or direction.
At a time like this, considering that the period of honeymoon of the new helmsmen is over and that time is running out; considering too that the price level and the stability of the currency are continually threatened and as resort is sought in foreign or external borrowing and higher taxes, so much reliance on the ruling party’s presumed prowess, forte or predilection is misplaced or counter-productive and may conduce to a growing unpopularity of the party even as re-run or by-elections are serially lost. The party that set out with goodwill to remedy the situation with which it has been left soon falls into public dis-favour or opprobrium and because financial realism is almost always unpopular, the party begins to lose its nerve and consequently relaxes its policies before they have had time to have effect. Embarrassing policy somersaults inevitably ensue.
In the meanwhile, the trade unions use their industrial muscle to force up wages even as they are vigorously supported by the general populace and the opposition. So, government after government is put in a precarious position where they can only yield to current and future threats. The hardships that follow are held, understandably, as the responsibility of the government.
Being so vulnerable to purely political decisions, the party is destructive of economic efficiency. Ranged side by side even in a fair contest between the considerations of social stability and market efficiency, the former is sure to win. The thinly-concealed hand of party chieftains always re-sets the clock in favour of the enforcement of party rules which most times translate to obnoxious party control or filthy personal gains. Just because a party is in power does not mean that it has the proper grip of things. It is merely in power and may not be in control. Even as governments all over the world have basic functions or responsibility to their respective economies, as promoters of healthy market development, as regulators of institutions and as owners or guarantors of businesses especially in difficult times, as in our present situation, the basic challenge lies in the very nature of party control and the insatiable appetite of party captains.
Whereas healthy intra-party rivalries between or among party caucuses are proper as they are positioned not only to interrogate and thereby strengthen the party’s internal conflict management mechanism but also to ensure ultimate cohesion in strategy and tactics, many examples of contests for elective and other positions among same party members have been needlessly fractious and tended to tear the organisations apart or into shreds. The Nigerian Senate leadership tussle which has defied rational solution is a case in point. The outcome of its fall-out is yet in the womb of time. Further, the on-going scenario of carpet crossing rather than strengthen our democratic portfolio, rudely denies the actual locus of political sovereignty. It, in fact, blurs the difference (if any) in the ideology and praxis of the respective parties.
Dogmatism and doctrinaire ideology may seem no longer attractive or realistic political attributes. But democracy will continue to mean a change of government from time to time as if oscillating between two sides with opposing philosophies rigidly applied. Ideologies are eminently positioned to drive principles to practical ends. It will be in the interest of our much-vaunted development to provide the electorate the opportunity to choose between truly oppositional ideological perspectives.
Parties’ often self-indulgent handling of serious allegations of corruption or of other instances of malfeasance, etc leveled against favoured or properly projected members of the party is invidious and is sure to weaken the fabric of the party regarding discipline, the sanctity of the rule book, and the presumption of a moral high ground. So the party cannot be even-handed even in matters in which its members are equally damned or proportionately implicated. The rules do not apply the same way across board respecting party members as there are sacred cows whose infractions may be overlooked and not visited with sanctions, reproof or reprimand. Many instances of partisan grandstanding have tended to discredit the political process. They can only earn the party voter disdain or contempt which will be disastrous for a projected come-back respecting future elections or electoral fortunes.
To underscore the requirement for consistency and properly-considered positions regarding any issue of policy, the present morass flowing from the volte-face of key leaders of the APC respecting deregulation, the removal of oil subsidy or the fuel price hike (by whatever name called), etc exposes either an abysmal want of thoroughness, a bile-full disposition or chicanery. In 2012, the Jonathan administration announced the removal of oil subsidy and a new price per litre for PMS. So much hullabaloo orchestrated by the opposition attended the policy enunciation that the government panicked and hastily withdrew the policy before it took root. Some notable members of the present administration impudently posited that there was nothing like oil subsidy; that it was a ruse or an unmitigated scam. Today, the public is aghast as these self-same opponents of subsidy removal have turned full circle and are the muscular champions of its new-found necessity for stability, poverty alleviation and a market-driven economy.
We conclude by saying there is a certain mould or strand of opinion which is prepared to say that no radical change – apart from what passes as change now – is required in our present circumstance because everything will be all right as long as President Buhari is in charge. This I believe to be the most dangerous heresy of these times. As a matter of fact, the fitful or poor performance of the demands of his office may prove as demoralising to us, and in the end as disastrous, as our time under Goodluck Jonathan such that it will delay the urgent requirement to put things right, allow sentimental considerations to prevail over practical and objective argument, continue the persecution or impoverishment of the middle class, overtax the enterprising, discourage the poor or down trodden, etc.
Our parties or their managers or candidates struggle for elevation or promotion without having much to show for it; and having obtained it by subterfuge and other means, joyfully or self-gratifyingly abdicate every responsibility or urge to do anything further. As a matter of fact, they leave us poorer or more distraught than they met us.
• Rotimi-John, a lawyer and commentator on public affairs, sent in this article from Kano vide rotimijohnand firstname.lastname@example.org
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