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Beyond the merger of the political parties, By Jideofor Adibe

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The recent call by former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar, for a merger of opposition parties against the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, has been generating interesting conversations.

It should be recalled that in a statement issued by Paul Ibe, the media adviser to the former Vice President when the latter hosted the national executive committee of the Inter-Party Advisory Council, IPAC, in Abuja, Atiku warned that “Nigeria is fast becoming a one-party system” and called for a formidable opposition to address what he regarded as the “decline in democratic values” in order to prevent the country from becoming a de facto one party system.

He was further quoted as saying: “We have all seen how the APC is increasingly turning Nigeria into a dictatorship of one party. If we don’t come together to challenge what the ruling party is trying to create, our democracy will suffer for it, and the consequences of it will affect the generations yet unborn.”

The major opposition parties – the Labour Party and the New Nigerian Party have welcomed the proposal, with the NNNP’s Publicity Secretary Yakubu Shendam, giving the caveat that any merger must be to support Rabiu Kwankwaso to become President, otherwise, it would not be interested.

Three key issues involved

There are three key issues involved in the conversation about a possible merger of the leading opposition parties: First, is an interrogation of the argument that Nigeria is on a path to becoming a one-party state as claimed by Atiku and that the only way to stop that is for the opposition parties to merge and present a formidable front. Second, is the feasibility of such a merger. And third, is whether such a merger will be the panacea to the challenges of our democracy as Atiku Abubakar implied.

Is Nigeria on the road to becoming a one party state, given the inherent weaknesses of the opposition parties as claimed by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar? There is no doubt that the PDP, the main opposition party, has been very weakened by losing three successive presidential elections while the Labour Party, which brought a lot of momentum during the 2023 election, is in control of only one state and apparently lacks the resources – both material and in manpower terms to mount a concerted and sustained opposition to the government of the day. It is not also clear whether Peter Obi will be able to sustain the enthusiasm of the ‘Obidients’ – the youth-based mass movement that provided much of the energy and panache that drove his candidacy in the 2023 presidential election.

The weaknesses of the opposition parties however do not necessarily translate into an inexorable drive to a one-party state. It is here important to make a distinction between a one-party state and a one-party dominant state. A one-party state is a situation where only one party is allowed by law to exist while a one-party dominant system is where other parties exist but only one is viable enough to consistently win power at the centre.

Since our extant laws permit the existence of several parties that meet the constitutionally stipulated requirements, Nigeria cannot be a one-party state – however weak the opposition parties may be. It can at best be a one- party dominant system. Given the structure of the country and its diversity even a one-party dominant system will have a short shelf life because the inevitable disaffection by some constituent parts of the country which feel left out or marginalised by the party in control of power at the centre is likely to lead to some strong regional parties.

The party at the centre will itself become weakened once you have two or more strong regionally based parties – creating the opportunity for something to give in, especially if the strong man whose charisma or authoritarianism held the party together is no longer in power. We saw this in the Second Republic when the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, dominated the centre but there were strong regional parties like the UPN in the South-West, the NPP in the East, the GNPP among the Kanuris in the North and the PRP in Kano.

Until the merger that gave rise to the APC in 2014, we had the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which was dominant in the South-West; All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, sentiment was strong in Anambra and some South-East states while the ANPP was strong in some ‘core’ Northern states. In essence, Nigeria cannot be a one-party system and even a one-party dominant system will have a short shelf life.

Who will bell the cat?

How feasible will the merger of the parties be? The merger that gave birth to the APC succeeded largely because of the shared frustration of the South-west (controlled by the ACN), which felt alienated from the Jonathan government and the North, which felt that Jonathan contesting the 2011 election robbed it of the chance to complete its turn of eight years following the death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2010. This shared frustration by two of the biggest voting blocs in the country, was one of the unstated driving forces behind the merger.

Buhari, a darling of the ‘core’ Muslim North at that time (but distrusted passionately in the South) rode on the wave of anti-Obasanjo sentiments in parts of the ‘core’ North when he first contested in 2003. The frustration became magnified in the light of the zoning controversy following the decision of Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential election. Buhari’s popularity in the ‘core’ Muslim North at that time meant that he was guaranteed the nearly 12 million votes he polled consistently since 2003 from his base.

It also meant that the South-West, substantially controlled by Tinubu’s political machine, was guaranteed to give Buhari the spread he never had. Can the merger of the opposition as advocated by Atiku be able to recreate the APC’s formula?  While Peter Obi is likely to retain substantial goodwill, especially in the South-East, it is not certain for now that the opposition will be able to get a candidate with the sort of guaranteed vote bank that Buhari had in the North in any part of the country.

There will of course be additional hurdles such as which part of the country will present the presidential candidate for the merged parties, who will be the flagbearer for the party and the response of the ruling APC to the merger talks. The hawks in the ruling APC may not be as ‘gentlemanly as Jonathan was during the merger talks that birthed the APC.

Merger as panacea to the challenges faced by our democracy?

While the call for merger makes practical sense, it is also symptomatic of one of the major problems of our electoral competition–  politics without principles in which the political parties are merely special purpose vehicles, SPVs, for capturing power. If the proposed merger of the parties succeeds, it is not clear how such will automatically resolve the problem of how to make our elections less anarchic and less expensive, or how it will ensure that elections no longer deepen the distrust and widen the social distance among the different constituents of the country. It is equally not clear how such a merger will help routinise our elections such that we do not need to impose curfews or restrict movement whenever elections are conducted or how it will ensure that those in power do not abuse their offices, including using state power to privilege their in-groups, while disadvantaging others.

Fixing our democracy goes beyond changing one set of political personnel to another set – irrespective of the messianic packaging they come in. It requires both fixing the rules governing the operations of the democratic process such as elections and fixing the conduct of the human agents that operate the democracy. It is akin to the structure versus agency debate.

Rather than dissipate energy on the merger of political parties aimed at merely changing the political personnel, I will recommend a rotational collegial presidency made up of six people (one from each of the six geopolitical zones) into any form of governance system that is recommended. The six members of the Presidential Council will take turns of two years each to be President of the Council, while the others will be Vice Presidents with constitutionally designated powers. The tenure of the Council will be a single term of twelve years – a period long enough to give everyone a break from elections and their tendency to divide Nigerians along certain fault lines.

Strictly Personal

This is chaos, not governance, and we must stop it, By Tee Ngugi

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The following are stories that have dominated mainstream media in recent times. Fake fertiliser and attempts by powerful politicians to kill the story. A nation of bribes, government ministries and corporations where the vice is so routine that it has the semblance of policy. Irregular spending of billions in Nairobi County.

 

Billions are spent in all countries on domestic and foreign travel. Grabbing of land belonging to state corporations, was a scam reminiscent of the Kanu era when even public toilets would be grabbed. Crisis in the health and education sectors.

 

Tribalism in hiring for state jobs. Return of construction in riparian lands and natural waterways. Relocation of major businesses because of high cost of power and heavy taxation. A tax regime that is so punitive, it squeezes life out of small businesses. Etc, ad nauseam.

 

To be fair, these stories of thievery, mismanagement, negligence, incompetence and greed have been present in all administrations since independence.

 

However, instead of the cynically-named “mama mboga” government reversing this gradual slide towards state failure, it is fuelling it.

 

Alternately, it’s campaigning for 2027 or gallivanting all over the world, evoking the legend of Emperor Nero playing the violin as Rome burned.

 

A government is run based on strict adherence to policies and laws. It appoints the most competent personnel, irrespective of tribe, to run efficient departments which have clear-cut goals.

 

It aligns education to its national vision. Its strategies to achieve food security should be driven by the best brains and guided by innovative policies. It enacts policies that attract investment and incentivize building of businesses. It treats any kind of thievery or negligence as sabotage.

 

Government is not a political party. Government officials should have nothing to do with political party matters. They should be so engaged in their government duties that they literally would not have time for party issues. Government jobs should not be used to reward girlfriends and cronies.

 

Government is exhausting work undertaken because of a passion to transform lives, not for the trappings of power. Government is not endless campaigning to win the next election. To his credit, Mwai Kibaki left party matters alone until he had to run for re-election.

 

We have corrupted the meaning of government. We have parliamentarians beholden to their tribes, not to ideas.

 

We have incompetent and corrupt judges. We have a civil service where you bribe to be served. Police take bribes to allow death traps on our roads. We have urban planners who plan nothing except how to line their pockets. We have regulatory agencies that regulate nothing, including the intake of their fat stomachs.

 

We have advisers who advise on which tenders should go to whom. There is no central organising ethos at the heart of government. There is no sense of national purpose. We have flurries of national activities, policies, legislation, appointments which don’t lead to meaningful growth. We just run on the same spot.

 

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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Strictly Personal

Off we go again with public shows, humbug and clowning, By Jenerali Uliwengu

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The potential contestants in the approaching elections are already sizing themselves up and assessing their chances of fooling their people enough for them to believe that they are truly going to “bring development” to them.

 

I mean, you have to be a true believer to believe that someone who says they have come to offer their services to you as your representative in the local council or in the national parliament and they tell you that they are going to build your roads to European standards, and your schools are going to be little Eatons; your hospitals are going to be better and more lavishly equipped than the Indian hospitals, where many of our high-placed people go for treatment, and your water supply will be so regular that you have to worry only about drowning!

 

I mean no exaggeration here, for the last time we had the occasion to listen to such clowns — five years ago — we heard one joker promise he would take all his voters to the United States for a visit.

 

He was actually voted to parliament, or at least the cabal acting as the electoral commission says he was. He has never revisited that promise as far as I can remember, but that must surely be because he is still negotiating with the American embassy for a few million visas for his voters!

 

Yes, really, these are always interesting times, when normally sober people turn out to be raving mad and university dons become illiterate.

 

Otherwise tell me how this can happen: Some smart young man or woman shows up in your neighbourhood and puts up posters and erects stands and platforms for the campaign and goes around the constituency declaring his or her ardent desire to “develop” your area by bringing in clean and safe water, excellent schools, competent teachers, the best agricultural experts as extension officers, etc, etc.

These goodies

At the time this clown is promising all these goodies, you realise he has been distributing money and items such as tee-shirts, kitenge prints, khangas, caps as well as organising feeding programmes, where everyone who cares can feed to satiation and drink whatever they want with practically no limitation.

Seriously, I have been asking myself this question: Would you employ a young man who shows up at your front porch and tells you he is seeking a job to develop your garden and tells you that, while you are thinking whether to employ him, “Here is money for you and your family to eat and drink for now!”

Now, if we think such a man should be reported to the police or taken to a mental institution, why are we behaving in exactly the same way?

Many a time we witness arguments among countrymen trying to solve the conundrum of our continued failure to move forward economically, despite our abundant resources, and it seems like we haven’t got a clue.

But is this not one of the cues, if not probably the most important clue, that we have not found a way to designate our leaders?

It ought to be clear to any person above childhood that this type of electoral system and practice can never deliver anything akin to development or progress.

Now, consider that we have being doing this same thing over and over — in many of our countries elections follow a certain periodicity like clockwork — but we have not discovered the truth.

Put simply, our politics is badly rigged against our people, and elections have become just devices to validate the political hooliganism of the various cabals running our countries like so many Mafia families.

Knee-jerk supporters

We have so demeaned our people, whom we have turned into knee-jerk supporters of whoever gives them food and drink around election time, that now they say that at least at election time it is their turn to eat, which means, naturally, that at all other times it is the turn of the ones who “bring development” to the people.

Clearly, this is not working, and it is no wonder that dissatisfaction and frustration are rife, as our people cannot put a finger to the thing that holds them back.

Apart from these sham elections, from time to time, the rulers organise shows designed to make the people believe that somebody is concerned about their problems.

We have one such masquerade happening in Tanzania right now, where public meetings are organised so people can vent their frustration. But these will never solve any problems; they are just shows.

If the elections we have been holding had any substance, there would not be any need for such public shows, except those organised by those people we elected.

Where are they? What is the use of spending so much money and other resources to erect and maintain a political system that has to be propped by public shows, where people come to vent their grievances over the hopelessness of the system in place?

I am just asking.

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