It is very common, in Nigeria, to hear the phrase ‘this is politics’. Often, to a politician it means, this is my prerogative. In other words, ‘it is my jurisdiction and I set the rule’ seems to be the message. The ‘rule’ could be anything conventional or unconventional, written or unwritten, civil or uncivil, persuasive or forceful, legal or illegal, etc. Non politicians, referring to non-partisan individuals (card-carrying party members, especially those seeking elective or appointive government positions), can only be observers, have to accept being at the receiving end and must take as given every action of the politician.
To a non partisan individual, depending on the bias of the person, it could just be a statement about why things are bad or why citizens can’t get their wishes. ‘It is hopeless, don’t just bother yourself’, may as well be the statement being made. In the circumstance, the politician is projected to represent everything bad and corrupt. His/her actions are equated with our ‘godforsaken’ wasteful conduct that manifest in mismanagement and theft of public resources. In our psyche, we, as citizens of Nigeria, have come to accept this as a statement of ‘fact’.
In so many ways, this represent the sharp mindset that characterises our politics on account of which our politicians and other citizens remain perpetually divided. And since the politicians produce leaders in government, it also represent why our governments, in most cases, at all levels, are alienated from the citizens. Yet, we continue to express the dogma that our democracy is ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’.
If politics, as we are taught, is about being able to influence decisions that affect people and society, the phrase, ‘this is politics’ is subversive in the Nigerian context. The challenge therefore is, how do we change our mindset? This should mean; how can we get citizens to reject this interpretation of politics? Can we develop the needed confidence to be able to engage our politicians to create a new reality whereby politics is about conventional, written, civil, consensual and legal order? Is it possible to have a situation where our politicians come to citizens with all humility and ask the question, what do you want, as a basis for their actions? In any event, who is a politician in the first place? How different is the politician from the citizens?
These questions can be endless. Sometimes, it is waste of time asking some of these questions, especially if at the end we don’t attempt to provide practical answers – yes, PRACTICAL ANSWERS! To the extent that we attempt to provide answers that do not factor our individual actions, especially as citizens, to that extent, they are NOT PRACTICAL. We need answers that should take their bearing from our smallest actions as citizens largely because the politician is one of us and could be any of us.
In fact, we need to take our bearing from the reality that any of us can be the politician and the politician can be any of us. This is not academic assertion, it is a reality. Many of today`s politicians were at some point very ordinary citizens. Some of our politicians in 1999, for instance, are today ordinary citizens. By 2015, some ordinary citizens will join politics and win elections. At the same time, some of today’s politicians will be pushed out of partisan reckoning on account of not winning elections or being re-appointed.
The new post 2015 politicians may include some of us that are very critical of today`s politicians. Given such situation, our new entrants, no matter their resentment against the bad coloration of politics will operate based on the notion that politics is about exercising prerogatives or having a jurisdiction which will mean anything conventional or unconventional, written or unwritten, civil or uncivil, persuasive or forceful, legal or illegal, etc. Irrespective of the individual actors therefore, politics will be associated with corruption and wasteful management of public resources.
This reality demand that we do something urgently to change the character of our politics. How can we change the character of our politics? Most of the time, we attempt to answer this question by exclusively focusing on the politician. To a large extent, important as the politician is, our roles and responsibilities as citizens are very critical. We cannot change the character of politics without some minimum citizens’ interventions, actions, engagements and initiatives.
What cannot be disputed is that citizens’ vote, however defined, is the basis of legitimacy for leadership in this country today. What are we doing to take advantage of our roles as citizens to bring about change in Nigeria? This is not a theoretical question, it is practical. It is not exclusive, but include everyone of us. 2015 is only about 2 years away. Very soon, politicians will start parading themselves as saints, righteous individuals and saviours requesting for citizens votes. If past experience is anything to go by, the process will be driven largely by money-politics. In which case, the elections may have been concluded long before the 2015 votes. The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) on account of its control over the federal government and most state governments will have an advantage and would have strong potential to emerge victorious in 2015.
This is one factor that should challenge our opposition parties to think beyond the ordinary and come up new approaches to political organising and mobilisation. Fortunately, as it is today, our leading opposition parties, namely, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Rochas Okorocha-led faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have accepted the need to merge as basis for strengthening their electoral prospects in 2015. These parties have all setup merger negotiation teams and in an unprecedented manner have since February 6 announced agreement to merge under a new party All Progressives Congress (APC). The Joint Inter Party Merger Committee have been working to meet other conditions for the merger as provided under section 84 of the electoral act.
The truth is that most Nigerians, including the PDP never expected the merger negotiation to get this far. In fact, the expectation was that the usual personality conflict around the issue of candidature would stalemate the process and result in possible miscarriage of the merger just as happened in 2010 and 2011, not to talk of the first and second republic experiences. There were of course initial signs of disagreement when around the last week of January, Gen. Buhari while inaugurating the CPC merger committee announced that the CPC priority is merger with ACN, which suggest an exclusion of ANPP. There was a lot of apprehension that Gen. Buhari’s directive to the CPC merger committee may create some unhealthy dynamics that may present the merger negotiations as narrow and perhaps self-serving. That being the case, it may make the merger and the new party less popular.
Besides, given the indications of some understanding based on media reports early in January between ACN and ANPP which indicated stronger potentials for merger between the two parties, a strict bilateral negotiation between ACN and CPC would have presented a moral dilemma for ACN. However, by the time the opposition Governors met in Lagos in the first week of February and the next day, February 6, the meeting of the merger committees of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA announced the resolve of the parties to merge and form All Progressives Congress (APC), it was a surprise to Nigerians, which must have translated to disappointment for PDP and those Nigerians who are opposed to the merger. Of course, thereafter, there was the expectations that some of the Governors, notably Peter Obi and Adams Oshiomhole who were absent at the Lagos meeting will not join the merger or in other words would become the black legs of the merger. Unfortunately for PDP, only Peter Obi acted to the script. Adams Oshiomhole presented what could best be described as combative presence at the Borno meeting of the opposition governors about a week after the Lagos meeting.
In terms of the consequence of Governor Peter Obi not joining the merger and pulling out a section of APGA from the merger, it is to the credit of the leadership of the merging parties and the merger committee that it has been very well managed and today it can be argued with some degree of certainty that the people of the South East where APGA is strong are fully involved in the merger process and Governor Peter Obi and his APGA faction are only singing their political funeral dirge. What has been established over the last two – three months is that the merging parties are resolute and week after week they are producing ground breaking victories. This is a major source of discomfort for PDP and their supporters who are doing so largely on account of the benefits they enjoy through being part of the banditary army of looters of public resources.
Given the potential challenges the merger posed to PDP, they (PDP) have to introduce some factors that may take away initiatives from the merging parties. This was achieved through the covert strategy of getting some PDP members to submit application to INEC to register a party, called African Peoples Congress with the same acronym as that of the party coming out of the merger, APC. To some extent, the application by African Peoples Congress for registration as political party is part of this PDP plot aimed at taking away initiative from the merger based on orchestrating acronym controversy, thereby presenting the merging parties as bunch of mediocres. For the period of the controversy, in some ways, they (PDP) successfully slowed the work of the merger committee by forcing it to concentrate too much on responding to the issue of propriety or otherwise of the acronym, APC.
One of the most attractive signal of the merger process so far was that it has presented all the potentials of producing a party that is stronger than any of the individual actors/parties and to that extent therefore producing a party that has so many strong actors/personalities. The beauty of this is that public ownership of the party is possible and the democratic thrust of the party could be guaranteed. For most Nigerians, the expectations are that, for once under this democratic dispensation as a nation, there is a strong possibility of the emergence of a party with public appeal. In the circumstance, the possibility of mass membership mobilisation resulting in situations whereby candidates for elections may be produced from among party members and not the current situation whereby in all our parties including PDP party members are different from candidates because candidates must be some money bags outside the party. The challenge now is how do we produce a game changer that will guarantee that the merger process will truly give birth to a new party that can mobilise Nigerians not just for the defeat of PDP in 2015 but more fundamentally be able to lay strong foundation for national development?
One thing is clear that the merging parties have done excellently well managing the process of contracting new relations among themselves. In the post-colonial history of Nigeria, virtually all political merger negotiations crashed at this level. It is to the credit of the current negotiations that so far internal differences or interests are not the threat to the current merger. There are however threats which are external to the merging parties. This include the fact that PDP as the ruling party that will be unseated in 2015 if the merger succeed is not going to fold its arm. In fact, it has already showed its resolve in so many ways to throw in spanners in the merger negotiations. What is needed at this point is not to look for easy options.
In moving forward, we just need to acknowledge that in the life of this republic, there is no process of party formation that has been so popular and participatory as the one that is being negotiated by the merging parties. In some ways, the new party has raised expectations of Nigerians that the merger promises to produce a party constitution and manifesto that may be appealing. This much can be said at this stage. What cannot be said however is whether it will produce new crop of membership/politicians that will be able to produce new governance reality in the country. The new governance reality on account of new membership and the potential to create new crop of politicians will be what will give life to the provisions of the new party constitution and manifesto. What is very clear is that once the whole negotiation leading to the emergence of the new party revolve around the membership and leadership of the current merging parties, the possibility of new governance reality is weak.
Therefore, what is needed in the circumstance is to strengthen the merger process with public engagement and through that creating a situation whereby Nigerians take up the challenges facing the merger and commit themselves to addressing them. We must all be very clear that political parties have legal limitations and therefore their capacity to win a struggle such as the current one aimed at uniting opposition parties with defined legal boundaries will be difficult. However, for the public, there is no limit to the scope of initiatives. Where the law is the problem, the public may decide to mobilise for a legislative struggle. The reality of what the merger is experiencing as political challenges call to question our capacity as a people to combine different forms of struggle – political, legal, legislative, etc. Relations between the parties negotiating the merger and interest groups is an important requirement to guarantee the eventual victory of Nigerians. Happily, there is good ground for this to be developed. The merger committee has made itself accessible to women, youth, persons with disability and civil society groups among others in the process of drafting its constitution and manifesto.
The merger committee and the leadership of the merging parties would need to be assisted with initiatives that would enable the merger process to effectively respond to all the challenges that would emerge between now and the time the merger will be consummated, in fact up to the 2015 elections, to guarantee the defeat of the status quo. The truth is that it is our capacity to force a relationship between Nigerian people and the merger process that would produce the necessary conditions for accountability in the management of the new party. Otherwise we risked the institution of business as usual framework in a new form which will only reproduce current status quo.
Therefore one of the contributions of citizens, whether partisan or non partician, politicians or not will be to make specific demands focusing on how the provisions of the constitution and manifesto of the new party can meet our expectation. In particular, we need to demand what should be the commitment of the new party with respect to education, health, agriculture, industry, human welfare, etc. We need to state these demand in very clear, unambiguous and specifically targeted provisions in the manifesto. With respect to the constitution, we need to say exactly what we want to ensure that the party represent our interest beyond broad clamour for internal democracy.
Our specific demands should assist our new party, APC, to come up with strong provisions and not just simple statements of wishes such as free education, free health care, etc. Happily, since already the merger committee has announced that APC will be oriented around social democratic values, the model for the party should be the Scandinavian countries who are today’s world leaders on matters of education, health and social welfare. For clarity, these are countries governed by social democratic parties and have successfully recorded 100 percent literacy rate and have about the best citizens’ life span in the world, ahead of countries like, United State of America, Germany, Canada, France, United Kingdom, etc. The evidence are clear, massive public investment on the educational and health sectors.
This then means that provisions of APC manifesto must state category what actions the party intend to take annually to guarantee free education for citizens in the country? How will those actions translate into expansion for educational delivery capacity of our public schools to guarantee enrollment of all Nigerian children? What will be the cost annual cost of the envisioned actions and how will the APC government mobilise the needed resources? In terms of healthcare, Nigerians are equally looking to see what are the specific commitments of APC in terms of expanding facilities for healthcare delivery services and training and recruiting staff. What will be the annual cost of the envisioned actions of APC government and how will it mobilise the needed resources?
It is important that APC come through as honest and sincere initiative with every practical proposition and not reduced to academic exercise that can provide our politicians with all the escape routes based on generic provisions. This is needed bearing in mind that the main reason why many Nigerians are interested in the current merger negotiations between our leading opposition parties is for change in Nigeria to be guaranteed which should impact on the quality of life. In fact, if the truth is to be told, our dear nation will be at great risk of national collapse if our critical national problems are to be left in jaws of PDP. Most of our national problems are politically created and solutions lies in politics. Without the usual lamentation and blame analysis against PDP, we, Nigerians, need political change which should be a product of political competition.
Producing political competition is not about wishes but basically about stimulating the right framework that would engender the right actions, practices, culture and conventions. So far, since 1999, actions, practices, culture and conventions across all facets of our polity has been the same, on account of which our parties are practically almost the same. The current merger negotiation involving ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led faction of APGA must produce the game-changer that would guarantee political competition.
To guarantee this, Nigerians, both as individual citizens and organisations, should not consign themselves with the role of onlookers. We must continually remind ourselves about Frantz Fanon’s incisive clarion call to action with the words, ‘every onlooker is either a traitor or a coward’. We should not wait for the merger to produce a constitution and manifesto before we respond. We need to step forward with our demands in order to preempt the constitution and manifesto of APC. This is the best way to challenge the merger to produce working documents that would lay a more concrete and expanded foundation for political competition in the country. Otherwise, all that would be uppermost to the merger committee would be to package a constitution and manifesto that would only meet INEC requirement. Whether they (constitution and manifesto) meet the expectations of Nigerians would be secondary, if not immaterial.
If past experiences of party formation since 1999 is anything to go by, if the merger committee is left alone the constitution and manifesto of the new party (APC) may hardly go beyond those of the current merging parties . To that extent, the merger exercise face the great risk of taking members of the parties and Nigerians for granted. In the event that such a result become the outcome of the merger exercise, it can be justified by the phrase ‘this is politics’ – pure exercise of prerogatives by politicians led by the Tom Ikimi Joint Interparty Merger Committee. As citizens, we can only be obsersers, best qualified by the apt Fanonian description of cowardly onlookers.
The issue therefore is that being cowardly onlookers would give members of the merger committee the license to take the support of Nigerians for granted. This may not be limited to the merger committee because it may naturally be transmitted to the post-merger leadership of the party. This is very worrisome because the new party will be founded based on a framework of lack of commitment to the desires and wishes of Nigerians beyond mere electoral victory.
We need to constantly remind the leadership of the merging parties that Nigerians are not simply interested in the defeat of PDP. What Nigerians are interested in is a situation where the defeat of PDP would translate into enthronement of good and accountable governance. This should necessary reflect in strong commitment for services especially in the areas of health, education, agriculture, human welfare, etc. Strong commitments in these areas, perhaps based on the Scandinavian model, would make APC unique and perhaps create a stronger framework for accountability in politics. Problem of accountability is at the root of our political problems and inability to come through with a clearly defined response will only present the merger as a mere convenient exercise for those in politics interested in simply grabbing power.
Nigerians need to appreciate that behind the phrase, ‘this is politics’ is the true arrogant character of politicians who want to dominate citizens without recognizing the resourcefulness of citizens and as a result unable to harness resources and goodwill. In many ways, it also cover the limitations and weaknesses, if not incompetence, of the politician. This reality may create a situation whereby even when citizens and groups make submissions to the merger committee, there is no guarantee that it will be acceptable and accordingly facilitate concessions resulting in the merger meeting current public expectations. In the event of such reality, what can we make of the merger? Does it mean that the parties in the merger are not interested in the demands of Nigerians and therefore not interested in expanding the membership of the new party? A possible explanation would simply be that it represent the usual reckless actions of Nigerian politicians which always create the conditions for their electoral defeat. One thing that cannot be taken away from this merger exercise is that it is a national necessity and therefore we must bring every pressure to bear on it so that the merging parties get it right. Getting it right should mean producing the right constitution and manifesto as basis for public mobilisation.
The fundamental issue therefore, relates to engendering a new disposition under the new party, APC, to provide Nigerians with choices and alternatives such that the people could broaden the scope and space for citizens’ participation in guaranteeing the realisation of hopes and aspirations of our people. This is the organisational, leadership and political challenges facing us; if you like, it is the 2015 challenge. How are we going to respond to these challenges? Is the new party, APC, going to be able to produce new political organisations that would produce contrasting political values and therefore throw up new sets of politicians? Or, are we just simply re-inventing and reproducing PDP in different guises and forms?
First thing first. We need to break current mindset by putting a halt to subversive politics of ‘this is politics’. We need to stop the culture of being cowardly onlookers as citizens and organised groups by coming forward to engage the merger process with specific demands regarding provisions of the constitution and manifesto of the new party. As Nigerians, we need to do this as minimum requirement to assist opposition politicians to overcome their limitations and put them on the service pedestal, which is the needed foundation for electoral defeat of PDP in 2015 and the victory of the new party, APC. The constitution and manifesto of APC should not be the prerogative of the Ikimi led merger committee. It should be the collective property of current and future members of the party, which is the needed foundation to guarantee the emergence of government of the people, by the people and for the people. So help us God!
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