Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pork marks on the face of our democracy

Bickering is a permanent feature of our national politics. You cannot blame those who bicker. They do so because they feel cheated by the moguls in their parties who decide who gets what, no matter what the rules say.

Bickering is traceable to one major affliction in our party politics: lack of internal democracy. Those who anointed themselves as democratic leaders find no contradiction in their assumed role as dictators. Internal democracy is critical to the success of political parties. Lack of it is a pork mark on the face of our democracy.

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, now presidential candidate of PDP, consistently raised this issue in his party and urged the members to play by the rules. He was ignored because playing by the rules quite often makes for sterile politics in developing countries. Politics is basically a game of cheaters by cheaters. Those who wait for justice and fairness in our political party system are in for a very long wait.

The bickering after the recent party primaries has become deafening and it is rocking the two major political parties, APC and PDP. Both parties are haemorrhaging with their aggrieved members seeking accommodation in other political parties. This is called dumping. You dump your political party because it has not been fair to you. You then feel free to seek your political fortune in another political party.

For 23 years this has been the nature of our party politics. And it has been deleterious to the health of our democracy. Democracy needs steady political parties built on a steady party system. In the absence of party ideologies, our political parties stand on nothing. It creates a legitimate room for the aggrieved and the ambitious to dump their parties and move on elsewhere. It also makes it possible for those who believe their parties cannot give them what they want to dump them and chase the rainbow.

David Umahi and Ben Ayade, governors of Ebonyi and Cross River states respectively, are good examples of ambitious men who think nothing of their moral obligation to their political parties. Both men are PDP governors. And then, each of them wanted to succeed Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2023. By their calculation, their best chance was with APC. So, these men who have benefitted this much from their party, PDP, dumped it and took to chasing their hollow dreams.

It bears repeating: political parties are not just platforms for seeking elective offices in the executive and the legislative branches of government. Their primary role is to drive social, political and economic development in a given democratic nation. This, as you know, our political parties are unable to do. Those of you in the same age league as yours sincerely would recall that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo imposed discipline on his party, UPN. Governors elected on its platform, executed projects approved by the party. It accelerated the development of the old Western region. Today, no such discipline exists in the current political parties. The result is that state governors embarrass themselves by hair-brained development ideas that get stuck in the course of their execution. The people’s funds are wasted but nobody is held to account. Talk of immunity.

In harping on this, I know I am beginning to sound like a broken vinyl record. But I offer no apologies. Because it is clear to me that if we refuse to build a good political system on which political parties rest, our democracy will continue to be hobbled by impunity and a lack of respect for the rule of law. It will never actually grow and flower in the land. The roots of our democracy get deep into the soil when we do the right things by the people in accordance with the tenets and best practices in democracy and abide by the rules of the game. Political favouritism is anathema to free choice and political pluralism. The emphasis in instituting a government of the people is an election, not selection.

The conduct of the recent party primaries threw up issues that are bound to fundamentally cripple or alter the tenor of our democracy if we ignore the signals sent out by this new ill-wind. We witnessed new things called dummies and placeholders that are quite strange to democracy elsewhere. A man holding a particular office chooses to go after a higher elective office and nominates someone to hold his current elective position for him. The man so chosen is a placeholder. If the big man fails in his attempts for a higher elective office, he hightails it back home and asks the placeholder to yield the ticket to him.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan did this with Machina. When he failed to get the presidential nomination of his party, APC, he asked his placeholder, Machina, to give him back the party ticket for his senatorial seat in Yobe State. No way, Machina said. He too could be a senator. It became and remains a messy situation despite the support of the party for the senate president.

In the case of a dummy, a presidential candidate shopping for his running mate sells INEC a dummy in order to beat the deadline for the submission of nominated candidates. When he finds his suitable running mate, the dummy disappears from view and from the ballot. This was what the presidential candidate of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu did.

Surely, these strange contraptions are not the ways of democracy. The big men are bending the rules to suit them and their convenience. Once this takes hold among the political parties, this clear abnormality will become the new normal and a millstone tied to the ankle of our democracy.

There were and still are complaints that the primaries were largely conducted with crass impunity by those who crowned themselves the party leaders. They substituted people who did not contest the primaries with some of those who contested and won. In some cases, this happened because state governors chafed at their political enemies being given the party tickets to contest elective offices. In other cases, the unknown men, who won were replaced by the known men who have become fixtures in the political parties and are considered heavyweights.

I have made this point before in this column and I make it again: the party primaries have largely become a farce. What is the purpose of the party primaries if those who won are not allowed to contest the elections next year? What gives the state governors and the so-called stakeholders the right to abbreviate anybody’s political ambition?

What makes it so difficult for the godfathers to accept that in bending the rules any which way they choose, they are destroying our democracy, not sustaining and growing it.

We must cry out now because no abnormality is a passing phase in our country. If it is not stopped now, it can only progressively get worse in the near future and the party primaries will become a greater joke. The result will continue to be instability in the system.

Money, of course, remains a major decider in our national politics. Those with deep pockets are the princes in the political system. The INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, drew attention to this during the party primaries. He said, “…the influence of money on politics…is becoming more prevalent and the risk is that ours may soon become a plutocracy for the rich rather than a democracy for the people.” 

Plutocracy is not democracy. Money rules democracies but no country has bent to the will of money and institutes a government of the rich by the rich to the detriment of the people. It is bad for the health of every country. It is worse for our country. Our country must be turned away from a system of government that denies the people the right to institute governments of their choice through the ballot box.

Preserving and protecting democracy from the wanton encroachment of plutocracy should be taken as an urgent task by our political leaders. But, of course, they will not. They are the beneficiaries, most of them with doubtful sources of wealth. By keeping the people poor and dependent, the rich can always count on the crumbs from their table to keep the people on the leash with their mouths sealed with a few wretched naira in their wretched pockets.

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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