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Between order of elections, and limit on numbers of political parties (1)

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was proactive this time. It released its schedule of upcoming events ahead of time. It showed a good example. At ANRP (Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party), we are also like that. So we built our own programs around INEC’s schedule. But there is a problem.

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INEC has planned for the Presidential elections to come first, side by side State Assemblies elections. A second look shows that this may be problematic. In 2015 the same style was deployed by the PDP. President Jonathan was probably sure that he will take the vote but he didn’t. The pendulum swung for Buhari and APC instead. But the moment Jonathan lost, it was a shoo-in for the APC in many states across the federation. 

One could argue that Buhari the incumbent could also lose this upcoming elections.  However, the chances are slimmer than they were under Jonathan for the fact that the APC government has only spent 3 years and not 16 in office. Yes, many Nigerians are totally exasperated by Buhari’s alienated government, occasioned by much hardship, but the man is a cult figure among a vast swathe of usually impoverished folks, who will not only vote for him in some core areas of the north, but also ensure that many dissenting folks are unable to exercise their franchise in those places where necessary. The incendiary remarks of some of Buhari’s opponents, especially pentecostal pastors, have made the situation more precarious. What looms ahead for Nigeria is again another religious and ethnic battle, not a battle for ideas and action. 

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I recently read an analysis by the one and only Mahmud Jega about the importance of the order of elections, which however stopped at the level of identifying how different levels of politicians – governors, parliamentarians – may react to the outcomes of election results if the presidential came first, and vice versa. Since self-interest is paramount in politics, Jega’s analogy was about how the politicians will bring out their long knives on the day of reckoning. My problem with that analysis is that it glorifies the current retrogressive understanding of politics by our major actors; a situation which makes no provision for nation-building. Nigeria is facing another existential crisis (as always you would say), and intellectuals should strive to take the debate forward beyond the need for a greedy and wasteful political class to engage in horse-trading, backstabbing and such like, simply to consolidate their advantage over a hapless people.   

And so, for me, the best way to look at the issue of order of elections is from the prism of whether it deepens democracy or not.  I will merge this with the debate over the ‘proliferation’ of political parties – and the ongoing agitation by many of those parties to get funding from government.

You see, people have been complaining that there are already too many parties. As someone who struggled with a team to obtain our own political party license (ANRP), and having realized the importance of that franchise, I wouldn’t quickly buy that argument, but fair is fair.  Everybody cannot be rushing to obtain political party licenses. Coordination is going to be tough, and logistics, too expensive.  But in democracy, can choices be too many?  Should we limit the parties to just two for example?  It will not be a bad idea to so do, only that we never had any two parties that we could anchor such a dichotomy on – like they have the Labor and Tories in the UK, or the Conservatives and Democrats in the USA.  Our two largest political parties are by the admission of those who set them up – and a number of people who are decision-makers inside them presently – repositories of ‘jagajaganess’. One was called a ‘nest of vipers’ at some point. The other, which is the ruling party today, makes no pretensions to internal democracy. Neither of them has any stated ideology beyond the usurpation of public property and the democratization of corruption in high and low places, and by every means, most of their members have been in the two parties. It is fatally wrong for anyone to believe that these two parties approximate the desires and aspirations of Nigerians in the same way that Americans can be split into Democrats and Republicans, left or right. I mean, under the two major parties, Nigeria has sunk lower and lower to this point, and is brooking implosion any moment. When we discuss with some of their executives, they complain bitterly. They are part of the sleaze, but understand that their parties have gone too far.

If Nigeria wants to revert to a two-party arrangement therefore, the PDP and APC are certainly not the right anchors. Nigeria may have to look elsewhere. It is time to start afresh. These two parties have tried and failed woefully on all counts.  The economy lays prostrate under their feet.  The society stands divided.  Too make matters worse, those two parties have military backgrounds. In 1999, the military under Gen Abdulsalam helped the PDP to hasten its formation. By then even the diplomatic community was solidly behind a return to democracy. Military politicians (or militicians) therefore flooded the PDP, and have been moving in and out especially between the two large parties. Perhaps that is why they cannot find democracy. What Nigeria needs today is therefore a total reset. We want democracy, anchored on ideas and driven by civilians. This point even vitiates the recent movement being sponsored by General Obasanjo, where Brig. General Oyinlola and Colonel Ahmadu Ali have also laid ambush to take leadership positions. 

So my best argument against those who say the parties are already too many – even though INEC is likely to approve a few more and the number may get to 100 – is that we cannot stop registering parties because the status quo ante did not give us our best political idea. I mean there was no ANRP before. And here we are today, approximating, coordinating and channelling the desires of right-thinking Nigerians – forward-thinking students, professionals, artisans, and all those who truly want Nigeria to make progress beyond the sharing of one ‘mudu’ of rice every election cycle. We have a stated ideology which is CONSTRUCTIVE PRAGMATISM, which states that we shall be deploying all that is good in the existing global ideologies. In other words we will not be bamboozled to buy any socioeconomic principle off the shelf, but will adopt any recommendation with our eyes wide open. We are a thinking party, on a quest to create a thinking Nigeria. The rest is in the details. What if we get another party that is ready to be transparent, to bare out all its internal workings, to give members opportunities to step up to the leadership plate within their spheres, and to ensure that no moneybag shows up to dictate who gets what at every turn? Then we may have had two real parties in Nigeria. For now, we have only one real party, and that is ANRP (Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party). We may not have been given half a chance, and many may dismiss our efforts, but by God we are here to prove ourselves.  

More next week

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