Which Two Parties Do Nigerians Truly Need?, By ‘Tope Fasua
If Nigeria wants to revert to a two-party arrangement, therefore, the PDP and APC are certainly not the right anchors. The PDP and APC should not feature in that arrangement. Nigeria will have to look elsewhere. It is time to start afresh. These two parties have tried and failed on all counts. The economy lays prostrate under their feet. The society stands divided and undisciplined. Too make matters worse, those two parties have military backgrounds.
INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, was proactive this time. It released its schedule of upcoming events ahead of time. It showed good example. At the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), we are also like that. We have built our own programmes around INEC’s schedule… But there is a problem.
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 would 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 for that are slimmer than they were under Jonathan, for the fact that the APC government has only spent three 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 parts of Nigeria, 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 some 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), which may blindside us and play into Buhari’s favour… and ultimately in favour of everything that is status quo, meaning that Nigeria will not change for the better.
I recently read an analysis by 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. Given that 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, and stab anyone in sight in the back just to consolidate their positions or upstage one another. 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 telling us what we already know. Our only remaining chance is in using our brains to reset this country. Those who have weapons, raw cash and unbridled political power are the enemies.
And so, for me, the best way to look at the issue of order of elections is from the prism of how whatever arrangement we adopt 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.
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 up to 100 – is that we cannot stop registering parties yet, because the status quo ante did not give us our best political ideas. I mean there was no ANRP before. And here we are today, with ANRP approximating, coordinating and channeling the desires of right-thinking Nigerians…
You see, people have been complaining that there are already too many political parties in Nigeria. As someone who struggled with a team of likeminded people to obtain our own political party license (of ANRP), and having realised the importance and potency of that franchise, I wouldn’t quickly buy that argument that parties are too many, but fair is fair. Everybody cannot be rushing to obtain political party licenses. Coordination is going to be tough, and logistics, too expensive. But is choice not fundamental to democracy? Now, should we limit the parties – by fiat – to just two, as suggested by many, including some retired generals? If it can be achieved democratically, it may 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 Labour and Tories in the UK, or the Republicans 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; it has been unable to hold a congress or convention for years, despite its constitution. The party is comatose and can hardly pay its staff. Neither of the two parties have any stated ideology beyond the usurpation of public property and the democratisation of corruption in high and low places, and by every means, most of their members have been in the two parties and many still carry cards of both. 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. Indeed, under the two major parties, Nigeria has only 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 know that they are part of the sleaze, but understand that their parties have gone too far. And even they see the imminent danger ahead.
If Nigeria wants to revert to a two-party arrangement, therefore, the PDP and APC are certainly not the right anchors. The PDP and APC should not feature in that arrangement. Nigeria will have to look elsewhere. It is time to start afresh. These two parties have tried and failed on all counts. The economy lays prostrate under their feet. The society stands divided and undisciplined. Too make matters worse, those two parties have military backgrounds. In 1999, the military under General 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. Today a section of military men have flooded the APC, leaving another military division in PDP – and another courting General Obasanjo. Perhaps that is why none of the groups can find democracy. What Nigeria needs today is a total reset. We want democracy, anchored on ideas and driven by civilians. We want a democracy anchored on parties formed by equals and built from the scratch by them, not with stolen public funds like these two behemoths. In the ‘movement’ being sponsored by General Obasanjo, Brigadier General Oyinlola and Colonel Ahmadu Ali have also laid ambush to take leadership positions. No, we don’t need Obasanjo’s idea of a Third Force. Professor Jibrin Ibrahim wrote as much in his recently syndicated article. He also defined some of the issues with our existing political parties, though he probably doesn’t know about ANRP, which ticks all the right boxes for what Nigeria needs. I will explain to him here.
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 up to 100 – is that we cannot stop registering parties yet, because the status quo ante did not give us our best political ideas. I mean there was no ANRP before. And here we are today, with ANRP approximating, coordinating and channeling the desires of right-thinking Nigerians – forward-thinking students, professionals, artesans, and all those who truly want Nigeria to make progress beyond the sharing of one ‘mudu’ of rice at every election cycle. We have a stated ideology, which is CONSTRUCTIVE PRAGMATISM, stating that we shall be deploying all that is good and right about existing global ideologies, plus all that will work from our Nigerian context. In other words, we will not be bamboozled to buy any socioeconomic principle off the shelf, but will adopt any idea with our eyes wide open. Nigeria has its own peculiarities; its own challenges, its own history, its own aspirations. We are a thinking party, on a quest to create a thinking Nigeria. The rest is in the details. And so 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 – like us – then we may have had two real parties in Nigeria. For now, we have only one real party, and that is the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP). We may not have been given half a chance, and many may dismiss our effort as the ‘ranting of an ant’, but we are here to prove ourselves. And by God we shall.
Let me deal quickly with the issue of political parties seeking funding from government. Yes, it is expensive to run a party, but it should not be as expensive as the old parties have made it. A lot of the money is spent with wanton abandon and disappears through fraud presently. And what goes to the rural people is just peanuts after the big men have gorged themselves on taxpayers’ money. The existing big parties have entrenched a culture where states just dip hands into what belongs to everyone and spend freely for political purposes. ANRP has shown that some simplicity and a lot of transparency and accountability can be introduced to cut costs. But that said, why would a politician go into this venture without thinking of sustainability? Why start a political party if you will be stranded in the first month? And since parties export their culture to the larger society when they win elections, any party complaining bitterly of not being able to fund itself, cannot validly move Nigeria forward because such a party is lacking in internal democracy and positive imagination. If they were like ANRP, they would have been able to call on members from far and wide to raise funds. Little funds from far and near become substantial after a while. However, the only way members will accede to such appeals is if they have been treated fairly, if the party has established and institutionalised transparency right from the beginning, and if they know that the leadership of the party is straightforward. The only issue may then be that such funds are not enough, but what is enough in this world? Also if a party’s leadership is very imaginative, it will not stay rooted on one spot, complaining about what it does not have and seeking to pile more burdens on the commonwealth. Those who have been ruling Nigeria have also been complaining and adding to our woes, rather than being imaginative anyway. What we want are people who will make the difference.
A party that must join ANRP to be the second core party in Nigeria’s desired dichotomy must be ready to play for the long term. A party cannot be created for the sole aim of wrestling power, and a serious party must be careful about the erosion of its values, ethos and ideology when it begins to yoke together with strange bedfellows that cavort with other partners in the middle of the night.
The fact is that if political parties want funding from government, they should be ready to sign up to a strict regime of being open to deregisteration by INEC on the basis of set criteria. The current scenario whereby once registered, a political party can hardly ever be deregistered (because of some settled court cases) – as democratic as that may sound – is certainly unsustainable if such parties are to be funded by taxpayers. We have to move beyond the romanticism of everyone and anyone being able to assert their rights to form a political party, to questioning the motives of many professional party leaders (also called political entrepreneurs), who sustain their billionaire lifestyles out of forming parties as if they were registering business names, only to place the burden on society at large. You cannot eat your cakes and have it. You want funding? Be ready to be deregistered based on non-performance. Plus you stand a fat chance of dancing to the beat of the government, your benefactor. ANRP is prepared to fund itself. The road will not be easy, but that is how gold is refined. Of central importance to the issue of finance is frugality, transparency and accountability, with which funds are managed anyway. At ANRP, we say that N1.00 will do the work of N100 elsewhere, and we render monthly accounts to all members – including those who haven’t paid their N5,000 yearly dues (N1,000 yearly for students). People are amazed at what we’ve achieved and shockingly many still believe we must be getting funded by some past political criminal! I find it quite annoying and pitiable, if not frightening actually, that Nigerians believe that people who have not been in politics and government cannot put their little hard-earned incomes together to change, transform and renew their country for the better. Nigeria’s biggest problem is actually Nigerians. Too many us actively search for the poverty and stress that we are under. We should get rid of that slave mentality.
Let’s go back to the vexed issue of the order of elections. If parties will be adjudged on their performances e.g. whether they win any elections after a few trials, it is important to ensure they are all given a fair chance. By putting the presidential elections first, INEC is foreclosing the chances of all the new parties. It’s just a question of statistics. 100 parties contesting for 10,000 councilorship and about 1,500 House of Assembly positions, plus 360 House of Reps positions, presents much better odds, and far better chances for all, than 100 parties contesting for one presidential position – which then colours other outcomes. The choice before INEC is clear if it wishes to develop and deepen democracy in Nigeria. For now, the political space is being constricted, especially at the state level. In the just-concluded Kano local government elections, the governor instigated his state electoral commission to introduce fees which other party candidates could not cope with, thereby disenfranchising other parties apart from APC. We have also seen little children (almajirai) thumbing away at ballot papers by the thousands. We are running a charade. We need to open the space for our collective good.
The final issue to discuss is the call for mergers. I believe that it is parties that do not have any idea of what to do with themselves, or have unclear mandates, or were established for the purposes of political entrepreneurship that will be quick to go into mergers so early. A real party should not be interested only in the presidency, but in the entire gamut of political positions from which it can affect society positively, and in changing the political space permanently by becoming a model for others to follow. A party’s task and remit, is enormous and long term in nature. By the way, in the event of mergers and acquisitions, an entity is judged on the strength of its balance sheet and cash flow. Why should our political parties abandon the development and consolidation of their ‘balance sheets’ (number of verifiable members, structure and organisation, ethos and ideology, networks), or the strengthening of their cash flows (membership dues, donations and general finance), so early on the pretext of a merger? A party that must join ANRP to be the second core party in Nigeria’s desired dichotomy must be ready to play for the long term. A party cannot be created for the sole aim of wrestling power, and a serious party must be careful about the erosion of its values, ethos and ideology when it begins to yoke together with strange bedfellows that cavort with other partners in the middle of the night. Merger apart, a political party cannot also be sustainably built around the cult personality of some ‘ghetto superstar’ who believes he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Yes, a real party cannot be centered around someone’s presidential ambitions.
ANRP decided even before we got our certificate from INEC, that we were going to have a proper election for all the Executive Committee (EXCO) members shortly after certification, in order to set the standards for the states, local governments and wards, and in order to properly constitute our executives at all levels and ensure that all who occupy EXCO positions understand the enormity of their positions and tasks. This is billed for Saturday February 17, 2018 at Eagle Square in Abuja. We shall be the only party, apart from the two behemoths, which has dared to have a congress at that location. We are young. We are brave. We are honest. We will work pretty hard to change, transform and renew Nigeria for the better. So help us God. As for now, we believe we are the ones we have been waiting for, and that we are one of the parties that Nigeria can anchor their tomorrow upon. We cannot comment about others.
ANRP is the First Force.