The resignation of Jacob Zuma as President of South Africa holds lessons for Nigeria

The resignation, last Wednesday, of President Jacob Zuma clearly demonstrates the limits of individual absolutism and its attendant corrupting influence. Until his dramatic ouster, Zuma had virtually converted the presidency of South Africa into a private oligarchy of himself and his business associates. In the process, he became an embarrassment to the illustrious African National Congress (ANC) and the anti-apartheid movement. At the end, it required spirited pressure to drive home to Zuma the rage of ordinary South Africans before he finally realised that the market was over.

The relevance of the Zuma episode to Nigeria is perhaps first to underline how impossible it would be to achieve such leadership change in the context of our present political party architecture and ethno-religious politics. While the entire drama lasted, neither Zuma nor members of his inner circle mobilised supporters/kinsmen to stage rallies on his behalf and whatever may be the religion he practices or the denomination/sect he belongs; that never mattered. If it were Nigeria, the secretariat of the ANC would have been sealed up by some overzealous police and security personnel with possible arrests and harassment of those asking the president to resign. In South Africa, the institutions work and that made all the difference.

On the face value, comparing the political party system in Nigeria with that of South Africa may seem incongruous given that the ANC representation and struggle transcend the entire Southern Africa region. But to the extent that we have unconsciously built a brand of political culture that is not exactly edifying, the current situation of mayhem in the name of party politics in Nigeria is what attracts unfair comparison with the South African situation.

As things stand today, political parties in Nigeria shamefully lack any connection with either national history or political tradition. Their leadership changes with the whims of every passing administration and are literally summoned to do the bidding of political leaders that rode on their emblem to power. They come into life at election season and fade into pitiable insignificance and irrelevance soon afterwards. Yet, emblematic seasonal parties cannot bring about much political or economic change because they lack the internal structural resilience to whip incumbent power merchants into line. The ANC was able to eventually force the beleaguered Zuma to resign because it possesses an impeccable historical memory and internal structural integrity. It is these strengths of the ruling party that were fully deployed to advance the will of the people and restore social and constitutional order to the larger South African nation.

As we stated in a recent editorial, in a truly organic party like the ANC or the two major parties in either the United States or the United Kingdom, the line of power succession is fairly predictable just as the ideological tendencies are known. A situation such as we have in Nigeria where parties come into existence or die off depending on their electoral advantages can hardly contribute to national development. Nor can such seasonal parties that come alive only on the eve of elections become instruments of national stability let alone tolerable governance.

Indeed, in our peculiar circumstance in Nigeria, especially as we reflect on what has just happened in South Africa, what is particularly disturbing is that we are gradually arriving at a juncture where there is neither nation nor political party culture to talk about. Therefore, collective self-retrieval remains an urgent responsibility for all the stakeholders, including those who take pride in saying they are not interested in politics. What these citizens forget is that when nations fail, good apolitical citizens are not spared the calamity that follows. A failed state is a driverless train off the track, an irrational force in rapid progression that would destroy anything and everything on its path.

While we wish President Cyril Ramaphosa well as he takes over the leadership of his country, we hope that members of the Nigerian elite will learn useful lessons from the seamless political transition in South Africa.

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The relevance of the Zuma episode to Nigeria is perhaps first to underline how impossible it would be to achieve such leadership change in the context of our present political party architecture and ethno-religious politics. While the entire drama lasted, neither Zuma nor members of his inner circle mobilised supporters/kinsmen to stage rallies on his behalf and whatever may be the religion he practices; that never mattered