2019 and the Political Parties

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The Verdit By Olusegun Adeniyi, Email: olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

Given the penchant for brinksmanship that has almost become a national ideology, I am almost certain that a solution will be found on the issue of funding the 2019 general election, especially since this directly touches the interest of our politicians. Therefore, I entertain no fear that the indefinite adjournment of the National Assembly will cause any problem in that direction. My main concern today is that at a period when we need a serious and structured conversation about the future of our country, we have a proliferation of political parties that essentially represent the personal interests of their founders or more appropriately, owners. Invariably, what should serve as platforms for constructive engagement on what ails us as a nation are no more than mere vehicles for trading positions.

As at last Friday, 80 of the 91 registered political parties had notified the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of their preparedness to conduct primaries to select their candidates for elections into various political offices at the 2019 general election. If all the 91 political parties decide to field candidates for all the offices, there will be 141,778 contenders nationwide; that is after hundreds of thousands of others must have dropped out from the primaries.

What is particularly absurd is that in other countries with multiplicity of parties, what most strive for are local elections but in our own case, the targets of all of them, including those with no structure or appreciable support base, are usually the highest executive offices: president and governor. That has made it difficult for any serious assessment of the parties and what they stand for. Yet, political parties are more than mere platforms for winning elections, they are also there to educate and sensitise the citizens on important national issues for which they seek solutions.

Incidentally, one of the issues dominating discussions at the moment is that contenders for public offices must debate. But how do you organise a debate if about 50 individuals are contesting one position? Meanwhile, our challenges keep mounting. According to the latest projections credited to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more than 40 percent of the world’s extremely poor people will be living in Nigeria and DR Congo by 2050. Less than three months ago, the Brookings Institution reported that our country had overtaken India as the nation with the highest number of poor people, with no fewer than 87 million Nigerians in extreme poverty.

This is a problem associated not only with dwindling resources but also growing population, an issue hardly ever discussed in Nigeria. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are producing a largely unproductive population in an increasingly competitive world and this is an issue we need to talk about. For instance, between 1911 and 1952, our population grew from 18.7 million to 30.3 million, an increase of 62 percent. But between 1952 and 2010, the same population grew from 30.3 million to 148 million, an increase of 388 percent!” This is a serious issue that should be top on the agenda of discourse in our country.

Unfortunately, the political parties are not playing their roles assuming many of them even understand what those roles are but the real challenge is that they are too many. If we interrogate results from our elections from 1999 to date at all levels, it is very obvious that we don’t need more than five political parties in Nigeria. For instance, in June this year in Ekiti State, 35 candidates contested the gubernatorial election. While the victorious APC candidate, Dr Kayode Fayemi secured 197,459 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Prof Olusola Eleka of PDP who scored 178,121 votes, the remaining 33 candidates got about 9,500 votes which accounted for less than two percent of the total votes cast.

What was most revealing about the result is that 15 of these gubernatorial candidates could individually not muster up to a hundred votes. I will shield the candidates and just highlight their parties and the scores: AA (41 votes); AGAP (31 votes); APGA (70 votes); BNPP (14 votes); DA (14 votes); FJP (42 votes); GNP (20 votes); KOWA (23 votes); MMN (35 votes); NDLP (84 votes); MMN (35 votes); NDLP (84 votes); PANDEL (74 votes); UDP (29 votes); UPN (33 votes); YDP (31 votes) and YFP (49 votes).

The situation was similar to that of Anambra State where 37 candidates contested the November 2017 gubernatorial election. Three of the candidates, representing the victorious APGA as well as PDP and APC, secured about 97 percent of the total votes leaving the 34 others scrambling for the remaining three percent. While readers can Google the names of these candidates if they are interested, the following are their parties and what each scored: AA (66 votes); BNPP (70 votes); DA (97 votes); GNP (41 votes); HDP (31 votes); ID (37 votes); KOWA (49 votes); MMN (79 votes); MPPP (39 votes); NCP (74 votes); NDLP (33 votes); NEPP (84 votes); NNPP (68 votes); NNP (69 votes); PPN (55 votes); PPP (87 votes); PRP (59 votes); SDP (20 votes); YDP (72 votes) and YDP (65 votes).

What the foregoing says very clearly is that we need only a few political parties that the people can identify with and engage. Here, we are not even talking about the waste of scarce resources, the logistical nightmare and the legal implications of administering elections with the current number of parties which should also compel a rethink. For instance, in recent years, INEC has been burdened with repeat elections instigated by defeated candidates who deploy technicalities like “unlawful exclusion” (which could mean something as minor as wrong spelling of name) to nullify elections which they ordinarily had no fighting chance of winning.

I am aware that there is a tension between the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association and needless cost to the larger society of a multiplicity of political parties. Some societies have handled this by setting a threshold for putting names on ballot and even for participation in debates. Actually, in some countries where there are many parties like we have in Nigeria, majority of them exist only to canvass ideas in the public arena. Yes, people should be free to form and join associations but exercising such freedoms cannot be to the detriment of the larger society.

I know when we talk about multiplicity of parties, many would cite the example of India but not only are we talking about a parliamentary democracy that has evolved over decades, it is also one where popular participation is tempered by ideas. Even at that, it is not a perfect system. In his 2016 research paper titled, “Politics as Business: An Analysis of the Political Parties in Contemporary India”, Prakash Sarangi, a professor of political science, stated that “forming or sustaining a party seems to be a survival strategy for political activists” in which they “calculate the returns on the political and economic investments made…Parties look like business firms in a political market.”

Given that transparency and accountability are already a huge challenge in Nigeria, such cannot be a model for our country. If our democracy must survive and thrive, we need a manageable number of political parties whose members can interrogate our problems and proffer solutions. A 2013 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) capacity assessment report on political parties in Nigeria written by Jeremy Liebrowitz and Jibrin Ibrahim (oga Jibo) underscored how political parties can advance democracy and good governance as “a vital channel by which citizens can aggregate their interests, make policies, and hold government accountable”. But can we in all honesty say that any of the 91 political parties in the country today is playing that role?
NOTE: This conversation shall continue.

Beyond Kemi Adeosun’s Resignation

On 24th September 1988 at the Seoul Olympics in South Korea, Mr Benjamin Sinclair Johnson, known simply as Ben Johnson, won the 100 metres final with a then unprecedented record of 9.79 seconds. For the athlete who migrated to Canada from Jamaica at age 15 in 1976, Johnson had the world at his feet. Unfortunately, three days later, the Olympic Doping Control Center found that Johnson’s urine sample contained a banned substance. In withdrawing the gold medal from a tearful Johnson, the head of the Canadian Olympics delegation, also in tears, said: “We love you Ben, but you are guilty.”

I am not ashamed to say that I was an admirer of Ben Johnson and I still fail to agree that Carl Lewis and other American athletes who dominated the sports at the time were any better. But Johnson broke the rule, was caught and he had to pay the price.

I could not but reflect on that sad episode last Friday when I learnt that Mrs Kemi Adeosun had finally resigned as the Minister of Finance, following the scandal involving her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) exemption certificate that turned out to be forged. As I told those who have called me, I derive no joy in her resignation despite the fact that I wrote twice on the issue.

My first intervention on12th July was necessitated by the deafening silence from a government that has established a pattern of excusing egregious unethical behaviour from their own members while holding to account only the opposition like the “primafacial (sic) and culpability facts against Senator Ademola Adeleke” released yesterday by the police. On the day the Adeosun column came out, I got a call from someone close to the former finance minister who pleaded with me to allow the matter rest. The excuse the person gave was the same given in the resignation letter: that she did not know that the NYSC exemption certificate procured for her was forged.

I revisited the issue on 16th August only because Prof Itse Sagay granted a provocative interview on the matter. While I believe Adeosun did the right thing at the end, she also raised a critical issue in her resignation letter which many seem to gloss over: the mediocre investigation into the backgrounds of nominees for potential appointments. She wrote: “I had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine. Indeed, I presented that certificate at the 2011 Ogun State House of Assembly and in 2015 for Directorate of State Services (DSS) Clearance as well as to the National Assembly for screening.”

It is very instructive that on the Adeosun saga, the role of the Senate is still curious because as at yet, nobody has responded to the allegation that some people knew about her NYSC predicament during the confirmation hearing and were using it as a weapon of blackmail. But the main point has to do with the role of the DSS. In most countries, security screening or background check (as they call it), is usually done off-the-radar and with the involvement of all law enforcement agencies. Such prospective nominees may not even be aware that they are being scrutinized since it is usually a discrete thing.

In Nigeria, however, it is usually announced to the world that nominees for appointments are going through ‘security screening’ which then becomes another elaborate process in which contacts are made between senior officials of these security agencies and the nominees. The drama is such that I have even heard of some individuals in the business of “helping with security clearance”– that is their own job! There is nothing you won’t find in Abuja. Yet, what this process encourages is nothing but transparent corruption in which case, it is no more than another big racket hence nothing is being checked.

The Adeosun case is a perfect example. If indeed there was any background check, it should have been very obvious from the get-go that the NYSC exemption certificate she paraded was forged. That is simply because she did not fit into any of the categories for which an exemption certificate could have been granted in the first place. If she were better advised by those who are really criminally minded, they would have suggested that it is easier to get away with a forged NYSC discharge certificate than an exemption certificate. So, there was a red flag that should have compelled investigation by any security outfit worth its name.

What the foregoing says very clearly is that our security agencies need to brace up and be more professional. Our system is reeking with so many people who should not be in the positions they occupy: from ex-convicts who have served prison terms abroad to those with dodgy certificates to the ‘miracle’ men and women who, going by their official records, enrolled in primary schools even before they were born!

Meanwhile, I have read several commentaries on the Adeosun saga, including those who peddle the argument that the former minister became a Nigerian at 34 when she first took a Nigerian passport as if passports are what define citizenship. While I don’t want to join any sterile debate, I need to stress that the ultimate goal of law is to ensure justice for all and it is also what binds societies together. The moment the authorities begin to apply laws in a selective manner rather than for all citizens, it is difficult for such a society to develop or thrive.
That is the challenge of Nigeria today.

Moses Iloh in Memorian!

When I heard last weekend about the death of Rev Moses Iloh, I felt both a deep sense of loss and regret. I had encountered the old man in January 2013 for what was to be the beginning of several interview sessions but after the first engagement, I had to shelve the idea. Iloh, who headed the Red Cross in Biafra, was a witness to all the tragic drama during the Nigerian civil war and he recounted his experience to me in a piece that also underlined the fact that even in the short-lived Biafra, there were intra-elite frictions as well as issues of corruption.

The late Iloh’s revelations, however, opened a Pandora Box of sort because it provoked responses, including from the former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, whose father Iloh accused of humiliating him after the war. But what forced my hand was that I received far too many calls and private mails from several people who felt uncomfortable with the narrative, not because they doubted Iloh’s account but rather that it was opening old wounds. Not to be dragged into a Biafran controversy, I held no further interview session with Iloh and suspended the series after two columns.

However, as a tribute to Iloh’s memory, I am recalling the 24th January 2103 column, ‘Memories of Biafran Nightmares’ and the 31st January 2013 follow-up, ‘Still on the Biafran Nightmares’ on olusegunadeniyi.com. I am also adding four other special picks from my 2012 columns, including what happened on perhaps the most dramatic day in modern football when Manchester City snatched from Manchester United the English Premiership title in the last seconds of the season. They are all on olusegunadeniyi.com for the enjoyment of readers.

• You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com