Political Parties And Survival of Nigeria’s Democracy

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Ayodele Okunfolami writes that Nigerians need strong and principled political parties that are more intent in governing than in winning elections

Things are happening very quickly in Edo State as political parties prepare for the gubernatorial elections. Governor Godwin Obaseki’s ties with the All Progressives Congress came to an acrimonious end when he announced his resignation from the party that controls the federal government at a recent visit to Aso Rock. His notice followed the fallout between himself and his erstwhile mentor, Comrade Adams Oshiomole.

Oshiomole, who preceded Obaseki as Edo governor, arrived Osadebe Avenue on the wheels of a campaign to end godfatherism in the state. Ironically, the theme of the feud between the two bordered on the entrenchment of godfatherism.

Godfatherism is an institutional practice where pioneers (godfathers) of movements or organizations maintain an influence on how those bodies are run. On paper, there is nothing wrong with it and I dare say there is nothing wrong with godfatherism.

Practically everything in life, we all need forebearers or referees to get or recommend us to the higher level we aspire to. We need a voice to speak and vouch for us. That is the role godfathers play in politics. Since the godfather is already an established name with wide political spread, he presents a relatively unknown candidate to the electorate. That godson, then rides on the shoulders of his more hawkish mentor to obtain the position.

Had our politics being ideologically driven, the political mentor like the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello would have a school of understudies that he grooms over time and recommends for different political positions. These protégés end up forming a political bloc headed by their principal. This is how the Bushes and the Kennedys became political establishments in the Republican and the Democratic parties in America. So that if any politician wants to have an easier ride into office, he aligns himself with any of these blocs. That is what godfatherism is all about.

However, recent political developments in Nigeria has seen the ugly side of this practice. What happens here is that the godfather uses his political muscle to impose a candidate on the party. And because our political parties are spineless without these godfathers, going against the godfather’s choice could make the party lose out completely. It is so bad that party faithfuls remain clueless on who they would throw their weights behind until the godfather has made his pronouncements. This monopolization of politics shouldn’t be.

A preferable option to suite our clime could be the godfather presenting two or three of his acolytes long before the selection process without preventing others outside his bloc from participating in party primaries. The godfather’s candidates would now play their individual lobbying on why they should be the party’s flagbearer. This way, the glorious godson becomes the party’s candidate not the godfather’s candidate.

Alas, today’s godfather, uses all his political power to impose his hitherto unrecognizable protégé on the party. Often without a strong political base to get himself through, this protégé pretends to remain loyal during the campaign. And because this republic has witnessed godsons turning their backs on their benefactors after getting into office, the godfathers now choose politically weaker candidates to forestall future insurrection.

Unfortunately, Obaseki defecting to an opposition party he is unfamiliar with to fulfill his ambition shows he is choosing to be godson in another umbrella. The same fashion Oshiomole swept the way for him to carry the broom of the APC in 2016, some bigwigs in the PDP with future elections in mind, are granting him unfair waivers to be the party’s standard bearer in September. At the end of the day, the loyalty he didn’t bestow to Oshiomole, he would transfer on those PDP guys that paved the way for him. Loyalty is to persons, individuals, men or egos and not to purposes, ideologies, mandates or the electorate. Sad. Parenthetically, had the PDP done its job as an opposition party for the 12 odd years APC governed Edo, would Obaseki had gotten the political fortitude to use them as a platform of last resort to pursue his ambition?

It is high time our politicians collected their parties from bullies with state resources or money bags with selfish interests. The Republican Party are still struggling to get their party back from the personalization Trump has imposed on it. Just as it is riddling that a technocrat from Lagos, Abuja or abroad will be anointed by the godfather over the grassroots politicians that have laboured for eons, it is also illogical that the politician who decamps on the eve of a primary would be favoured for the ticket others uncompromisingly remained in the opposition for. It is this lack of principles, morality and internal democracy that are the problems with our politics, not godfatherism.

It is the same game playing in Ondo. A candidate would purchase his form to contest and first visit the big man in State House for a photo op. I can bet, as we have seen in Bayelsa and Kogi, after their victories, their first point of call won’t be the voters, but the residence of the “leader of the party”.

And by the way, who is the leader of a political party? Is he the elected chair, a former governor or the most senior political office holder? Is it not absurd that Obaseki, who joined the PDP hours earlier declared himself the leader of the party in the state? Does it mean the Tony Aziegbeni-led Edo PDP exco were toothless all along? Are there no internal resolution mechanisms that political issues are settled in the State House or the home of a founding leader with ghost portfolio as if they are extensions of the political party? Why are national party chairmen of the governing party always suffocated out by ambitious political forces? What roles do boards of trustees play in political crisis or are political parties run by emergency meetings? Shouldn’t party conventions also be times to reaffirm and reassess party ideologies and manifestos instead of only electing officers?

Nigerians are getting disinterested in the series of political dramas that play out season in season out. They want to see strong and principled political parties that are more intent in governing than in winning elections. If our political parties are not healthy, our democracy won’t. The democracies we admire are anchored on strong political parties. Even China with a suspect democracy is getting stronger politically, militarily, economically and technologically because the Communist Party of China is getting stronger.

The Nigerian political class should stop taking the masses for granted. Once a pupil loses faith in his teacher, he loses faith in the subject, then loses faith in the school and ends up losing faith in education all together. Also, when the ardent loses faith in his cleric, he loses faith in the temple and ends up losing faith in religion all together. The plebs too are watching and impatiently waiting for redemption. They have gradually lost faith in politicians, in political parties, in democracy and dangerously, they are fast losing faith in the nation. Voter turnout is getting lower by the election, they don’t pay their taxes anymore neither do they obey the laws of the land. This is unnerving.

Our political parties must put their act together to enshrine party discipline, internal democracy and ensure the elected on their platforms follow through party manifestoes. That was how Progressive Awo and Conservative Sarduana led their respective parties without compromising on the development that made the first republic remain a reference. Remember, the Soviet Union collapsed after the Communist Party had. PDP and APC should please be guided.

–– Okunfolami wrote from Festac, Lagos