BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
Although the long transition programme of the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida ended tragically with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, some elements of the process are worth pondering in retrospect.
In a way, the memory of the denouement of the transition process is kept but not the historical fact of deliberate efforts of Babangida to recast the Nigerian political economy in his own terms. Make no mistake about it, the programme was theoretically grounded. Some eminent scholars worked hard on the idea of the transition programme.
The harvest of ideas for the programme began in 1986 with the inauguration of a 17-man Political Bureau headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey. The members of the Bureau toured the whole of the country to receive 27,000 submissions and ended up recommending the ideology of socialism for Nigeria. The military government, of course, rejected that recommendation among others.
However, with the annulment of the election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola, the Third Republic was aborted because no president was inaugurated even though the National Assembly was in place. One of the components of that transition programme was the campaign to de-monetise politics. “Moneybags” became a dirty word in political discussions. Another feature of the programme was the conscious attempt to define political parties by their programmes and ideologies. Before the military government decreed into existence “a little- to -the-left” Social Democratic Party(SDP) and “a little-to-the -right” National Republican Convention (NRC), some parties were formed by some political forces. Six of these parties were registered in 1989. Significantly, one of them was the Labour Party. Among the requirements for registration by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) under the chairmanship of the eminent political scientist Professor Eme Awa was the submission of the parties’ programmes and manifestoes with the constitutions, registers of members, emblems, flags and motto. There was a novelty to the process. Apart from ascertaining the uniqueness of names and logos, the programmes and manifestoes of the parties were graded for ideological clarity and coherence. It was a spectacle as political parties seeking registration besieged the secretariat of the electoral commission with lorry loads of documents and materials to prove that they had real structures on ground. Unfortunately, in the twists and turns of the programme, the six registered were dissolved to pave way for the government-created SDP and NRC. Yet, the Babangida regime defined the programmes and ideologies of the two official parties which were thrown open to “equal founders and equal joiners” as members.
It is tempting to dismiss the approach of the military to party formation as artificial. Actually, the programme attracted a lot of criticisms as many genuine democrats shunned it. After all, political parties evolve historically with their distinguishing ideologies. But the point to underline here is that the attempt at transition to democracy emphasised a programmatic content of political parties. You cannot deny the transition programme that credit. The parties were associated with some ideas, naturally or artificially.
In contrast, in the Nigeria’s experiment with liberal democracy in the last 23 years, there has been little or no programmatic content of political parties. It is generally known that politicians relate to parties as mere electoral vehicles. No commitment to party policies or ideologies is demonstrated. In the first place, the political parties are ideologically indistinguishable. Neither has there been any notable policy debate among the political parties which have emerged in this dispensation. The All Progressives Congress (APC) is assumed to be a social democratic party. But its chairman Senator Abdulahi Adamu, a politician with a well-known conservative background, is too busy selling nomination forms at exorbitant prices to think of such an ideological category. Similarly, given the political pedigree of its founders (who came from various political traditions), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could be expected to be a right -of- the- centre political party. Such an ideological categorisation is certainly a luxury that the chairman of PDP, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, can hardly afford at the moment as he brings calms to the episodic storms of his party. Ayu had already made a name as a radical sociologist at the University of Jos before joining party politics during the Babangida transition programme. Today the former senate president is too preoccupied with forging a zoning formular to have the time to articulate party ideology and policies in clear terms.
What obtains in the APC and PDP also applies to virtually all the parties. Even the fresh politicians join political parties to become presidential candidates. Hardly does any politician out there go into a party to fight for certain programmes and policies that should be owned by the political party. Members of the parties in the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly are expected to popularise their parties’ programmes and ideologies in the course of debates in the legislative houses. Not so here, the stepping stone to politics for everybody is the presidency with personal (and not party) agenda.
The mood in political circles seems to be that of securing the party ticket before you think of what the party stands for in the first place. In a clime of politics with principle, the reverse is actually the case. The policy of the party should be the first attraction before you seek to fly its flag in an election.
Political parties have been selling nomination forms for aspirants who earnestly seek their tickets. With the close of the market for nomination forms, it is time the party began to sell their policies so that delegates to the conventions could watch how much aspirants could articulate party policies.
In fact, there should be intra-party debates among the aspirants before the primaries. Such debates would reveal the tendencies within the parties. It would also be a test of the comprehension of the ideas on which a political party rests among those who want to govern in its name. Perhaps, it is is not everyone who has money to buy the nomination forms that actually believes in the party programme, much less articulating it during campaigns or implementing it if elected into the high office. Politics of issues and ideas would be entrenched on a long-term basis. This is important because whoever emerges as the candidate should be articulating the party strategic visions, programmes and policies.
Since political parties do not seriously sell their programmes before elections, those elected on their platforms always talk of their personal agendas instead of the parties’ programmes while in office. As a matter of fact, such agendas are developed long after the inauguration of the president. You can hardly trace the ideological roots of such personal agendas in the party programme and ideology, if any. For instance, a president or governor elected on the platform of a party that professes social democracy should be hard put to justify the neglect of public education and healthcare delivery. If a right- of- the- centre party promised low tax during its campaigns, a president or governor elected on its platform would have to justify to the electorate if it had to raise taxes because of its fiscal circumstance. At least, there would be a basis for policy debates from the floor of parliament to the streets.
Now that the aspirants have bought nomination forms, the political parties should begin to sell their programmes and policies.
The political parties especially the two largest ones – APC and PDP- appear to in a quagmire on the question of “zoning” the office of the president. To be sure, the decision on which part of the country should “produce” the next president is an issue of nation-building. You cannot build a nation when a section of it is alienated from the process of choosing the leader. It is a deeply subjective issue. But then of all the ingredients of building a nation, the most indispensable one is the subjective factor of the sense of belonging on the part of the people, that is the national consciousness which cannot be forced. For instance, the Igbo Question has been legitimately posed in the Nigerian polity. The sharpness of the question has moved beyond what it was in the days when that cerebral politician, the late Ojo Madueke, said many years ago that the talk of “Igbo presidency is idiotic.” That remark understandably generated a fury because Madueke was purely misunderstood. He later explained that the advocacy should be for a Nigerian president of Igbo origin. He called for the engagement of the Igbo political elite with their counterparts in other zones. Today, nobody talks of Igbo President anymore. The talk is now about “zoning the presidency to the south east.” So, Madueke has been posthumously vindicated in framing the question. Come to think of it. Obasanjo was never called a Yoruba president. Yar’Adua was not described as a Fulani president. Jonathan was not the president of the Ijaw. Similarly Buhari cannot be called the Fulani president. These statements are borne out of material facts of our recent history. Without prejudice to the legitimacy of the clamour for the president to be elected from various parts of the country at different electoral seasons, in objective terms the origin of the president means little or nothing to the material conditions of the people. During the debate preceding the gubernatorial election in Anambra recently, Governor Charles Soludo made an incontrovertible point. In this same dispensation, there was a period when all the major economic appointments were held by Nigerians of Igbo origin on the basis of their technocratic competence. Was the political economy of the southeast turned to an Eldorado as a result? After eight years in office, President Olusegun Obasanjo returned to Otta to meet the collapsed road to the place just as the important road linking Lagos and Ibadan was not fixed. The water project in Otuoke, the homestead of President Goodluck Jonathan, was recently executed by the present administration. Jonathan could not fix it for his people. The former president hosted Minister of Water Resources Engineer Suleiman Adamu to a lunch when the project was commissioned years after Jonathan left office. Jonathan could not fix the East-West Road that connects all the south-south states in his six years as president. Katsina, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, by no means immune to insecurity. Parts of the state remain ungoverned spaces in which terrorists and kidnappers reign supreme.
So much for Yoruba president, Ijaw president or Fulani president!
Yet the derivative questions of nation-building remain legitimate in the specific context of 2022 Nigeria. The answer to the problem, such as the Igbo Question, is not to dismiss it as a sectional aspiration or a misplaced clamour. Really, it is a dialectical challenge requiring political engineering, at least at this stage of nation-building. With maturity of purpose in the polity equity can be demonstrated.
Maybe in the long run it would not matter where the parents of the president were born or what dialect they spoke. With the dominance of ideas of development in the public sphere ethnicity, regionalism and religion would recede as issues of politics. To quicken the arrival of such a day in Nigeria, the seeds of politics of ideas should be sown beginning with the campaigns for the 2023 elections.