Monday, August 16, 2010

No Proper Political Parties In Nigeria

Written by Chris Ajaero, Demola Abimboye & Dike Onwuamaeze, Newswatch

Monday, 16 August 2010

Odia Ofeimun, poet, social critic and political activist, speaks to Chris Ajaero, assistant general editor, Demola Abimboye, principal associate editor, and Dike Onwuamaeze, principal staff writer, on the absence of credible opposition parties in Nigeria and what they should do to give the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, a tough battle in the 2011 polls. Excerpts:

Newswatch: We are gradually moving to 2011 which is an election year in Nigeria. Although we have more than 50 registered political parties, virtually all the leading politicians are scrambling for the PDP presidential ticket. Is that good for the political health of the country?

Ofeimun: When you say all the leading politicians, by definition, they are leading because they were the big men either in government or the political parties. You have former vice-president, former heads of state and such people running for the PDP ticket. But there may be other people running who are actually leading but who are not known because their political parties have not built proper platforms that are recognisable and distinct.

A platform is made up of a body of ideas describing the state of the nation and how the problems can be solved. Not one of the political parties has managed to do it well. But in terms of candidacy, you can actually say that although the most visible people we know are running for the PDP ticket, there are other people who are angling to displace them, who ought to be better noticed, but for the fact that the media is over attracted by the had been. If we take a hard look at what is going on, it is not so much of a description of the PDP as a party, it is a description of Nigeria; the way we have been and the way we are.

Frankly, Nigeria lacks a political culture based on respect for the population. It is a political culture that is very leader-centred. Leader-centred to the point where unless a leader moves, the people do not move. Nigerians appear to grant too much idiosyncrasy credence to their leaders, so that leaders no longer feel they owe them anything. A leader can move because he knows the people will follow. The question is, why is our society so? It is largely because whoever comes to power is freed of all constraints, has the power to move resources anywhere he pleases without accountability.

Newswatch: You said that there are leaders from other political parties who are not known. Is it proper that with just a few months to the 2011 election, they are still sitting on the fence?

Ofeimun: How much of Barack Obama did you know until he became a hot candidate? I personally did not give him a chance, but once he was able to beat Hilary Clinton, I knew he had a good chance of winning. So, there may be such people in Nigeria that you do not know.

The problem with the Nigerian party system is that all the political parties amount to one. In other words, they all behave the same way. So, if they behave the same way, the distinction made between them because of the names they give to themselves really amount to very little.

The content that is completely missing in all parties across Nigeria is that the human content of government policy is completely absent. There is no concern for the government worker in Nigeria, there is no concern for the children and their future because a government that says it wants development and has no serious educational policy which covers the whole population is not a serious government.

Newswatch: On Monday, August 9, the Action Congress, AC, held a national convention in Lagos, and resolved to merge with the Democratic People’s Party, DPP, and factions of ANPP, and other parties. Do you think that the merger would work?
Ofeimun: The first question you should ask yourself is around what are they forming this coalition? In those days, when Obafemi Awolowo used to be the leader, anytime you talk about a coalition, he will say coalition is not a bad thing, but come, what are we going to do for the masses? And because Awolowo always asked that question, none of the other political parties ever understood him. They deliberately misunderstood him because they imagined that he was just generally raising stupid questions to slow down things or to make himself look important. But it was a very serious matter.

When the coalition between the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s party, the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, in the Second Republic was going on, do you know what they were asking for? That they wanted to make their leader an ambassador plenipotentiary with a private jet attached. All the things they asked for had nothing to do with the very masses they said they were leading. The UPN led by Awolowo never talked about what its leaders would gain. Whenever they discussed coalition, UPN began by saying what shall we give our people after we had formed the coalition. After you have identified those things, then you will begin to talk about who would do what job. But if I remember rightly, the only thing the NPP demanded from the UPN at that time was that an Igbo man should be Secretary to the Government and that was one thing that Awolowo could not grant because at that time, Gray Longe was the Secretary to the Federal Government and Awolowo said if I have to become the president of the country and the man I will remove from office is from an area where they voted for me, I will look like an ingrate, I will not do it.

To be honest, the kind of coalition you are seeing all around are not based on policies. They are based on the ambition of individuals. In Nigeria, we have very ambitious people but none of them has a programme, none of them has a policy that they can sell to Nigerians as a basis for aspiring to lead.

You heard about the mega party talk. The mega party is dead. It was bound to die because it was not based on anything but how individuals can acquire power for their selfish interests.

Newswatch: During the First and Second Republics, we had credible opposition parties like the ones formed by the late Obafemi Awolowo. When did the country start derailing so much so that we no longer have credible opposition parties today?
Ofeimun: Ah! Don’t put it that way. Nigerians have always said that there were no opposition parties. That all the parties looked the same. It was a blackmail imported from outside and pursued by very many Nigerian intellectuals and academics in order to rubbish the only opposition party in existence at that time.

But the truth is that all the parties were not the same. Some parties were not federalist. You must draw a line between those who wanted free education, press freedom, as well as industrialisation and those who did not, who just wanted to be in government to share loot. So, to a certain extent, you can say that there was a time when there was actually a proper political opposition and it was marked by the programmes it wanted to effect.

Newswatch: In the political history of Nigeria, mergers and alliances have always crumbled. How do we get a formidable opposition that will give PDP a tough battle in the 2011 polls?

Ofeimun: The first thing is to make it impossible for a person to actually become a leader unless he has been actually voted for. If aspiring politicians realise that they genuinely need the vote of that fellow in the slum to win an election, they will do something about that slum. But because they know that every election can be rigged, they do nothing about it. Science is there to help Nigeria out of rigging. A biometric system will make it impossible to rig elections in Nigeria.

Newswatch: If by 2011, we still have a behemoth like the PDP and there is no strong opposition party, will that be healthy for the Nigerian polity?

Ofeimun: PDP is not a behemoth, the government is the behemoth. Frankly, the PDP as a party does not exist on ground. It is a gathering of elite thieves in the society. They do it well. If you don’t share in the loot, you are knocked out. Talking about the PDP as a party is a mistake. It is about a system of government that is not accountable to itself.

Newswatch: So, what is the way forward so as to stop the country from drifting into a one party state?

Ofeimun: Form proper political parties. And as I have been saying, a proper political party is one which has a platform. A platform is built on programmes and policies which you are prepared to carry into government. If you don’t have that platform on which to stand, when people vote for you, they are voting for the wind.

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