I have to say I am really worried about Nigeria. I don’t think we have been more divided than we currently are in recent history. Whilst President Buhari won the presidential general election, 46% of those that voted didn’t vote for him. Considering the lack of inter-ethnic empathy and trust currently prevalent in the country, 46% is a huge number. Whilst the goal to defeat the incumbent president Jonathan was a great unifying factor for the APC, it was quite clear that the party remained an association of strange bedfellows to most objective observers. The conflicting personal interest within the APC was quite clear as the party, throughout the general election, failed to articulate its common ideology beyond defeating the incumbent. This ideological failing is one that can be levied against all political parties in Nigeria and not just the APC. Without the presence of a common ideology in a party, it is difficult for trust to be established between the members in government and those not.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about whether the APC will be successful where the PDP failed in separating the governance of the party from that of the state. By the shenanigans in the NASS and the arrogant way the APC leadership has sought to impose itself on an independent arm of government, I think I have my answer.
In the three months following the victory at the general election, if the APC leaders were serious, their focus would have been clarifying and cementing its ideological policies with its elected members so that regardless of who ends up in principal offices, the direction of the party would be maintained. Let me explain. For example, the President promised to create 20,000 new jobs to improve the unemployment situation, one way of achieving this is by revitalising the housing or construction industry. In order for the impact of executive policy to be far reaching in this regard, new enabling laws and reform of existing ones such as the Land Use Act was necessary. The APC leadership focus will then be on establishing/clarifying its policy or ideology on land ownership and governmental role so that regardless of who becomes the Senate President or House of Reps Speaker, the agenda will be the same. This way, the elected NASS members can nominate whoever they want into principal office without interference from party leadership with the leadership also confident that its objective remains unthreatened. Doing this would not only have preserved the independence of the National Assembly, it also would have deepened internal party democracy and improved overall governance. But here we are, instead of the government to hit the ground running” as promised, the elected officers are distracted by selfish interests.
Countries with more developed democracy like the US and UK have parties established along ideological lines. Whilst cross party switching does occur these countries, it happens rarely and never en-masse like we’ve come to expect in our dear country. You’d hardly hear of a democrat becoming a republican or a conservative becoming a labour. A labour member knows that it doesn’t matter who from their party gets into a principal office, that person will always be left leaning. Trust between members have been entrenched on that basis and makes it really easy for internal democracy to flourish. This applies to all other parties in these countries. This is where we need to get to as a country practising democracy. There are several key areas of our socio-economic life that clear ideology by political parties is required e.g. taxation, political and governance structure, welfarism, religion and secularism, federal constitution, economic structure or even devolution.
Equally as important as clarifying party ideology, I believe is the need to clarify what it means to be Nigerian. I don’t think a Nigerian homogenous identity exists yet. There is still little inter-ethnic empathy or recognition of common and undeniable rights regardless of ethnic origin. It seems from my observation especially on social media that we mostly identify as Nigerian last and ethnic first. I think this identity issue will remain a stumbling block to our national development if it isn’t clarified. I believe it is why our interests remain seemingly conflicting and as we all know, a house divided against itself will not stand.
Whilst it is easy to criticise the APC and disappointing to see them make possibly avoidable mistakes, we should not fail to remember that the party did successfully come together recently to defeat quite a strong party in the polls at the centre. This is no mean feat. The victory suggests that it is possible for the APC to be strong and democratic so long as they have a unifying goal. Its leadership just need to come up with an enduring ideology that is about the country rather than the individual. It has to and should be able to move beyond individual interests.
Rather than establish a shadow cabinet that I believe is quite difficult to do in a presidential system, I hope to see each party establish a strategic policy unit that will form the bedrock of its monitoring and oversight duty. This unit will be responsible for making sure that party ideology is harmonised nationwide and monitor opposition policy. The establishment of such a unit will also help each party identify the weak spot of other parties. For example, a list of NASS members that didn’t sponsor any bill in the last parliament was recently released. Whilst some NASS members won their election off the back of President Buhari’s popularity, opposition parties could have used the ineffectiveness of certain NASS members against them and ensure that riding on the back of President Buhari’s popularity was impossible or at least not so plain sailing. Every elected, or at least re-elected, official need to be elected purely on the merit of their service and effectiveness. Further the establishment of such a strategy unit should enable opposition parties find it easier to initiate recalls of ineffective state or federal legislators.
Professor Oluremi Sonaiya and the Kowa Party have been very silent since the election. I hope this is due to the fact that they’re engaged in serious soul searching. I hope that they establish a unit described above or something even better. There’s no reason why we need to wait until 2019 before contesting some legislative positions. Legislative representatives that haven’t done anything concrete within two years of parliament inauguration should be recalled. Whilst it may be difficult to impeach executive office holders, it shouldn’t be similarly difficult to change legislators. Kowa can get some of their members into office through this means. At least the financial cost of getting someone into office this way should be limited compared to during a general election.
The current crisis in APC is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for the party to clarify its soul, raison d’etre, shed dead weight and entrench internal democracy. There are simply too many good and intelligent people with a passion for service in the APC for it to do anything but seize this as an opportunity.