Parties sans frontiers

Our political symphony, with its multitude of aggregations, is a clamorous cacophony. Nigerian political parties do not self-restrain; neither ideological nor ethical boundaries contain them. We ought not to be surprised therefore that in our political high places, public sanctimony and private greed lie in carnal embrace.

The electoral cycle energises and animates politics. It also provides occasion to revisit economic, social and ethnic divides. The approach of 2019 appears to be concentrating many a mind. Given that there has been much to concentrate the mind hitherto, the message from the nation’s self-appointed oracle riding unbidden to our rescue is riddled with subterranean suggestiveness.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s DNA – more that of the contrarian than that of a disruptor – means he wilfully and repeatedly mistakes his raison d’etre for our raison d’etat. The absence of reverence for democracy in OBJ’s past leaves one dumbstruck by his chutzpah.

Instead of focusing on renewal and rejuvenation, he once again longs to be in and around the nation’s beating heart. No matter how odious the infant, we must not throw away the baby with the bathwater. The fact that a starting gun is fired by a grand uncle that refuses to go home after dinner does not in and of itself invalidate what he lays claim to.

The APC and the PDP – the latest incarnations in an alphabet soup of legacy parties including NPC, AG, NCNC, UPN, NPN, PRP, AC, AD, APGA ad nauseum – are despoiled of ideological compass. To attract a wider catchment of youth engagement, our nation’s politics must offer more than the present feral feeding frenzy.

AG (Action Group) advanced further down the road than most, with precepts and goals given structure and definition. Like its peers, however, it was both helped and hindered by its ethnic foundation. Our path to independence, instead of incubating political parties driven by deductive thinking, instead gave birth to regionalism, which has morphed into a dangerous parochialism.

The efficacy of the separation of powers presupposes that its operators come, if not with wholly clean hands, then at least with a semblance of fealty to democratic ideals. A roadmap for the country too would be welcome. Alas, influence and power – in civilian and military times – has resided in the hands of knaves and kleptocrats. The present pretenders, in spite of the righteousness of their claims, are prisoners of their genesis; plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

It is axiomatic that representative democracy is the best of the rest! There can be no equivalency however between the naked pursuit of power that characterises our symbiotic and parasitic political parties, and the paradigm of alternative and reasoned visions of society laid out before us by distinguishable political parties.

Arriving at the latter will require building a society imbued with civic values; and, while all of us have a role to play, foundational construction must commence in our homes and in our schools.

The misconception among many clamouring for an immediate alternative to the APC and the PDP is in thinking that they can attain critical mass by the flick of a switch; the process, more nuanced, will more likely resemble a dial. There will be little discernible difference to the lay of the land in 2019 as that ship has already set sail. Given that the promise of ideas can only be actualised in office, the third way may yet prove more akin to the first two.

The best that can be hoped-for is the insinuation of fifth columnists into the two principal parties, in the hope of mitigating the worst of their excesses while simultaneously planting the seeds for new thinking. As it will operate in the political realm, the third way will require compromises of its advocates that will surely sully the purity of their vestments.

Ambition and expectations have to be managed. A close encounter of the third kind cannot be easily consummated; arriving at our desired destination is necessarily an organic process. Recalibrating thinking across the length and breadth of a country as large, diverse and divergent as Nigeria is a long game and failure to affirm and reaffirm that at the outset rises to malice aforethought.

The premise is worthy but our citizens are impatient, with good cause. Our dialectic is the need for immediate change and its implausibility given our present political architecture. The rot of entitlement has set in so deep that correcting it must be sweeping and systemic, and we must be wary of the oversimplification of our latter-day merchants of change. In an age in which everyone knows what everyone knows, we need no longer fall prey to the populists that have crowded out our political space.

The narrative underlying the search for a third way is the same as that of all the other cries that have gone unheeded, strangulated at birth by political elite stuck in its own here and now. Nigerians have long been long-suffering and are too disposed to bowing, scraping and touching their forelock; their distinguished, honourable and eminent persons by and large do not rise to those exalted prefixes. We can and must inculcate respect for constituted authority, while hand-in-hand with that demanding that occupants of public office earn our respect before receiving it.

We would do well to approach with an abundance of care and caution as we engage the messengers. How many of them would have snapped off PMB’s hand if he had offered them a ministerial appointment in 2015 (even given what they know now)? How many are what they say they are in public when behind closed doors? How much skin do they have in the game?

Indeed, how many acknowledge that quintessentially African rabbit hole we must have fallen down, at the end of which General Buhari is venerated as the continent’s anti-corruption icon? It is parlous fare. That disconnect between the hubris of the AU and its leaders, and our experiences of our own anti-corruption campaign is a reminder of how otherworldly continental realities remain.

Nigeria, Africa’s putative leading light, thrashes about like a fish out of water. Its commitment to democracy and the war against corruption is exalted more in word than in deed. The near-wholesale absence of bona fides amongst political practitioners is mirrored in the drivel they dish out. It must be by their deeds that our politicians are judged, not by their words.

As the politician’s stock in trade is words however, the Nigerian citizen must learn to weaponise those words they so casually sprinkle when soliciting for votes. Their words and their word must be regularly resurrected, so that the prospect of being confronted with them constantly hovers over them.

While elections are central to representative democracy, they must not become an end in themselves. Politics is about winning power more than it is about winning arguments, which is why political parties are more invested in elections than they are in the articulation and advancement of ideas. The ideas space too must be nurtured and cultivated however if we are to bring an end to a politics without borders. Perhaps, inadvertently, a close encounter of the third kind may yet progress this space.

Beware ye the fruit of the poisoned vine!

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