How parties promised power devolution in 1998

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From three political parties that birthed the Fourth Republic in 1999, the number has risen to dozens. As politicians step up horse-trading preparatory to 2023 elections, KUNLE ODEREMI reviews the terms of the social contract that the nation’s political leaders signed with Nigerians, beginning from 1998 when political parties were registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Precisely 22 years and four weeks ago, three major political parties midwived the return to civil rule in Nigeria. Of the three, only two remain more than two decades  in terms of nomenclature, impact and presence: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), though the latter is atrophied  because of indiscretion and political prostitution in the land. The AD is crippled by conspiracy of pro-establishment politicians after making a far-reaching impression as a party and in government in the six states in the South-West geopolitical zone. The other three: All Peoples Party (APP) is on record to have gone into extinction due to inconsistency and rudderless. It has been consumed by political harlotry in the name of curious alliances, alignments and merger.

Of course, there were then more conspicuous, better organised and ideological driven political movements such as the Nigerian Advanced Party (NAP) founded by the late legal practitioner and activist, Dr Tunji Braithwaite; the Democratic Alternative, which comprised highly cerebral and unrepentant ideologues similar to the National Conscience Party (NCP) floated by the irrepressible lawyer, pro-democracy and rights activist, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Of particular importance was the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) established by the leader of talakawas, late Mallam Aminu Kano. A former governor of Kaduna State who won the seat on the ticket of the party, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, was the arrowhead of the PRP until his death last year. But all these parties were handicapped by logistics and encumbrances deliberately created by the establishment and the ruling elite to frustrate the promoters of those parties.

Personalities

The trio of PDP, APP and the AD paraded frontline politicians, with a number of them having collaborated with the military to deny the country of decades of real civilian dispensation. The ranks of the major actors for the Fourth Republic was swelled by the presence of a large number of former top military brasses, including former heads of state, ministers, governors, parliamentarians, party leaders from the First Republic. The names included the late Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme; Chief Don Etiebet; Chief Solomon Lar; Professor Jerry Gana; Chief Phillip Chikwuedo; Dr Bode Olajumoke; Joseph Wayas; Phillip Asiodu; Alabo Tonye Graham Douglas; Chief Jim Nwobodo; Late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi; Chief Francis Ellah, all of the PDP fraternity. Senator Mahmud Waziri. Dr Olusola Saraki; Chief Marshall Harry; Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Chief Gamaliel Onosode; Chief Silas Daniyan; Dr Ognonnya Onu and  Chief Harry Akande, ANPP, while the AD was peopled by distinguished persons like Chief Olu Falae; Chief Bola Ige; Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, to name a few.

The Third Force comprised groupings and movements that were rooted in ethnic nationalities making up the country. Some of them are the Urhobo National Coalition Council (UCC) with a mission to address the “degradation, oppression, and marginalisation committed by the government of Nigeria against the Urhobo.” The coalition joined the league of other mass-based groups, including the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by the renowned playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa. All these ethnic nationalities formed the veritable recruitment ground and formidable machinery for political mobilisation and promotion of a unifying agenda such as the vexed National Question, the euphemism for the amalgam of acts of injustice, structural imbalance and iniquitous power equation and disequilibrium in the country. Those organisations served as the conscience and voice of the people with the so-called political parties and associations leaning on them for relevance, existence and impact at elections in the country, even, till date.

The African Democratic Congress (ADC), which the initiators said was designed to evolve a truly grassroots based political institution that would be relevant at all times, came on board. There was the Eastern Mandate Party (EMP) founded by the late author and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) activist, Dr Arthur Nwankwo. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), among others, were part of the train that revived the engine of political engineering and activism but their real impacts were limited and almost muffled by the activities and operations of the other few political parties with awesome resources and logistics, coupled with political hegemony and gerontocracy. Thus, the PDP and the APP were able to react to the power structure and distribution that were skewed from the majority of the citizens and the core values and essence of parties: forming government and management of state resources for the good of the populace.

Five years after the country restored civil rule, the late jurist, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, who became the chairman of the national reconciliation committee set up by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, raised some useful teasers on the intendment of civilian rule. He queried: “Are we building a society in which nobody counts except a politician and or an official? Look at the affluent, extravagant lifestyle of political and public office holders and the abject poverty of the rural village dwellers whose rates and taxes are used to maintain and sustain the former’s lifestyle. Look at the plight of the low income workers who has to pay for his rent, transport, feeding, and so on, and the rich ministers and commissioners who are given either free houses or who else pay nominal rent; who are given free cars and who have almost everything free.” All this, according to the erudite jurist, was in contrast to the fact that public servants in a democracy should be the servants of the people and not their masters, describing the Nigerian situation as a huge paradox.

At the time the country marked its 100 years on March 2, 2014, as a geographical entity, the then President Goodluck Jonathan had one specific wish that Nigeria evolve into a nation by the time it attained 200 years, but without making reference to the strategic role the political parties have to play in galvanising the people and providing leadership and vision in the attainment of the goal. His words: “I hope and pray that one hundred years from now, Nigerians will look back on another century of achievements during which our union was strengthened, our independence was enhanced, our democracy was entrenched and our example was followed by leaders of other nations whose ambition is to emulate the success of Nigeria; a country that met its difficulties head-on and fulfilled promise.

PDP, APC keeping faith with Nigerians?

At a crucial meeting held at the Sheraton Hotel Abuja on Wednesday, August 19, 1998, the leaders of the PDP came up with 12 profound resolutions on the basis for the founding of the party. The resolutions (manifesto) included: to restructure Nigeria in the spirit of true federalism, so as to achieve a just and equitable distribution n of power, wealth and opportunities; to resolve such fundamental matters as proper devolution of powers, power shift and power sharing in a federal structure, so as to create the socio-political conditions conducive for our living together in peace, unity and social harmony. The agenda of the party also include its determination to design an effective strategy for eradicating poverty and for establishing a prosperous Nigerian society with a diversified and integrated national economy, as well as to rebuild the foundations of civil society so as to ensure the growth, protection and defence of the ideals of democracy and good governance, as well as to establish a moral and ethical society guided by such core values as honesty, integrity and justice.

On the other hand, the current ruling APC set up a committee on restructuring of the country. The report of the committee has been forwarded to the National Assembly, where the party controls majority of the members. Beyond that initiative is the manifesto of the party which states that the mission of the party is to construct and institute a progressive state anchored on social democracy, where the welfare and security of the citizenry is paramount.” According to the APC, “As progressives, we believe that Nigeria is greater than any individual or the sum of her federating units; therefore, the country can only succeed when all of us have equal rights, where no one is above the law, where the culture of impunity is abolished and where there is a level-playing field.”

Part of the social contract the party signed with the electorate is that “As a change agent, the APC intends to clean our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan to post-oil economy in Nigeria. And to achieve this laudable programme, the APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the centre.” This objective was outlined in an eight pronged agenda that cut across real sectors of the economy, education, healthcare, war against corruption and food security, power supply and an integrated transport network.

Public expectations

There were great public expectations at inception in 1999. Though many knew that democracy was not an end itself, many had thought that the change of guard would herald an end to the period of impunity and substitute with real good governance, accountability and transparency in public office. The thinking was that the exit of the military from power would mark a new beginning in terms of bringing governance closer to the people and sanctity of the ballot box and respect for the rule of law and capacity to faithfully manage the common patrimony.

Sadly, many still wonder if what is obtainable now is dashed as most of the pre-election promises and commitments made by political gladiators hand in the balance. Worsening unemployment, uneven distribution of resources; epileptic infrastructure; lack of synergy among power brokers; establishment of personal empires; insecurity; private armies; flaunting of personal wealth, among other gnawing traits pervade the land.

ANPP, APC, others

The APP went into an alliance with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) led by former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari (retired) with the AD for the 2003 general election. The party later changed to ANPP before merging with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a splinter of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) floated by the Late Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).  And for more than 21 years, main political power has oscillated between the PDP and the ruling APC. Citing the perceived disappointment of the former to give the nation a right leadership with vision, imbued with moral and fiscal discipline and puritanical inclination in 16 years of the PDP being in the saddle, the APC picked up the gauntlet in 2015 with a promise to create a new horizon of hope and redemption from the rot, lack of direction and transparency in public office.

Power rotation

Two decades after the restoration of civil rule, the concept of zoning and rotation remains a contention, especially in relation to the office of the president. The main power centres in the PDP and APC play hide and seek on the issue which though, not a constitutional provision, is a mutual understanding and valve to douse tension, acrimony and bitterness that characterise the contest for the highest office in the country.  From Obasanjo to Yar’Adua down to Jonathan and now Buhari presidencies, the nexus of intrigues and subterfuge over issue of zoning threaten the polity and fracture the PDP, APC in particular. The conflict of interest among the main contenders for power and power blocks in the parties serve as the gun powder and regents, instead of the main actors acting as the stabilisers. The combustion split the PDP in the buildup to the 2015 that forced some power brokers in the then ruling PDP to team up with others in forming the APC. A similar internal volcano that erupted in the APC in the countdown to the 2019 elections split the APC down the line, with high profile and politically exposed politicians defecting to the PDP from the ruling APC. According to a former governor of Kano State, Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, zoning is not the issue but the character of the leadership of the country. He said: “Let me make it categorically clear that where a president comes from does not matter today in Nigeria. Jonathan was president; his people could not enjoy much of his government. Likewise Obasanjo and today, President Buhari. I think Nigerians should work towards having who is desirable to lead them rather than the primordial belief we propagate.”

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar also acknowledged the inadequacies and defects in the existing party structure in the country. Atiku, who claimed to bear the “scars of the absence of internal party democracy” in the hands of “anti-democratic forces in our party system,”  asserted that, “Nigeria’s political parties are largely owned by godfathers rather than the mass of members and are largely run as personal fiefdoms or sole proprietorships.”

Functions of parties

By the virtue of their cardinal goals and objectives, political parties are designed to be vehicles for economic growth and development. This is because they are required to galvanise the populace and serve as catalysts for nation-building, political stability and prosperity. Political parties are the bastion of democracy and beacon of hope for the populace. A former head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, Professor OBC Nwolise, once listed what he called the key values of parties to include ideology, internal democracy, effective performance of interest articulation and aggregation, enhancement of popular participation in politics, government, democratic leadership recruitment and training. “But, we all know that if we are to score our political parties on the above key values and functions, they will fail. In fact, some citizens believe that what we have in Nigeria are not political parties but political associations hunting for power in the personal interests of members,” Atiku said.  He further stretched that the absence of internal democracy in the nation’s political parties was responsible for the poor quality of candidates and leaders/rulers on Nigeria’s political terrain. This is because people who emerge as party flag bearers are imposed (not popular) candidates and when eventually they occupy positions, they have nothing to offer the nation, state or local government because they never planned to be leaders.”

Alternative to PDP, APC

The advocacy for a third Force to the PDP and the APC only become pronounced at the threshold elections. Talks about the alternatives to the two always collapsed once the candidates of the PDP and the APC emerge for the presidential race. Many of the promoters usually jump ship to either of the two formidable camps for the purpose of remaining relevant or position themselves for political patronage after the poll has been fought and won. Besides, some promoters of Third Force are often driven by inordinate ambition to contest for offices, not necessarily to win but to add to their curriculum vitae. Bereft of serious and progressive ideas and issues that could drive the machinery of government, coupled with structures for real mobilisation, such so-called political gladiators glamourise the political space with mere sloganeering and razzmatazz.

With more than four dozens of registered parties, there are those who believe that the emergence of an alternative to the PDP and the APC is achievable. This is not minding the constitutional requirement of registering parties, enormity of resources and logistics required and the personnel and structures. Not much is being heard about the initiative Obasanjo cued into in the quest to make the ADC the Third Force before the 2019 general election. The political will required for such costly project seems to be lacking as a similar project started by Chief Olisa Agbakoba and other professionals, activists and intellectuals was unsuccessful.

A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, has always been concerned about the conduct and character of the political parties. With the benefit of experience as an academic and manager of the nation’s Election Management Body (EMB), he provides a vivid scenario of the situation. Tracing the history of party formation to the pre-independence Nigeria, he offered broad outline on how to evolve parties with focused ideas and ideals: “Parties should work towards democratic consolidation, rather than democratic reversal. They should pay attention to generation and articulation of ideas and ideals, to creation of cogent electoral agendas and programmes, and to registration of members who are genuinely interested in what they stand for as political parties. There is the challenge of developing manifestoes and canvassing those manifestoes to the public. But that isn’t all: there is also the challenge of acting in accordance with those manifestoes once parties are elected into power.” Jega, who has since boarded the PRP train, emphasised that political parties must develop capacity for organisation, transparent fund-raising and campaign expenditure, recalling that the political parties of the pre-independence Nigeria “devoted time to party organisation” and were “deeply rooted in the masses.”

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