2015: Why [Ordinary] People Matter More Than [Individual] Politicians By Jaye Gaskia
I am in a somewhat combative and polemical mood, so pardon what I suspect might be the more or less aggressive tone of this write up. Nevertheless this intervention is necessary, urgent and time bound. This is a general, as well as particular response to the arguments being made by very respectable activists, active citizens, and patriotic platforms, with respect to the unavoidability of an APC choice to PDP, and within the APC itself, the unavoidability of a Buhari [GMB] choice as its presidential flag bearer. The arguments have been pushed in such a manner as to be categorical that in 2015 we are faced only with the proverbial choice between the devil [PDP] and the deep blue sea [APC]. It is presented in a manner that forecloses any other options, and any other choices.
My friends, Salihu Lukman and Chido Onumah being the most active writers and explicit public advocactes of this trend of thought and action, have written extensively and profusely to advance this cause.
The latest is the article by Chido and another colleague titled “2015: why Buhari matters”. I am going to quote directly from this latest piece while articulating an alternative cause of action.
Now hear them, they begin thus: “We must state unequivocally that we have no illusion about the present order. We do not think that the present system can solve the fundamental crisis in the nation or bring succor to our people.
The impoverishment of millions of our country men and women, the wanton abuse of rights, colonization and exacerbation of the fault lines of the country, are not issues that the current political order can tackle.
As a first step towards addressing these issues, we recommend a national dialogue of genuine representatives of the people on the future of Nigeria. How to force this all important national dialogue – whether through a bloody revolution or otherwise – will have to be determined by millions of toiling Nigerians who bear the brunt of the present anachronistic social order”.
I have quoted this opening declarative statement in full and copiously because I am not only in full agreement with the diagnosis of the problem, I am also in agreement with the recommended solution. However, the very next paragraph opens with a statement that is not only contradictory to the opening statement, but that completely negates its thrust.
Once again hear them: “Having made this clarification, it is important to note that we have to ‘play politics’ within the parameters of the current bourgeois democratic order”. The then go on to explain that that is what the piece would do exactly and that it is inspired by and directed as a response to what they termed the ‘ostrich politics’ of Joe Igbokwe of the APC.
It is important to state that I understand that the piece was written in the context of internal party polemic and debate within the APC; but since both Igbokwe’s original piece, as well as Chido’s response were put in the public domain, we are justified in joining the debate. However even more importantly is the fact that the debates and struggles that go on within political parties are of utmost importance to citizens, because through we can gauge the not only the quality of life within the party, but also the likely directions and thrusts of its activities as a governing party, or as an opposition party which might likely become a governing party.
So in this respect what they do within their parties, and what they say within their parties, how they say it, etc matters a lot to us as citizens.
Just before we go on to address the issues raised in these debates and the contradictions which tend to make independent political action impossible, let us take two other quotes which express the authors’ choice of a “Buhari – Fashola” APC 2015 presidential ticket as the most viable.
The first quote: “There is little chance that the APC can make any impact in the north if it picks its presidential candidate outside the three zones in the North”. And after ruling out some ‘viable’ Northern candidates, they go on thus “ However, Buhari stands out simply because he has a cult following in the North [at least the core North] which, if properly harnessed, will stymie any assault by the PDP [particularly, a much weakened and divided PDP] in the zone”.
“The last man standing is Babatunde Fashola, the popular, young and dynamic governor of Lagos state. So what do we say about a Buhari/Fashola pairing for 2015? This looks like an ideal choice for APC moving forward.”
Now to the nitty-gritty of the real issues; How can the present political order be presented as incapable of addressing the real challenges of our nation, and yet we are asked to play politics with the parameters of the current system?
Is an accommodation with the very essence of the system and order that has and continues to bring hardship, mass impoverishment and alienation, the only way we can realistically engage with this system in order to compel the desired change?
Why should we confine and devote all our energies to maneuvering within the main political pillars of the system; a system that we have said can not bring succor to millions of our people?
Why should the best pairing for an opposition political party, that aims to become the ruling party, and that has any interest in making significant differences in the lives of Nigerians, be one led by a candidate whose only qualification is that he has ‘a cult following in the North’, and perhaps that he is said and perceived to be ‘upright’?
By this definition of the main qualifying criteria for this candidate alone, it can be seen that he is no better than the most likely candidate of the ruling PDP, the incumbent president, whose only qualification is also apparently that he is a minority from the South –South, a historically excluded and disadvantaged area, and that his people, in particular the Ijaws, will back him to the hilt, back him to death!
What that argument, and it is a very sincere argument, portrays, is that the best candidate for the opposition APC is decidedly a sectional [Northern] leader, with ‘cult following’ in the North, and who happens to be perceived to be ‘upright’.
Yet by the very nature of the monumental problem confronting this nation, brilliantly articulated in their opening paragraphs, what we require is a visionary and Pan Nigerian Leader, in a Visionary and Revolutionary political platform, with a radical program built around redistributing wealth, and ensuring social justice and equity.
The authors even admit that there is no internal democracy in the APC or in any of its constitutive parties; nor is there internal democracy within the ruling behemoth, the PDP.
We have seen the dangers and threats to our national life and socio-economic well being posed by this lack and absence of internal democracy within the parties; just as we have been living witnesses to the way this absence of internal democracy within parties have impacted so detrimentally on governance, and have served to repeatedly undermine the constitution and the constitutional structures of governance and the state at all levels.
How can more of this mix be the solution to our problems? Or even lead us in the direction of a solution?
What is even more dangerous is a Leader, at the head of an autocratic party, with cult following, from only one section of the country! How do you express dissent with such a leader and challenge the anti people and unpopular policies of such a leader without unnerving and unleashing his cult following base? And without thus jeopardizing the stability of the country, in more dangerous ways than the ethnic solidarity with an incompetent GEJ presidency has been jeopardizing national stability and undermining national economic development and human progress in our country?
But my biggest worry is that while we seem to be in agreement that the existing social order needs to be radically and urgently transformed; that the current system is incapable of making this happen or bringing succor to the mass of impoverished citizens; and that the major gladiator parties of the system lack internal democracy; my biggest worry is that after agreeing on all of these we are then told our only option is to ‘play politics within the parameters of the current bourgeois order’ and to therefore ‘enter’ or join one of the gladiator parties, the APC, as a way of playing this politics.
How can we hope to influence a party that we have admitted lacks internal democracy? I mean influence it in a qualitatively different direction? The PDP we all seem to be in agreement is a no go area and is not a platform we should engage with; yet is it possible that we might be able to make an APC government, under a Buhari/Fashola presidency to begin to take steps to institute that genuine national dialogue process that we agree is so sorely needed?
I think that the basic reason for the existence of this contradiction, for the self limitation of our choices within this seemingly undesirable confine is the exclusion of the mass of our long suffering peoples, in their tens of millions from the equation; their exclusion as a factor, not to speak of being the decisive factor, in this political contestation.
We are living through a period of global crisis, which has spawned at one and the same time global political, economic, financial, environmental and social crises. The response of subordinate classes and exploited and impoverished millions who are being made to bear the brunt of this untoward hardships have been a global resistance, that has equally spawned the mass strike movement across Europe, the Arab spring, including the inauguration of its new phase with the recent turmoil in Egypt, the global occupy movement, the recent Turkish and Brazilian Uprisings, and yes, our own January Uprising, and the many mini uprisings that we have had since then.
We are moving towards and preparing for a general election in 2015 within this global and national context. This is what potentially makes 2015 different from 2011, or even June 12 1993. We have an opportunity; with a younger generation recently radicalized and politicized by the most life changing occurrence and process of this century: the January Uprising and the Global resistance movement.
This is the setting and context that makes the people, ordinary citizens matter most, and matter more than any single politician or party, and more than at any other time in recent history or memory.
We can transform the nature of electoral contestation towards and in 2015, by ensuring that we make issues and not individuals, party programs and not just parties the decisive discourse. We must shift from discussing personalities to raising issues and making our issues the priority items on the national agenda.
And we can change the voting dynamics by launching a concerted effort to ensure that youth and women, and in particular those radicalized by and since the January Uprising to register and get on the voters register; and subsequently to come out to vote and defend their votes in the general elections.
But we must also complement these with ensuring that they do have a real choice; we can do this by ensuring that we build an alternative radical, and revolutionary mass political party, from the experience and convergence of all the ongoing party building efforts outside of the major gladiator parties of the system.
We used to say that a major lesson of the first phase of the Egyptian revolution in 2011 is the absence of a strong coordinating political platform with structures spread across the country, of the youth and women and workers groups that essentially made that revolution. That weakness made the Brotherhood, the historic opposition party to become the default beneficiary of the revolution.
Nevertheless, the youths, women and workers, chose to continue to wage their struggle and deepen the process. They fought the military and forced it to hand power to the Islamist President; and they continued to fight the Islamist President as the Brotherhood embarked on a program of creeping ‘islamisation’ of the civic life and society. By the time of the November 2012 uprising during which they resisted the assumption of autocratic powers by the Morsi presidency, they had begun to establish a nationwide structure and platform to coordinate their revolution which they proclaimed as a permanent revolution until all their demands are met, encapsulated in the slogan ‘Our Revolution Continues’. By the time of the recent uprising, they had established the Tamrod [Rebel] movement organisational structure; autonomously of the Brotherhood [read PDP], the merging opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) [read APC]; and also of the Military; a movement which enabled them to collect in real time, not online 22 million signatures to Recall the president/force his resignation; and as well enabled them to bring tens of millions unto the street, even more than during the 2011 uprising, across the country. This situation has enabled them to isolate the Brotherhood, and to ensure that there is a viable alternative to the NSF of the political elites of Egypt.
We can achieve similar results here, if we build, and devote our energies to building autonomously of the PDP and the APC. We might not be strong enough to take power in 2015, but we can certainly build a platform strong enough to represent a serious threat to both the PDP and APC, and thus act as the sorely needed check to keep them both in line, and ensure that our issues remain a priority on the national political agenda.
My urgent appeal to youths radicalized by the January Uprising, and to active citizens tired of the treasury looting directionless leadership of the political elites, and wary of the parties of the ruling political elites; is to take our destinies into our own hands, build our own political platform and challenge these charlatans, in progressthief and conservathief gabs for political power, and therefore the right and mandate to shape the future of this country by altering its present course.
By the way it is our present and our future, as well as our country; let us take it back!
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