Between Six and Half a Dozen By Akin Osuntokun
You might have heard that it was the same political personality namely Chief Bola Ige , that authored the outline of the constitution of the three political parties that contested the 1999 general elections. It is true and this is how it came to be. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, originated as a pan Nigerian anti-military dictatorship nationalist movement. Farther into the past it started as a Northern regional initiative, when a group of eminent opinion leaders from across the Northern half of the country constituted themselves into a pressure group called the G 18. It comprised people like Dangiwa Umar, Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Adamu Ciroma, Sule Lamido, Jerry Gana and others numbering up to eighteen who rose against the General Sani Abacha military dictatorship. The emergence of this group represented a strategic boost to the largely South West based coalition of forces actively opposed to the annulment of the outcome of the 1993 Presidential elections.
The initial Nigeria-wide opposition to the annulment had been subverted through the age old contrivance of divide and rule. After the annulment, the military dictatorship in power, first with General Ibrahim Babangida and subsequently with General Sani Abacha, had mounted a campaign of ethno regional division of the political elite. It did not take long to accomplish this objective and effectively reduce resistance to the annulment to the South-West regional origins of the winner of the election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
The latter day emergence of the G18 represented a significant setback for the military fostered political fractionalization of the civilian wing of the ruling elite. The G18 was soon broadened to encompass the whole of Nigeria and renamed G34 under the pro temporal leadership of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme. By a quirk of providence it was not long after the establishment of this group that the personal embodiment of the obstacle against their wishes and that of the vast majority of Nigerians, General Abacha, was removed in the same sneaky manner that he mounted the seat of Nigeria’s military dictator.
At the death of Abacha, there were three political formations on ground. One was the Yoruba based Afenifere/NADECO alliance. Another was the G34 and the third was the residual Abacha coalition of forces. The most formidable was easily the G34, not the least on account of the fact that the membership included the leadership of Afenifere – as represented by Chiefs Bola Ige and Olu Falae. It was this group that wholly transformed into the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and became the first without equal among all potential Nigeria political parties. It was generally believed and largely believable that this PDP was going to be the main inheritor of power from a rapidly retreating military rule.
Ige and Falae had the Presidential seat of Nigeria firmly in their sight especially against the backdrop of the open secret that the Yoruba were favored for the position. Political brinkmanship between the two rivals resulted in a journey that traversed the three registered parties, the PDP, All Peoples Party (APP) and later All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and the Alliance for Democracy, AD. On account of his formidable professional legal and political pedigree, Ige was entrusted with the weighty task of writing the party constitution as he moved from PDP, through ANPP and finally to the AD. For whatever reason, Falae appeared to enjoy a head start in the PDP-which then rendered the party unattractive to his rival, who, in turn encouraged the movement of Afenifere to the ANPP. The presence of Arthur Nzeribe and other long standing saboteurs of the 1993 Presidential election in the ANPP, in turn, made the party very uncomfortable for the Afenifere entourage and they finally berthed in the Yoruba irredentist political platform, the AD. In effect the non-ideological differentiation of the three political parties was rooted in the movement of the late Chief Ige from PDP, through ANPP to AD.
There is also a global dimension to the ideological normlessness of Nigeria’s political party system. Before 1989 the global system largely operated as a bipolar political division of the world into the America led Western world capitalist bloc and the Soviet Union led Eastern Europe socialist bloc. The interpretation of the collapse of the Soviet Union (which precipitated the end of the cold war), was that the socialist ideology had conclusively failed as an organizing principle of the economic system and no longer poses a viable alternative to capitalism. Between 1989 and now the conceptualization of the global system had moved from bipolar to unipolar (the triumph and dominance of the capitalist ideology) and multipolar (non-ideological pooling of workable ideas and concept).
Now let me sound a note of warning to Kayode Komolafe and his ideological co travelers. I’m not looking for a debate on the validity of any ideological school of thought; and if it will mollify their provocation, am willing to concede that the viability of Capitalism itself had been called to question by the recent experience of the global financial and economic meltdown occasioned by the outright failure of the capitalist mechanism. The capitalist crisis notwithstanding, there is hardly any country now in the world that has not turned to the free market capitalist philosophy to seek guidance and chart a path towards economic prosperity.
The effort to understand the Nigerian political system from the standpoint of ideological differences itself begs the question of the relevance of ideology to the unique problems and difficulties we are confronted with. What, for instance, is the relevance of ideological disputation to a country in which majority of citizens feel that the Nigerian nationality is an imposition-that requires a fundamental review? What has ideology got to do with the profligacy and criminalization of governance?
It is against this background that we find extenuation for the prevailing non-ideological differentiation of the Nigerian political system. What is not so readily defensible is the character instability and fraudulent holier-than-thou posturing of the parties. Of the three Nigerian political parties, only the PDP still significantly retains its nomenclature and substance. ANPP was emasculated by the split that gave birth to the General Mohammadu Buhari personified Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, whilst the AD transformed into the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. And as we all know, these other parties have found common purpose against the PDP and proceeded to merge and christened the merger the Alliance for Progressive Change, APC. All of them are well represented at the national assembly where each party has had the opportunity to express its corporate character and identity. What we have seen of this corporate expression was the inspiration for the title of this essay.
Since the inception of the Fourth republic it has become an annual ritual for the national assembly to engage in prolonged altercation with the Presidency over the budget- in respect of both the content and implementation. Constitutionally and conventionally, the power over appropriation resides significantly in the legislative arm of government and to this extent it is expected and permissible for the national assembly to assert itself. Now whatever one may otherwise think of the executive branch as personified by the President, the truth is that in the exercise of its power over appropriation, the national assembly has tended to overreach itself in ways pregnant with negative meanings.
It is the duty and responsibility of the executive to lay the expected national revenue and how it proposes to spend it before the assembly. Barring the authority to jack up the estimate and redistribute among the ministries, departments and agencies of government; the latter has the latitude to do with the budget as it deems fit. Unfortunately it is precisely this specific limitation that the assembly seeks to breach- often with the motive of loading the budget to accommodate interests that are not entirely consistent with the public good. Individually and collectively, legislators seem to have cultivated the culture of superimposing vested personal interests over the legitimate role of holding the executive publicly accountable for the resources appropriated on a case by case basis.
Ordinarily, there is nothing particularly wrong with the accommodation of legislators’ desire for specific projects to be located in their constituencies. Here it is called constituency project. What is wrong is the personal appropriation of such projects including the determination of who ultimately gets awarded the contract-which invariably turns out to be a proxy. I cannot readily recall the emolument of our national legislators but I quite clearly remember that nobody ever controverted the report that the Nigerian legislator is the highest paid lawmaker in the world; that they even receive higher salaries than the President of the United States of America. At the inception of the current assembly, controversy blew out over the decision of the legislators to purchase Peugeot sedans for members and label them as pool vehicles for the performance of oversight functions – in clear circumvention of the monetization policy.
The bad behavior of the national assembly has attracted and continues to attract the reprobation of the Nigerian public especially for constituting such a big burden on the public purse not to talk of routine corruption scandals. What has not attracted sufficient public scrutiny is the conflict between propaganda and reality of the misconduct of its members who parade themselves as the so called progressive political parties. They have one standard of behavior in closed door executive sessions and another in open sessions where they pose, preen and generally play to the gallery. Has any member of the national assembly been known to voice opposition to the scandalous salaries they pay themselves? On the contrary it is to the full knowledge of the Nigerian public that where it concerns the negative propensity to abuse their office especially in pecuniary matters, the unity of the national assembly members is unshakable.
And it is instructive that none of the national leaders of these parties has gone on record to rebuke legislators elected on their party platform for this ethically corrosive behavior. The only plank on which General Buhari stakes his political appeal is his anti-corruption reputation yet I do not know of any CPC legislator who is not interchangeable with his most crooked PDP counterpart. The ACN and their numerous foot soldiers and allies in the media never let a day pass without drawing attention to their potential candidacy for beatification and canonization in contradistinction to the pure unadulterated evil of the PDP.
If they are inclined to acting the courage of their conviction they should challenge their elected legislators to show proof of righteous objection to the regime of unconscionable remuneration package they cornered for themselves. If they are not able to do this then it is up to the party at the receiving end – the PDP, to lay bare this hypocrisy for all Nigerians to see and understand. Those who come to equity must come with clean hands.
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