Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nigerian Zebras crossing the carpet

A dicotyledonous plant like a bean seed produces two seed leaves or cotyledons when it germinates. In the course of its growth, these leaves would eventually form a network of veins. Whether by photosynthesis or by biosynthesis, these leaves interact with certain elements that help the plant produce food matter. The one country having a trajectory of governance reminiscent of this natural course can be none other than the United States. When it comes to certain core issues like tax, immigration, health care, foreign policy, energy issues and environment, education crime and punishment, the average American understands where the one stands and where the other does not. The average American also understands that in matters that are ideational and concern the ideals for which their parties were formed, Republicans and Democrats fight to the death like gladiators. The average American also understands that in matters of national security, both gladiators have been known to sheath their swords and scimitars and take on a common foe head on before resuming their clash. But perhaps the point that I seek to make immediately is that having two political parties in itself is not what makes the United States an attractive political specimen. My point, quickly, is that these two political structures act as checks and balances and whenever they are at each other’s throats, their fighting helps to strengthen the institutions that run the democratic process. People are not casting their votes on ethnic, religious and primordial issues like race but the strong ideas about the direction that America should take to advance these ethnic, religious and racial issues  is what defines, detoxifies and sanitizes the race and determines who rolls the dice at the White House.  

I cannot be bold to say that this is what plays out in downtown Lagos or Abuja or Kano or Benin City. At inauguration of the presidential system of governance in 1999, Nigeria had a plethora of political parties, each without a clear-cut ideology and even though it did seem that we had waltzed past the days when ethnic and primordial considerations were the drivers of our political ethos, certain elements unique only to African politics began to play out – politics of the stomach aka stomach infrastructure and the carpet crossing phantom. Therefore, while American gladiators would fight to the death and lay down their lives in the political coliseum for the direction they believe their country should go, the Nigeria politician – whom some of my friends say are no better than dilettantti and carpetbaggers – are a veritable contrast. But we must be careful here with an expression of this type of sweeping ululation, particularly when the Nigerian Constitution, 1999, as amended gives everyone the right to associate and de-associate.   As a matter of fact, I will make bold to state here that despite the fact that most Nigerian politicians migrate like a horde from the one party to the other for tuwo and amala, several have held steady. I recall that only two of them – Muhammadu Buhari and Bola Tinubu – who remained in their parties but had to re-organize and morph into a broader coalition of disgruntled elements from the PDP.  The rest of them have either moved from the PDP from the APC or from the APC to the PDP, all to the extent that today we are not sure which party is PDP or APC.

No other example best exemplifies this apart from the new PDP chairman, Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State.  Credible information from The Guardian newspapers indicate that before 1999, Modu Sheriff was elected senator representing Borno Central on the platform of United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP. The paper said that with the return of the democratic process in 1999, he was again elected senator representing Borno Central on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP), which later metamorphosed to the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). According to The Guardian, Sheriff was elected the governor of Borno State on ANPP platform in 2003. He served for two terms, making history as the first governor of the state to serve two terms in office.  Sheriff was an arrow-head in the internal crisis that shook the ANPP during the leadership of Chief Don Etiebet.  Under the leadership of Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke of the ANPP, Sheriff became Chairman, Board of Trustees. Mr. Modu Sheriff played a key role in the merger of different political parties which morphed into the APC-coalition of a number of political parties. 

Therefore, we have what looks like two political parties, the APC and the PDP. But that is not so.  The two parties see their roles as public servants as opportunities to divide the spoils of what Sam Kargbo refers to as ‘hard fought political victories’.  As a result of this, we find politicians gravitating to the winning side so as to participate in the division of the spoils of hard fought political victories.  We find ourselves in that Orwellian predispositions where we cannot shake off the chains of the oppression of the pigs, and cannot anymore tell the pigs from the humans of whom we fought so hard for our freedom.  Both the PDP and the APC look rather like a broad market square where the one comes to sell and the other to buy and vice versa. Whenever it seems as though the political tide moves unfavourably against the fortunes of the one politician, he crosses to the other side of the lake, and moves back quite easily when it seems that the coast is clear.  

But we must realize that political parties are the stuff of stern stuff.  Parties are the spiritual enclaves wherein men and women bound together by a common credo take a resolve to promote the cause of mankind irrespective their own religious, ethnic and cultural affiliations. They don’t run away when the chips are down. They don’t jump ship. Therefore when a nation gets blessed with two or more political parties with a modicum of resemblance to a dicotyledonous plant, and whose leaves, activities create a network of political checks and balances, the system works better and our people benefit more from the conflict of ideas and ideational issues.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku,