By Anthony Akinola
One major difference in the politics of the advanced democratic nations and that of contemporary Nigeria is that one is highly “individualistic” while the other is still largely “communal”. By this I mean there is a greater degree of independence in one than exists in the other. Whereas the divorce lawyer may not be summoned because a wife has chosen to hold a political view that is different from that of her husband, this may not be the case in a communal society where the choice made by one person could be taken, invariably, as the choice made by others. It is precisely because of this communal culture that the phenomenon of defections, i.e. crossing over from one political party to another, attracts the attention it hardly deserves.
When a key political actor has defected from one political party to another, there is a “bandwagon” effect helped by a very low level of political education as well as economic poverty on the part of others. I remember when my father, the late Chief Josiah AkinolaOisa was “coerced” into transferring his loyalty from the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the late 1950s, quite a number of erstwhile supporters of the party followed him to the ruling Action Group (AG) in the then Western Region. He was quite an influential chief, very intelligent as he was equally principled and bold. However, the “regional government” threatened him with deposition if he did not switch loyalty. Deposition was, and still is, some kind of disgrace no one would wish for. My father reluctantly abandoned the political party he so much cherished, thanks to the intolerance of those in positions of power and authority. He was not given the option of being paid “a penny a year salary”.
Armed with what I observed as a very young child, I took exceptional interest in the phenomenon of defections during the Second Republic (1979-83). I was about arguing a thesis that the presidency would bring about a two-party system in Nigeria, hence the excitement in an observation that members of minor political parties were defecting in large numbers to the then two relatively successful parties, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I saw the development as a process of “party cross-breeding”. The termination of the then democratic experiment, not least because of the culture of election rigging, frustrated whatever outcome or conclusion one was anticipating.
There have been quite a few noticeable defections since political party activity resumed in 1999; however, the phenomenon of defections has never been as pronounced as it has been in the past couple of months. The internal crisis in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) opened up a floodgate of defections, with as many as five governors as well as senators and representatives transferring their loyalty from the PDP to the new alternative political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Of course, the PDP has equally been benefiting from the spate of defections as well as allegedly “buying back” its fleeing members.
The ease with which our politicians change political party support clearly suggests that ideology is of little relevance in our politics. Our politicians are divided by their greed and selfish interests than by anything else. Where there is commitment to ideology, a politician will not transfer his or her loyalty for the fear of competition by potential rivals. They will not be running from the political party they believed in for the fear that its structure could be hijacked by another. On the contrary, an ideologically-informed politician will remain in his or her party and sort out whatever problems might have arisen.
It will take quite a while for the Nigerian party system to stabilize. The party system is evolving, still some kind of work in progress. The one good thing to take from current observations is the potential for integration being exhibited by the presidency as a political institution. There will be those arguing for Nigeria to return to the parliamentary system of government which was practiced in the First Republic, not least because it is believed to be less expensive than the presidential alternative. However, when it comes to the issue of political integration, I shall be one of those arguing that the presidential system should be accepted as having come to stay.
A return to the parliamentary system will be a return to another era of ethnic political parties and the erstwhile culture of conspiratorial ethnic alliances. There is nothing to be nostalgic about in the practice of the parliamentary system as witnessed at the federal level of political governance until its deserved death on 15 January 1966. The emergence of the PDP and the APC, as broad-based political parties, has revealed the centralizing influence of the presidency and proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no place for ethnic political parties in the current dispensation. A bit of tinkering with the constitution, especially at the level of leadership recruitment (rotating the presidency, for instance) could tame the spate of defections and political prostitution.
Anthony Akinola via email@example.com