Dysfunctional Premises Of Nigerian Politics


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Dysfunctional Premises Of Nigerian Politics




Omajuwa Igho Natufe



culled from GUARDIAN, April 26, 2006

The return to civil rule in May 1999 was a welcome phenomenon in Nigeria. Though described as a federal system, the 1999 Constitution is a unitary document that renders the federating units - states - impotent and dependent on the Federal Government. Being a former military ruler of Nigeria, Obasanjo has demonstrated that he is more comfortable with managing a unitary command-based system than he is with a federal system. Hence he regards the state governors as his representatives in their respective jurisdictions, just as his military governors were his state representatives during the military regime.  


This mindset of his has transformed Nigerian politics from an arena of independent debates of issues into a militaristic polity. And he has achieved this by his use of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) as an instrument of intimidation. Under Obasanjo, the PDP plays the role of a supreme military council that he had presided over during his military dictatorship. The
national executive committee of the PDP is de facto a parallel government in Nigeria. Let us explain.  


In a federation, a political party reflects the contending views of its legislators as mandated by their respective constituencies. Thus, a federal political party cannot be expected to be monolithic. To make it monolithic is to destroy a fundamental premise of federalism. As the leader of the PDP, Obasanjo has endorsed the use of the party machinery to effect a monolithic order inimical to the tenets of federalism and injurious to democratic practice. For the PDP leadership to describe the kidnapping of Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State in 2003 as a "family" affair, by mollifying the actions of Chris Uba who engineered the illegal act, is a good example of its abuse of democracy and good governance. This was also exemplified by the party's interference in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly's impeachment of the state's deputy governor, when the party leadership sequestered the PDP legislators of the State House of Assembly and compelled them to reverse their impeachment of the deputy governor.  


We also witnessed the party's "directives" to the Edo State governor to reinstate the chairman of an Iruekpen Local Government Council. These are few examples of the undemocratic policies of the PDP in a federal political system. The recent decision of the national executive committee of the PDP "adopting" the proposed bill to amend the 1999 Constitution, including the elongation of the term of office of President Obasanjo and state governors, and "ordering" PDP legislators in the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives as well as those in the various State houses of assembly to support the bill, is a gross violation of the constitutional rights of legislators to represent the views of their constituencies, and the imposition of dictatorship in a supposedly federal democratic polity.  


By converting the national executive committee of the PDP into an arm of the Federal Government, President Obasanjo has established a dangerous precedent in Nigerian politics. It represents the failure of politics in Nigeria, as it denies elected PDP legislators the right to represent the views of their respective constituencies on maters of national importance. A solid democratic base cannot be built on such flagrant violation of representative governance. Nigerian federalism under the Obasanjo presidency is a replica of the defunct Soviet Union where the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union played a supreme role in government, just as his PDP is playing in Nigerian politics. This role is dysfunctional to good governance.  


Another dysfunctional premise which has been introduced into Nigerian politics is the concept of power shift, by which elective offices (the president, governor, senator, etc) are to rotate from zone to zone or among ethnic groups within a state. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo has been most vociferous in agitating for an "Igbo presidency" in Nigeria. Nigerian newspapers are replete with captions declaring "it is time for an Igbo presidency" or "it is the turn of my political zone" to produce the next president of Nigeria, etc. The exponents of power shift argue that they have been marginalised by the political system. Is power shift a synonym for good governance?  


While postulating power shift as a mechanism to ensure the rulership of an ethnic group in the polity, exponents of this concept have failed to account for the poor governance of their states or local government councils where they have governed. Thus, the critical issue of good governance is relegated to the background in favour of ethnocentric policies. Even among the exponents of power shift, especially some of those in Delta and Edo states who argue for a "South-South" presidency, it is interesting to note that they are quick to resist power shift in the governorship of both states. By endorsing power shift at one level and opposing it at another level, these proponents of power shift exhibit a degree of contradiction that renders their position moribund.  


Power shift is a function of the correlation of forces in a democracy, where candidates for elective offices are judged and elected by the population based on their policies and programmes. To legislate this is a false approach to tackling the critical issues of governance. It does not matter if the president of Nigeria is an Efik, an Ijaw, a Kanuri, or a Tiv, etc. What matters is good governance. The population needs jobs, education, good motorable roads, pipe-borne water supply, 24-hour electric supply, clean environment, health services, etc. Politics is a contest between people and political parties of divergent views, and as such, the electorate should be allowed to elect the best candidate in a free and fair election.  


The real problem with contemporary Nigeria is two-fold. That is, the dictatorial stance of the PDP. Secondly, the unitary constitution of the country disguised as a federal constitution. As long as these twin issues are allowed to define the political landscape of Nigeria, then the continued instability in the polity will be inevitable. That the PDP is abusing its majority in the polity to impose a third term for President Obasanjo and state governors is a demonstration of the debility of thought among members of the party. We need to adopt a holistic approach in our analysis of political questions.  


We must condemn the so-called power shift. And it will be a disaster for the country if this clause is enshrined in the constitution, as is being plotted by the PDP. To legislate power shift is a mechanical and anti-democratic approach to governance. All those advocating power shift are either ignorant of the dynamics of politics or are being deceitful to their understanding of democracy. Even if we are to entertain this inglorious concept of power shift, is the zonal basis a constitutional way of managing the issue? Is a zone (South-South, or North East, etc) a constituent of the Nigerian federation? If the answers are in the negative, then why should the advocates of power shift at the federal level say power must shift from zone A to zone B? The states are the constituent units of Nigerian federation, and not a "zone."  


Assuming that we are to endorse power shift, then it must shift on the basis of ethnicity, since Nigeria is a collective of ethnic nationalities. Thus, by implications, power must shift from ethnic group A to ethnic group B, etc. With over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria, then we have to shift power from ethnic group to ethnic group in alphabetical order, and those ethnic groups that had provided Nigerian presidents will be by-passed until all the other ethnic groups have exercised presidential power equal to the number of years that the by-passed ethnic groups have exercised. This exposes the ridiculousness of the inglorious concept of power shift. Power must be allowed to shift as dictated by the electorate in a free and fair election. The issue is good governance.  


A major defect in Nigerian politics is the aberration of federalism. The series of policy inefficiencies will be resolved when the tenets of federalism are restored in the polity. Towards this end, political parties must have to adhere to the principles of federalism, whereby the national executive committee of any political party would have no jurisdiction over that of a state, and that of a state would have none over that of a local government council. A key property of federalism is the independence and sovereignty of the federating units, and this includes the political parties of the federating units. It is therefore incongruous to have a unitary political party governing a federal system.  


This phenomenon has been compounded by the injection of retired military officers in civilian politics. In a 2005 interview, General David Ejoor (rtd) proposed the banning of retired military officers from participating in politics. The merit of this proposal is informed by the policies of Obasanjo and other retired military officers managing civilian political parties. Furthermore, the inclusion of former military heads of state/government in the Council of State suggests a constitutional recognition of their unlawful overthrow of civilian governments, thus legitimising military coup as an acceptable form of regime change. Former military heads of state/government should be excluded from the Council of State.     


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