By Tonnie Iredia
One of the issues yet to be appropriately addressed in our democratic experiment is the insulation of societal institutions from partisan politics so that they can effectively perform their statutory functions. The failure to do this has been due largely to our inability to observe the fine divide between the ruling political party and the government of the day.
Yet, the difference is clear. That a government is formed by a particular political party does not mean that the government and that political party are one and the same. They are not. Whereas, a political party is made up of only the segment of society that subscribes to its membership, a government is for all – the teacher, the student, the farmer, the housewife, the ruling party, the opposition party, the critic etc.
Accordingly, party events are not and cannot be government functions. In which case, the last Special Mini Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not and could not have been a government function although it was attended by the President and other top government functionaries who are members of the party.
Not being a government function therefore, the over-engagement of certain government institutions in the event calls for concern. For instance, while it was in order to get the national television service to cover the event for public reception, it was unfair to have made the service to cancel its normal programme schedule for the whole day and transmit the convention from 8am till late at night. It was an unethical decision which could only have made the Station to lose its viewership. Ironically, the government expects the same Station to sustain whatever it takes, credibility-wise, to redress Nigeria’s subsisting cynicism and project government positively. That no doubt, is a tall order.
The role of the police – another societal institution – in the subject also calls for concern. While the police gave maximum attention to the convention, we all know from history that no other political party in Nigeria will get equal attention from the police. Yet, the police was set up to, among other things, maintain law and order uniformly and across the board in the nation.
It is irritating that the police got involved in the internal wrangling in the PDP occasioned by the conduct of the convention. The event has since given birth to 2 factions that have been told by the judiciary to maintain statusquo pending the determination of their dispute. Thereafter, the police ostensibly in pursuit of law enforcement closed down the secretariat of one of the factions. Having waited in vain to hear what informed the police interpretation of “statusquo”, one is tempted to believe that it was probably compelled to adopt a factional definition.
However, it does not appear rational to take statusquo in the case to mean the state of affairs before the convention because at that point there were no 2 visible factions that could have been directed to maintain statusquo. Consequently, statusquo has to mean as from when the 2 sides were in existence. Otherwise, when next the case is called, the same side would be the plaintiff and also the defendant which would be bizarre.
It is not that such an absurdity would be a strange phenomenon in Nigeria because anything can happen in our politics; it is just that the societal institution that gets involved in the matter may in the end be bruised. So, here is a solemn admonition to the Nigeria Police to watch its back because, no individual, group or institution is too great to be rubbished by politicians. Till date, our judiciary is still on its knees over the roles of its 2 former top most officials – Chief Justice Katsina-Alu and Court of Appeal President, Ayo Salami – over an election petition.
The point to be made is that it is ill-advisable for an otherwise non-partisan institution of society to get enmeshed in partisan politics because any institution which does that, toys with its image and public confidence. From the writings of veteran political scientist, Oyeleye Oyediran, we are able to learn that during the second republic, the police was so patently partisan in favour of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that it was cynically referred to as ‘The NPN Police Force’. It was an era in which the police was allegedly used to hunt fellow Nigerians with dissenting political opinions. For quite a long time, that was the public perception of the police – a perception which the police of today needs to distance itself from.
The police cannot afford to rehash stories of the past in which it unwittingly allowed itself to be used by one set of politicians against the other – a good example being one story in the last Edo State governorship elections of July 2012. According to the media, the State Government issued a statement a few days to the election to condemn those who claimed to be buying voters’ cards on behalf of the Governor.
In order to prevent electoral practices, the police swung into action and arrested six members of the main opposition party for allegedly ‘buying’ voters’ cards but no one was arrested for selling to them! The public had its own understanding of how the police found itself right “on top” of the matter. The many unsuccessful attempts by the police to launder its image can easily be linked to the posture.
A major problem with being aligned to one political party or one faction of a party is that it is not easy to know when to stop because there is hardly ever a logical conclusion. In the case of the current statusquo debate, locking a secretariat may not suffice; other episodes such as the need to stop the large crowd that received new factional secretary, Olagunsoye Oyinlola in Osogbo may arise.
Meanwhile, horse trading between the factions will soon end without police input. Indeed, words like wrangling and mutiny to the police have a different meaning from what they mean in politics. In the PDP dictionary for instance, they mean “family affair”. It is thus unwise for the police to expose itself to the vagaries of political weather.