By John Amoda
THERE is much to be learnt from the Nigeria’s decolonisation politics on the issue of opposition parties in electoral and governance politics in Africa.
Once the option of revolutionary opposition to the British colonial regime was precluded by Nigerian frontline anti-colonial parties, and agitation for self-rule was premised on constitutional reform of the colonial governments in the provinces of the British Empire, decolonisation as a process became progressive pressure for inclusion of nationalist parties in the running of the colonial government.
This was eminently the case in the Nigerian instance of decolonisation politics. As a consequence of this politics of tutelage in colonial governance was the decision to accept as inheritance, as context and as capacity, the colonial economy together with its state and government, institutions which in concert maintained that the structure of the colonial society.
For Nigeria, October 1, 1960, was not a new beginning but the succession in office of the leadership of the colonial nationalist parties through elections conducted by the departing executives of the colonial government. The Nigerianisation of incumbency of British colonial offices in government was transitional not abrupt as evidently the case in the pictures on the walls of the offices of Nigerian successor to their British predecessosr. This transitional process of succession has been the policy even in the changing of street names. We still have Glover, Lugard, Thompson, etc, in Ikoyi, Lagos.
The import of this transitional gradualist succession is the fact that governance politics remains a competition for office holding not of change of structures, of government, state and economy. Politics still runs on the rails of reform and not on rails of revolution.
Elections the conflict resolution and management process agreed to by leadership parties means and still means that government precedes the formation of parties and that the governance role of parties is for the control of offices of government; control, however, is utilized for proprietary administration of the authority of government. All of the above assume the electoral competitions are conducted according to the rule of law and that votes cast are counted and count in selecting winners.
The pursuit of control for proprietary administration of authority, however, structures the post-election opportunities for dissenting groups being able in the next elections to vote incumbents out of office. This use of electoral victories to alter the relationship of power between the first time winners of elections and first-time losers, has turned elections into wars, then and still continues to make elections a do-or-die affair. Our own Claude Ake phrases this fact in the following:
“The dominant faction of the political elite found itself utterly isolated, increasingly relying on violence, at war with the rest of society and with rival factions among its own ranks. Political competition now assumed the character of warfare and paved the way for the ascendancy of the specialist of violence. The rush of military coups that came later essentially formalized a reality that was already firmly established.
It was not the military that caused military rule in Africa by intervening in politics; rather, it was the character of politics that engendered military rule by degenerating into warfare, inevitably propelling the specialists of war to the lead role.
To recapitulate, at independence the form and function of the state in Africa did not change much for most countries in Africa. State power remained essentially the same: immense, arbitrary, often violent, always threatening” (Claude Ake, Democracy and Development in Africa Pg 6).
Election was the agreed means for change of office holders; when office holders were guided by the constitution mediated by the judiciary, elections did not alter the balance of power between rivals. But when office holders sought proprietary control and administration of this immense power of the state and government electoral rivals denied even influence on office holders through pressure group politics, had two options open to them- either go into alliance with military “government politicians”- or opt for insurgent opposition to the party-in-government transformed into proprietary party government.
The practice of proprietary party politics meant that only one party could be formed on the basis of elections in a winner-take-all game of electoral politics. Losers had the choice of exile into the Siberia of losers or to seek relevance in the government of national unity. Siberia was no option.
This explains the preponderance of the practice of the assimilation of losers into the dominant proprietary party government in Nigeria in particular and in Africa in general. The NPC of the First Republic, the NPN of the Third Republic, the PDP of the Fourth Republic- these are instances of proprietary party government. The institutional oppositions in African electoral politics to these behemoths are not electoral but military or insurgent.
The travails of Nigeria’s effort at mega party coalitions gang-ups are essentially structural, not consequences of the electoral ambitions of their sponsors. The ambition to build a coalition to capture the office of the President is a function of the role of the President in the proprietary party politics- a politics quite different from the electoral party politics informed by the constitution and the rule of law.
The falling apart of these coalitions is the consequence of the fact that their opponent is the proprietary party government, a veritable Leviathan that has only been dislodged from the seat of power not through electoral defeats but through military coups. We are at a crossroads presently, and the future will not depend upon free and fair elections, for we may have such elections without a change of the present politics of proprietary party government.
The national security implications of politics as warfare cannot be addressed by the Heroic Team of Jega’s INEC; it is not their charge; Yet this is the time for strategic appraisal of the implications of the politics of the winner-takes-all.