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December 30, 2017

New parties in the face of corruptocracy

Bayelsa, Kogi

By Morenike Taire

A photograph has appeared in the media showing a crowd of people holding up over their sea of heads small transparent cellophane bags of what appears like rice or garri; purportedly inducements to ‘encourage’ voting in the just concluded Ekiti Local Government polls, which the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, won in a landslide. There is no indication as to which party shared the grains.

It is not the most unusual picture. In fact the opposite would have been unusual – a situation whereby an election has taken place in any part of the country with no evidence of inducement in sight.

The narrative has become an established and integral part of the political landscape. 5 kilogram bags of rice are bagged for that specific purpose with names of political parties ubiquitously stamped on the calico bag. Sometimes it is a naira note- new ones for effect. Denomination would depend on the gravity of the position being vied for.

In some Lagos communities, in 2015, a resident mama-put lady was put in every voting point, with a view to taking care of citizens who had taken the time out to go and vote, a pastime much of the rich and middle classes cannot be bothered to engage in . The order of things was simple enough : A party agent would wait patiently while the voter does his business, then escort the deserving fellow to the mama –put spot , where they would be refreshed with a sizzling plate of aromatic jollof rice and deep fried meat the way we do it.

It might be comical if the clear implications and consequences were not immediately obvious. It is the classic case of using Abu’s money to pay Abu, as the Yoruba saying goes. For the candidate so ‘voted’ in, it is not a cheap venture at all. Vast sums are expended on the procurement of materials and personnel.

These sums – a veritable investment if a risky one – will be expected to yield an enviable dividend. No social contract beyond the very formal transactions around the electioneering period that occurs every four years exists between the voter and the voted for. The terms are very clear, if unwritten and unsigned ; and both parties are clear about them .

If this scenario is sad enough, sadder still is the criminality that oils the wheels of its operations. Most of the time, the voter really has no choice in the matter. While an onlooker might be deceived into seeing the scenario as a fair transaction, the mutual beneficiality of it in no way confers any fairness.

Party enforcers and voters alike usually live in the same neighbourhoods. Businesses can be jettisoned if the voter fails to cooperate. Harm may otherwise come to the hapless fellow. It is only after he has voted favourably that he is free. Quite literally, it is not a democracy.

The removal of the choice factor also will tamper with the ability to tackle the ugly trend. An intimidated victim would never admit to being intimidated, for the simple reason by which he was intimidated in the first place. After the elections it is all over for the voter. For the office holder it’s only just began. Meanwhile the enlightened and the well-heeled turn up their noses in disgust at what they regard as the spinelessness of the voting class. Through their complicity, the vicious cycle continues.

This month the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) registered 21 new political parties, taking the number of registered parties in Nigeria to 67. The electoral body is talking about registering another 80 before the next general election year, in addition to a few independent candidates . While independent candidacy is definitely a most welcome development , the proliferation of political parties might be a cause for concern.

Definitely, it is indicative of a growing restiveness concerning the polity as well as a keen dissatisfaction with the political and economic atmosphere in the country today. It is a healthy reaction if those hitherto outside of the political class register their dissatisfaction by actually doing something positive within their power rather than sit around and moan about things.

That the newly registered 21 were able to scale INEC’s steep hurdle is to their credit; and that they can organize to that extent shows deep commitment and is commendable.

But politics is serious business, not a hobby.   Again the Yoruba say that while the child looks forward when he falls, the tendency is for the adult to look back in the same situation. And so while the old and established parties are changing strategy, reorganizing and readjusting to ensure past mistakes are not repeated, the new parties are falling into the same pitfalls the old parties had dug for one another.

This portends the great danger of fragmenting the opposition, a crucial factor in a democracy , while inadvertently strengthening the establishment . With the strength of the roots of our corruptocracy, they do not have even half a chance.

The leadership of the new political parties are reinforcing the status quo whereby everyone knows all that is wrong with Nigeria – and they are many – but do not know how to fix it . We are in dire need of ingenuity.