“The greatest challenge inherited by virtue of our colonial history has been the implementation of the party system”.
Last week I started an examination of the phenomenon known as cross carpeting in Nigeria by which Politicians habitually dump one political party for another, often in the run up to general elections, all in aid to either retain or attain political office. A factor which makes this possible is what I will refer to as the absence of political vision, ideology or philosophy amongst Nigerian politicians and political parties.
LACK OF POLITICAL VISION, IDENTIFIABLE IDEOLOGY OR PHILOSOPHY
In many developed countries of the world, aspiring politicians take care to fashion out a discernible philosophy or ideology for themselves and their political career. Thus a politician very early on can be classified either as a conservative or otherwise. If he leans to the right or far left, it is easy to know. Such factors enable the electorate to know where the politician will stand on issues ranging from abortion rights to legalizing gay marriages. Thus the politician is really in politics to contribute his quota to the development of his country.
In Nigeria this is far from the case. A politician who is today a so called “progressive” will for the flimsiest of reasons or no reason at all metamorphose into a conservative the following day. A year after, if things do not go well as expected he will decamp to “progressive”. Many politicians do not even have the faintest idea of what their political philosophy or orientation is. The reason for this is not really far-fetched. What obtains is not really politics of ideas. It is really politics of self aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Political office is not seen as the means to an end, it is seen as the end itself. Many simply relish the opportunity to be addressed as “Your Excellency”, “Distinguished Senator”, “Honourable Chairman”, without bothering to bring any form of excellence, distinguished contribution, or act of honour to the discharge of their duties.
LACK OF IDEOLOGY OR VISION TRACEABLE TO HISTORY OF DEVELOPMENT OF POLITICAL PARTIES
Between 1960 and 1999, Nigeria experienced the parliamentary, military and presidential systems of government. Each of these systems presented its own unique features and challenges. The greatest challenge inherited by virtue of our colonial history has been the implementation of the party system.
Nigeria at the present operates a multi-party system. In the past, attempts were made particularly by the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida to limit the number of parties to two i.e. the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). The effect of this was that politicians were left with limited options with regards to the party of their affiliation. Politicians of different political ideologies and leanings found themselves as a matter of political convenience and expediency in the same political party.
This development was bound to result not only in a crisis of leadership but also of purpose and vision. It therefore comes as no surprise that some members of the military regime at the relevant time have consistently accused several members of the political class of complicity in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Since that failed experimentation with the two party system, we have grappled with the question of the actual number of political parties that ought to be allowed by virtue of our history and development.
Even though there are several political parties presently registered the reality is that only a handful of these parties have any significant presence or followership among the populace. This therefore has brought about a situation where most politicians in order to achieve their ambition of occupying political office consider not really the ideological base of their party or its acceptance by the public but rather their chances of securing electoral victory based primarily on the popularity or influence of the party in that political constituency.
POLITICAL OFFICE IS TOO ATTRACTIVE
To compound matters, political office, particularly in Nigeria has been made too attractive. Such is the huge size of governments and the immense remuneration of elected public officials that a huge percentage of government revenue is dedicated to recurrent expenditure. Recently there were allegations that the expenditure of the National Assembly alone accounted for a very substantial percentage of the National budget. The 36 states of the Federation each have their own Houses of Assemblies. At the national level the country operates a bicameral system of legislature. There are Commissioners and Ministers at the State and Federal levels. That the country has a bicameral system of legislation has not helped matter. However, the problem is not limited alone to the huge number of elected public officers but more importantly to the huge number of aides and assistants attached, at public expense, to these officials. There is a huge army of Personal Assistants, Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Private Secretaries along the corridors of power in Nigeria’s state capitals. These persons much like their principals are also entitled to a litany of allowances and assistants.
As strange as the above might sound, the advent of the phenomenon of “First Ladyship” is another instance of the attraction which the allures of office holds for many of our leaders. First Ladies or wives of elected officials are now almost as ubiquitous, much like their spouses in the display of power. It is often difficult to distinguish the motorcade of a governor from that of his wife. Even wives of Local Government Chairmen are not left out. Without a doubt, the phenomenon of First Ladies is not unique to Nigeria. However, it is perhaps only in Nigeria that activities of first ladies are funded with state resources.
Share of the national cake
Politics in Nigeria today is viewed primarily as a business and not as a means of service to the nation. Politicians seek public office not to serve but to have their share of the “national cake”. Members of the public who daily throng the abodes of these politicians for one form of financial assistance or the other see the assistance sought as their own share of the national cake. The effect this has on the leadership of the country is profound.
This explains the huge allowances paid to politicians in every sphere of public life. An elected official has numerous special advisers who in turn have special assistants and administrative aides who also in addition to salary earn numerous allowances.
A chairman of a local government now earns as much as a Professor. Yet, the local government is the closest tier of government to the people. In the seventies, we were only entitled to sitting allowance which most of us including my humble self never collected.
To be continued.