By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
Public administration scholar, Prof Ladipo Adamolekun, in this interview, speaks on party switching in Nigeria, saying that the 2019 election cycle may not usher in transformational leadership in the country. Adamolekun also looks at the nexus between coalition politics and poverty in Nigeria.
Coalition politics, problem of poverty
With the 2019 election cycle due, two of the main issues in public discourse are coalition politics and the problem of poverty. Unsurprisingly, the two coalitions being currently cobbled together are around the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The problem of poverty has come to the fore because of the revelation by the World Poverty Clock platform of Washington’s Brookings Institute that more than 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. What are the prospects for the emergence of functioning coalitions? And is coalition politics likely to prove effective for tackling the challenge of achieving good governance? Regarding the problem of poverty, what are its full dimensions? And what must be done to achieve a significant reduction in the level of poverty between 2019 and 2023?
Achieving good governance
Although the 1957-1959 coalition government could be cited as one of the success factors for the achievement of national independence in 1960, it is difficult to find a major achievement recorded by the coalition governments involving two or more parties that have run the Federal Government since 1960. Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, and National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC ,1960-1964; NPC, NCNC, and Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, 1964 – 1966; National Party of Nigeria, NPN, and Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, 1979-1980. It is arguable that in contrast to the sharp focus of the goal of national independence was a good rallying point for the 1957 coalition government, there was no uniting cause for the subsequent coalitions at the centre to unite around. Indeed, sharing of the spoils of power in Nigeria’s political lexicon progressively occupied the centre stage for political actors after independence and in the absence of pre-election agreements on principles and objectives of government, it was no surprise that none of the coalition governments moved the country significantly towards achieving good governance. Such is interpreted here as the use of political power to enhance the quality of life of citizens. It is also a fact that neither the coalition within the PDP that ran the Federal Government from 1999 -2015 nor within the APC that has been running the Federal Government since 2015 has moved the country significantly towards good governance.
Coalition within PDP in 2014
The collapse of the coalition within the PDP in 2014 and within the APC in 2018 is a pointer to the root cause of the lack of progress towards achieving good governance in Nigeria. There is the commitment of the majority of political actors across political parties as well as in both the legislative and executive arms of government to live off politics. They are in politics because of what they can get from it.
Thus, the Reformed-APC group stated explicitly that its members’ dissatisfaction was over the sharing of the spoils of office with the ruling APC. And it is also the case that senators who have no qualms in taking N13.5 million monthly as out-of-pocket expenses are in almost equal numbers within the leadership groups of the APC and the PDP. On this evidence, neither party conforms with the provisions of Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution, which focuses on fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, as required in Article 224. Two of the provisions violated by the greed of senators deserve to be highlighted.
First, the state shall direct it policy towards ensuring that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.
Second, national ethics shall be discipline, integrity, dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism.
However, the greed of legislators are inconsistent with the constitutional requirement to ensure that national resources are “distributed as best as possible to serve the common good”.
Victory in February 2019 polls
In these circumstances, neither of the two parties that would lead coalitions to victory in February 2019 is likely to pursue the goal of achieving good governance as defined above.
A third coalition, championed by the Nigeria Intervention Movement, NIM, in dialogue with 15 political parties, was still in the pipeline by the end of July. It is unlikely to become competitive in the 2019 election cycle. In my considered opinion, the alternative path to the emergence of a strong coalition that would make achieving good governance its primary objective and win power in the 2023 election cycle will be through borrowing from two recent success stories in France and Mexico for adaptation and adoption. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron of France won power in 2017 through a movement that was barely two years old but with strong citizen mobilisation and clearly articulated people-oriented political, economic and social programmes. Similarly, Andrés Obrador became President of Mexico in July 2018 through a party that was only created after the country’s presidential election in 2012. His party campaigned on a political platform that attracted massive popular support with the following fighting poverty, tackling corruption, redistributing wealth and ending impunity. Nigeria needs a transformational political party for the 2023 election cycle.
Coalition politics in Nigeria
Between 1952 and 1980, all the central governments in Nigeria were coalitions that involved two or more parties with the exception of the military-led Federal Government comprising top military officers with civilians and federal civil servants as advisers. It was only between 1981 and 1983 that the Federal Government was a coalition within one party, and it was after the collapse of the 1979-1980 coalition between the NPN and the NPP.
Significantly, the origin of the first ‘Grand Coalition’ was written into the 1951 Macpherson Constitution in an unambiguous effort to accommodate the interests of the three major ethnic groups. Each region had an equal representation in the central government. Thus, the first central government, 1952-1954, comprised equal representatives of the Action Group, AG, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, and the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC. When the NCNC won the federal elections in the Western Region in 1954, its representatives were in the Federal Government and AG was excluded. However, because of AG’s impressive victory in the Western Regional elections in 1956 and a new sense of cooperation preparatory to national independence in 1960, the AG was invited to join the central government in 1957. Thus, there was a ‘Grand Coalition’ also called national government between 1957 and 1959.
Coalition governments within one party
Following the federal elections in December 1959, NPC and NCNC constituted the central government while AG became the opposition. Following the December 1964 federal elections, the erstwhile limited coalition government was succeeded by a broad-based government that involved NPC, NCNC and NDDP. Because the AG had boycotted the December 1964 elections, it was displaced by the NNDP as the dominant party in Western Region. It is noteworthy that there was a pre-election coalition in 1964. It comprised United Peoples Grand Alliance, UPGA, comprising AG and NCNC on the one hand, and Nigeria National Alliance, NNA, comprising NPC and NNDP on the other. Although the coalition was only notable for the futility of AG’s boycott of the elections, the 1964 AG/NNDP contestation was later intensified during the October 1965 Western Regional election. The blatant rigging of the election by the ruling NNDP and the violent aftermath is widely cited as one of the immediate causes of the January 1966 coup d’état.
Successive PDP governments
From 1999 to date, Nigeria has been run at the federal level by coalition governments within one party, PDP, 1999 – 2015 and APC, 2015 – present. Two important qualifications deserve to be highlighted. First, a few individuals from a second party, Alliance for Democracy (AD), were invited to participate in the PDP government between 1999 and 2003. This experiment was not repeated in the successive PDP governments between 2003 and 2015. Second, following the victory of the APC in both the presidential and National Assembly elections in 2015, the leadership of the Senate emerged as a virtual coalition between the APC that produced the President and the PDP that produced the Deputy President. In reality, the arrangement was no more than the triumph of the personal ambitions of the two individuals. It is a Nigerian invention with no parallel in any other country that runs a variation of a presidential system of government. The contraption collapsed in July 2018 when the President of Senate, together with 15 other senators, defected to his deputy’s party. We are hearing that there are 68 parties. PDP says it has 39 parties that it will form an alliance with. APC says it has 20. Agbakoba says he has 16 that will join his movement. When we add them together, we will discover that there is double counting. My conclusion is that the 2019 election cycle is not likely to give us a better Nigeria. It will not produce good governance and better quality of life for Nigerian citizens. The reason is because what we have out there are two coalitions that we are familiar with. PDP ruled for 16 years while APC has so far ruled for three years. And neither of them showed that it can deliver better life for Nigerian citizens.
Better quality of life
Freedom for all, life more abundant, which was the slogan of the AG, was real. I was among the first people who benefited from the free primary education policy of the AG. There is no way we can argue that there was no better quality of life for citizens. We have seen party slogans being practicalised beyond the level of theory. The point I am trying to make is that there is no movement or coalition that is talking about better life for the citizens. What I see are self-centred groups. For instance, the Reformed APC told Nigerians that they were leaving APC because they were excluded from the sharing of the national cake. We have a problem with the behaviour of our political class. The political class in this country is anti-development. To have a coalition that will promote development in such a way that citizens have a better life, I have looked at France and Mexico and think we should copy their model. We have seven months to the general elections. I think the time is too short to have a coalition that will deliver better life. However, if Nigeria continues to successfully muddle through, we can have a Macron or Mexican kind of movement after 2019.
Historically, coalition politics seems not to have helped to deepen democracy in Nigeria. Why do you see it as a model that can deliver good governance?
What I have said is that all governments are coalitions. I accept the thesis advanced by the journal, The Economist, in the mid nineties. I said that even a single party is a coalition because it has students, businessmen, politicians among others as members. That shows that every political party is a coalition of different people. The coalition can be within one party or many parties. I am not a proponent of coalition but articulating the fact that any government in power is a coalition government. For instance, the government of Trump (US) has different people. Intellectually, I accept that a rigorous look will reveal that all governments are coalitions. What I was recommending for the 2023 election cycle is a coalition that is under one umbrella. That is the kind of Macron’s coalition. He had people from socialist party, centre party and extreme left in his movement. But the movement had a centre which was people-oriented.
When you talk about coalition in this country, the first thing that comes to the mind is defection. And the culture of defection has not helped in building strong political parties in Nigeria. Don’t you think that if the trend continued, parties will remain weak?
The transformational party I am talking about really addresses this point you raised. What we have now falls in the category of the description you made. What I am saying is that I do not see the possibility of the emergence of a strong party. But I believe that between 2019 and 2023, it is possible. I have listed two examples which are not in coalitions of existing parties. The Agbakoba group is a movement but it has not gained traction. But that is the idea. It needs to transform into a strong party. The focus should be clear so that people can subscribe to it. Has the Agbakoba group come out with a platform? Instead of leaving existing political parties on the claims of not getting enough from the national cake, there should be a movement. The clearest measure of development is improvement of the quality of life of the citizens. But I don’t see any of our politicians about talking about it. It is wrong for people to say that we have never had real parties. The AG was a real party. Another party, the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, founded by Aminu Kano, had a clear ideology and it was people-oriented. People can join the movement I am talking about when they see that it has focus and ideology. We do not need to always cite international examples to know what good thing to do. That is why I do not have a problem citing the AG example. And I have proven that the AG was a coalition with a clear vision. And it delivered. Is PRP not still in existence? And it is the only party that has not changed its name. That shows that we have had strong parties before in this country. All I know is what I am articulating will not be possible in 2019 election cycle.
For the movement you are calling for to be feasible, Nigerians must massively be involved. But this is a country where many Nigerians are hardly involved in the electoral process. Even those who get involved fully are not those who make good choices. How do you now think the mass movement you are talking about will be possible in this kind of setting?
It is wrong to say that people don’t get involved in the political process. On June 12, 1993, Nigerians expressed their wish for a candidate on a Muslim/Muslim ticket. That was a moment in the history of this country when all these hypothetical things would have taken some directions, but we lost the opportunity. Let us not forget the positive experiences we have had. I don’t know how President BuharI got to recognise June 12, but I want to believe that by throwing away that opportunity, we missed it. For instance, MKO Abiola’s manifesto was entitled: Farewell to Poverty. That showed that we have had opportunities which were thrown away. When Buhari wanted Muslim/Muslim ticket, he was advised against it and it showed that we have retrogressed to the pre-1993 days. In my village, people said they were waiting for Abiola era. That shows that Abiola communicated directly with the ordinary citizens who believed that he could deliver. This country can be together. During the fuel subsidy protest of 2014, Nigerians united to shut down the country. If a leader had emerged from those protests, it would have been good for the country. We could have had a moment that will become a transformational party to move the country forward. Nothing is impossible. To have the mentality that the Nigerian factor is so entrenched is wrong. There is nothing wrong with this country that cannot be found anywhere.
Does it mean that the narrative should not change?
Were the January 2014 protests mobilised? They were spontaneous. Nobody believed that Nigeria could be literally shut down for 12 days. And the government backed off. The failure of that episode was that no leader emerged from it. In France, when the people revolted, a leader emerged. Although he didn’t take them to their promise land, the movement continued. When we had the opportunity in 1993, the person that could have taken us to the promise land was killed. Till date, I don’t know of any book on how Abiola got that victory. We never can predict what will happen but we can articulate what we think should happen.
We have never had it so bad in terms of insecurity. Today, several states are affected by herdsmen killings. Boko Haram killings have reduced but the herdsmen/farmers conflicts have resulted in many killings. And it is frightening. The more frightening is the use of the term, ethnic cleansing. These are very frightening developments. The insecurity is threatening national security and there is no evidence of the herders being punished. Who are even the owners of the cattle. I have not seen a rigorous analysis in that direction. Government has come to say that it is going to spend N180 billion on ranches at a time education is underfunded in the country. Who is going to benefit from the ranches? Of course, the owners of the cattle will be the ones to benefit. Cattle rearing is a private endeavour which should not be a national concern. Who armed the herdsmen? Is it not their employers that have armed them? Who employs them? The media needs to probe deeper. If the herdsmen came from other countries, why don’t our security agencies arrest them and punish them? These conflicts need to be probed properly. The owners of the cattle and those arming the herders should be exposed. How can a country that claims to be doing rice revolution watch as farmers are being driven away from their farms? Does that portray us as a serious country? A rice grower was even kidnapped recently. That shows that security is a challenge. And the issue is that there is under-policing. Nigeria was at the bottom of 2016 internal police and security index. All those against state police are not helping the country to address our security challenges. There is no federal system in the world that has central policing system. If there must be a way forward, we have to address anti-development politics in terms of its structure and behaviour.
However, it is more difficult to tackle the anti-development political class but what we had in 2014 showed that we can have the movement I am articulating.