By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Respected historian, writer and academic, Prof. Banji Akintoye, was one of the close allies of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He was a facilitator in the production of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria’s UPN’s manifesto that focused on free education, integrated rural development among others.
In this interview he speaks on the proliferation of political parties and against the background of the ideology that drove the parties of yore, he calls for a regulation on the establishment of political parties.
What is your reaction to the proliferation of political parties?
It is peculiarly Nigerian
situation. It is not only bad,
it is absurd, that you have 91 political parties. And I am told that at least another 100 groups have applied to be recognized as political parties.
The big question is how did we arrive at this type of absurdity. The reason I think is that everything in Nigeria has become so elitisised. Everything is for the elites and there is no consideration of the common people. There is no consideration of the destiny of the society which is all that politics is about.
Politics is about governing a people in order to expand their opportunities in this world and even create better opportunities for their children in the future. That is what politics should be about and that is what politics is in other countries.
But in Nigeria, politics is entirely about power. Each of the people who want to go into politics want to see themselves in some sort of power. They don’t see themselves as contributing to a vision to a future, they see themselves as taking advantage now and what is available in order to build themselves up.
There is no idea of common wealth anymore. It is me and if I can speak, rich and persuasive, why not start a political party of my own? That is what is causing all these trouble. The elite conceive of Nigeria as a property given to them to advance their individual ambitions. That’s the way it is.
It was not so in our time, when I was younger and taking part in politics and so on. It was not so. Chief Awolowo came out of prison in 1966 under Gowon and the moment he came out he began to talk about building Nigeria into a great country. The opportunities were great. We were by then reasonably, a well educated country and we had resources a lot. The whole world know that Nigeria is very rich in resources. And by 1966 when he came out, oil was already becoming something of importance in our economy. So it looked like we had the resources to build a great nation. And when people like us came into contact with him and heard him we were convinced. We could easily have done what the elite today are doing.
Large number of us educated people first from the Southwest and from all parts of Nigeria came together and surrounded the old man in an attempt to build a party that will build Nigeria into a great nation. The result was that we pushed together a party that had huge ambition for Nigeria, and we all participated in that ambition. We used to work very hard and putting the ideas, programmes together. Some of us were traveling around the world for the emerging party, gathering ideas for the development of our country. We reached the point that we were saying that that we were on the path of building Nigeria into the black man’s world power of modern times. That was our vision and our goal. And we worked very hard at it.
If you see some of the committee work we did at the time; some of the very sophisticated programmes for Nigeria, you will be amazed. Nobody does that anymore now. What people now do is to say that I am me, I can become president, I can form a political party, and so you end up with hundreds of parties or hundreds of groups looking to become political parties.
So, how do we get out of this crisis?
The roots are wrong. We have to return to a country that consists of the commonwealth, that consists of all the people of Nigeria, as citizens of Nigeria deserving to benefit from whatever Nigeria produces. We don’t look at things like that. The average person growing up wants control, not about the rest of Nigeria. It is not part of the thinking. What moved the Awolowo group, even the Sarduana in the north and Azikiwe in the East were moved by the idea of building the people into a strong nation in the world.
Ahmadu Bello did a lot things that most northern leaders today will not even think of doing. There were not many educated people in the north, he encouraged them. He gave them support. I know so many friends of mine who are from the north who enjoyed special encouragement from the Sarduana.
Nobody does that anymore. What everybody does is to build ambition around themselves, build his own power in his mind and then try to use the people around to make the power stand up.
Do you agree with the suggestion of the late Prof. Omo Omoruyi that our political parties should be limited to two?
What we need to do is to return to the bottom, return to the origin, return to the idea of a country that is made up of two hundred million, of us and not just the few of us who are rich and influential and decide that whoever is going to take part in the politics of Nigeria will have to consider the following imperatives.
One, the type of things that we used to talk about in the Unity Party of Nigeria; the cardinal principles of citizenship. The right to good education; two the right to gainful employment for all Nigerians; three the right of the rural communities of Nigeria to have modern type of life which we called Integrated Rural Development, and things like that. If you go back to that you will discover that the number of political parties will whittle down quickly.
So a political party should have its philosophy?
Political parties should tell Nigerians what they are all about. What are you trying to do for our country. They don’t. They put up manifesto in order to win election, they don’t believe in it. Have you ever heard of any political party in Nigeria in recent times that won election in five or six states and all five or six governors are all trying to pursue the same ideas of development and so on?
Is there such a thing? And that’s the way to know whether there is a party ideology. Unity Party of Nigeria won the governorship of the South West and the governors were pursuing the same agenda. Some were more capable than others, some had more resources than others but all were working on the basis of the same agenda. The blueprint was in their hand. And that is what they went out to achieve. And from time to time we were holding meetings of the party to review the success. To find out what are the weaknesses in some places, and so on, how can the weaknesses be ebbed.
Is there any political party that is doing that now in Nigeria? No. They write manifesto in order to win election only.
Should there be a law limiting the political parties?
The law should proscribe a given number of parties. In our type of country it is necessary to do it by law. In America there is no law limiting the number of parties, but the tradition has developed that there are two main parties. From time to time there is little fragment of a party but they usually perish quickly. So it is the two that stand.
More or less the same in Britain, more or less the same in France. The same in Germany. But the point is for political culture that focuses attention on the well-being of all the citizens of a country, that makes it compulsory for political parties to tell us how they want to advance that (manifesto) and to show how they will advance it if they win power.
If we do that the number of parties will go down. But just in case, we have reached the point we have reached now and everybody is forming their own political party and we already have 91 political parties and I am told that there are probably about 100 other groups waiting to be registered as political parties.
The best thing is to legislate that this country will recognise only three political parties and whoever finds that he cannot fit into any of those three politics parties should not just go into politics.
If you are a teacher go do your teaching, if you are a businessman, do your business; if you are a Lawyer, go and practice and forget politics. Making it possible for every Nigerian to form a political party is foolish. It is also destructive.