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And the seasonal madness is already upon us. I am torn between wasting my sympathy on PDP and wasting my tears for our country. PDP is bleeding because it is the primary victim of the current seasonal defections of its members to the rival APC – the second time in nearly eight years. Our country is the ultimate loser in this sickening game of what my good friend, the late Abidina Coomassie, called political opportunism.
I have cried hoarse about this in this column and elsewhere, pointing out the dangers in our inability to get our party system right. Ours must be the only country in the world in which political parties are collections of men and women driven entirely by the utilitarian value of their parties. There is no evidence that party leaders and their followers are committed to what their parties stand for and are prepared to starve, if need be, to push the party position on matters that affect us politically and economically. It would take a miracle for an unstable political system to produce political parties capable of driving our national development. I wish the politicians could see the challenges of a party system that begets democratic pluralism.
In 2014/15, PDP foolishly shot itself in the foot and denied itself the right to remain in Aso Rock longer than the 16 years we have invested in it. That the sun set on it says more about the fickle-mindedness of our politicians and their lack of gratitude than anything else. The party more or less became a rump of itself. It is now sadly clear that some of those who remained with it were bidding their time for an opportunity to ditch it to run after the effulgent light of opportunities seeping through the cracks in APC.
In 2015, the attraction of APC was that it was the new kid on the political block and its presidential candidate made promises we easily bought into. But in six years the party has effectively squandered its goodwill. It has not kept faith with the people; under its watch, our country is unsafe and polarised along ethnic and religious fault lines. In a political system that permits competition, APC rather than PDP should be fighting for its life in 2023.
The laugh is not on PDP. It is on our country and its pretence to a democratic system that is not averse to individual interests at the expense of the country and its people. By now, our country should have two strong political parties each of which is capable of meeting our need for political pluralism. But here we are, with our politicians behaving as if they do not owe the people an explanation for taking them for granted as they serve their own individual political and economic interests and make it increasingly impossible for the people to make rational choices among the many parties asking for their support at the polls.
Late in December last year, David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, dumped PDP, the party that put him in the government house, Abakaliki, for APC. He had been a PDP governor for nearly six years. I borrowed a phrase, stomach infrastructure, from former president Goodluck Jonathan, to describe what motivated Umahi to rubbish the political platform that made him important and hanker after the promise of a better life and greater political importance or relevance in an opposition political party.
You can’t blame Umahi for taking steps to ensure he does not starve after he leaves government house. He is perhaps a far-sighted politician who knows where the life-giving political wind is likely to blow to and from in 2023. By dumping his party, he has now positioned himself to reap the wind. Professor Ben Ayade, PDP governor of Cross River State and Bello Matawalle, PDP governor of Zamfara State, have now joined Umahi on the long walk to new political fortunes in APC; PDP be damned. Ayade said he changed parties in order to bring prosperity to his people. That this came from a professor should make you wince at the banality of political rationalisation.
We should expect more governors and legislators to trudge along the cluttered path that leads to new political fortunes in APC. And, if you have the stomach for such things, we shall meet them at the market place where principles are paled on the spike of political opportunism and watch as PDP haemorrhages, fighting for its life and continued relevance in our jaga-jaga political system.
The toing and froing of the politicians has a long history dating back to the first republic. It has now hardened into a political tradition in a nation that cannot accommodate lumps of eba with tradition in a stomach that growls for want of a good diet of political principles.
We no longer see anything wrong with these seasonal movements because the tradition has taken hold of our psyche. It is cynically seen as democracy in action but it acts on the dictates of the stomach that growls. It may be difficult to dislodge it and free our psyche from a tradition that ill serves a nation that should be committed to the democratic ethos and best practices in this very popular but difficult form of government. Still, it is a mistake to treat this as our political way of life about which we need do nothing any more. It bears repeating: it ill serves us as a nation. To move the nation forward, we must get our party political system right by putting the political parties where they belong – at the apex of political power structure.
Political cultures and traditions do not evolve from politicians in seasonal swings in search of space for their personal ambitions. They evolve from principles that encourage a healthy competition among political parties. The politicians may, like children, enjoy the swing but it is injurious to our collective ambition to see our country leap from one point to another. These seasonal movements deny us of a political system that should unite the people around political parties that do not promise them the moon but the basic things of modern development, to wit: light, water, hospitals that are not mere consulting clinics, roads that do not trap people in death, security of their lives and property and an educational system that truly educates our young people and prepares them for their future role as leaders of the country and the absence of crushing poverty. A nation fossilized by mere motion is not a nation to be envied.
These seasonal movements are symptomatic of a deep malaise in our political system – the absence of principles that should guide political parties on how best to serve the interests of the people. The beauty of political pluralism lies essentially in its capacity to force political parties into healthy competitions. Parties market themselves through their manifestoes. People buy into them and individually support the party whose manifesto resonates with them. That kind of competition is dead in our country, thanks to the flagrant corruption of the system in which open bribery of the people in return for their votes damages any pretences to free choices. The people are merely taken granted.
As we approach the next election season in a couple of years; and as the politicians are changing parties to secure political advantages for themselves, my take is that if we must get our party system right we should re-enthrone the supremacy of the political parties. The erosion of party supremacy was introduced by President Obasanjo. When he assumed the national leadership of PDP, the state governors promptly assumed the state leadership of their various parties. Party leadership was rendered ineffective at all levels.
We do not seem to appreciate the damage this has done to our development at all levels. Because the president and the state governors are in effective charge of the parties, the party leadership loses its inherent supervisory power over its servants in the executive and the legislative branches of government. As I pointed out earlier, the parties are no longer accountable to the people. If the president and the state governors are the leaders of their various parties this country would continue to be a pathetic victim of a system of development riding unsteadily on the back of whims and caprices of presidents and governors who arrogate to themselves the right to do with the country as they will. The second point is that our politicians must wean themselves from crass opportunism and accept that political parties are not meal tickets for those who join them. If we keep on swinging from one party to another at election seasons, our democracy would remain weak.