“An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. ”― T.S. Eliot
It is beyond trite to point out that the main actors in Nigeria’s political history have barely changed in 30 years. There are a few new faces…but a keen look reveals that these new faces have been part of the system, groomed as assistants, bag carriers, or civil servants who together have helped create one of the most corrupt, obstructive and inefficient governments in the world.
In the lead up to the 2015 general elections Nigerians have witnessed intense drama over the last 6 months. First with the merger of parties into the All Progressives Congress, then the math comedy of the Nigerian Governors Forum election, the creation of side forums: PDP Governors and Progressive Governors forums and most recently, the split of the PDP into old and new.
What does it all mean to the Nigerian spectators?
Theories abound, particularly on the most recent development following the split in PDP. Some analyze the implications of where ‘control’ of the states currently lies for the next presidential election i.e., 11 APC governors and 7 ‘new’ PDP governors equal 18 out of 36. Others are fascinated by the implications of the turmoil, seeing the friction as necessary for the deepening of our democracy particularly with the emergence of a united opposition.
However, Nigerians must admit that it is disheartening to see Obasanjo and Babangida as power brokers negotiating between the actors, even if they failed at the mission. It should concern us that at least 5 of the 7 PDP breakaway governors spent months on the road visiting almost all Nigeria’s past presidents and heads of state and that key members of the progressive party’s interim National Executive Council have found their way to the Hilltop mansion in Minna. It is a strong indication that things are not really changing leading one to ask: can we change our politics before we change our political actors?
In a society like ours – with extractive political and economic institutions, (which constrict civic and political participation, stunt education and redistribute collective wealth to a few elite) we must note the warning of Acemoglu & Robinson in Why Nations Fail that “those controlling political power have always found it more useful to use their power to limit competition to increase their share of the pie’.
We must not be deceived that the infighting and cracks in the family are about us. The hostilities are about taking control of the extractive institutions namely government and the oil industry (including bunkering). The use of state agencies (Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, courts and the Nigerian Police Force) has already begun as competitors in the political space are warded off with blackmail, fake injunctions and the threat of violence. The danger is that the struggle amongst the political brethren will spread into the streets and then, as is usual, the spectators will become the main casualties.
This is why we need to consider carefully what these orchestrated movements’ mean to us. While age-old political actors and their mentees focus on what this means to them, we must take advantage of what is going on to force political creative destruction.
To appropriate Joseph Schumpeter’s words we need to ‘expand competition in the political space from the newly recognised commodity (strength in numbers), the technology (information technology and social media), the new source of supply (past experience & desire for meaningful change), the new type of organization (inclusive)—competition which commands a quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of the extractive institutions and sponsors but at their foundations and their very lives’.
The turmoil within the political parties presents an opportunity for Nigerians – to test the sincerity of the parties and formations and to begin to take back control over political affairs which sadly determines the vitality of every blade of life in Nigeria.
One, we need to start joining the political parties in droves and reporting and documenting all obstacles. A party that is difficult to join or where membership processes are opaque should be an alarm that this is a party of status quo actors.
Two, as party members, we can begin the process of ensuring the development of internal party democracy.
Three – we can, in different social formations of our own start agreeing on certain irreducible minimums we expect from all levels of government. If Nigerians regardless of where we are from or how we worship can insist on a common charter, it will make it harder for governments to ignore us.
Four, we must take advantage of the ongoing Constitution review and amendment process and the National Assembly’s review of the Electoral Act to strengthen our electoral framework to make rigging harder e.g., releasing results by polling booth – all 100,000+ of them.
And finally, we should focus on sincere voter education for the grassroots and the youth. Those at the grassroots are accused of selling their votes and being blackmailed by patriarchal influences’ while the youth have the most to loose, and should be easier to persuade to vote against the status quo.
If we are going to show that we’ve learnt anything from experience – then we must do more than gloat and indulge in armchair analysis and must be cautious about the signals we send. We have the opportunity to widen the space in the political arena to let in different actors and dismantle the extractive political institutions. This is important considering that Nigerians have in the past welcomed the military (and other usurpers of power) with little regard for the fact that changing a brown goat for a spotted goat is not progress. Otherwise, we just might find that despite everything we are still standing under that leaky umbrella or some other variation that provides as little comfort.