The Nation (Nigeria)
Is Nigeria sliding into a one-party state?
eight years of a lucrative ministerial portfolio, then you will not argue with my postulations."
Legal practitioner and human rights activist, Monday Onyekachi Ubani is of the view that defections in Nigerian politics is all about personal interest and not about principle or ideology. His words: "Nigerian politicians behave like chameleons; they change colour when it suits them. They have discovered that, from the look of things, the APC is likely to continue in office at the federal level in 2023. That is why virtually every day we are experiencing defections that are making the PDP weaker and weaker. They have taken into cognisance the following factors: the party that is likely to influence the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the political party that controls the security apparatus and the one that controls the sharing of the national cake. It takes those three factors to win an election in Nigeria and, for now, they are in the hands of the APC. That is why they are all scrambling to join the party."
Ubani, a former Second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said this suggests that the political class in Nigeria has no principles and does not believe in ideologies. He added: "The ideology of any politician is what he can get at the end of the day. When the PDP was in power too all the factors worked in its favour. But, now the reverse is the case; the APC is the political party that is very attractive because all the three factors are in its favour.
"If in a democracy, we cannot have a multiparty system where people can have a choice, the implication is that we are sliding into a de facto one-party system and this will have adverse consequences for the country.
We just witnessed what happened in the United States of America, where the Democrats have taken over power after a Republican president served for only four years. In Nigeria, it takes a long time to remove a party in power because all the factors are in its favour.
"This is not healthy; we should have a multiplicity of choices during elections. The system we are running, where one political party would boast that it will be in power for 100 years is very dangerous. This is because it controls the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Judiciary and what have you. This is not good for Nigeria, which prides itself as a country with a multi-party democracy."
Ubani said the laws are too weak to regulate the switching of politicians from one party to another. He said: "Once you can adduce reasons that suggest that there is a crisis in your political party, the law allows you to defect. You can also be in the PDP during the day and sleep with the
APC at night. It is very bad; you can win an election on the platform of a particular party today and the following week you jump to another party. Everyone considers it perfectly normal because there are no punishments to discourage such behaviour.
"The next general elections are already won and lost, unless God intervenes. The way it works now, all men of timber and calibre are congregating in the APC all over the country, so the outcome of the election is pretty much well known; unless God changes the situation. The youth, which we expected to take charge of the situation the way they did during the ENDSARS protest, have gone to sleep again."
Enugu-based human rights activist, Dr. Jerry Chukwuokolo was even more severe in his assessment of the attitude of Nigerian politicians. He said the difference between the APC and the PDP exists only in their names. His words: "They do not have any ideology that separates them.
The ideology of Nigerian politicians, in general, is 'lootocracy'; they would join any political party that would offer them the opportunity to loot. In advanced democracies like the United States (US) or the United Kingdom (UK), a politician would tell you he is a Democrat, a Republican or a conservative or a liberal democrat, as the case may be and he would remain in his party for decades, irrespective of whether his party is in power or not. This is because he cannot see himself associating with politicians in the other parties, as long as his views remain unchanged.
"But, here we don’t adhere to anything like ideology. The political class here is a gang of looters. Therefore, any opportunity they have that can help them to continue looting would be considered a blessing. They have a rabid interest to amass wealth because that is why they entered politics; so anywhere they see the opportunity to actualise this ambition is where they would be. There are only a few exceptions to this rule."
Civil society activist and president and convener of the Nigeria Voters Assembly (VOTAS), Comrade Mashood Erubami equally blames the 1999 Constitution for creating the grounds for the frequent defections being witnessed in recent times. He said the constitution is silent on punitive measures for members who defect from one party to another, "even where it is for opportunism". He said Section 109(1g) only cautioned that such defection must be as a result of a division in the defector's former party or as a result of a merger of one or two parties. Erubami added: "Ironically, courts of competent jurisdiction have been reluctant to interpret this section against defectors who left their parties after causing division which they used as the reason for living. The ruling party appears to be targeting corrupt members of the opposition with electoral values to enhance its chances when election approaches and this has created 'valid' reason for the opportunistic migration we are currently witnessing." The VOTAS president blamed the weak fight against corruption for this development.
Against this background, he said there is a difference between the defections witnessed during the PDP era and the current ones into the APC as a ruling party. His words: "Politicians who defected from the opposition into the PDP did so to escape poverty, which was rampant in the opposition parties, especially at the time INEC stopped the payment of money to registered political parties as was the case before. Given the way state resources were diverted and amassed under the PDP with impunity, the tendency was for members of the opposition to want to be part of the rottenness and learn how to ‘chop’ and ‘chop’ into visibility and political reckoning. "Whereas the current defections into the APC is foremost to exploit the weakness observed in the war against corruption, which appears to be against the core campaign promise made by the party. The fact that the anti-corruption war is a weak one may not be entirely the fault of the APC. The conspiracy between some legal practitioners and the judiciary where judges have become protectors of corrupt politicians is a contributory factor. “Those who are defecting into the APC are members of the opposition who have either been exposed for corruption, jailed and released, or currently under trial but are suspicious that owing to their past, they might be jailed for corrupt practices. Politicians who have billions of fraud and money laundering cases hanging on their necks and yet undischarged are being registered with glee in the current registration exercise. They would want to use their defection to seek protection from being held accountable for old fraudulent acts committed from massive stealing or diversion of state funds. These are politicians who should be serving jail terms in different prisons but are walking the streets free because of the selective nature of the anti-corruption war and the grace of the corrupted judiciary."
Erubami said once a country slides into a one-party state, it will be bedevilled with undemocratic practices. He said: "Government in a one-party state will deny opportunities for deliberative discussion and dialogue. Human rights will not be entrenched in governance, the laws will not rule and there will be inequalities in human liberty, while justice will seize to be a precondition for peace and insecurity will become the order of the day."
Former National Assembly Liaison Officer to President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai has been involved in politics even before the country’s independence in 1960 and he understands the workings of Nigerian politics. He attributes the current frequent switching of political platforms to the fact that people are abandoning their occupation and investing in politics, which appears to be the quickest way of making money nowadays. He said almost everybody is in politics to make money and that only a few are interested in improving the welfare of the people.
He gives a comprehensive picture in the following words: “Politics is now a business; it is killing genuine business. Many people are taking to politics to make money; the essence of seeking power nowadays is to make money. Some of them do this by inflating or padding contracts. This is why many businessmen or professionals will either go into politics when they have sufficient money to invest or sponsor someone to contest for an elective position, whether as councillor, local government chairman, member of a state or National Assembly, governor or even to be president.
"If the businessman elects to sponsor someone, he will be looking for a way to be compensated with juicy contracts when the politician in question gets into office. The hope is that he will make more money at the end of the day. This is the reason you see people nowadays trooping from one party to another, particularly from opposition parties to the ruling party at the centre because power in Nigeria is more concentrated at the federal level. They make money as elected or appointed officials, such as ministers, special advisers or members of boards and parastatals."
For instance, Yakasai, 95, said it was recently alleged that the money a managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) makes is more than that of a minister, as the recent allegations of embezzlement of huge sums of money at the NDDC suggest. He added: “The money is so huge; almost more than what the agency is spending on the actual development of the region. The commission proposes huge contracts, to build roads, bridges or provide electricity and these contracts are usually inflated. So, they make money through the padding of contracts.
"Politics is the only lucrative business in town nowadays. Usually when a politician gets elected into an office, whether as a councillor, local government chairman, member of state House of Assembly, governor, member of the National Assembly or the president, he hopes to get a huge return on his investment within the shortest possible time. What I read recently is that once you become a lawmaker, for instance, you will be required to fill a form and thereby provide details of your bank account to the appropriate department. Within a short time of being sworn in, a huge amount of money is paid into your bank account."
Yakasai said the only way to change the narrative is to go back to the politics of ideology and national service. He said Nigerians who are dissatisfied with what is going on today must come together and strategise on how to rescue the nation from buccaneer politicians whose sole aim is to loot the national treasury in the name of politics. He said: "Politicians in opposition, even those within the ruling party that are not happy with the corrupt practices now going on, members of civil society organisations and Nigerians in general who are grumbling about the present state of affairs should team up not only to fight against what is going on in our political life but to form a strong political organisation that would provide itself as a viable alternative to the present happenings in the country and present themselves as candidates during elections."
The elder statesman said the APC could not change the orientation it met on the ground when it took over power in 2015 because a
‘’ Politics is now a business; it is killing genuine business. Many people are taking to politics to make money; the essence of seeking power nowadays is to make money. Some of them do this by inflating or padding contracts ’’
number of its members were only looking for an opportunity to grab power and better their lot without any idea of how to move the country forward.
He said President Buhari may have had good intentions to implement good policies that will uplift the living conditions of Nigerians when he vied for the presidency in 2015, but he lacked the knowledge and experience of achieving his objectives. He added: "Let me give you a typical example. According to his former aide-de-camp (ADC) Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo (when Buhari was military Head of State), he spent two years without knowing what to do to achieve his dreams. He did not invite politicians to assist him because did not believe they have anything to offer him to achieve his objectives.
"Jokolo said a few friends of President Buhari were requested to come up with a programme for the regime to implement, but they could not do so up to the time the regime was overthrown. Even among politicians, it is only those that are genuinely looking for a change that can help. If Buhari had the wherewithal at that time, he could have done something that can lead to changing the situation for the better, like what President Joe Biden is doing now in the US."
Yakasai enjoined Nigerians not to vote for politicians in the future based on sentiment but on their track records and capabilities to deliver on their promises.
The root of PDP’S woes
Today, it is the PDP that is in the eye of the storm. The root of the woes bedevilling the opposition party dates back to the period before the 2015 general elections. It all started with the registration of the APC at a time the PDP was embroiled in a debilitating internal crisis. At a point, some key members of the party defected to the then newly formed APC. As far back as August 2016, when he was campaigning to become PDP National Chairman, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi had warned other chieftains that the party would go into oblivion if they fail to embrace internal democracy.
Dokpesi, in an interview published at the time, said there was a need to rejig the party's structure internally, to deepen democracy and provide a viral opposition to the APC. He said the party's internal cohesion was weakened with the practice of handing over the leadership of the party at the federal and state levels to the president and governors. This tendency, he said, threw away the supremacy of the party.
He added: "In my NPN days if Chief Akinloye sat down as the chairman of the party, President Shehu Shagari did not sit down on the high table with him. There was mutual respect, the party’s policies and ideals were supreme; they took precedence. But, today, the reverse is the case. Meetings are hardly held in party offices; they are held either in Government House(s) or elsewhere. So, the emphasis on party supremacy, respect for party policies and ideas were missing.
"We came to a situation where leaders of the party, godfathers and the money bags were almost dictating who became a counsellor. They want to determine who becomes a president, governor, members of the National Assembly, those of state assemblies and even counsellors."
Dokpesi’s intention was to review the internal structure of the party. But, he lost the PDP national chairmanship position to the current chairman, Uche Secondus. Whether he would have succeeded in his bid to return the party to the vision of its founding fathers is another matter.
As the ruling party at the centre, the APC remains the beautiful bride for now, with many chieftains of the PDP, particularly elected leaders negotiating to join the party. As at press time, Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed and his Zamfara State counterpart, Bello Muhammad Matawalle, among other governors of the opposition party, according to reports, were still negotiating to jump ship. But, this does mean that all is well with the APC; the crisis in many of its state chapters continue to fester. Interestingly, the crises are not unconnected to the Pdp-style of leadership the APC has imbibed out of political expediency. The ruling party has been mimicking the opposition party in many respects, including the idea of making the president and governors the leaders of the party at the national and state levels.