Buhari’s Legacy: The Development of the Nigerian Party System?

” There are many areas in which President Buhari is striving to achieve lasting change … should he, however, find a way of entrenching the internal rules and systems for party operation and move his party to begin establishing a core, unshakeable, and rousing ideology around which not only the party is organised but its followers are led, President Buhari would be at the forefront of establishing true party politics in Nigeria … It would be a profound legacy.”

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Nigeria operates a party system. Nigeria does not operate a party system. Whichever of these two statements one agrees with hinges on the definition of ‘a party system.’ In the case where you understand a party system to be that overarching organization by which a country’s politics is done through the entrenched, rule-based, and systematic flows of the party machinery, then Nigeria does not yet run a party political system. But there are signs that it is in the process of developing one. And to the extent this development becomes entrenched over the next 4 to 8 years, the establishment of a truly party political system in Nigeria may very well be Buhari’s most lasting legacy.

The notion that Nigeria does not currently operate a party system may seem absurd in light of the seemingly vigorous contestation that has frequently occurred between the two main parties over the last two decades. There is further no shortage of small parties vying for a slice of the political power pie. Indeed, two days ago the Independent National Electoral Commission registered the newest entrant into the national political fray. The Democratic People’s Congress (DPC) brings the total number of officially registered political parties to 29.

And indeed, anyone who has been paying even light attention to Nigerian politics over the last month will be well aware of the commotion that has been caused in the National Assembly as a result of the extent of political competition not only between the parties but within them. Nearly every member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the assembly seems to be engaged in an unconstructive petty squabbling, defection threatening, general disarray over who, exactly, controls the house. Suffice to say, discipline is not what it used to be.

Such goings on could easily fool many onlookers into believing that this is a display of rich and deep party political organization. It is nothing of the sort. It has, in fact, been a demonstration of the very opposite. That is, of the utter disorganization and lack of ideological vision that has plagued the nascent Nigerian political system for decades.

For as long as many watchers of Nigerian politics can remember, it has been perfectly normal for politicians to turn over their party badges in return for opposition party membership overnight and as often as the whim appears to take them with very few permanent consequences from the party of former allegiance. Indeed, the emergence of the most hard-fought elections in the country’s history is arguably the result of this very lack of party discipline.

Less than a pinch of salt is needed to believe the statement that the party that now represents the strongest opposition to the PDP only does so because many of its most powerful members are former PDP strongmen. And it has been this way for decades.

Through splintering faction, overnight defection, and underhanded mergers, the Nigerian political scene has witnessed more costume changes than a travelling stage troop. The actors remain ever the same but it is hard to keep track of their make-up.

Indeed, the current APC is merely but a merger of the former Action Congress of Nigeria, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (plus or minus a few PDP defections and then back again.)

The Nigerian party political system is in the flux of development. While it is moving past the phase of being completely controlled by the tosses and turns of mass popular emotion as it was in the independence period up till the late 1990s, the system has not yet quite come to grips with being able to fully direct the political and social preferences of the mass electorate. On the one hand it remains the fresco on which the political, ethnic, ethical, economic, and all myriad of personal concerns of the public are painted onto the national scene; but on the other, those in high office have begun to realise that they must at some point begin to filter which of the issues that have resonance on the public ground will be allowed to become matters for the party to deal with based on the development of strong party brands and ideologies.

It is this latter momentum that we witness when those such as Governor Adams Oshiomole urge senators to respect the party’s mandate; saying: “we were all elected on the platform of the party. We are not just a collection of individuals, we are a political party and when the party has spoken we must listen, otherwise if it is a game of individuals like golf then individuals can go their own way.” Of course, Governor Oshiomole’s sentiments may not be entirely party altruistic; and may or may not involve the governor’s attempt to avoid an EFCC corruption probe.

Regardless, it appears to be the case that neither the APC, nor the Senate, knows what the rules of their own game are (and indeed appear to be making them as they go along). Detrimentally to the country’s developing party political system, neither the party nor the National Assembly seems able (or willing) to effectively sanction those who run foul of whatever rules there may be in order to efficiently and effectively restore order and confidence in the government’s legislative arm. The consequence is a country that has been sitting in the middle of a legislative crisis for over a month. And as usual, the Nigerian people are left to look after themselves.

There are many areas in which President Buhari is striving to achieve lasting change; from the highly devalued Naira to the diversification of the country’s oil economy; from terrorism to rebuilding the infrastructures for electricity, healthcare, education, and transportation. And there is no doubt that should he make positive headway on even a single one of these issues, he will have carved a space for himself in the annals of Nigerian presidential history.

Should he, however, find a way of entrenching the internal rules and systems for party operation and move his party to begin establishing a core, unshakeable, and rousing ideology around which not only the party is organised but its followers are led, then Buhari would be at the forefront of establishing true party politics in Nigeria. It would be a development from which every other aspect of the country’s progress could effectively flow – including the ability to better tackle and control elite political corruption. It would be a profound legacy.

~EAMS

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