Nigeria: Butterfly Politicians

President Muhammadu Buhari.

Mni — We are living in interesting "democratic times". What with defections? What with new alliances? What candidates without candid programs? What with contestations without issues that affect me and you; namely bad roads, ever interrupted power supply, unending killings, the latest the criminal murder of? What with coalitions for power, (not necessarily good governance)? Ad Infinitum!

Despite the discordant voices, Nigeria remains the largest democracy in Sub-Sahara Africa. INEC reported that as many as some 80 million voters registered for 2019. That was almost the population of Egypt. That was almost twice the population of South Africa of 52 million people and three times the population of Ghana of 26 million. If INEC 'rebases' the national voters' register, just as Bureau of Statistics just rebased our GDP recently, Nigeria is not only the largest economy in Africa but the biggest democracy in Africa.

Political parties are the major institutions of a functioning democracy. Again Nigeria has the highest number of political parties in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has about 15 parties in parliament. Electoral Commission of Ghana registered 23 political parties. Nigeria has as many 68 registered political parties. Nigeria has possibly conducted elections in quick successions than the norm in some other African countries. Nigeria is certainly positioned to teach others about how to conduct elections.

Sadly it is regrettable that the long period of military rule had done so much damage to our democratic culture. Unlike in the past, elections that should be like any sport have become unnecessary wars of attritions among brothers and sisters. Indeed the challenge is how to do what I call quality control of our democratic process. We have achieved much in quantitative terms. It is now time to have quality democratic process. All we need to do are few qualitative things.

Authoritarianism has manifested itself in Nigeria through years of military rule marked by absence of debate, intimidation, disregard of civil rights and nonchalant about due process and the rule of law. It is instructive that a relatively young state like Osun had produced as many as 4 military administrators compared to 4 elected civilian governors. This means on the balance authoritarian traditions compete with democratic culture here. This has left an intolerant environment, in which the language of politicians is still militaristic and people still use violence to settle issues.

We must therefore encourage a new Democratic culture that allows for unfettered free debate of issues that help to build their own future. The democratic contest is a form of institutionalized conflict. But this healthy conflict should be about ideas not personalities. Let's have a healthy debate about fixing electricity, reviving the railways and repositioning our foreign polices instead of throwing missiles at each other. In order for democracy to function, the participants must accept that only ideas can win this conflict. We must also have a framework based upon a broad consensus to regulate this conflict of ideas which is what the office of Special Adviser is doing.

The winner should govern according to the set of ideas most favored by the electorate and be willing to cede power at the next election if his or her ideas do not convince the electorate. In its basic form, these ideas are what the election process is all about.

To have healthy contest of ideas we need certain level of discipline among the participants to respect the rules of the game and to implement them fairly. We must reverse this zero sum game and make politics a win-win for all participants. There must be a clear adherence to the democratic process in its most basic form is an obstacle to democratic consolidation in Nigeria.

As a labour delegate member to the 2014 National Conference, I bear witness that the National conference has a number of robust recommendations to deepen our democracy. Some of the recommendations of the Committee of Political Parties and Electoral matters if implemented will qualitatively strengthen the political parties. It is true that Nigeria has highest number of parties but in quality our parties need improvement.

One of the recommendations of the conference is that political parties must improve on their internal party democracy through active participation of members, equality of membership, debates and elections. The outward exhibition of intolerance of party chieftains is a projection of their internal tyranny. The Committee also observed that our political parties lack ideologies unlike during the second republic where we knew where the parties stood for. Today some of our politicians stand for nothing and easily fall for anything.

Indeed we have turned political parties to some cheap political ladders which professional politicians use and dump to get to political power for selfish interests. Manifestoes remain the primary documents with which the electorate can differentiate the political parties especially with respect to parties' positions on a wide range of developmental issues democracy is tasked to address. In fact no political party should be so-called or ascribed an opposition status if it lacks alternative implementable policy ideas on security, re-electrification of the country, re-industrialisation, insecurity, unemployment, wage and pension payments.

In 2019, electorate should judge the parties by the quality of its programmes and ideology not the quantity of their bribes and rice and beans. I agree with the recommendation of the National conference that political party leadership and administration should be insulated from the undue control and interference of President, governors and legislators. We must restore party independence. Presidents and governors as well as legislators must concentrate on governance and leave party administration to party officials. Carpet crossing - the current tension in the political landscape is as a result of uncritical carpet crossing by politicians.

Political parties have sadly become hired vehicles to move from pillars to posts in a desperate move to be in office for power and money rather than for public service. Defections, shameless carpet crossing and non-issue based statements have become the order of the day. Electorates are increasingly confused as they are made to be in a party in the morning, ask to move to another party in the afternoon and at night defect to another party. We must encourage politicians with staying power and discourage butterfly politicians who move from one nest to another in search of political honey.

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