Our Checkmating Politics

by Banjo Odutola

The field of our national politics is ripe with an abundance of harvest. The harvest is full of the following: political aspirants clamouring for their turns to be enriched by the national treasury, very few politicians wishing to change the status quo of our polity, politicians rising to a call to settle old scores and those who simply are dreamers. Our space is full of dregs and motleys whose fates are intertwined by a singular ambition: the same fate that stalls our development as a nation but rewards the political players with power and riches.

It is the same fate that endows nonentities the power to become the President of our Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and as a result, we have lawmakers whose financial dealings are queried by their compeers. The helmsmen of our National Assembly are lawmakers operating as if they are afraid of their own shadows. The type of incongruities of these political administrators makes true that “the saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success is disgraceful“(H.L. Mencken (1880-1956, American Journalist and Literary Critic).

It now appears that the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives may not after all be checkmated for their new wealth; these men may ‘get away with it’; that is wealth of inexplicable sources. Are we prepared to allow them to hide in the Nigerian ‘inconclusive evidence’; under which all plundering of the nation is fair game? Are we prepared to watch these men become leaders in our political space? Are we not hypocrites when we denounce Sani Abacha in death and remain mute when we ought to challenge these men? Are we going to remain quiet?

It cannot be right for journalists to remain mute on the issues of the wealth of Na’abba and Anyim; publishers of newspapers who pretend they are guardians of our morals must take the bull by the horn in exposing these men. That is, if there is anything to expose. By the nature of our muteness, does it not mean that we are acquiescing to the debased morals in public life?

Personally, I call on all well-meaning Nigerians to rise to a clarion call for these men to explain their newfound wealth. We must not allow them to ‘get away with it’. We must not frustrate our own desire to leave a legacy of a better country to our children. Let the accomplices of these men know that their own children, parents and grandchildren are affected by unaccountable wealth of these public servants; the meagre dividends that sweeten the mouths of accomplices are the bitter dosages in the mouths of their families. Let the accomplices realise that Nigeria belongs to their offspring as much them. My advice to accomplices of our politicians: Please ‘Daboh’ public servants that have fleeced the nation before they ‘Tarka’ you (Daboh vs Tarka theatre during Yakubu Gowon’s government is the ‘outing’ of a public servant by a ‘public spirited’ accomplice).

The manner by which lawmakers in Nigeria have fleeced over the last three and a half years may be the reason for the global interest in politics. Now, twenty-eight political parties have been registered; negotiations and juxtaposition are now in progress. But, have we stopped to consider the confusion in the horizon?

Professor Wole Soyinka advocated the registration of all interests in the political domain simply because, a political aspirant should be allowed to represent a communal or single interest for as long as there is a constitutional representation to vote the aspirant into power. Who can fault the erudite Nobel Laureate? However, I am troubled to the extent that Professor Soyinka may have ignored the Nigeria Factor and erroneously, a theory that pervades in his other constituencies in the developed world may be inappropriate for our country. In some respects, I disagree with the multiplicity of political parties and I shall state my reasons.

The current political administration is a good example of our penchant for indiscipline: whether politically, economically or socially. Our politicians ignore rules and regulations, which civilised societies adhere to. In politics as practised in the United Kingdom and the United States, to use two examples, discipline of politician rest in the party whips, who are members of the legislature charged by political parties with enforcing party discipline. If there is a whip in the ruling party of our country, he must be the most impotent man in politics. It is needless to vent the gross indiscipline of this ruling party. Therefore, if the party with a majority has demonstrated an incapability of restraining and disciplining its members, what would obtain at our National and States Assemblies after the next election is unimaginable.

Brazil is the most homogenous example comparable to our newly found political party registration. So, let us take a look at their political parties and attempt to learn from the way politics is conducted there. These are some of the registered parties:

(i) PMDB -Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro) is the country’s largest party; a loosely-knit coalition of politicians from across the political spectrum.

(ii) PFL – Liberal Front Party (Partido da Frente Liberal) is the country’s second largest party and the largest on the center-right. The PFL is strongest in small and medium-sized towns, particularly in the impoverished Northeast and Amazon regions dissidents of the military-created Democratic Social Party who opposed the presidential bid of Paulo Maluf founded it in 1985.

(iii) PSDB – Brazilian Social Democracy Party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira) was formed in 1988 by dissidents of the PMDB, the PSDB espouses a center-left social democratic agenda. PSDB leaders, including Fernando Henrique Cardoso, support a free market economy with greater government involvement in such social areas as health care and education.

(iv) PT – Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) was in 1979, it is Brazil’s “European-style” leftist party, with a clearly defined ideology, strict party discipline, a hierarchical structure, and an extensive grassroots organization. It is strongest among intellectuals, organized labour, and the economically disadvantaged. It draws considerable support from the liberation-theology wing of the Catholic Church and from four million member labour confederation: the Sole Workers Central.

(v) PPR – Progressive Renewal Party (PPR) was formed in early 1993, the PPR represents a merger between Paulo Maluf’s former Democratic Social Party and the Christian Democratic Party. The party is based primarily in the more industrialized south and southeast and includes many former supporters of Brazil’s military government. It is a centre right party that generally supports free market reforms.

(vi) PP – Progressive Party was founded in 1993; it is the result of a merger between the Renovating Workers’ Party and the Social Workers’ Party: two splinter centre-right parties formed in 1990 to support gubernatorial campaigns of several local politicians. The PP claims to support market-oriented policies and is strong in a handful of states.

(vi) PDT – Democratic Workers Party(Democratico Trabalhista) is a populist party founded in 1980. It is strongest in the Capital of the country and Rio Grande do Sul; much of its support comes from urban and rural poor; its members usually stress a greater role for the government in tackling Brazil’s pressing social problems.

(viii) PTB – Brazilian Labour Party (Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro) was founded in 1945 and it is a populist party that no longer has a major national leader or following. Its appeal is limited to several western states

(ix) PL – Liberal Party (Partido Liberal) is a centre-right party that is popular among small businessmen at the state and local level in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The party advocates a minimum role for the state in economic affairs and is a staunch proponent of a flat tax on businesses and individuals.

(X) PRN – National Reconstruction Party (Partido da Reconstrucao Nacional) was formed in 1988. It was Collor’s personal vehicle for his 1989 presidential bid. Following Collor’s impeachment in late 1992, PRN membership in Congress dropped considerably.

(Xi) PPS -Popular Socialist Party (Partido Popular Socialista Brasileiro) is the former Brazilian Communist Party, renamed in 1992 in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union; it espouses Marxist doctrine but frequently cooperates with other centre-left parties.

(Xii) PC do B – Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista Brasileiro) has avoided modifying its Soviet-style platform since the end of the Cold War. It has participated, though minimally, in the 1989 and 1994 electoral coalitions formed to support the PT presidential candidate. Brazil also has several dozen small parties such as PMN – National Mobilization Party, PSC – the Social Christian Party… etc. What is clear is that the multiparty politics in Brazil did not evolve over a short period as ours and the motives for setting up various parties are not different from what is obtaining in present day Nigeria.

What ought to be clear to the reader is that formation of most political parties in Brazil is based on ideals, albeit, there are examples of party formation based on personality or ambitions. But, in our country, the registration of new parties is principally because of power brokerage of individuals. This may well be the reason why some of the newly registered parties will merge with others in the usual political horse-trading. The never failing result of the horse trading is the use of square pegs to fill round holes in ministerial appointments and that may be the reason for President Obasanjo’s large cabinet.

You wait until after the next election, there would be State Governors that would have cabinets as large as Santa’s bulging bag. Political horse-trading is all about the political leverage of aspiring politicians who can split votes. They are the ones rewarded with ministerial and ambassadorial appointments and therein is the bane of this nation. I ask you, do you want to become an ambassador or a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Nothing hinders; Character deviance stops no one because records can be mesmerised. In Nigeria, you need no track records of excellence in human endeavour but excellence in falsifying the truth goes a long way. Truth in our politics is old fashioned. A political aspirant must join one of these new political parties, bribe two or three constituent wards and ‘settle’ the polling agents or hire area boys. Not much is needed. Honest.

I would have no problems, if the new parties were founded on ideologies. At least, there would be politicians in our country who would seek power for a purpose and not because Gani Fawehinmi or the other jokers want to be presidents. I am troubled because we have a nation in which every Gani, Ike or Pop Singer turned Preacher believe they can become presidents; a country where those who live in the comfort of overseas countries raise money abroad, a criminal offence in developed countries, breeze in and out of the country to fulfil dreams to become State Governors, Senators or Assemblies Representatives; a country where politicians just want to take their turns to acquire power for the sake of it and it appears the governed are refusing to checkmate these political aspirants.

In closing, I may be by myself in the belief that the registration of these new parties, which are not formed on ideals is a recipe for disaster; I may be by myself in the belief that these new parties may end up trading their operatives for political appointments; I may be by myself in the belief that all these ‘Andrews’ living overseas have no place in the politics of our nation, in which they ‘breeze in and out’; I may be by myself in the belief that our national politics is set to checkmate itself by default; I may be by myself in the fears that I harbour for our national politics and I may regret all that I have said herein because the newly registered parties may be the anodynes for our retrogressive development. Anyway, I only hope, I shall not return to remind you that I told you so!

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