Suspending Do-Or-Die Politics

The networked system of factions in this nation has given birth and sustained a system of private force, parallel to the apparatus of the state, in order to steer the process of acquiring and maintenance of command over the captured resources, as such process warrants considerable expression of intimidation, coercion, and oppression. Thus the faction leaders maintain muscle power by keeping and patronizing thugs or gang leaders. These musclemen are usually known as party cadres who operate under the umbrella of a faction leader. They protect the interest of the faction leader and in return they are paid off. The return on services depends on ability of the shadow leader and his gang. In return of their support to the leader the strongman are protected from any legal action.

The strongman leaders in cases also transform themselves into leaders of a faction. Moreover, confrontational nature of accumulation by the two main political parties in Bangladesh has increased the importance of strongman politics as they have been used to torture and intimidate the oppositions. The student politics has also been losing ground. A significant part of the membership is either engaged as strongman or client of a particular faction leader.

This particular process of political system has given birth to a different form of exchange, besides the market form of exchange, perpetuated through primitive accumulation, underwritten by coercion and intimidation. This non-market form of exchange is mediated through power and coercion, provides material gains ranging from ‘public’ to ‘private’ properties. The factions in our country are organized to capture resources managed through budgetary processes, including granting of contracts and licenses, resources of the state that are not managed through fiscal processes like natural resources including oil and other natural deposit, forests, water bodies, and rivers, properties of different state agencies, like lands belonging to the railway or forest departments and private properties of soft targets and rival factions. Several illustrations are given below:

Membership of a political faction is necessary to win business contracts awarded by the state and the publicly funded organizations. The faction leaders provide contract and license to the party members or to the close allies of the party, though the decision is supposed to be based on technical and financial qualifications. The processes of implementation of public works in our nation also require a considerable level of forces. The businesses thus form faction, submit offers with high margin, and distribute the contracts and profits amongst the members of the faction. To achieve membership of the syndicate requires a certain amount of muscle power; otherwise one would be thrown out of the faction. The leaders give contracts to that faction, which have a more organized capacity and can ensure victory in the election. The size of the faction has a certain limit so that the payoffs from the contract can ensure profit for all. If any new player wants to enter into a particular faction, s/he has to replace one or more members from that faction. S/he can do this by enforcing power on the members of the faction. This process often turns into violent and aggressive conflicts, including use of threats or attacks on the lives and properties of the opponents. The members of the faction thus keep godfather under them or maintain constant contacts with the gang leaders.

No bidding takes place as per the rule of the government because of involvement of the members of the ruling party. Such processes are pervasive at every stratum and tier. For example at the national level, even a former minister stated that the countrywide power shortage was an outcome of this tender politics. The tender process is negotiated at local levels by local regulators. Allegations are there that a minimum of 20 per cent has to be given to the local whistleblowers for distribution amongst his network members. If such processes are not maintained, it might turn into violent conflicts. The regulators also benefit themselves by helping to secure lease of lands, and award various appointments to their faction members. These are especially prevalent in appointments of government subvention provided private colleges and schools, as they control the whole appointment process by virtue of being chairman of the managing committees and the governing bodies of these institutions.

The transaction of land though medium of power is a political process. Encroachment on government land is not an easy task to carry out, essentially requiring strong ties with administration and political parties. The corrupt officials of land and registration departments, upon bribery, provide fake documents and lower courts give the decree of ownership. The leaders of main political parties and local influential persons, powered by family aristocracy or by godfather linked with political parties, are the major grabbers of public land both in rural and urban areas. The elite grabbers are more influential than the petty grabbers. The large real estate companies, ministers, business houses, non-governmental organizations, industrialists are at the top of the lists of grabbers of natural resources who are aligned with the top echelon of policymaking and leaders of different business bodies. Elite grabbers do not necessarily comply with the party politics but still control policymaking at state and party levels. They usually maintain very complex relationships with the functionaries of the state under the so-called patron-client politics. They sustain through a distributive incentive structure. They fund major as well as minor parties in order to maintain their material benefits.

In rural areas public land and natural resources are distributed among the supporters of the ruling party and who can afford to pay the political parties and corrupt officials. Usually oil-rich zones, water bodies and forestlands are distributed through different types of contracts such as award, lease and sales. In this process factions of the ruling party often form a faction. This syndicate uses their political influence, manipulate the policy and win contract in favour of them. In forest areas vested groups are involved in cutting forest and grabbing forestland. The vested groups are usually comprised of local influential persons and political leaders. This process is intensified with the help of corrupt government officials. There is a vast amount of wetlands in Nigeria, which are public property. The government has divided the wetlands in several units. The government has initiated a distribution policy of these areas by giving lease to certain people or groups. This process is manipulated by political influence.

In case of private property, for example, in shrimp Obasanjo farm in the southwest region of the country, the grabbers who are politically powerful forcefully grab the lands of individual owners. If the party fails to come into power in the election, the leader flees away and the occupation automatically goes to the new party leaders. The power-driven land transaction maintains definitive targeting strategies as well as bases their targets on a pricing policy, instrumentalised in terms of wielding of power. For example, the faction leaders (patron) with their allies such as godfathers, and village headmen can easily force the government and administration to settle titles of publicly owned assets in favour of their clientele. The areas of such target of accumulation are often public-owned oil-riched areas or state-owned reserve areas like forests, rivers, and wetlands.

Another element of their targeting strategy is that the patrons aim at soft segments of society such as ethnic and religious minorities, and the underprivileged including small and poor landholders in urban and rural areas. The distributive nature of such political accumulation intertwines a two-way dependent relationship – a worker is dependent on material incentive to be distributed by the leader while latter depends on the former for concentration of power through use of him as an agent provocateur.

The process of such competition and accumulation is authoritarian in nature, takes aggressive and brutal forms, and cannot afford to withstand even muted dissent and public scrutiny. The process, for its perpetuation, also harbours a mutually rewarding extended network, with vertical and horizontal structure of incentive and accountability.
This particular process of political accumulation has resulted in intensified competition for finding out alternative forms of payoff mechanisms, in the backdrop of limited fiscal resources, as the budgetary resources of the country are very small. The limited amount of budgetary resource leads to carving out different form of accumulation from off-budget resources, which require use of power, coercion and muscle. Thus, it is found to be everyone’s interest to form, maintain, and sustain networks and personalized politics, absence of which is expected to fetch no yield. So personalization of power becomes necessary to retain command over factions. This motivation increases intolerance, clash and human insecurity of public and private property and lives of individuals.

The decomposition of data in terms of inter- and intra-party conflicts, suggests that 56.61 per cent of the total injured were wounded in conflicts among the parties, whereas 24.46 per cent were injured in conflicts within a political party in 2005. A total of 918 (17.67 per cent) people were injured in conflicts between ruling PDP factions. The widespread prevalence of intra-party conflicts reveals pervasiveness of competitive factional politics in this nation, stemming from securing and distribution of resources and privileges between factions within a party. This is demonstrated by the fact that the rate is higher in case of the ruling party, as the figure in the category is as high as 70.93 per cent (988 persons) for the PDP, while the intra-party factional fighting in case of the main opposition, the ANPP was only 28.36 per cent (395 persons). The injuries inflicted on the opposition activists by law-enforcing agencies such as the police are higher than those to members belonging to the ruling party. This is explained by the nature of competition prevailing in the political system in the country, which comes to be known as ‘winners-take-all’ strategy. This also speaks of the nature of political accumulation in which the ruling party uses the apparatus of the state, including the police, for clinging to power.

The intensity of competition not only deprives the citizenry due to malfunctioning of the public order, emanating from chaotic space created by factions, but also due to squeezed public services, resulting from embezzlement of public funds and resources, especially impacting adversely on the poor.

It is often assumed and largely being propagated by elite of civil society, international financial institutions and Western donors that reforms relating to ‘good governance agenda’, including anti-corruption drive, is the panacea. While these reforms are highly desirable in themselves, there are structural reasons why the implementation of ‘good governance reforms’ in Nigeria is likely to have a very limited impact. A reliance on these policies alone is, therefore, likely to result in lost opportunities.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
Join the discussion