Suspending Do-Or-Die Politics

The confrontational nature of Nigeria polity is in widespread currency; yet, the entrepreneurial organisations and class of people who are engrossed in fixing politics and governance in this nation have made a little crack in framing, let alone unearthing, causes-drivers-determinants-process of such an outcome. This requires a coherent comprehension of the dynamics of political competition and the accumulation strategies pursued by different political parties in their struggle for capture and sustenance of power and material benefit in this resource-scarce country.

The political process in Nigeria has evolved in a particular direction, corresponding to the characteristics of political activists and the incentive-structure to reproduce the political system. The particular form of materialist incentives of primitive accumulation of resources through use of power and coercion has led to a system of clienteles’ political networks in this nation.

The clienteles’ resource-dependent networks, for perpetuating their objective of accumulation of wealth and power, are symbiotically connected at vertical layer (local, regional, and national) and are intrinsically interlinked at horizontal level with business, administration, law-enforcing agencies and judicial system. For example, political party leaders employ cadres and thugs (musclemen) to expropriate public resources and looting or depriving soft targets (minorities, indigenous people, opposition, and general people without political affiliation). The police usually do not arrest the ruling party leaders and cadres for their wrongdoings because they are backed by the government of the day. The administration dishes away bounty to, and benefit from, the ruling political ring. The businessmen elect supporters of the ruling party to lead the business associations.


The nature of competition is motivated by usurpations of assets and there is an incentive to compete for accumulation of political power of the state. The cadres of newly elected government who were in opposition before the change of the guard take control from the cadres of the outgoing government who wait for their turn and continue to agitate against the government. This cyclical pattern of control, agitation, and return for control perpetuates the reproduction of politics of confrontation. The material basis of this particular form of accumulation has, thus, given birth to a nexus amongst politicians, members of the administration, the law enforcing agencies and the judicial system in
Nigeria. Such a nexus is cyclical and transient, and always houses with the party/alliance in power.

The political entrepreneurs, mostly coming from the ‘intermediate class’ comprising university and college educated, petty bourgeoisie and well-off farmers, venture participation in politics as a form of investment. Recognizing participation in politics like investing in a firm, the leaders and workers have devised an innovative form of incentive structure. In such a setting, allegiance to leader is not based on personal loyalty or traditional legitimacy rather participation in a particular form of exchange between patron and client. Here clients (workers) provide their political support to patrons (leaders) in exchange for payoff as well as patrons provide payoffs to their client by distributing their political power and captured public resources.

The resource-dependent syndicates, organized through political factions, have emerged. Since independence till date, the beneficiaries were the urban middle class and the rural landed elites belonging to the old political linage that ran the country. Of course, the system gained further momentum throughout the military regimes. The military regimes intensified distribution of such rents, primarily striving to gain a kind of legitimacy. The regimes not only created a culture of debt defaults, making the banking system full of non-performing loans, but also appointed a large number of military officials to the civil administration, as their primary source of power were military personnel. During the military regimes, the size of the armed forces increased from 60,000 in 1975-76 to 101,500 in 1988-98 and the defence budget increased by 18 per cent over the period in contrast to a 14 per cent increase in the national budget. Besides, the longest surviving military ruler, General Babangida, also organised vertically integrated group of people and intermediate class by forming the Social Democratic Party as well as the National Republican Convention and appointed party men to newly-created posts at local and national levels. He has also introduced the umpire in order to create a class of patrons-clients in rural areas. There has been continuation of senior military officials entering into politics. The armed forces have not captured the sate power since 1991. Arguably, this is because of the fact that the military has not shown any interest in returning to power, as a large number of its ranks and files are happy with remittance earned in lieu of providing services in UN peacekeeping missions.

In the post-military era, there is a newfound belief in the political landscape of the country that the power will shuttle between the two major parties – the PDP and the then APP. The entrepreneurs interested in accumulation of wealth started to venture into political projects, recognizing politics as another form of enterprise, and realizing that other means of profiteering is either painful or a long-run affair and that maximization of profit even out of traditional commercial enterprise is directly related to degree of connection with political processes.

In the post-military era, both the PDP and the ANPP even APGA and others started giving nomination to businessmen and other faction leaders in the scheduled elections. This has also become a common knowledge that a huge sum of money was required to secure nomination from these parties. The parties gave nominations to many rich businessmen, gang leaders, and former civil and military bureaucrats in the elections at the expense of many veteran leaders. This is demonstrated in the composition of the elected member of parliaments. The previous parliament had 58 per cent of the regulators who reported business as their profession whereas only 7 per cent were politicians. Besides a good many politicians turned into businessmen or their family members ran businesses on behalf of them. Political influence provides the scope for acquiring business licenses that can be sold or rented to the business in return for money or profit.

The law making assembly is hardly vibrant in our nation; even members of ruling party are reluctant to attend the sessions on time. A former head of state also expressed his anger about the absenteeism of the regulators in the national Assembly and threatened to dissolve the House if such absenteeism of such regulator was to continue. But the situation remained more or less the same.

This begs a serious question as to why people spend a huge amount of money to be elected, as regulator while, upon elected, are reluctant to attend the sessions of the legislative business. The answer to the question lies in the nature of political accumulation in Nigeria relating to capture of resources through primitive accumulation. Research suggests that the whistleblowers, most of them being businessmen, are more interested in accumulating, capturing, and coercing resources than attending the sessions in law-making Assembly.

In major political parties the grassroots workers have to maintain relations with a particular local leader, who is either the president or secretary of the local committee. These local leaders appoint workers for other positions in the committee on the basis of loyalty to him rather than relevance and effectiveness of such persons in advancing the interest of the party. The local leaders try to include those persons who are loyal to them but have less bargaining power because they will be able to demand fewer payoffs. The loyalty of a client to his patron is based on mutual benefit where the patron has more advantage than his clients as the client has less bargaining capacity. If the bargaining capacity of the client increases the patron often tends to change his clients preferring the one with less bargaining capacity. Availability of the candidates to join any faction in exchange of fewer payoffs makes it easier for the patron to change his clients. So it paves the way for entry of opportunists in the party. Membership in a committee at any level of the party ensures informal legitimacy, which increases the power and credibility of the individual to extract public resources, without being prosecuted by administrative and legal actions. The regional leaders are responsible for appointing the local leaders while the party high command appoints the higher echelon of regional leaders. These tiers also follow the same system.

Persons who have the ability to provide and/or secure funding lead the parties. To maintain the reproduction of such practices, the leaders resort to personalization of politics. This hierarchy is mainly based on the economic benefit that the patron can offer to their client. The clients build muscle for their patron to win elections and to carry out other activities necessary for maintaining the status quo, including influencing local people, threatening the opponents or even to be engaged in assaults and killings.

Such a system of networked factions provides guarantee of two major objectives. The first relates to centralization of power within the party by particular factions, who are interested in reproduction of politics as business, protecting them from any dissidents. Secondly, it ensures sustenance of payoffs through alternative mechanisms. The two are mutually rewarding. Both leave a downward pressure for political competition and confrontation.

The reproduction of the networked system lies in the ability to capture resources and consequential distribution, either directly to grassroots, or through creation of provision for central, regional and grassroots leaders. This requires pursuance of ‘winners-take-all’ strategy and use of power and coercion over administrative, law enforcing, judicial, and criminal justice systems. In this process the opposition members become totally deprived, waiting with high intent and figured strategies of how to multiply the loss incurred during the period of absence from power. The system thus has been able to create on its own a system of reproduction and welfare system for members belonging to factions of different parties, at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
Join the discussion