Why Political Parties In Nigeria Are Mere Associations Without Ideological Orientation – Prof Adetula


Victor Adetula, a professor of International Relations & Development Studies at the University of Jos, says that our political parties have become mere associations, such that one cannot say any of them has a clear ideological orientation. Prof Adetula, who is also the Claude Ake Visiting Professor at the University of Uppsala & Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala University, Sweden, also speaks on how Nigeria’s political party system has fared in the last 25 years. Excerpts:

How would you assess the political party system in the last 25 years?

I think the political party system in Nigeria is still a work in progress when you look at the performances of the political parties since the return to constitutional democracy in 1999. Generally speaking, political parties are expected and required to be one of the crucial political institutions in a democratic society. They are to help organize, aggregate, and articulate the political interest of the citizens in a political arena. Have we achieved that concerning our political parties that have come up since 1999? I will say no. We have not done that at all. Given that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was in government for about 16 years and has served on the opposition side for about eight years, I will say the journey has not been really impressive for the party and all others that have come after its creation in the country. This is because not so much has been accomplished.

But why?

In assessing the journey of the political parties generally, let’s go back to history. One of the things that we have not paid attention to, especially those people who are often in a hurry to say things about our experience, is that the military did a very big blow to the development of democratic institutions in Nigeria. It will be recalled that before the military came in, we had political parties that could be regarded as viable and well-connected to society. We could say that they came out of the society. They represented the society well enough as they were able to articulate the interests of the citizens and project them efficiently in the political space. They campaigned and came up with clear political agenda and programmes. But the military came and destroyed this vital political institution along with others like civil societies, the media, and all. But of them all, the political parties suffered the greatest blow. It was this that stunted the growth and development of the party system in Nigeria.

By the time the military decided to move back to the barrack, the political party system that sprang up afterward was different from what we had in the First Republic. And part of the contradictions is what we are facing today.

If you can remember vividly, then, we had the new breed and friends of the military and how all these formed into different coalitions that later became different political parties. You remember the attempt to create two political party systems, a little to the right and a little to the left. All these have come up since then and now. But regrettably today, our political parties have become mere associations, such that one cannot say any of them has a clear ideological orientation. The parties nowadays generally lack adequate resources, skills, competent staffing, and the required organizational capacity to serve as a positive democracy-promoting mechanism for constitutional political succession and nurturing of the democratic and legal culture in the polity. This has been the reality of our political parties and that is why till today, they have not fulfilled the role and expectation of a political party as a crucial political institution.

But going by your analysis, what will you say are the differences between the political parties that we had before the military era and those that came after the military reign departed?

I started my analogy by saying the First Republic political parties came out of the people. They were directly linked to the people. Some of the political parties in those days came out of associations of people, civil society groups, trade unions, labour movements, women’s associations, and market groups. So, they are not just the nowadays political parties that came as a result of two or more people coming together and saying let there be a party to grab power. No. The old parties were well structured, came out of the people, and represented them well enough. They were able to aggregate and articulate the interests of the people unlike those that we have today that are created by fiat declarations and funny associations of strange bird fellows. As I said, the military was part of the blame and by the time they exited power, there were no strong platforms other than those formed by people who had close associations with the military. And we can deduce what came out of the closeness. For instance, if you look at the political parties we have had since, you will discover that those at their helm of affairs are either retired military officers or retired bureaucrats, who made their money during the military era. This is part of the factors that have brought us to where we are today.

So in concrete terms, where do you think the political parties that have come since 1999 have missed it?

Well, I wouldn’t want to say where they have missed it. But let’s ask ourselves what were the agenda that they presented? The group of 34 metamorphosed and eventually became the PDP. But who were the people in this group? Are they not people who just came together and said, let’s have a political party to gain access to power? Even looking at our recent history of the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC), you will see that it was just a coalition of people who disagreed with the mainstream PDP and came together in a bid to seize power from the party. The question is what agenda and programme did the APC come out with then? But unsurprisingly, as soon as the APC grabbed power, it began to split into factions again. So, it has been the same story for the parties, which means we are not yet there. I think it will take a long time for the political parties to develop.

Some people have the impression that the failure of the political parties has to do with the presidential system of government in which we operate. But this won’t be my argument as I will not say it is a result of the system of government. I will rather say that, look, the military dealt us a blow and the political parties have not had the time to find their bearing and develop since then. That is why we have the manifestation and expression of contradictions like the crisis of internal governance. If you compare what we have today with what used to be in the First Republic, it will only take one indicator: internal governance and party discipline. But the difference is just too much. You find people today from the same political party using media platforms in total disagreement with the party line. I don’t think we had many instances of that during the first republic.

But still looking at the present-day political parties, what do you think are the other structural and systemic defects that have stunted their growth?

I have just listed the lack of internal governance. It has been one major challenge. What we see today is just a few powerful people who hijacked the structure of a political party and dictated the direction the leadership of the party should go or take. This has been a major contradiction that our political party system has suffered in recent times.

Other challenges relate to lack of resources and a level playing field for everybody within a party. There is also a lack of adequate internal control and capacity. There is also a wanton disconnection from the people. In critically looking at things today, I was reflecting shortly after the February election and I asked: are there political parties in Nigeria at the moment at all? Are people voting based on political party programmes? Are they even hearing the political parties? What are the political party leaders telling the people? What kind of political education are the political parties presenting to the people? Do they even have the capacity to do this? Ordinarily, this should be what the parties use to leverage opportunities in the political arena, but sadly, it is not there. As a result of this, the people have gone back to their primordial platforms to decide who they vote or don’t vote for, unfortunately.

But why is it that despite not having good internal democracy and vibrant ideological values, some of the big political parties still find their way to win elections in the country?

That is a very good question. If you say that the big political parties have won the election because they are strong and viable ideologically, I will not agree with you. I won’t say that this is the reason. To me, I believe the big political parties win not because they have a strong democratic culture and ideologies. It is also not because they are well connected to the people. If these are the reasons, why then are we talking today about the deployment of the instrumentality of violence during our election? Why are we talking about the abusive use of money? I am not saying that the big political parties are the ones using money to win elections. But what I am saying is that why do people today move in the direction of who has the money to distribute at polling booths? Why are people saying they are being intimidated to vote for a particular candidate? Why are people going back to ethnicity and religion to decide who they vote for? Why is it that what matters now in Nigeria is either a Christian/Christian or Muslim/Muslim ticket? These are not issues of the political parties.

So, what is deciding who gets what in today’s electoral competition is not a result of the strong inputs from the political parties or how democratic these political parties are, but the capacity of the various political parties to manipulate the people, the voters. In my judgment, this is what is carrying the day nowadays and not as a result of how strong the political programmes and manifestoes have been or how close the parties are to the people. But, of course, the people too have been reacting accordingly. They will tell you, no, we don’t want to wait for another four years, give it to us now. So, you can see that it is both on the side of the politicians and the people. The whole thing has become a game of deceit and that is why the trust gap between the politicians and the people is becoming wider every day.

Could it be true then that the political class has weaponised poverty, using it to perpetuate themselves in power?

Of course, I have just said that. You even use a stronger word. I have said it has become a game of manipulation. The largely poor people do not trust the politicians, because, over the years, they have been so disappointed. And the politicians, of course, know that what the people want now is food on the table. That is why today, what we are hearing is stomach infrastructure. You hear people saying, give it to us now. That is why there is the reign of distribution of food and money at campaign rallies. These are the things that decide the votes and not necessarily the manifestoes of the political parties. They amount to gross manipulation and deceit of the citizenry.

Does it mean that without stomach infrastructure, vote-buying, violence, thuggery, and ballot-box snatching, one cannot win an election in Nigeria?

Where we are today is such that it is very difficult, because the democratic institutions are either weak or non-existent. So, what we are faced with is manipulation, unfortunately. Political parties, civil societies, and the media should play a critical role in making elections hold and be decided credibly without resorting to vote-buying and violence. But, if we pick each of these institutions and assess their performance since 1999, you will see that they have fallen far below average. That is why these other factors have taken centre stage, making us experience the current setback we are facing.

But why do you think the various Electoral Acts promulgated over the years have failed to change the status quo and address the challenges associated with our electoral and political party system?

Well, you see, Electoral Acts are simply laws and guidelines, including the brilliant deployment of technology devices and mechanisms, which are fantastic. But as I said in one of my past interviews, if you have new technology and you don’t have a new social behaviour, will it work? Of course, it will not. See, we can have new laws, but if we don’t have a renewed mind, they will still not work. That is the truth. So for me, it is not so much about laws. It is about does we have the appropriate social behaviour and culture that will make the laws and sophisticated technology work? So, we need the right sensitisation, mobilisation, and adequate political education of the people.

The political parties have a critical role to play in all of these. But, they have not been playing it. The media and the civil society groups also have roles to play in it. But are they doing that? So, if all these are not in place, the people will be left at the mercy of the political elite, whose only interest is to grab power and engage in a series of manipulations to achieve the deadly agenda. You can now see our dilemma. The political institutions have failed in their roles and this has allowed the political elite to take over. Now, what we are experiencing is a total dominance of the political elite. So, for there to be a change, the non-state actors have to make bold demands. There has to be a new consciousness among the citizens. Let us have citizens who are ready to forsake stomach infrastructure and demand concrete infrastructure; not short-term solutions to their problem, but fundamental long-term investment in their livelihood and the future of their children. This is how I think we can have a better and improved political experience and system.

…Sourced from the Nigerian Tribune excluding the synopsis and headline

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply