In the words of Joe Paterno, “Success without honour is an unseasoned dish. It satisfies the hunger, but doesn’t taste good”.
Day in day out, the masses cry for true leadership under an egalitarian and just party structure with undivided zoning arrangement, but none has boldly stood up to question how this obnoxious system is changed for the betterment and “blossoming of democracy” the media and other compatriots hoped for? It is possible to change the obnoxious system but the tiny minority of the political leaders during their tour of duty takes advantage of the putrid system and after leaving office joins others to savour the sour grapes of impositions of candidates thus becoming helpless victims.
But why is it difficult to change this system? The answer lies in the fact that a majority of the elites that control political power in Imo State were and are still largely bereft of any philosophical foundations and so could not design a workable political system for the state apart from few. And issuing from the above, they are largely ignorant of the dysfunctionality of the system that has failed the state since its creation. Being so ignorant of what constitutes their enlightened self interest, they fail to access the knowledge available from other good and functional systems elsewhere for changing or reforming the system.
Party politics means different things to different people in Imo State and Nigeria at large. To the civil society, it ought to be a vocation of service through which political leadership of the state is recruited and harnessed. But to the average Imolite, political party is an occupation or business channel through which one makes a living and/or profit. Secondly, it seems to afford one a possible participation in the distribution of political patronages otherwise called “dividends of democracy” for the benefit of one’s family, village, community, local government or state in that order of importance.
Politics and its practice in Imo State has had a chequered history and despite its seeming openness to the general public, it is still a puzzle and arcane to the outsider. Apart from the issue of intractable corruption, and current security challenges, politics remains the main staple upon which the Nigerian media feed. It is more so in an election year. So, almost all the media were, and are still sufficiently concerned with the political issue of the day, which is parties’ nomination of candidates for the elections.
Nigerian political parties suffer vicarious dysfunctionality that flows from the aboriginal dysfunctionality of the Nigerian state and its political and legal order. Thus our political parties are poor copies that have no cultural substance to sustain them. A typical Nigeria political party is structured in such a way that nobody is endued with moral authority as the leader. Its leadership inheres in the group of people exercising political authority at that particular point in time and a coterie of other members belonging by way of grant of access to the prebendal patronage of the electoral booty in form of government contracts, land allocations, political positions and other privileges.
In most cases, the membership is so structured in such a way that its inclusion revolves around family members and such friends adjudged harmless enough and in most cases circumscribed to be incapable of rocking the boat. Under the tenure of the incumbent occupant of the Governorship position in Imo State, every decision by way of anointing of a candidate for any election issues were from him who may not be charitable enough to seek the input of other stakeholders. This is indeed the ‘Gheto Style’ of ‘mafianistic’ leadership in Imo State.
It is usually difficult to question or challenge the decision of a Governor in matters of anointing of candidates for party primaries because by the very nature of the political structure (i.e. the state resources or privileges concentrate in his hand and the party formation deliberately structured and controlled by him) any disputation or challenge from any opposing quarter is easily countered and silenced, or sometime, labeled anti-party. Though, a Governor cannot counter God’s decision if he chooses otherwise, Imo, Benue, Bauchi, Akwa-Ibom, Oyo, Osun, Ogun and Anambra states including as case studies.
It is perhaps necessary to explain the peculiar structure of the Nigeria political party that makes it practically difficult for any outsider to comprehend its practices and praxis. The Nigeria political party, quite unlike its United States counterpart, is an association given a clear and unambiguous constitutional recognition by the 1999 Constitution. This constitutional recognition is further seasoned by the provisions of several statutory measures, principally the Electoral Act. By these statutory measures, the parties are registered and recognized by law and its operations are guided by law stricto sensu.
On the contrary, the United States political parties were not the creation of any statutes or the constitution as they originated from the political evolution of the people, which is founded on the United States’ foundation based on the republican ethics and values.
In this wise, the United States’ political parties were creations out of the people’s mores and convention. For instance, at the formation of the United States in 1776 and the adoption of the constitution in 1787, the founding fathers otherwise called the ‘Patriots’ administered the country on zero party basis. It was the complex and controversial socio-political and economic issues arising from the controversies and struggles for the ratification of the 1787 US Constitution which polarized the Patriots and caused a sharp division into the ‘Federalists’ led by Alexander Hamilton and the opposing force dubbed ‘Anti-Federalists’ later renamed Democratic-Republican and led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that grudgingly resulted in the formation of political parties in the USA in the 1790s.
George Washington, the first President of USA governed the new country on zero-party basis and history records him as having a virulent opponent of party politics, and most of the founding fathers shared his concerns. It was after his tenure when John Adams assumed leadership 1796 that the party system took shape as a result of the aforesaid schism between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
As stated earlier, the Nigeria political parties are associations governed by the constitution and statutes. Its operations therefore are strictly governed by law. These being so, the politicians with the means to finance its establishment and operations take advantage of the ordinary members who, like ordinary shareholders of publicly quoted limited liability companies take advantage of the insignificant voting powers of the said members to exploit the system to their own benefit.
As in the said public liability companies likewise the political parties; the actual owners are the rich men who contribute significant amount to the establishment and financing of the party operations, and by so doing invariably acquire controlling shares in the control and operation of the party as it were. Where the party has public officials such as Governor, President or Chairman of councils or such other elective or appointive offices, these public officials jointly finance the party. But the bulk of the financing and operational logistics fall on the Governor due largely to the enormous resources available to him for dispense as political goodwill and patronage. But, have we asked who is the sole owner of these resources the Governors are lavishing to remain relevant politically?
On accession to power, the Governor, having been the humble beneficiary of the party goodwill by virtue of the anointing by his predecessor, which clothes him with garb of a vassal promptly deploys his incumbent power to hijack the party structure to shake off that encumbrance. And in accomplishing this strategic political act, nothing is spared in realizing this object, including deliberately sidelining and rubbishing his erstwhile benefactor or godfather including all those related to him except they buy into his new power calculus.
The control of the party structure leverages the position of the Governor in many ways; the most important being that during the party primaries, the members of the Executive Committee at the Ward and Local Government Levels are members of the congress for the election of the chairman, if a local government election.
For the state congress for the nomination of the governorship candidate of the party, the delegates consist of all the wards’ chairmen, secretaries, the three-man delegates, local government chairmen, vice chairmen, secretaries, youth leaders, woman Leaders and the organizing secretaries are statutory delegates. So, it is the electoral value of these party officials during primaries that make the control of the party structure from the ward to the national levels a prized possession in the political kitty and arsenal of any political leader.
In control of the party structure, the Governor remains impregnable except there arises a force of greater or equal control of resources (money and goodwill from the presidency or high echelon of the party apparatchik) and in that case, a challenge could be sustained against his interest. It was the rise of some forces and the control of resources equal or greater to that of the various governors or senators and others that gave rise to the electoral misfortunes of some of the governors, senators and so on which created the impression of change in the electoral culture of the parties, Imo State as a typical example of external political power both in APC and at the 2019 general elections that cut the incumbent Governor in the state to sizes.
Meanwhile, the presidency and the national party office had weighed their relative political relevance and credit worthiness in their respective states and discovered a startling find: they are largely paper tigers relying largely on the structures of government and its resources for relevance. So they are dispensable! It was as a result of this finding that the presidency and the national party office looked the other way or allegedly connived with some other critical stakeholders in the states to seize the party structure from them. As a result most of them lost either their personal ambitions to migrate to the senate or to nominate their prospective successors or both.
However, it has to be noted that the successes of the winners of the various party primaries were not as a result of any credible, free and fair contest where the parties were afforded equal opportunities. Nothing as such happened. What transpired was that during the filing of nomination forms for the election of the various delegates to the party congresses and convention, each faction prepared a list of its own delegates and obtain forms for them. At the end, it is the list accepted and validated by the national party office that wins. So, once your list of delegates is not accepted by the national office of the party you are as good as a bad loser.
What remained for you was to make as much noise as possible and perhaps explore the avenue of utilizing the various judicial remedies such as injunction or declaration to harass the party and your opponent. This in a nutshell is what happened. But to the unwary public ignorant of the various processes, these results from the party primaries felling the giants constituted a clear departure from the sordid past of imposition of party candidates by the godfathers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The old system reigns in a different design and circumstances.
It is in the light of the foregoing that we appeal to the media to collaborate with the hapless society by not allowing false impressions put forward by the parties or their officials to be relied upon to paint a picture of the political system that is clearly contrary to the reality or to celebrate an obviously flawed political system and its failed electoral processes in Imo State. But rather, it should seek out enlightened and knowledgeable Imolites in various parties to help in educating the people and to spearhead the political change we need in our state. In this wise, we shall proffer solutions in our next edition.
Ikenna ONUOHA is a Media and Public Relations Consultant