Let me tell you my story dredged up from my recent stroll down my memory lane. I occupied a vintage front seat in the transition to civil rule programme of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military administration. I was editor of The Nigerian Standard, Jos. In that position, I watched the conduct of the transition programme from its inception to its logical and successful end.
It was both an exhilarating and a heady period for the country; a period of anxiety, seeing as there was still the possibility of a slip between the lip and the cup; a period of renewed hope that with the generals unlocking the gates of democracy, democratic goodies and dividends would make Nigeria a changed country in every material particular.
The politicians had been locked outside the gates of democracy since January 15, 1966, when the idealistic majors struck and introduced the gun as a means of capturing political power and as a short cut to sudden changes in personal fortunes, as witness bandits and kidnappers using millions of ransom money as their pillows in their hideouts in the bush. The politicians were thus about to emerge from their long winter of isolation from politics and power into a salubrious era of power given by the people for the people.
I was intrigued by the transition processes in the remaking of our new national politics. The generals incubated the new democratic baby by replacing the British parliamentary system with the American type of executive presidential system. The introduction of the word, executive, profoundly changed the nature of power and the exercise thereof. It was too early then to see the drawback, but it soon crept up on us when state governors and local government chairmen promptly restyled themselves executive governors and executive chairmen.
The run up to the 1979 general elections excited my interest. My vintage position was a political school of some sort. I watched the politicians, both the old war horses and the new breed, claim the political stage at all levels.
I watched the struggle for power; I watched the political shenanigans; I listened to the promises of a better tomorrow for our dear country; I read the political ideologies. But most importantly, I saw the emergence of important personages called political godfathers whose assumed duty was to bestow favours on favoured men and women and anoint them in the executive and the legislative branches of government. And something told me that those of us who expected radical changes in the nature of our national politics in which tribes, tongues and religion would play no part were naïve.
I have since found that we are still running in a cycle. Cosmetic changes here and there, yes, but nothing radical or fundamental and therefore repositioning our national politics in national service remains elusive. Somethings have changed for the worse and some have not changed at all in our national politics. In the second republic, the political parties knew the importance of ideologies in marketing themselves to the people. UPN chose free education at all levels as its ideological underpinning to win the people to its political cause. The generals knew this too. In the two parties, NRC and SDP, they decreed during the Babangida transition to civil rule programme, they committed the parties to clear ideologies.
NPN promised qualitative rather than free education, but its core ideology was for the country to return to its agrarian economy and be able feed itself. Its green revolution programme was rooted in its ideology of our agricultural revival to free us from our near total dependence on food imports from Europe, the US, and South-East Asia. UPN and NPN offered us tough choices – enough food or free education. It is the beauty of competing political ideologies. It binds people with similar political thoughts together and helps to produce philosopher political thinkers who infuse governance with intellectualism and a clear vision for the future.
Ideologies have today fallen off the radar. That is no small loss in our national politics. In its absence, our political leaders are committed to nothing other than the naked and crass struggle for political power at all levels. None of our current political parties is marketing itself to the electorate on what it can do for them and the country through their articulated ideologies. The politicians of the second republic understood the nature of politics and its honoured place in human development and progress. Their counterparts in the fourth republic see things differently and allow their greed for power and empty ceremonies to trump competence and good governance.
The current nauseating claims and counterclaims of people decamping from one political party to another, reminds me of the run-up to the general elections of 1979 with similar toing and froing among the political parties. Some use the more violent word, dumping, as in what the nightsoil man does with human waste.
My stroll down my memory lane brought up this: NPP and NPN were the two dominant political parties in Plateau State. Almost every week, the very energetic Plateau State secretary of NPP, the late Dr Alex Davou Fom, regaled reporters with stories of his party’s successes in various villages in the state by progressively depleting NPN members. The decampees usually, as they do now, were said to number in their thousands.
I thought he and the other NNP leaders were ridiculing my newspaper. The nature of settlements on the plateau was such that most of the villages were small settlements with a few families. Some semi-urban areas such as Barkin-Ladi, Mangu, Pankshin and Shendam, had relatively higher populations but they were still relatively small semi-urban settlements. To save my newspaper from being ridiculed by the politicians, I instructed my reporters to ask for some concrete evidence of the decampees where possible.
Shortly after our editorial meeting one afternoon, my news editor, Yahuza Makongiji, accompanied by Chris Anana, a senior reporter, rushed into my office, laughing. Yahuza told me, “Chief, you must see this.” I followed them to the front of our office premises where many of our workers had gathered. I saw two lorry loads of Fulani herdsmen outside the gate.
Yahuza told me Fom had sent them to show me that people were really deserting NPN in large numbers. I could not demand for more concrete evidence of this than the presence of the Fulani herdsmen outside our gates. He made his point.
It intrigues me that the decamping game continues to play itself out by political parties throwing about the numbers of people they attract from rival political parties. There may be some truth in these claims, but they do nothing for our national politics in search of its soul and integrity. As we approach the forthcoming general elections, decamping and dumping claims will occupy the centre stage as the parties seek to ground themselves in the campaigns. Meanwhile, they have become the most common evidence presented by the political parties of their public acceptability.
Individuals leave one party for another and back again almost daily in search of vintage positions to pitch their tent. Nothing fundamental changes in the way the game is played. After all, APC, PDP, Labour, and the other mushroom political parties are merely groups of recircled men stuck in the same mud of inconsistencies and devoid of integrity in the search for power and the exercise thereof. People do not dump one political party for another because its ideology or public performances no longer conform with its original philosophy of governance. They are mere opportunists in permanent search of political opportunities.
It is a major affliction in our national body politics. Only the return to the basics of politics and governance undergirded by sound and articulated political ideologies can cure the parties of this self-inflicted injury. I know it is a long shot. We might as well wait for Godot.
Agbese can be reached via Email: [email protected]