Of defections and political prostitution

One major difference in the politics of the advanced democratic nations and that of contemporary Nigeria is that one is highly “individualistic” while the other is still largely “communal”. By this I mean there is a greater degree of independence in one than exists in the other.

Whereas the divorce lawyer may not be summoned because a wife has chosen to hold a political view that is different from that of her husband, this may not be the case in a communal society where the choice made by one person could be taken, invariably, as the choice made by others.  It is precisely because of this communal culture that the phenomenon of defections, i.e. crossing over from one political party to another, attracts the attention it hardly deserves.
The ease with which our politicians change political party support clearly suggests that ideology is of little relevance in our politics. Our politicians are divided by their greed and selfish interests than by anything else.  Where there is commitment to ideology, a politician will not transfer his or her loyalty for the fear of competition by potential rivals.

It will take quite a while for the Nigerian party system to stabilize. The party system is evolving, still some kind of work in progress.  The one good thing to take from current observations is the potential for integration being exhibited by the presidency as a political institution.  There will be those arguing for Nigeria to return to the parliamentary system of government which was practiced in the First Republic, not least because it is believed to be less expensive than the presidential alternative.  However, when it comes to the issue of political integration, I shall be one of those arguing that the presidential system should be accepted as having come to stay.

A return to the parliamentary system will be a return to another era of ethnic political parties and the erstwhile culture of conspiratorial ethnic alliances. There is nothing to be nostalgic about in the practice of the parliamentary system as witnessed at the federal level of political governance until its deserved death on 15 January 1966.  The emergence of the PDP and the APC, as broad-based political parties, has revealed the centralizing influence of the presidency and proved beyond reasonable doubt that there is no place for ethnic political parties in the current dispensation.  A bit of tinkering with the constitution, especially at the level of leadership recruitment (rotating the presidency, for instance) could tame the spate of defections and political prostitution.

Anthony Akinola,
Oxford, UK

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