CREATING A NEW PARADIGM FOR THE POWER GAME
It is a popular saying that politics is a dirty game. However, there are arguments that, quite like money, guns and power, politics is neither clean nor dirty but readily takes on the form that its players give it. Dirty politicians and political parties play it dirty while the clean ones play it clean. If this later argument is anything to go by, it would be proper to conclude that no effort to transform politics can succeed if it does not focus on transforming the players of the game.
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) probably subscribes to this argument, considering the just concluded All Political Parties Summit which it organized in attempt to re-orientate political parties in Nigeria. It also appears many political parties in the country not only hold this belief but are also tired of business as usual and desire a positive disposition in the general approach to politics in the nation. What with the massive participation of political parties in the summit despite criticisms from certain political interests?
The summit titled “Do the Right” Promote Good Political Culture” was conceived as part of the Agency’s mandate to promote value-orientation in all sectors. Further, it was in line with the Federal Government’s desire to promote broader understanding for constitutionalism in party politics towards deepening our democracy. It is particularly worthy to note that the theme of the summit, “Political Leadership, Security and Evolving Challenges of Democracy in Nigeria”, effectively captures the problem of perception as to the precise boundary of the role of Political Parties in democratic governance.
The summit identified the need for a Code of Conduct for Language Use to guide the public utterances of politicians especially during campaigns. It also recommended that every political party properly aggregates and articulates their ideas and policies in order to appeal to the electorate and gain advantage over other political parties. These were among several recommendations contained in a communiqué issued at the end of the two-day summit in Owerri, Imo State. The communiqué was also emphatic on the need to conform party constitutions with the provisions of the electoral law and the Nigerian Constitution so as to make for effective party discipline.
The communiqué predicated its recommendations on the observation that there was lack of integrity, patriotism, education and popular awareness as well as the presence of election rigging, improper use of religion, tribal campaign and the use of abusive language in Nigeria’s politics. These, it said, had contributed greatly to political violence in the country. It also observed that most political party leaders in Nigeria lack strong developmental conviction, transparency and accountability, thus impacting negatively on their followers.
The Director General of NOA, Mr. Mike Omeri who addressed the summit said the summit aimed at positively redefining the political disposition, culture and behavioral content of Nigerians in line with the sectoral approach of the Agency’s Do the Right Thing: Transform Nigeria campaign, noting that “if everyone shines his corner in whatever we do, the nation will meet its goal of transformation”.
“There is no gain saying therefore, that for our democracy to have more meaning, political leadership and the people need to have a proper understanding of the dependent interrelationship between the parties, and the government in power. It is clear that some political parties wait for the announcement of a government policy, or programme to criticize it, no matter how plausible, without offering an alternative view. Democracies survive with the respected views of the opposition.
“Over the years, a number of political actors in our land have become creators of violence and militancy in the land. This has had grievous effect in breeding insecurity and strife by creating a succeeding generation of militant political class who are deployed for the ‘job’. It is this undesirable conduct and trait that the NOA seeks to eliminate from our politics by collaborating with the key actors being the political parties without exception, whether in government or out of it, urging them to regard the development of the nation as a duty which must be accomplished”, he explained.
Chairman of the summit and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, represented by former Military Governor of Enugu and Ondo States, Col. Mike Lucky Torrey cautioned political parties to disallow their members from making direct attacks on the persons of their opponents and encourage them to have faith in the ballot box. He also admonished politicians to do away with the mindset that winning elections was the only way to be politically relevant, which mindset he said was the reason behind the do-or-die disposition of politicians. He urged then to take a cue from other developed democracies around the world where opposition parties find developmental avenues to make political impact.
Declaring the summit open, Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha commended the courage of NOA in taking up the task of changing the political culture of political parties which he said was in dire need of transformation if the nation was to witness the emergence of true leaders. He charged the Agency to take the message of political attitude change to all levels of the nation despite criticisms from certain political interests.
In a goodwill message, the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega, represented by the Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Celina Okoh noted with dismay that the collective quest for an efficient and credible electoral environment in Nigeria has been challenged by the occurrence of threats of violence and the failure of public orientation towards a culture of dialogue, mutual understanding and negotiated solutions to socio-political problems. He therefore restated the commitment of the Commission to partnering with NOA in building the right political culture in the nation.
In his paper titled “Party Discipline and Political Violence: Implication for Peace and Security in Nigeria”, former House of Representatives Majority Leader, Hon. Mohammed Wakil argued that although party discipline was of great importance in checkmating the excesses of politicians especially when their actions are detrimental to peace and security in the polity, such discipline should not be malicious or too rigid so as not to create bad blood in the party thereby being counter-productive.
Tracing the historical experience of the nation from a political perspective, former Director General of NOA, Prof. Aloy Ejiogu in his paper, “The Ills of Party Politics in Nigeria: Trends and Implications”, described religion as the most salutary weapon for political mobilization in Nigeria and hence an infiltrating pollutant in the nation’s politics, although he acknowledged that “in its purest form, religion is harmless”. He further argued that “the cleavage within each of the ‘big’ religions is too enormous for healthy politicking… It needs no soothsayer to predict the dangerous consequences of any intrusion of these mutually rival religious institutions and their staccato views and demands on the body polity. Generally, Muslim and Christian identities have been the major foci of any discourse on religious differentiation in the country… Religion per se is not the problem, rather the problem is with what I chose to call identity religion – using the institution of religion to embarrass, lobby, cajole, attack and sabotage political policies, programmes and processes. Using religion as platform to deceive the people is unacceptable”.
Dr. Eme Ekekwe was of the firm position that party platform, manifesto and programmes were insufficient on their own without the solid base of credibility. In a paper titled “Integrity, Transparency and Accountability as Requirements for Excellence in Political Leadership”, he posited that “the electorate must see most of the members of that party as those they can do business with: those to whom the electorate can trust its welfare because they understand and can, therefore, represent those interests in the political space. This is the point at which integrity and leadership coincide and become mutually reinforcing”.
Concluding his discourse on “The Role of Political Parties in a Democracy”, Dr. Saleh Dauda of the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the University of Abuja stressed that despite the shortcomings of party politics in Nigeria, democracy cannot survive without political parties. “Political parties are clearly involved in political socialization, recruitment, mobilization and goal formation. The institutionalization of political parties in Nigeria is hampered by several factors viz: lack of ideology, constant military intervention in politics and fractionalization of political parties”. He observed, among other things, some common characteristics of political parties in Africa which include a predominant single party, normally either the pre-transition incumbent or the party that won the first transition elections and; a proliferation of small, weak parties normally centered on a well-known public figure (often with regional support) but devoid of organizational extension and structure. Contrasting these with western and developed democracies, he called for the necessary restructuring and realignment of existing political parties in Africa and particularly Nigeria for a more vibrant polity.
Going by the robust discussions and consensus amongst participants at the All Political Parties Summit on the urgent need for a positive change of attitude among politicians and parties, there is no gainsaying the fact that the National Orientation Agency is on track to achieve its purpose for organizing the summit. It is therefore in the best interest of the nation and the body polity for the few politicians and political parties that have not yet identified with this re-orientation drive of the Agency to buy in for the good and progress of our democracy.