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Decline of Politics in the Age of Regional Agendas By Kayode Komolafe

March 21, 2012

It is tempting to misread the decline of politics on the horizon because the landscape is agog over political activities. At least, it can be safely put that politics of development is not squarely on the agenda of the forces hankering for power. To make progress, it is important to understand the political outlook. One of the conditions for this understanding is to get real about the delusions that politicians are parading. It is time the myths were exploded.
The illusions may not be obvious. But if you join the activities on display with an ideological thread it would not be difficult to locate the reality. Take for instance the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s national convention coming up this weekend. On the face of it, such a convention should be   adjudged as hugely significant in the nation’s political calendar. This is because we are talking of a party that controls power at the centre and in most of the states of the federation. In terms of size and reach the party is a conspicuous one in the polity. Indeed its enthusiasts relish in referring to it as the “largest party in Africa”, although a former chairman of the party once called it the “largest rally in Africa”.

As this newspaper argued in its editorial on Sunday, in political terms what PDP does or fails to do would invariably affect the polity. Whether the opponents like it or not, this party has maintained its dominance since the restoration of civil rule 13 years ago. Ordinarily, it would be expected that the PDP would be conscious of the enormous political responsibility this position in the polity places on it.  Unfortunately, that is not the case. Not a few of party members, especially the “chieftains”, see the party merely as a serviceable vehicle to board in their journey to electoral “victory”. Hence, in the build-up to this weekend’s convention, politicking has been exclusively about who becomes the national chairman.

The man’s role would be crucial when names of party candidates are to be submitted to the electoral commission in preparation for elections. Come to think of it, you can only be a candidate in an election on the platform of a party. Little surprise, therefore, that the man who supervises the forwarding of the list is technically important for future political calculations of the president and the governors. In actual political terms, the president and the governors run the party at the national and state levels respectively as if they are the proprietors. In the prevailing language of delusion, they are referred to as the “leaders” of the party at the national and state levels. This is the logic of every president choosing his own national chairman just as every governor his state party chairman.
Meanwhile, at varying degrees the PDP governments at the federal and state levels face huge governance challenges just like the governments controlled by other parties. There are fundamental issues of policy begging for thorough debates so that the best option would be adopted for the common good. In particular, at the federal level there is a clear crisis of policy disarticulation. None of these issues has featured in the heat generated by the convention. It is far from being idealistic to expect that a meeting of a political party of PDP’s stature at a time like this should have on top of its agenda the discussion of policy options to tackle the problem of poverty.

Although in some states, valiant efforts are being made in this anti-poverty direction, the PDP has never held a convention in which the polarisation is based on policy issues. The matter has always been about who gets what ticket or post. The reported disagreement between the governors and President Goodluck Jonathan is not about tax policy, job-creation or fixing the decay in public school. Yes, a lot of politicking is going on, late night meetings are held and caucuses are formed from the caucus. However, all these have little or nothing to do with condition of the people in whose name the politicians claim they exercise power. There is so much political heat with no light about what to do to improve the welfare of the people.
To be sure, the THISDAY editorial cited above is   in a way a compliment to PDP. After all, you could comment on the party’s standing because it is at least doing something – holding a convention based on its constitution. Many of the other political parties only keep their registration certificates waiting for the stipends from the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). They can also use the certificates to nominate candidates for elections or make deals with the papers   the way shareholders keep their certificates to show up for dividends, attend  the Annual General Meetings (AGMs) or sell the shares. Their voices are never heard in matters of policy. They have no alternatives to what the PDP has offered. Political parties should offer platforms for vigorous debates on the direction into which the government is leading the nation.  Most of these organisational contraptions are not bothered about such things. They are nominally political parties, in strict terms.
It is incontrovertible that election is not the only purpose for which parties are formed. Parties also have functions such as political education and mobilisation around issues based on their respective ideologies. In fact, a party may invest most of its resources and energy on popularising some important programmes and policies for which it would be readily identified. Politicians here talk glibly about an illusory post-ideology era as if there is any polity on earth where the serious business of governance can be conducted without ideas. Whether in the east or west of the globe, those saddled with governance responsibility take ideas seriously. When you dismiss the importance of ideas, then thinking can go on recess while you pretend to be governing. This grotesque phenomenon is at the heart of the delusion plaguing the polity. Politicians hide behind the smokescreen of ideologically neutral politics to rationalise their incompetence in policy articulation or to inflict on the people policies informed by their pernicious ideology.
It is a measure of the decline of politics that parties come alive only when elections are held. Win or lose they go to sleep after the election while waiting for another one. Some exceptions are, however, worthy of mention. The Action Congress has maintained a resonant voice in trying to keep the PDP on its toes on some issues. However, it is worth stressing the fact that  the occasional statements by its energetic publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is no substitute for a programmatic response to  what  the PDP is offering or fails to offer.

It is certainly not yet a policy debate. Mohammed, who seems to nurse a good nostalgia about the political culture of the Second Republic, would readily remember that the Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN) engaged the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in a more qualitative and productive manner. The National Conscience Party (NCP) has remarkably taken legal steps against the government on socio-economic rights as a way of drawing attention to welfare problems. More political parties should be active in other ways to make the political process more qualitative and responsive to the needs of the people. Elections would be meaningful when parties are voted on the basis of discernible programmes.
All the foregoing is not oblivious of the organisational constraints and corruption of political culture with which all the parties are confronted. It takes a lot of resources to have an effective organisation. The corruption of the process has not helped matters.

If you ask the average politician to name three things required   to put together a purposeful organisation he would readily tell you that they are money, money and money. Yet with a change of orientation things could be done differently. It may also sound paradoxical that this change of orientation is also a function of political parties. It is a task that must be performed. All told, it has not always been like this in the polity.

History should be the guide. If money was the only factor, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) under the leadership of Mallam Aminu Kano would not win elections in the old Kano and Kaduna states in 1979. The respective governments of Balarabe Musa and Abubakar Rimi in the two states offered a taste of how progressive policies could be implemented.
The consequence of this systemic decline of politics is that as parties go into hibernation regional gladiators rise to fill the vacuum. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, it is even more so in the context of politics.

That is why issues that should be on the programmes of political parties have been neatly crafted as agendas of make-shift regional organisations. It is no more party platform; it is now an era of regional agendas.  Instead of structured mobilisation by established parties to promote policy ideas for national development, regional meetings are conveyed to issue sometimes reckless and provocative statements. The quarrel is about how to have a greater share of the oil revenues. After all, economic management here is hardly more than how to distribute the resources accruing from the export of crude oil.

Listening to government officials, it appears that it takes economic wizardry to reverse the trend in which over 70% of the budget is spent as cost of governance, while the remaining is left for the projects that may not even be executed. The problem of the regions is hardly put within the context of the structural problems of the whole political economy. Regional agitators talk as if they can operate outside this moribund system to create their own micro-political economies. Monumental delusions indeed!
The focus of politics in this land should be on the   elimination of poverty. Yet it is a grand delusion to imagine that regional scrambling for a greater share of oil money alone will achieve this purpose.

Culled from ThisDay Live, wednesday 21st March 2012

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