Just imagine, in the United States of America from where we copied our presidential system, a governor seeking second term from the Democratic Party suddenly being disqualified and the Republican Party immediately admits him and starts positioning him for the ticket to contest the governorship as its torchbearer. The is exactly the equivalent of what happened in Edo State last week. Politics without ideas; politics for the sake of pursuit of power and power for no use but personal aggrandisement. It is not about the people who are considered mere pawns in the pursuit of the zero sum game where a winner takes all.
Today, a political party calls itself progressive and goes ahead to mouth propaganda as change agents when there is no difference between the two major parties – the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. At a time of great national crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the land; when criminals have taken over large swatches of land and killing an average of 20 persons per day and the federation of Nigeria is now insolvent as we are borrowing to pay salaries and deploying 99.3% of our retained revenue to debt service, the political leaders are not congregating in committees to think of the next steps – of how to get the country and its states out of the woods. Instead, it is just the raw pursuit of power and nothing else.
The Edo APC fiasco shows a purported democracy without democrats. Clearly, everyone now knew that the suspended APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was playing a godfather role to Governor Obaseki and they were supposed to share the spoils of power in accordance with their laid down agreement which was done not in the interest of Edo people but the selfish interest of the gladiators. Somewhere along the line, the falcon could no longer hear the falconer and things have fallen apart. The few details in the public domain were about who became the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, how positions in the state executive were to be shared and all kinds of power play issues that had nothing to do with the overriding public interest in the state. Before Edo people understood what was happening, members of Oshiomhole’s APC ward reportedly suspended him from the party, and this was approved up to the state level. This is the legal foundation of the push in the courts for Oshiomhole to vacate the chairmanship of the party. The courts seemed to agree with this line of reasoning that since he had been suspended by his ward, he could no longer function as national chairman. Oshiomhole lost it at the High Court, got a reprieve for a month or so and now the Court of Appeal has reaffirmed his vacation of office pending the determination of the main issues.
With the full understanding of the political jungle, Oshiomhole was convinced that as a former governor of the Edo State, he could not have been suspended from the party without the prompting of the governor who most likely had the line-up of the party at his beck and call. So, he went for the kill and used the machinery of the party at the federal level to disqualify Obaseki from contesting on the ticket for the party for a second term. Obaseki was wrong; Oshiomhole was also wrong. Two wrongs do not make a right. What was the exact sin of Oshiomhole that led to his suspension? Since the crisis, no one has mentioned the unbecoming conduct of the suspended chairman which led to his suspension, not at the national level where he presided but at the ward level. A system where some local manipulatable ward officials will be used by the puppet master to congregate for the sole purpose of sacking a national chairman cannot be described as democratic in any sense. On the other hand, turning the constitution of the APC upside down and selecting a screening and appeal committees solely for the purpose of disqualification of a governor who had been marketed to the Edo people as the best thing to happen to them since creation was a blatant abuse of power.
What is clearly lacking in the above scenarios is the doctrine of checks and balances and its application in the APC system. A situation where the governor is the virtual un-moveable mover of the party and determines the entire line-up of the parry, starting from the ward, local government, to state officials of the party cannot be democracy in action. The governor dominates his environment like a colossus and refuses to bulge or in any way share power with anyone. This is beyond the APC as it is the same position in the other parties. As a people very easy to enslave, governors find members of their party either expendable or purchasable or they use naked state power to whip members into line. Very few persons dare challenge the state governor who always rules as an Imperial Majesty.
On the other hand, godfathers are known to demand a pound of flesh before and after endorsing a candidate to become a governor. Nigeria’s recent political history has shown that godfathers hardly sponsor anyone to legislative positions. But they are often doing this in the executive, especially gubernatorial positions – a position which will oversee the finances of the state.This is the experience from Anambra, Lagos, Oyo and now Edo State. What is at stake is not just power for mere atarvism but power to take control of the purse so that an unelected person begins to determine how state resources are (mis) managed.
There is a way forward which needs to be chartered with legislation and policy. This is a call on the National Assembly to start work immediately on the amendment of the Electoral Act. The amendment should spell out provisions strengthening internal democracy in political parties, ensure the activation of one person one vote and remove the undue influence of both the governor and the godfather. The godfather should be tackled through a de-monetisation process of the political system. Furthermore, the courts should be made to play a positive role in the political crisis rather than the current situation where cases are scattered in different courts of concurrent jurisdiction; some court orders cancelling out earlier orders when the second court is not a Court of Appeal.
We cannot continue to ridicule basic notions of democracy and pretend that all is well and that we can develop through a manipulation of the system; allowing a few individuals to determine the fate of millions on the prism of their selfish interest. Democracy should be about the people and not a few well-heeled individuals. So, if the permutations go right, Obaseki will fly the flag of the PDP while Osagie Ize-Iyanmu will fly the flag of the APC, a reversal of the flags the bearers were holding four years ago.
The Edo people have a date with history. They should reject at the coming polls, all persons who have participated in this rape of democracy and its being subjected to ridicule. This is the only way to teach those who overreach themselves some lessons in democratic consolidation.