The Open Political Space And Its Politician Enemies

May 19, 2010
4 mins read

About two weeks ago, ex-governors, under a platform called “Governors’ Forum 2007”, paid a “surprise” visit to the House of Representatives, and “DEMANDED (not ‘requested’; My emphasis!) a return to the two party system that was prevalent during the ill-fated Third Republic in Nigeria”. Those on the journey of demand included Chris Ngige, Achike Udenwa, Abubakar Audu, Peter Odili, Abdullahi Adamu and Adamu Aliero; they were led by Victor Attah. THISDAY newspaper of May 5, 2010, reported that “the delegation expressed disgust at the over-crowded political turf and urged the House to slash down the fifty-seven political parties in the country to a ‘bearable number’ before the 2011 elections”. In response, Speaker Dimeji Bankole said there was “an indication that the House was thinking in that direction….The House of Representatives is prepared to prune down the number of political parties…”

Since that visit, a lot has taken place on the anti multi-party track in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, May 13, 2010, THE NATION newspaper reported a “rowdy session” in the House “as proponents and supporters” of a two party system “battled to have their way”. Minority leader, Mohammed Ndume proposed an amendment to Section 80 of the Electoral Act, seeking the addition of Section 80(2) that “will make provision for two political parties in the country”. The report added that “a deafening shouts of ‘two, two’ by members of the House followed the suggestion. It took more than 20 minutes to restore order in the chamber as members continued to shout ‘two, two’ with some displaying this with their fingers” The following day, May 14, THE PUNCH newspaper reported a new twist; while some continued their support for two parties, others came out for five as a ‘middle course’. The report said most PDP governors did not like the idea of two parties, because “the proposal may consume the PDP. There are many aggrieved people in the PDP right now who are certainly going to seize the opportunity to form a vibrant opposition”; therefore governors told their members “not to rush into accepting the two-party proposal”.

So far, the idea has not been settled one way, but other elements of the political elite, like Bola Tinubu and Chief Akande of the Action Congress, have consistently supported a two-party system by fiat, such as Babangida’s contraptions of SDP and NRC. It is instructive that the governors who went to the House of Representatives have no democratic antecedents. They did not participate in the struggle against military dictatorship but were beneficiaries of the Nigerian people’s struggle against tyranny; however, they are instinctively wedded to the narrowing of the political space, hence championing the reduction of the number of political parties in Nigeria. Let us be clear about it. Historically, there has always been a tendency towards two broad political coalitions within the Nigerian ruling class. In the First Republic, there were the NNA and UPGA coalitions, literally replicated in the Second Republic, when the NPN juggernaut was opposed by the PPA alliance of the other four political parties in the country. By military fiat, Babangida herded politicians into two parastatals called SDP and NRC, to better control and eventually, stifle the political space during his dictatorship.

While the earlier traditions we spoke of did not assume the presumptuousness of closing the political space to smaller parties, the Babangida example which the political clowns hanker for, was not an advertisement for democracy, given its bastard origins within the wombs of military dictatorship. Those who “demanded” for legislation by fiat, to close the space, also deceive themselves. The Electoral Act is not superior to Nigeria’s Constitution, which guarantees the right of Nigerians to freely form political parties. It was a victory that Gani Fawehinmi won in the Supreme Court for lovers of an open democratic space in Nigeria. I checked these facts with Femi Falana last Thursday, and he added that the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights states it clearly just as protocols of ECOWAS. Given that background, why are our political elite so enamored of an anti-democratic instinct of narrowing the political space to exclude social and political forces uninterested in their politics of brigandage, looting of national resources and massive rigging of elections? If there are 100 political parties, isn’t that the price to pay for an open democratic space? The Indian political space, for example, is very plural, and many small and a few very big political parties compete to run states and the country. That is why Indian ballot papers are very long to accommodate these parties; however there is a consensus for democracy, therefore elections are managed responsibly.

The Nigerian political elite wants to impose a two party system by fiat, to consolidate the political space in the hands of two groups of bandits who hold the monopoly of looting Nigeria but periodically change baton amongst themselves, while the people are bystanders used to choose between the two groups of robbers. We must insist on plural politics in an open democratic space. Let a thousand flowers bloom, as the Chinese say. In a democracy, political parties can exist to win states or even local government areas, after all, all politics is really local. We don’t improve democracy with just two political parties committed to nothing, just as we know our elite stand for no great ideas for national transformation. There is the serious level to democracy, but there is also the comical, which cannot be ignored, even in the context of ruling class hegemonic projects. In Britain, there is for example, the Monster Raving Looney Party, regularly appearing in electoral contests it can never win, but remains to let off political steam. Then there are smaller parties dedicated to causes like the environment. That is the meaning of democracy in action! We should not let them take away the space of open political party formation from the Nigerian people; many Nigerians died to earn us that space, at a time when the politicians visiting the National Assembly or making the laws to close the political space, were cozily in bed with military dictatorship.

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