Party oligarchy and democracy

Parts of the selling points for democracy is that it is an antidote to tyranny and other forms of autocratic tendencies associated with monarchy, oligarchy and other forms of government because of its transparency. But the rough road to democracy itself is through political parties, properties of an oligarchy of a few powerful individuals who see political parties as investment for higher dividends. The mistake we often make therefore is to assume political parties, often a refuge for all manners of ‘selfish interest’ groups, are haven of angels on a God’s mission to protect the less privileged from their oppressors.

The truth is that political parties are owned by investors, made up, on advanced democracies, of aristocrats, former office holders, current and aspiring office holders. Here at home, the Nigeria National Democratic Party, (NNDP), the first political party in Nigeria formed in 1923 was owned by Herbert Macaulay. In the run up to independence, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was inherited by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and his fellow elite members; Action Group (AG) was owned by Obafemi Awolowo and his fellow old western regional elite members while the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) was owned by Ahmadu Bello and his fellow northern conservatives.

Unfortunately, this was a fact lost on our ill-equipped military who upon their violent take-over of power, attempted to sever the umbilical cord between the mother and the baby by barring past owners of political parties from party formation. The irony was that those who preached ‘ownerless’ party or party without ‘founders but of equal joiners’ ended up imposing their own decreed political parties.

First was Babangida’s short-lived decreed NRC and SDP; then Abacha’s five parties (five fingers of a leprous hand) for which he was their sole presidential candidate and then Abubakar Abdulsalam midwifed PDP, a party described by John Campbell, former US envoy as ‘an elite cartel at the centre of power in Nigeria that came together for sharing of oil rents and political spoils’.

The party between 1999 and 2015, lived that creed with its oligarchs made up of retired soldiers and their new-breed politicians engaged in vicious battle over the sharing of the nation’s resources through privatization, monetization and constituency projects policies or through cornering of about 20% of the nation’s annual budget as salaries and allowances.

While what they described as “family quarrel” over stolen national resources went on for 16 years, PDP agenda including roadmap to stable electricity, agricultural revolution, end of massive importation of foreign goods as well as fight against corruption under Obasanjo; President Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda as well as President Jonathan ‘transformation Agenda’, remained a mirage.

APC is tarred with the same brush. Many frustrated Nigerians have said the only difference between PDP and APC is that the former is an institution where all Nigerian looters graduated from and the latter their post-graduate school. In August 2013, the All Progressives Congress unfolded its own eight-point cardinal programme – devolution of power, accelerated economic growth and affordable health care, electricity, generation, war against corruption, food security, integrated transport network and free education. Like the PDP, the party with its control of 65 seats in the 109-seat senate, 190 of the 360 lower house seats and about 21 of the 36 state governors after the 2015 victory failed to deliver on those goals.

In October 9, 2000, the late Professor Sam Aluko identified a cabal made up of fuel importers as being responsible for importation of fuel and had advised that “Total PLC that manages 17 refineries all over the world should be invited to fix our own”.

Eleven years after, and six years of APC, none of the refineries works.

But unlike PDP that brought to the fore their family war over illegal sharing of our resources including the $180m Halliburton contract scandal, the N1.7t fuel subsidy scam (Bukola Saraki was the whistle blower), $16b power generation scandal, the national identity card scam for which a serving minister went to jail, the derailed Nigeria-China railway project, the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemicals Company (KRPC)’s N700b annual loses in addition to the loss of a whopping N12 billion annually on staff salaries of a company that has almost been converted to a container making firm, (Report of Magnus Abe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (downstream), the APC ‘fights corruption among his supporters with deodorant’.

In fact, APC has been expanding its shareholder’s base by welcoming into their party, those PDP members put on trial for corruption by PDP between 2003 and 2015. ‘Join APC and your sins will be forgiven’, once chorused Adam Oshiomhole, one-time APC chairman. ‘We cannot stop sinners from going to church but prevent them from taking over the pulpit’ added Babatunde Fashola, Minister for Works. Ababakar Malami, the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice even tried to smuggle into the civil service, an accused fugitive offender indicted by the National Assembly report for embezzlement of pension funds.

If anyone is still in doubt political parties are owned by investors, the bitter battle over the souls of the two leading political parties during their recently concluded congresses and convention was all that is needed. Nyeson Wike, the self-confessed chief financier of PDP since the party lost power in 2015 celebrated his victory by displaying his dancing skills. As for the APC, although President Buhari out-witted other shareholders after the 2019 election by imposing his own man and relocating the headquarters to Aso Villa, the battle for the soul of APC in the states by party oligarchs was no less fierce.

In Rivers State, Senator Magnus Abe insisted during their parallel congresses that he, unlike his rival, Rotimi Amaechi, was a founding member of APC. In Ogun State, incumbent Governor Dapo Abiodun believes Amosun has lost part of his investments by engaging in anti-party activities during the run up to the 2019 election. In Osun, Governor Gboyega Oyetola tried to impress it on Minister Rauf Aregbesola, his predecessor that all politics is domestic. In Kwara, the battle to dethrone Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq was premised on lack of transparency in the disbursement of campaign donations.

In Kano State, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje leveraged on his being the chief financier of the party in the state in his battle for supremacy against Senator Ibrahim Shekarau.

While democracy is antithetical to dictatorship, the owners of the political parties without which democracy can thrive are oligarchs. We have seen dictatorship of the party at play in advanced democracies such as USA where the Republican Party has become Trump’s party and where Biden cannot get his party agenda through because of in-fighting among vested interests in his Democratic Party. Nearer home, we remember how ineffective Prime Minister Balewa left the nation rudderless as he waited for arrival of Ahmadu Bello, the principal shareholder in NPC from pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia by which time it was too late to save the First Republic.

To therefore think the time will come when the current oligarchs that own PDP and APC will place our interest before their investments is to live in a fool’s paradise. I can hear them say the Bible has not said they should love others more than themselves. The law of nature which allows the strong to feed on the week is on their side.

For our youths, the future of the nation who desire change, form your own party like your forbears did instead of EndSARS or IPOB terror or better still, join PDP and APC and out-invest the reigning oligarchs as some of the current governors are trying to do.

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