One of the common refrains we have been hearing since the conclusion of Nigeria’s presidential election is that Nigeria’s political parties are way too many. Many of those who are most irritated by this development are those who have refused to participate in the political process but see themselves as perpetual analysts. This group of people believe they are cleaner, better and need not get involved in the process. The other group of complainants are in the political process as beneficiaries of the entrenched parties who have now developed a sense of entitlement to Nigeria’s political future. There is a palpable irritation with the fact that 73 Nigerians out of perhaps 190 million (0.0000384 per cent) vied for the presidency in the last election, even though at least 52 of them stepped down for either of the two ‘big’ political parties, while at least two others stepped down independently or had court cases which knocked their parties out of reckoning. So we are actually talking about less than 20 candidates at the end of the day.
There is a simple psychology at play. Those who ask ‘why are all these guys contesting for presidency?’ fail to see that there are thousands of other people contesting for every position. Replace any of those contesting for the smaller positions with those contesting for presidency, and the same argument will come up: Why are you guys contesting for presidency? In the year 2019, a 45 years old person has become too young to contest for the highest office, whether the Constitution approves of it or not. We prefer to keep worshipping our old oppressors who have been in and around the political scene since they were in their 20s or 30s. What we offered this time, is an all-round challenge. We refuse to be cowed by anyone. We staked a claim to the leadership of our country, full stop. Winning or not winning is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Many commentators on the subject have asserted all sorts of things. We have heard that just anybody can start a party for their fancies (usually said with a high degree of consternation and irritation). We have heard that all the parties have no ideologies (not true as an ideology is one of the things required by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for party registration). We have heard that the barriers are too low for forming a political party (perhaps correct, but those complaining are like people who refuse to enrol for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations on the pretext that they are too simple. Is illiteracy an option?). We have heard that all the parties have been formed in order for their backers to take financial advantage. Whereas I can’t speak for all political parties, I can assert unequivocally that anyone who has joined the political fray for good, is way ahead, more consequential, and more futuristic and therefore productive than those whose heads are still in the clouds and who believe that their non-involvement is an advantage to them.
The formation of many new political parties is a collective cry for help – and our people say you cannot beat a child and command her not to cry. Many fairly young people came together in reaction to decades of malgovernance and plunder. Before this time out, the leadership of political parties had been confined to the old generation and the occasional few who bow and kowtow to them in a certain dehumanising way – and are therefore schooled in the science of social plunder. There was therefore a need to do something new; to start something of our own for good or ill, and see how far we could go. The initial parties which are now known as ‘big’ political parties had enjoyed something that is no longer available for the new parties – huge funding from INEC/government. This has given them a major head-start that the new parties could perhaps never catch up with. Parties like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (ANPP), Labour Party (LP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and so on had received billions from government for years and some of them managed to use that same funding to wangle their ways into several government houses, including the presidency. The All Progressives Congress (APC) is a product of that era and the billionaires that the government made out of mere chancers. These parties did not solve the problems of Nigeria, they only worsened and multiplied our woes. On what basis should we snigger at, belittle, and hope to obliterate with a wave of the hand, parties formed with the people’s sweat, in view of the perennial and spectacular failure of the old, funded ones? What would we have achieved by solidifying the same contraptions that got Nigeria to the point of being the country with the worst global indices ever? Are we desirous of progress or are we just faffing about, kicking the can down the road?
Some of the commentators have also proposed that parties that cannot get any candidate into the National Assembly should be scrapped. They did not indicate for how long a party is meant to try before being considered a failure. Yet others propose that the scrapping should be based on the number of votes secured in an election where the same people support the obvious fact of irregularities, and a culture of systemic rigging. The smaller parties who couldn’t afford polling agents all over the country are the worst victims of the rigging that APC and PDP is accusing themselves of. The results look very random and the outcomes tell of a gorier future for Nigeria. We have seen too many video evidences online of how these guys do it. It is sad that despite our ‘infantile’ efforts to see what we could change, we still have almost 20 governors being elected into the Senate, and I am not even happy that one outlier we have seen so far is Ifeanyi Ubah (who scored 88,000 plus votes to be ‘elected’ into the Senate on a political party where its hardworking presidential candidate could not find a quarter of that vote), a man who owes the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) – and by extension poor taxpayers in Nigeria, at least N160 billion, which he is refusing to service. With Ubah and Orji Uzor, we are not making progress at all. So nobody should say ‘why didn’t you contest for Senate?’ because I don’t have ‘money’ (or access to your taxes) to match the Ubahs/Kalus and sitting governors. No one should think it is easy to get into any office with our political setup today. Some of the smaller offices are even harder to get into, and one must question whether you want to start a political career in order to get consumed in it all and become part of the problem. That is not my vision. If I want money, I will try and get that in the private sector.
Finally, I will urge Nigerians to get rid of our miracle mentality. New parties have only recently come on board. They have been involved in just one general elections. Neither the parties, nor Nigerians in general should expect that they start to win elections everywhere. Structures take time to build, especially when you try to get people to ‘invest’ their salaries in political projects. What matters most though is to START. That we have done. And the government – or INEC – will hit legal brickwalls if they wake up one day and hope to strike off even the smallest and most unserious parties. Perhaps it is also time for new parties to sue for their own government funding. Some of us are so frugal, accountable and transparent that we can transform the political space if given a hundredth of what they so-called ‘big parties’ have enjoyed over time.
Nigerians have to interrogate the workings of our own minds though. We often buy duds. And we often embrace that which is toxic for our own good. We have shown clearly that we do not have the patience or foresight to support profoundly honest efforts targeted at our own emancipation. Hence where we find ourselves. Just to help us with all the irritation at having many parties, I did a research of how many parties there are in a few countries. They have two main parties divided along ideological lines in the U.S.A (you will not find people dashing about from Republican to Democrats and back as it happens between APC and PDP here). They also have 38 minor parties who contest for the presidency and 49 regional parties. That is 89 parties in the U.S.A. India has 1,600 political parties and over 900 million voters. The U.K. has 40 parties. South Africa has 68 parties. We should be speaking about how to transit to electronic voting and save this nation costs, while ensuring the integrity of our elections, not how to strangulate honest ideas because we have none of our own, or harbour too much belief in failed political contraptions that have ruined the nation. We should brace up as more political parties will be registered no matter how INEC is able to increase the barriers. People must express themselves. Let everyone who can put a group together for the dissipation of the tension in the land do so. Our people understand that you have to keep trying for solutions until a problem is solved. And Nigeria cannot be anybody’s slave camp.