In Nigeria’s fragmented politics, rise of coalitions make parties increasingly irrelevant
Having come to the realisation that a fragmented opposition may not be able to dislodge the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from power, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the splinter group from the APC – reformed APC, former President Obasanjo’s African Democratic Congress (ADC) and 36 other political parties merged on Monday to form the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) to solidify the opposition and increase its chances of wrestling power from the ruling party.
Not that the phenomenon of opposition mergers and coalition is new though in Africa. In the 1990s, it was realised that losing parties in some countries garner up to 60 percent of the total votes casts. Consequently, beginning from 2000 in Senegal, opposition coalitions or mergers have swept incumbents out of power more easily than expected.
Also, in Nigeria, the then ruling party was so entrenched that it boasted it will continue to hold power for the next 60 years. But a merger of the major opposition parties in 2014, comprising a splinter group from the PDP led to the defeat of the then ruling party- the first in Nigeria’s history – in the 2015 elections.
However, like Kingsley Moghalu, also a presidential aspirant of the Young Progressive Party avers, the coalition or mergers usually do not have an agenda to improve the lives of Nigerians but are just vehicles to capture power and advance personal interests.
In Nigeria, political parties are merely a means to get to power and wealth and party members do not have any ideological leaning or principles and jump from one party to another. The ultimate goal is to gain access to the treasury and dispense patronage – result of Nigeria’s oil propelled prebendal politics.
“It is interesting to note the MOU signed yesterday by the PDP and over 30 other parties. On the face of it, it is a legitimate move; after all, we are a democracy. However, we must be clear about what it represents: power for the sake of power, without any real agenda to improve the lives of Nigerians,” Moghalu said in press statement emailed to BusinessDay on Tuesday.
Political parties perform key functions in the political system like political education and socialisation, acting as a vehicle for aggregation of interests and, of course, serving as a vehicle for attaining power. But a key function of political party is its role in moderating contest for power between its members and helping to bring about orderly change of government when it becomes necessary. In South Africa, the ANC’s ability to peacefully ease out an obstinate Jacob Zuma out of office and immediately get its party leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, elected as president by parliament showed the pre-eminence of the party and its ability to discipline all party members regardless of rank or position.
Even in a less organised polity like Zimbabwe, it is the same kind of party cohesiveness and supremacy that prevented a spiral into anarchy the moment the veterans got fed up with Mugabe. Although Mugabe spurned all threats and cajoling by the Generals who staged a peaceful coup d’état to peacefully hand over power, he quietly acquiesced the moment his party, ZANU-PF, ordered its members in parliament to pass a vote of no confidence on him.
However, such orderly changes are not always possible in polities with weak party systems like Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, where parties serve only as vehicles for capturing power without the capacity to moderate contest for power among its members and ensure discipline. In such polities as Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, politics is often based on personalities and not on parties thus making it difficult to rein in recalcitrant politicians and effect peaceful change.
In Uganda, Yoweri Museveni deliberately ensures that the party remains weak and meaningless so that all powers revolve around him. He first outlawed all political parties and only allowed them later, but ensures they remain weak and incapable of challenging his hold on power.
In Kenya also, new parties are formed every election circle and withers away after the elections. Personalities, not parties, are the constant in politics and that is why when political contestations boil over, there is a resort to violence.
In Nigeria, new parties spring up always and both elected government officials and candidates traverse parties in search of structures to contest elections. Former president Obasanjo came out of jail to hijack the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, to contest and win the presidential election. He subsequently seized and controlled all party structures, deciding what must be done and who must occupy what position or contest elections even after leaving power in 2007. The moment his influence began to wane, he quickly burnt his party membership card and renounced his membership of the party. He went on to collaborate with a new party to wrestle power from the PDP. Now that he claims the new party has underperformed, he has joined the bandwagon of those looking for a new party to wrestle power from both the APC and the PDP to make both parties irrelevant in Nigeria.
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