Policy Briefs

Democratic discontent and lessons from afar

 By Oseloka H. Obaze ~~

Discontent is a hardcore of Nigeria’s partisan politics mosaic.  Today, major Nigerian political parties       – APC, PDP, APGA and LP – are all beset by crises fostered by discontent.  Resultant party realignments are not necessarily in the public interest.  Had President Ibrahim Babangida’s two-party experiment worked, such realignments would make sense, as a means mainstreaming common cause.

Presently when the ruling APC should be settling down to delivering services, democratic dividends and other leadership accomplishments, the party is struggling badly. It is without any record of policy accomplishments. On its watch, Nigeria’s laggardly economy it inherited has tanked. Remedial measures relative to reducing the cost of governance, fiscal reform, improving power supply, growing the non-oil sector, generating wealth and growth and jump-starting the economy are bogged down. In their place, public discontent is rising. The arising crisis of confidence has prompted another electoral reform effort.

President Muhammadu Buhari has inadvertently fallen into the crevasse that leaders and governing parties customarily plunge into during difficult economic times.  Ironically, his ruling APC party has not helped him.  Members of his party are still buffeted by crises within the legislative branch; be it forgery charges against Senate President Bukola Saraki or the budget padding allegations pitting Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin against the House Speaker Yakubu Dogara.  Taken together, these party dissonances are distractive and retard political progress and economic development.

The forgery case against the senate leaders was inexplicably dropped.  Sen. Saraki may be right in stating that “much time has been wasted in pursuing this needless case and we hope that the same treatment will be extended to other politically-motivated cases.” Still his views are not necessarily exculpatory. Dropping the case is hardly a vindication, if indeed there was forgery. Arising question is whether the prosecution was compromised or if APC is resorting to PDP’s use of it’s “a family affairs” shibboleth to cover illegalities. Still the unfolding Tinubu-Oyegun spat speaks to a deeper crisis.

Nigeria is also suffering due to the leadership crisis rocking PDP. As the main opposition party, PDP is distracted and unable to mount concerted opposition or play that role fully.  In that vein, PDP has also failed as a key party in rallying bipartisan consensus on critical national interest issues, notably, salvaging Nigeria’s flailing economy.

Political parties are vital in sustaining any truly democratic government.  Yet when parties shirk their statutory functions, they become divisive and contribute to political and developmental retrogression.  Such disposition gives rise to and legitimizes public discontent. Last week, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the third and only other party controlling a state government, was rocked by internal crisis, resulting reportedly in the suspension of its National Chairman, Dr. Victor Ike Oye and some key party officers.  Discontent played a role in that still unfolding saga. Meanwhile, third party role in a democracy, which is focusing attention on issues and ideas, thus forcing the ruling party to align policies properly, remains unattended.

Perhaps, Nigerian leaders should borrow a leaf from British Prime Minister Teresa May’s speech at her Conservative Party’s annual convention.  PM May’s exhortatory and uplifting speech was akin to President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “Great Society” speech in which President Johnson enunciated the following: “The catalog of ills is long: there is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated. Worst of all expansion is eroding the precious and time honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference. Our society will never be great until our cities are great. Today the frontier of imagination and innovation is inside those cities and not beyond their borders.”   What President Johnson said in 1964 America can apply to 2016 Nigeria.

Further to her promise that her government “will be driven not by the interest of a privileged few, but by the interest of ordinary, working-class families,” Teresa May enunciated, her vision, philosophy and approach, meant to advance Britain despite prevailing realities. To recreate and reenergize a post-Brexit Britain, she perceptively called for the creation of a “Great Meritocracy”; a country “built on the values of fairness and opportunity, where everyone plays by the same rules and where every single person — regardless of their background or that of their parents — is given the chance to be all they want to be.”   Can there be a similar Nigerian quest? Definitely, if there is vision, honesty and sincerity of purpose.

Whenever America is challenged, its leaders respond introspectively.  Think of John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” speech. Contextually, in order to find the true essence of democracy in a post-Brexit Britain, Teresa May proclaimed, that it ought not matter “where you were born, who your parents are, where you went to school, what your accent sounds like, what god you worship, whether you’re a man or a woman, or black or white.”  These are values that divide and should be eschewed; but these are also values we accentuate in Nigeria, including which party one belongs to. Thus Nigerian parties control our politics, with crass rascality that promotes hubris in place of ideology.

President Johnson envisioned the “Great Society”, with a promise: “We are going to assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.” He did not say the assemblage will be Democrats only.  His vision, response and search parameters were non-partisan, which was what the national challenge called for.

As yet, no Nigerian leader has exhorted Nigerians compellingly to rise collectively to the challenges of nation-building. Rather, our diversity, which ought to be strength, is used as a divisive tool to snuff out any residual optimism about the well-being and potentials of the commonweal.  The only time Nigerians heard such a call, was Murtala Mohammed’s “Africa Has Come of Age” declaration — a compelling doctrine inserted into his speech to the Organization for African Unity (OAU) by Amb. Olu Adeniji, which resonated beyond our frontiers.

It’s a dodge to think of Nigeria’s problem as mostly fiscal and economic.   We lack inspirational leadership at all levels.  And painfully, Nigerians now accept that elected officials are in politics for themselves. Such cynicism is so deep-seated that purposeful politics is endangered; and the consequential discontent will always give rise to dissidents and intra-party and national rebellion. Our leaders may do well to draw on lessons from afar, on how to manage and uplift a nation in times of crises and economic and emotional depression.


Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Oseloka Obaze, MD & CEO

Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.

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