On Friday 30th December, 2023, upon invitation, the MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult Oseloka H. Obaze was the guest on the Atlanta Discuss with Ade podcast hosted by Ade Balogun. The discussions focused on party politics in Africa. Here are some nuggets from the conversation.
Discuss Video link: https://youtu.be/7k35jUraiQg?si=G3d6pQiNLD3R7hKq
What structures really existed in political parties in Nigeria and other African countries in pre and post independence, using Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa as examples.
Coincidentally, a seminal article titled, The Crisis of African Democracy by Comfort Ero and Murithi Mutiga has just been published in the January 2024 issue of Foreign Affairs. The piece looks at the nexus between party politics and the recent rise of military coups in Africa. Questions have been asked if this rise in military anti-politics is commensurate with rise of illiberalism in Africa’s democracies, hence a show of disillusionment and greater acceptance of authoritarianism as solution to Africa’s multifarious governance and development challenges.
As background, it’s worth recallig that Twenty-five (25) African countries became independent between 1960 and 1962. They were preceded by eleven (11) others sandwiched betweenLiberia in 1847 and Morroco in 1958. In Africa, most of the pro-nationalist parties that led the independence struggle became the successor leadership regimes. Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana -all British colonies, as it were, adopted the Parliamentary systems. The twelve (12) French colonies (Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon,) adapted to the French centralized federalist administration; a form of direct rule akin to presidential system. In places like Algeria, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mozambique and Namibia and to some extent Kenya, there were armed resistance, which psychologically shaped the eventual partisan politics and party leadership. Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa devolved to multiparty democracies, but in South Africa the sustained anti-apartheid struggle meant the ANC had to transform from a liberation movement to a political party.
In trying to replicate what existed in Great Britain, early Nigerian political parties were robust, forward looking and had ideological leanings. They made campaign promises. They offered hope! There were spirited efforts to accommodate differing political views, across ethnic and religious lines. Unfortunately, in Africa and Nigeria, political opposition was always perceived in its literary sense: as adversarial. That hasremained the case and invested African politics with combative colouration. This made alliances necessary but tedious, especially in multi-ethnic nations. At times, it led to splinters as was the case in 1979 between the Nnamdi Azikiwe led-NPP and the Waziri Ibrahim led-GNPP.
Nonetheless, in Nigeria, alliances were forged in the 1950s, 1960s and 2013, that yielded positive electoral results. Multi-party politics in Africa has undergone discernible shifts. We have just witnessed in 2023 the positive alliance replicated in Liberia under the Unity Party. The upshot is that consequently, single-party regimes were compelled to rethink and reorganize in the early 1990s. That phase of liberalization opened up the political process fostering more mainstream participation in the political process. That phase, according to Samuel Huntington was referred to as “the third wave of democratization” – the first and second phases being the pre-independent and post-independent phases.
What are the examples of countries where party supremacy held sway and was the norm in politics.
In post independent Africa, party supremacy held sway mostly in places that were one-party states. This started with Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah in 1964, followed by Julius Nyerere led Tanzania in 1965; and Hastings Kamuzu Banda led Malawi in 1966. Zambia under Keneth Kaunda embraced one party state much later, in 1972. After Idi Amin, Uganda became a one party state by default; after political parties were banned in 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni. Today, Uganda, SADR and Eritrea are considered Africa’s only one-party States. Rwanda’s status is rather ambiguous. But the heady question was and remains, whether African States under one party rule faired any better than those with multi-party systems, in terms of good governance, development and political stability? The cost-benefit ratio remains contentious; as is the case presently in Nigeria.
From the very outset, party supremacy held sway across Africain places like Tanzania, under Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM); and in Ghana; under Convention People’s Party (CPP). The other examples were post-independent Zimbabwe, and Namibia,and post-apartheid South Africa, where ZANU PF, SWAPO andANC freedom fighters’ credentials respectively guaranteed political positions, but also demanded strict hierarchical discipline and reverence to the supremacy of the party. This would explain why the ANC was able to force President Thabo Mbeki out of office, mid-term, on 24 September 2008. The common denominator was strong party leadership and strong liberation struggle credentials and camaraderie.
Educate us on when and how it all changed, with examples of history.
Party Supremacy in Africa showed first signs of faltering in the mid-1960s when pre-independent governance promises and deliverables did not match public expectations. Change came by way of military interventions. But military incursions into politics also had negative impact. It did not add much value: personalities like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Idi Amin of Uganda, Jean-Bédel Bokassa of CAR, Mathieu Kérékou of Benin and Samuel Doe of Liberia, were all bad leadership examples of soldiers-turned-politicians or military leaders turned civilian rulers. It is on record that “Of 492 attempted or successful coups carried out around the world since 1950, Africa has seen 220, the most of any region, with 109 of them successful.” After the spate of coups which coincided with end of the Cold War, de-emphasis of nonalignment and the advent of globalization, a wave of democratisation spread through Africa in the early 1990s. That era, as it were, represented the most significant political change in the continent; from the independence period. Today, the presidential system in Nigeria is seen as exceedingly expensive and not yet fully representative, thus the increasing calls for restructuring and return to a parliamentary system.
In the 2023 presidential election, what exactly did the Labour Party do well; and what does it need to improve on?
Emergence of the Labour Party (LP) was fortuitous; a leap of faith and an experiment of infinite possibilities. LP’s relevance went beyond public expectations, but fell short of the expected catalytic niche. As you are aware, party politics in Nigeria is a game of numbers and structures and as such, our retail politics are highly transactional. It was known and expected that money will play a critical ad significant role in 2023; and it did. What was totally unexpected was the deleterious impact of weak national institutions. Pervasive weak institutions sealed the deal, as INEC, security agencies and eventually the judiciary, capitulated.
By stealth, pro-establishment forces, also played a critical role, as did the so-called “Owners of Nigeria.” Combined, they did not want anyone in power, who they could not control; or had not ab initio negotiated balance of power, oil blocks and other largesse sharing with. It was a big risk – a risk they could not afford. An LP and Obi-Datti victory in 2023 would have resulted in the cashiering and retirement of a slew of old school politicians, bureaucrats and rent seekers. It was a tall order. The preference was to continue business as usual. And here we are.
Moreover, the mix of LP and Obidients was a paradox. LP had national leadership, but did not have structures nationwide; theorganic Obidient Movement had structures nationwide, but did not have identifiable national leadership that could interface directly and trustfully with the LP. Also, not every Obidient was a registered LP member. There were divided loyalties and a surfeit of distrust: loyalty to Peter Obi did not amount to loyalty to LP. This led to mutual distrust and collaborative dissonance. The entire process warrants an empirical study.
There is so much failure in governance today; why has the office of the citizen been abdicated, especially in Nigeria.
Failure in governance is an endpoint of the political titration resulting in Government abdicating its accountability and responsibility to protect. For their part, Nigerian citizens have also foreclosed on their responsibility to hold public office holders accountable. It’s a Catch-22 situation. The distrust gap between the leaders and the led has become a yawning chasm. I referred to this as the Waning Strength of Government, which is also the title of my 2021 book on governance in Nigeria. Also, political lethargy and broad resignation means that citizens are not as proactive as they ought to be: this unfortunately, ties into the longstanding primordial politics that was fully exploited in the 2023 elections.
As I wrote in my 2016 book, Here To Serve, “The most serious problem we face in Nigeria is not corruption, but greed and the lack of repercussion for underachievement. Who in Nigeria is ever held accountable for substandard performance?” On balance, Nigeria is not too big to fail. I’m cautious about labels; but she is not yet a failed state. She has not arrived at the scale and juncture of Somalia; the progressive indices are there, just as there is prevalence of numerous non-state actors – but on the scale and benchmarks, using percentages, we are not there yet, even as bandits occupy several local government areas in about five states.
Nigeria’s executive branch has since captured the legislative and judiciary arm of Government. Is there a panacea for Nigeria in the ensuing melee?
In a constitutional democracy like ours that calls for the Separation of Powers between the three arms of government; the relationship between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches is incestuous. It is in fact, dangerous. The result is State Capture. There are two critical elements here. First, is the Cancel Culture; which optimizes the zero-sum-game and the ‘us versus them’ in politics. The emphasis is that for us to get any office, political power or resources, we must ensure that the aspirations of others are cancelled and they must lose by any means possible. Second, is the existence of One-Nation-Two-Publics: This represents two contending publics in governance: the primordial public and the civic public.
Given Nigeria’s dissembling leadership groupthink and hubris, the bifurcation of government is made possible by the existence of the-cabal-in-governance syndrome and the unwillingness of the national elite to rally to a consensus on critical national issues like restructuring or power sharing. When Private Interests instead of Public Interest drive policies, national interest is subjugated; the people will always lose out. We are aware of these realities, yet the national elite continue to dominate sectoral and national politics, thus compelling the Civic Public to accept status quos that does not and should not represent normality. This is what makes it impossible to vote out or recall non-performing elected officials. Every recall effort since 1999, and there have been several, have failed.
Examples abound of amicable parting of component states of nations; we can do the Czech and Slovakia velvet model or hump Yugoslavia and Sudan kneejerk models that ended up in internecine conflicts. The panacea for Nigeria in the ensuing melee is probably a people-led and driven revolution, or waiting for the nation to implode. Change will come, but perhaps only when the cost of our staying together outweighs the costs of our separating; or when finally, our national delusion meets with our realities. (End)
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.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.