By Charles Onunaiju
DESPERATE infighting for turf, corners and booties have been and are still the perennial nemesis and Achilles heel of any ruling or governing party in Nigeria.
In the current Fourth Republic, weak party structure, opaque political platforms or what some say is lack of ideologies, pervasive influence of money, conflation of party and state where public treasury is seamlessly aligned to party finance, patronages and sundry activities, including ferocious contest over who or which clique will hold the party by the jugular, are the real stuff of party politics.
Because of the well known fact that contesting election under the platform of a ruling party gives an undue advantage of electoral victory, the race to secure the ticket or nomination of a ruling party is exactly what former President Olusegun Obasanjo called “a do or die affair”.
For a measure of the omnipotence of the ruling parties, elections superintended by state electoral commissions, normally under the ruling party government in the states, returns a 100 per cent victory for the ruling party and it is widely joked that a goat or sheep listed in the platform of the ruling party has absolute chance of a council seat in the local government administration.
Currently, the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, is in the run of its own blood-let as it hemorrhages away the tiny remnant of its political credibility that propelled it to victory five years ago.
A ferocious fight is underway with the momentary victory of the faction of the suspended national chairman, Mr. Adam Oshiomhole, that has effectively clipped the wings of Mr. Godwin Obaseki by denying him the second run for the governorship of Edo State on the trumped up charges of irregular NYSC certificate and anti-party activities. The turf war of Obaseki and Oshiomhole over the control of the state is typical of ruling party mayhem in the country and not particularly strange to any discerning observer.
Obaseki, who was enthroned to the state highest office, bared his fangs too early to his benefactor; just like Mr. Ambode, former governor of Lagos who wanted to be his own man in the early political season, only to be badly bruised and then banished to political wilderness. Even the ministerial job that was taunted to compensate him for not putting a fight eluded him.
Obaseki probably knew that groveling or fawning at the feet of a desperate political king-pin does not pay; so he chose to fight, but he did not understand that in politics, as in war, you don’t tighten the noose around your enemy without a tiny breathing space or escape route which can serve as a point of political compromise.
When the APC national working committee opted for direct primaries against delegate primaries, Obaseki who claims to seek peaceful resolution of differences with Oshiomhole, rammed through executive order banning large gathering, ostensibly to upend the party direct primary.
Obaseki would have been certainly naïve if he expected that having foreclosed the chance for the party to hold its preferred method of primaries, the party would have allowed a primary for which he is an aspirant to hold on his terms.
Had he allowed the party primary to hold as arranged by the party national working committee, there is a possibility, he can negotiate a fair and transparent process, or at least plugged the gaping hole that allowed the party national organ to forward its preferred candidate for the governorship of Imo State.
While the former governor of Imo State, Mr. Rochas Okorocha was busy with a primary election that would return his son-in-law, the party organising committee for the primaries just breezed in and out of the capital, only to have the national party organ submit the name of its anointed candidate to the independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Obaseki’s disqualification is not unexpected given that he initiated the extreme act that attracted a more lethal reaction.
The Oshiomhole/Obaseki face-off, which featured bruising battle of wits, is part of the larger challenge that has historically dogged ruling parties. Because the capture of state power and exercise of it, with little or no restraint at all, is the crown jewel of electoral victory, especially inside the ruling party, the process leading to party nominations is in most cases desperate, ruthless and reckless. The former ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was also bruised with party infighting in its heyday as substitutions of candidates were its normal routine.
The beleaguered fate of ruling parties in Nigeria is not unconnected with the weakness of state institutions. Parties, especially the ruling or governing parties, are the route to the capture of state institutions which are in turn used to patronise the party. Ruling parties are generally able to manipulate supposedly independent state institutions. The desperation to get on a ruling party nomination is mostly because of its proclivity to influence the electoral process.
But, what appears as the advantage of a ruling party is equally its Achilles heel or nemesis. The bitter rancour within the ruling parties grows incrementally and becomes explosive to be managed. Already, the ruling APC is on the troll. Unable to manage the desperate and vaunting ambitions of its gladiators in Zamfara State, the party lost a clear election victory to court interventions.
In the case of Edo State, the Oshiomhole/Obaseki tango would ensure that an APC victory and even a victory for Obaseki and his new party would be far from certain. What is likely certain is that the election in Edo State will be more of armed conflict than civic engagement. The APC, which claims progressive ideology, has demonstrated that it is no better than former ruling parties whose desperate scramble for booties and manipulation of state institutions were their nemesis.
The APC, which campaigned to vigorously end impunity, restore the dignity of state institutions and entrench internal party discipline and democratic values, have now been caught up in the web of the worst excesses of a ruling party in Nigeria. Nigeria’s political process is still at crossroad and normal politicians of whatever party are still trapped in the mud of personal and group aggrandisement with only contempt for the people.
The party system is far from a civic forum to articulate challenges of society; while a government formed from political parties is far from being a serious mechanism for engaging the challenges of society and improving the conditions of the people.
Onunaiju is a journalist and research fellow at an Abuja-based Think-Tank.
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