Court-suspended All Progressives Party (APC) chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, a few days before his ouster, subtly flexed his power muscles and demonstrated a commendable grasp of African proverbs and aphorisms. Taking to his Twitter handle to do this, Oshiomhole had announced that, “You don’t run after a snail. When you’re ready (to make it a cuisine), you pick it up and put it in a bag.” In other words, insinuated Oshiomhole, his smallish stature did not correctly approximate the power he wields. The Iyamho-born former Edo State governor seemed to be announcing that he was a political hare who wouldn’t engage in a puerile run with a snail-like Obaseki to establish who between them had a hold on the forest.
Indeed, as at this time of the said tweet, Oshiomhole had demonstrated to the Edo governor, Godwin Obaseki, that he was a small snail who pretended to be a hare in the race for a hold on the soul of Edo State. To pick the snail, Oshiomhole spurned all manners of yarns, from the laughable to the ridiculous. The one that threw watchers of the snail-picking roulette sprawling with laughter was the Iyamho-man’s accusation that Obaseki didn’t possess a valid certificate. Even when the University of Ibadan came out to disclaim this, Oshiomhole was not done, the name on the certificate was mis-spelt, his clique claimed further. So, did he just acquire the certificate? How come the APC government of Oshiomhole, which nominated him, didn’t see this then but now?
Before any further deliberation on the moral bankruptcy in the said certificate’s scrutiny, the APC, under the stranglehold of Oshiomhole, like an enraged cuckold, spiked Obaseki off the primary election contest. And Obaseki began to scamper from one known enemy to the other for safety. He scampered to Bola Tinubu, who is author of this notorious script which Oshiomhole cloned and who patented this ignoble system of choke-holding political godsons, having played the script in Lagos with Akinwumi Ambode. From there, seeking redemption even from the ranks of his political traducers, he ran to a Muhammadu Buhari who is known to occupy a different hemisphere from ours here. And Oshiomhole, who had picked this miserable-looking snail for dinner, danced like a conqueror.
Oshiomhole had however barely picked the snail up when it surprisingly transformed into an ant-infested faggot. The snail has since been stinging him and his party on all fronts. Issues began to unfurl at supersonic speed in the APC. Oshiomhole’s ouster was announced by the court a few hours after and intra-party dissonances boomed like dynamites. Bukola Saraki, on whom Oshiomhole had spat his renowned venomous sting, had to come out from his sabbatical to dance on Oshiomhole’s political grave. “While I have kept my cool and ignored all the verbal attacks directed at me by the suspended chairman of @OfficialAPCN, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, I have always known that a day like this would come when his masquerade will dance naked in the market,” Saraki said. Though not strictly an allegory but an analogy, Saraki here, and corroborated even by members of the APC Governors’ Forum, was alluding to a combative, destructive and ego-propelled chairmanship of Oshiomhole that had damaged more than it repaired in his few years of being in office.
In this melee, Obaseki, apparently aware of the door-less entrances and nil sentries manning the gates to Nigerian political parties, just removed the broom-embossed face mask he wore previously, leisurely walked into Emperor Nyesom Wike, the Rivers State governor’s Wadata Plaza mansion, and emerged therefrom the next minute wearing an umbrella-embossed mask and cassock. To this, he received thunderous applauses from his supporters who failed to understand that Obaseki had just, in a few steps of drama, explained why Nigeria is incapable of moving forward in all spheres of development.
As embattled and as advertising all that is wrong with a political party system as the APC is, you would think that its rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holds any better hope for the polity. No. This probably was what Wike wanted the world to believe in his widely advertised pun aimed at Oshiomhole, his political nemesis. While Obaseki was on a self-rescue run from pillar to post, he had met Wike who, in pursuit of the bid to advertise APC’s obvious irresponsibility but his own party’s responsibility, had brought out the equivocation that seems to be in the ruling national party’s gene: “Obaseki was disqualified by someone who doesn’t have a certificate. What an irony!” he had said.
Wike’s pun hit a bull’s eye. Even the authenticity of Oshiomhole’s primary school leaving certificate is still in contention. To parody Wike, isn’t it a great dramatic irony that the man who is seeking equity in certification doesn’t himself have a certificate? As an aside, one may need to ask why possession of genuine certificates has become a consistent scarce commodity among top-notch members of the APC? Or even among other political party ’big-wigs? From Tinubu, Buhari, Oshiomhole and now to Obaseki, the most consistent thread that runs through them is public cynicism over the certificates they claim to parade. Is this a symbol of something much more profound than can be seen on the outward? Or is it a general Nigerian phenomenon? While this tendency to defraud is not native to the APC alone, the most ironic is that the ones from other parties whose certificates seem to be genuine display crude manners of persons who had never seen the four walls of a school.
The truth, however, is that there is no single difference between the two major political parties and the characters that populate them; they are both cesspits of rot, intolerance, selfishness, shamelessness, despotism, etc and advertisement of all that is wrong with the Nigerian political leadership. What explains the two parties succinctly is the famous allegory of the dog and tortoise told in Yoruba homes of pre-independence and even up till the very early 1980s. I dwell on the allegory in brief here:
In a village where both of them resided, Tortoise and Dog were both renowned to be allies, united by thieving inclinations. This particular day at nocturne, they both chose a farmer’s barn of yams as the focus of their heist. While Dog stole a few pieces of yam that he could carry and speedily ran off, Tortoise greedily bit more than he could chew, stealing in excess of his capacity. Realising that he was in a bind, he sang his threat as a song, to let Dog know that if he was caught, he would spill the beans. Having known the wiles and treachery of Tortoise, Dog made a U-turn to the scene of crime, so as to help salvage the situation. While they were both at it, however, the farmer, who had heard Tortoise’s voice, leapt onto the scene, caught the Dog and dragged him home, while Tortoise successfully sneaked under a big leaf, away from being apprehended. In Yoruba cosmology, this explains the human domestication of dogs.
The PDP and APC are the Dog and Tortoise in the above allegory and are partners in crime, whose modes of operation are reflective of the rot that our society has become. Rather than struggle for positions, get them and seek to better the polity, they both go regularly on a heist binge but the one that is caught among them, who gets the condemnation of society, is not necessarily the better of the two thieving alliance. They are not united by any ideal, philosophy or projection for a better society but a drive reminiscent of that of Tortoise and Dog. So when Wike throws tantrums at Oshiomhole and the latter throws same back him, it is in a bid to expand their hold on frontiers of their personal enterprise, which the Nigerian party system has become.
The political party system, all over the world, is a defining element of representative democracy. Parties are organised groups of people with identical ideologies, same political positions, and which collectively field candidates for elections, with the ultimate aim of implementating a common agenda. The idea of party politics was said to have arisen in Plato’s classical Athens, as he wrote in The Republic. People were conscientised to gather in large groups or factions in Athens so as to advocate for shared interests. So, if one may ask, what is the shared ideology of PDP or APC, other than the ideology of Tinubu, Oshiomhole, Wike, Uche Secondus, pockets of party big-wigs and the self-interests of their cronies?
If deployed for public good, party politics and, indeed, the electoral system, could rescue Nigeria from where it currently is. For decades, we have made the unpardonable mistake of consigning political thinking or politics strictly to politicians. This is why the worst of us rules over the best of us from a political party system that is at best the extension of the personal empires of individuals. It is why the Oshiomholes, Wikes, Yahaya Bellos and so many others are the ones who control the levers of the polity, making very irresponsible policies and deciding the fate of the country, according to their whims. When dregs who emerge from this wonky process get into office, they determine who becomes the Central Bank governor, security chiefs and those who pilot our common societal destiny. They control the economy and practically all the wheels of the country and become so powerful that they see themselves as assistant gods. Max Weber, in the famous lecture he delivered entitled “Politics as a vocation”, stated the whole lot of derivables that a people can get from the political system. To make success of politics, the practitioner must deploy what Weber called, “the ethic of responsibility,” evolve public good, as against private good, in a way that would create a great society.
Party politics is one means of achieving an electoral system that could transform any society. Unfortunately, the way party politics is practiced in Nigeria leaves very much to be desired. The general impression we have of the political parties that we have in Nigeria today is that of a house filled with reptiles, a home of hooligans, subversionists, traitors and where anyone who values their dignity shouldn’t dare step into. Which is why we are where we are. Though there was irresponsible politicking in the First Republic, as we have it now, there was still reverence for the political party institution. Until we bring back ideology to party politics, as we used to have it in the First Republic and remnants of which we took to the Second Republic, we will continue to have the Oshiomholes, the Secondus and their private good intentions being advertised as public good. Like buccaneers, they sit in their covens to determine who will preside over our destinies as they are the determiners of our earthly existence. The common denominator of their decisions is what they and their allies can benefit from the public commonwealth.
We should transit into a political party system where politicians don’t breeze in and out of parties, as Obaseki did last week. Until we do this, we will continue to grope in the dark of underdevelopment. It mirrors us as very unserious people whose lives are not ruled by principles. We should also have political institutions that are bigger than individuals, which the Tinubus, sitting in their courtyards, can’t decree how it is to be run. Such parties should be run by rules that are known to all and which are sacrosanct. A credible political party system weaned on such institutional behaviour can neither sire a despot like Oshiomhole, nor a systemic aberrant like Obaseki. We can only get there when individuals in the party contribute weekly/monthly to the purse of the party, thereby owning their parties. When moneybags and politicians with either licit or illicit funds, hijack a political party, lawlessness readily supplants civility in such party system.
Yes, the road to making political parties strong institutions in Nigeria is a very long bureaucratic journey. In virtually all states in Nigeria, the political experiences from 1999 till date – Godswill Akpabio/ Udom Emmanuel; Chimaroke Nnamani/Sullivan Chime; Rauf Aregbesola/Adegboyega Oyetola; Oshiomhole/Obaseki and many more – except Lagos – have shown that transmuting into political godfathers by sitting governors, after installing godsons as successors, always ends in a political fiasco and they emerge from it with bruised noses. Those knowledgeable among them are persuaded that allowing the process to throw up natural successors is more enduring and less prone to post-office disaster for them.
So, in Edo, how do we kill a budding potentate like Oshiomhole, right inside its foetus? It is for him to meet his political waterloo at the polls in September. Though the prospect of this stopping the cycle of godfatherism is remote as Obaseki too could easily morph into another deadly godfather after his tenure, if he succeeds in routing Oshiomhole at the polls, it could be the beginning of Nigeria’s own natural way of institutionalising systemic sanity at the upper echelon of the political party powerbase.