We have a very big problem with leadership in Nigeria. It did not start today or with the 2015 elections. We seem to have a flawed sense of what the qualities of a leader ought to be. More often than not, we tend to equate power and financial capacity with the ability to lead. Power as used here could be interpreted as the ability to mobilise often the ignorant and illiterate segment of the population either on ethnic, social or religious levels to either unleash mayhem during campaign periods or during and after elections.
No aspect of our misinterpretation of what a leader should be is more evident than the ways party leaderships emerge in our political system across party lines. In 1993, we had what has been rightly adjudged the freest and fairest election in Nigerian history. That happened because of the use of the very successful Option A4 system of voting. There was no violence and the assumed winner, late MKO Abiola, a Southern Muslim, of the Yoruba ethnic group defeated his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a Northern Muslim in his home state of Kano.
However, since 1999, we began to hear things like, party financiers, godfathers, party chieftains and all those self-aggrandising superlative adjectives that are only meant to intimidate and usurp the powers of the electorate in a democracy. Today in the Nigerian political system, party leadership positions are often the exclusive preserve of certain political players across party lines. Leadership of the two most viable party platforms, the PDP and the APC is often a battle on its own. And it is a battle that leaves sorrow, blood and discontent in its wake.
Simple question then is, why? The answer is not far-fetched, party leadership is an unspoken cult affair. They determine who gets what from the top to the lowest of any political office in the land. Party leaders usurp the roles of the electorate from the intra party levels to the general elections. The party leaderships exercise enormous powers that are as potent as they are authoritarian.
The fight for the leadership of political parties is very fierce and every intrigue and resource is thrown in because of what happens after elections are won and lost. At the highest and lowest levels, they determine who flies the flag of their parties. They are more or less king makers. When their inns are crowned, they determine how the country, state or local councils are run ninety percent of the time. Appointments are often determined by them, purely based on parochial considerations bordering on loyalty to them.
On the face of it, they might appear very altruistic, but keen political observers know that they are as astute as any businessman around the world. They are ‘investors’ who do not play with any anticipated and calculated return on investments. Has anyone not observed how fiercely party leaderships are being fought for both by the ruling APC and the opposition PDP? In the real sense, there are no identifiable party ideologies and that is why most of the politicians are very fluid and can jump interchangeably between the two political parties without any shame or punishment.
The fact that we do not seem to have very strong political and social institutions are traceable to the kind of people that lead parties in Nigeria. More often than not, they own the whole political system in ways that punishment of erring members become very impossible as they find it very difficult to correct those they impose on the people at all levels so long they get returns on investment.
Since 1999, party leaderships across board have never worked on fashioning out any political ideology that can enhance development in the country. The violence during party primaries and series of post election litigations that often distract candidates from duties all point to the failure of party leadership in the country.
Members often complain and oscillate between the two parties in search of justice because the leaderships always deny members of intra party democracy. In the long run, internal discontent fuels some sort of insurrection that affects the performances of the parties at all levels. The nation has experienced very flawed elections because the leadership across board go to all lengths to ‘crown’ their anointed by rigging the system. That is precisely why a lot is deployed in human and material resources to ‘win’ elections. s won in this process then turn to personal and group victory, instead of being victory for the people and solving problems democracies should solve.
When the former PDP President Obasanjo declared that the 2007election was a ‘do-or-die’ affair, he was merely describing the type of elections we normally have. When President Buhari at his inauguration in 2015 declared that he belonged to nobody and belonged to everyone, it made headlines because it was very telling.
However, while we attempt to rejig our political players, it would be important to look at how party leaderships emerge and behave. Party leadership in democracies are seen and not heard. They are mere guardians of party constitutions and not king makers. The excesses of party leaderships in Nigeria are the very reasons we have the greatest number of electoral violence and post election litigations in the world. Intra party democracy is the forerunner of free and fair elections and makes for good governance and accountability to the people. Are APC and PDP ‘leaders’ connecting to the dynamics of twenty first century democracies? I doubt.