PARTY MERGER AND THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY
Party politics in Nigeria – particularly, since the supposed return of democracy in 1999 – has exhibited one striking feature: it has reflected the dominance of the Peoples' Democratic Party, PDP, especially, at the national level. By the same token, the structure and effectiveness of opposition parties under the emergent democratic dispensation has been largely disorderly and highly localized; accentuating, in the process, the inevitability of PDP's unbroken dominance of the country's political landscape.
In terms of numbers, the opposition parties are so chaotically numerous and clearly indistinguishable that they often become a veritable source of electoral confusion to the uncritical segments of the voting public. Worse, most of these parties have remained defiantly embryonic in their quest for political maturation, incapable of transiting beyond the incubation stage and with hardly any meaningful contribution to deepen our democratic culture and enrich the political consciousness of the electorate.
However, it is at the level of political ideology that the destitution and wretchedness of the opposition parties become clearly poignant and worrisome. At best, opposition parties, especially the leading ones amongst them, have come to be reckoned as “political Siamese twins” to the ruling PDP, at least, judging from their demonstrable wizardry in electoral rigging at both state and local government elections; their strong aversion to intra-party democracy; their high propensity for corruption and personalization of power; as well as their deep-seated bias for entrenching elitist policies and programme that often impede and undermine the interests of ordinary citizens in their political domain.
These developments have presented a huge dilemma for the voting public. The failure and disappointing performance of the ruling PDP in meeting the legitimate expectations of the people have been indescribably phenomenal; Nigerians increasingly suspect that under the present set-up, the PDP's dominance and hegemony will only orchestrate one result: their continual bondage! In real sense, there is an objective necessity for change and for an alternative, credible political platform. It is precisely in recognition of this necessity that the major opposition parties have bandied together to amalgamate into a new political entity and to use such reincarnation to advance the pursuit of power and their political interests.
For the avoidance of doubt, it will be highly desirable that the country's party system is streamlined and opposition parties invigorated to enhance their capacity for electoral competitiveness and to instill some virility and purposefulness in the country's lop-sided, political system. Nevertheless, it is imperative that Nigerians demonstrate some circumspection in their optimism and ecstatic embrace of the newly announced merger leading to the birth of the All Progressive Congress, APC.
Whether the merger will radically transform the face of politics and governance in the country will be predetermined by a number of salient factors: First, what constitutes the purpose and the driving logic of the merger? Second, who are the protagonists in the new party formation and what constitutes their leadership credentials? Third, what are the role and the place of the Nigerian people (the electors) in the entire equation? And finally, to what extent will these opposition elements lend themselves to the supremacy of internal party democracy and the sovereignty of the people? These posers have become pertinent in view of the palpable reduction of the entire merger exercise to one defining objective: to capture power from the ruling PDP!
How then can the emergence of this new party formation (APC) advance the course of democracy in Nigeria? One surest way will be to ensure that the Nigerian people (the voters) become the means and the end in the party's actions and processes. Impliedly, this will entail a whole-hearted embrace of internal democracy within the party. This becomes even more compelling against the backdrop of perceived ideological and personality incompatibility of the leading actors in the new party.
Undeniably, one of the crippling contradictions of democracy in Nigeria is the fact that our political parties are inherently undemocratic both in character and in their decision-making processes. In Nigeria, political parties are elitist in nature with hardly any grassroots orientation; often, they are constituted as aristocratic cults; their decision-making processes bereft of any broad-based consensus. For ordinary Nigerians who represent majority of the members in such parties, their views, preferences and political choices are serially marginalized and treated as inconsequential. Their contribution is only valued in terms of their nuisance potential and their willingness to become manipulable robots in the hands of party chieftains who will mobilize them and use them to legitimize electoral robbery and duplicity.
Yet, it is precisely this tendency to ignore the people and marginalize their role in party affairs that has rendered our democracy as a stunted enterprise with hardly any steam for positive transformation. Our democratic experience has, in the words of Prof. George Obiozor, become "like a big orchestra, on permanent rehersal with no grand performance."
Democracy, by its basic definition, is participatory government. It entails providing opportunity for people to freely participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Political parties therefore serve as strategic mechanisms for articulating the needs and interests of the people, promoting their political consciousness, and providing them with credible ideological alternatives to obnoxious policies of government. Indeed, when one compares the hitherto existing number of political parties in Nigeria with the level of their activism in the service of democracy, one can reasonably conclude that these parties have themselves become a major obstacle to democratization in Nigeria.
The real challenge for all of us as Nigerians is not in sitting idly in our closets and investing our hope in the new merger, trusting that the gladiators will herald the dawn of a new comforting era. It is in seizing the moment and becoming increasingly participative and actively engaged in the affairs of political parties, beginning from the ward/local council level. We must refrain from being disinterested spectators and become vibrant participants in the affairs of political parties; for the actions (or inactions) of these parties are so crucial that they even define what constitutes our prayer topics in our various churches and mosques. If our political parties - especially, those that control our various government houses - are attentive to the needs of the people and they remain committed to transforming the society positively, we will be less inclined to inundate God with supplications of miracle for American Visas.
In truth, our political parties are in dire need of redemption and we must massively repossess them to reposition them. That is the only way our democracy will begin to reflect our choices and become conducive to our general interests.