A certain school of political analysis adumbrates the interesting thesis of political parties decay. As Professors Rod Hague et al put it in their book on comparative politics, “This theory suggests that parties will eventually outlive their usefulness. They arise in response to important problems-integrating; the mass electorate into politics, say, or hastening the departure of colonial rulers. Once successful in overcoming the problem, the party loses its purpose”.
The scholars cite the example of defunct communist parties of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which successfully industrialized and modernized the countries under their jurisdiction. However, “with this mission largely accomplished, ruling communist parties lost heart and drive. Instead of leading society, they became a brake on its further development. Once the prop of support from the Soviet military was removed, they fell down dead”.
Does the party decay thesis offer us some insight into the trajectory of political parties in Nigeria’s post colonial political evolution and particularly the pathetic position in which the hitherto touted invincible largest political party in Africa, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) suddenly found itself in 2015?
The mass parties of the First Republic, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), Action Group (AG) and Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in particular, were key constituent elements of the anti-colonial nationalist movement. They succeeded splendidly in achieving nominal ‘flag independence’ for the country in 1960. In the first six years of independence, the parties were at the vanguard of impressive developmental strides under a genuine federal arrangement that fostered competitive transformational dynamism.
However, the primordial ethno-regional fissures masked by the pro-independence euphoria illusions of a common nationhood soon bubbled to the surface and incrementally undermined both stability and development. The party system began to decay rapidly with corrosive implications for democracy and political order. The first republic parties had apparently fulfilled their historic purpose as they became too organizationally and ethically exhausted to stem the country’s slide to anarchy.
In January 1966, the military intervened. It was the historic mission of the military to keep Nigeria one and seek to engineer her transformation from a mere ‘geographical expression’ to genuine nationhood. In pursuit of this objective, the military fashioned Nigeria’s federal structure in the mirror of its unitary, hierarchical organizational configuration.
After over three decades in power, it was obvious that the military had to some extent failed in its self-imposed mission of the socio-political and economic modernization of Nigeria. The assumption that it possessed the organizational attributes of discipline, efficiency, focus and patriotism that could foster unity and rapid national development proved illusory. National cohesion and progress cannot be decreed ‘with military alacrity’.
The military had become horrendously infected with the corruption virus it had promised to extinguish. Its organizational cohesion had been badly fragmented by divisive intra-organizational politics as well as primal ethno-regional, religious and partisan influences. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the military had become too morally, psychologically and professionally famished to effectively and sustainably resist protracted civil society agitations for its return to the barracks. Organizational decay had set in, it had fulfilled its historic purpose on the political terrain and withdrew from the political leadership in disarray in 1999 with little achievements to justify its long stay in power.
Enter the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999. Its historic mission was to provide a transition from the military dictatorship to democratic governance in Nigeria. Fashioned in the organizational image of the military, the PDP established an emphatic dominance of the polity by winning not just the presidential election but 21 of the 36 state governorship elections in 1999.
It was certainly not fortuitous that a retired Military General and former military head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, emerged as President in 1999 on the platform of the PDP. But then, in the bowels of the PDP’s electoral supremacy lay the seeds of the incipient and insidious decay thsat culminated in its electoral implosion in the 2015 general elections and its continuing organizational, moral and psychological unraveling today.
First, the PDP had a unitary organizational structure, which was quite incongruous within the context of complex plural and federal society like Nigeria. Just like the deformed Nigerian federal polity, the PDP had an excessively centralist structure that stultified its internal flexibility and dynamism. Second, the PDP was subsumed under the asphyxiating grip of the Obasanjo imperial presidency. Intra-party democratic structures and processes were thus undermined resulting in enervating organizational sclerosis. Third was the PDP’s active attempt to transform the party system from a one-party- dominant to an absolute one party state in which it exercised a totalizing control of the polity with pride and arrogance. The resultant destabilization and decimation of the opposition compounded the complacency and lethargy within the former ruling party engendered by the lack of internal intra-party opposition. It also accelerated the process of the party’s organizational desensitization that worsened steadily climaxing in the electoral rout of April 2015.
Today, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) sits atop the country’s political structure. Its historic mission is to preside over the transition from mere civilian rule of the PDP’s 16 years to a genuine democracy. Ironically, to achieve the feat of ousting the PDP from power at the centre in 2015, key opposition parties — ACN, CPC, ANPP, nPDP and a faction of APGA — had to fuse together to fashion themselves in the centralized organizational image of the PDP!
Thus, the APC’s essentially unitary organizing ethos is not reflective enough of the country’s federal diversity. Furthermore, the new ruling party APC seems to be following the ‘discarded’ PDP pattern of subordinating party to government in a way that immobilizes and incapacitates the latter. Again, the 2016 National Assembly leadership fiasco, the Kogi State governorship election debacle that produced Yahaya Bello and APC led government’s unimpressive management of the economy thus far suggest a paralyzing policy ambivalence as well as philosophical and ideological dissonance that is hobbling the APC’s change mantra. The APC begun, the process of decay even before it settled down to govern. The party has since deviated from the path it preached. It has abused the trust of Nigerians reposed in it. Corruption is now a ‘legitimate business’ in an APC style of governance. Change is inevitable in 2023 for Nigeria to regain its lost glory in the comity of nations.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues