Of Little Kings And Kingdoms

So the 2011 General Elections have come and gone, and all the offices up for grabs have been won by one candidate or another. A general conclusion can be achieved from the results: the South-West is back to being fully in the opposition in the hands of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which has a left-leaning ideology as can be seen from the work of its present few governors and the beliefs of its leading men; the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) turns out to be an overrated party, as can be seen from its performance in the National Assembly elections. It had wrongly built the party around the person of its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, and had hinged its success too strongly on winning the Presidential election. After its loss, it ended performing woefully in the gubernatorial polls, although its intra-party squabbles in states where it was strongest is also to blame. The All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) continue to be regional parties, content with controlling a few states, and not trying to expand to be a force to reckon with on the national scene. The ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) emerges with its wings beaten down, but still well-spread out that it occupies offices in all six geo-political zone, even if less numbers than it entered the polls with. Its worst showing was in the South-West, where they ended up with no governor, one senator and 3 members of the House of Representatives.

On the whole, this development is excellent for democracy as there has been more intense competition. A lot of incumbents lost their seats and for the first time in a very long time, the electorate feel like they have the power. It also laid out some bare facts: that the only party capable of challenging for the Presidency as at now is the PDP, and the other parties have to rapidly build structures across the country before 2015, or go into alliances.

But one trend going unnoticed to many is the fact that while Nigeria has been rescued from the path of being a one-party, dictatorial state at the hands of the PDP, other states went down that road in the hands of other parties and even the PDP itself. We have been so caught up in the euphoria of seeing the almighty ruling party fighting the battle of its survival in some states and godfathers losing their influence that we did not become aware of the fact that in quite a number of states, there will be no opposition in the state legislatures.

States such as Sokoto and Enugu (PDP), Ondo (Labour Party), Osun and Ekiti (ACN) and Yobe (ANPP) are entirely peopled by candidates from one party that there will be no minority leaders in the houses. As the editorial of Monday, 9th May of 234Next rightly pointed out, this could lead to a new form of dictatorship in which the assemblies could become a mere rubberstamp of the executive, and in which they will only do what benefits their parties. Even worse, their loyalties could be beholden to a certain godfather or clique. But what brought about such trend? That is what I will attempt to bring out in this post:

1. The Bandwagon Effect: In many states, the immense popularity of one candidate assured the success of every other candidate of that party. It came to be that the electorate had so much faith in, and so much love for the candidate that they transferred such faith in and love for to all his fellow party-mates. This is most clear in the North that the supporters of General Buhari transferred such love to almost any other CPC candidate, and we saw influential candidates of other parties, a lot incumbent, some vibrant and active lose their seats.
2. The Demonization of the PDP: One of the strategies opposition parties employed was to harness the frustration and anger of the people against the ruling PDP in the centre and in some of the states due to non-performance into a propaganda, in which they were made to believe that nothing good could emerge from PDP. I remember having conversations with several people at different times in which they said that they were of the belief that once the PDP at all levels is voted out, Nigeria was for the better. In such situations, otherwise excellent candidates and active incumbents found themselves out of the race and office because of the anger the electorate had towards his party due to the activity, or lack of it, of the state governors. It became any candidate but that of the PDP.
3. Illiteracy and Lack of Adequate Voter Education: Holding the Senate and House of Representatives elections and then, that of the Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly on the same days was a big blessing to many candidates. In situations where either the senatorial candidate was immensely popular compared to the House of Representatives candidate, or the gubernatorial candidate compared to the House of Assembly candidate in the area, the latter always benefited from the popularity of the former. One reason a lot of the voters were not able to distinguish the particular ballot paper for a particular party and they just ended up pressing their hands on both ballot papers for the same party.

A lot of politicians, ever shrewd, were fully aware of these factors and it played a major role in choosing their party platforms. There was a rush among politicians in the areas of the North where General Buhari had a fanatical following to join the CPC that practically any candidate could run for office on the platform of the CPC and still get elected. In Borno State, the incumbent governor, Ali Modu Sherriff lost his bid to retire to the senate to a totally unknown candidate of the PDP, who barely had personal campaigns of his own. What counted against him was the very low popular ratings of the governor in the state and the immense popularity of the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Alhaji Mohammed Goni, a former governor of the state during the Second Republic. In states such as Osun and Ekiti, even though there were no elections for the governorship seats, the incumbent governors are still new and enjoying popularity highs that all the other candidates of their party became merely endorsed for the offices they were running for. Add to the fact that the opposition party had done itself a great disservice by rigging itself into power and still squandering the ill-gotten mandates.

What does this portend for our democracy and political space? As I earlier said, it could turn the Houses of Assembly into mere rubberstamps or have them loyal to a godfather or a clique rather than the people who elected them. Additionally, it could lead to the stifling of opposition in their states. Also, we might end up seeing a lot of cross-carpeting to the ruling party, as it is usual with Nigerian politicians, who are more intent on short-term gains rather than long-term growth and impact.

Opposition helps to keep the ruling government on their toes. Even in states such as Lagos where it is firmly in the hands of the ACN, the PDP still gives them a run for their money, especially in some certain local governments. A lack of this opposition could lead to ruling parties becoming so carried away with their support that they could become tyrannical. Also, a lot of incompetent and unpopular politicians become undeserving beneficiaries of the popularity of either their party or another candidate of their party. And as you cannot give what you do not have, we should not begin to expect vibrancy and performance from these politicians.

I can only but pray that the situation doesn’t become so in these states; that opposition parties still remain active at the local level and not degenerate into factions and defections into the ruling party. Also, most importantly, that our political parties develop true clear and discernible ideologies which the electorates can relate to. And in the absence of that, I pray that the electorates will have the proper awareness to vote for candidates, and not parties, and not be carried away by the bandwagon effect.

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