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Saturday 16 February 2019

Ezekwesili, Falae and unstructured, unprincipled polity

Ezekwesili, Falae and unstructured, unprincipled polity

Events of the past two weeks or so may have convinced ageing but principled Nigerian politicians that confusion, lack of principles and incredible sophistry were enveloping politics in these parts.

There was faint hope that a new order could somehow metamorphose from the rubbles of the past, especially given the first successful civilian to civilian transition of power from a ruling party to an opposition party in 2015. But that enthusiasm seems badly misplaced.

Indeed, when in early October both the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) organised their conventions to nominate their standard-bearers, their leaders were flushed with excitement over the immense opportunities new politics was affording new parties untainted by any connections with the old and decaying order represented by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

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On October 6, 2018, some 4,500 SDP members met to nominate their standard-bearers. Former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke, won the nomination in an atmosphere of political exuberance few could imagine would peter out into nothingness and confusion less than four months later.

Even though Mr Duke’s nomination was eventually litigated, with former Information minister, Jerry Gana, a professor, briefly emerging as the party’s nominee, there were no signs of a convoluted struggle to represent the party or place it firmly on the country’s political and electoral map.

Though the legal dispute is still ongoing regarding who between Mr Duke and Prof Gana would represent the party in the February 16, 2019 presidential poll, a more assertive faction of the party led by the National Vice Chairman, Abdul Ishaq, simply brushed the litigants aside and went ahead stony-faced to endorse the ruling APC’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.

The party’s National Chairman, Olu Falae, an economist and old political warhorse and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), appeared to have been blindsided by his party’s controversial endorsement. It turned out that he was not at the meeting where the APC candidate was endorsed. He probably heard rumours of that impending move, but he neither betrayed knowledge of that action nor felt he had to put up with it once it was done.

A day later, he resigned his chairmanship of the party, insisting that he knew nothing of the nefarious endorsement, and was also unwilling to identify with the party’s decision. It was clear to him as well as the party and other Nigerians that Chief Falae had lost control of the party. He stated that his resignation was due to poor health, or  some other excuses no one seems sure of, but added that after all, he had not been active in running the party for some time.

But shortly before a faction of his party endorsed the president, Chief Falae had himself unilaterally endorsed the PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubaakar. Speaking while receiving Titi Abubakar, the wife of the PDP’s presidential candidate, Chief Falae had spoken endearingly about identifying with any candidate who could thwart the victory of President Buhari.

Said Chief Falae, according to some media reports: “All hands must be on deck by to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari does not come back for the second term.

We have to find ways to do it, this government must not come back, for the sake of all of us, even for the sake of the man (Buhari) himself. He does not have the clue of what is going on again, I don’t think he is well, he should just go home and rest. Some characters are hiding behind him to do evil. I wish him (Atiku) well, we are on the same page, we are aiming the same result, no one wants this government to come back because the government has failed.”

It is not clear whether the Dr Ishaq faction took a cue from Chief Falae’s arbitrary endorsement of the PDP candidate, but no one in the party seemed to care anymore. A part of the party now wants PDP, and another part wants APC. The remnants, both Mr Duke and Prof Gana, are still locked in a fierce combat to determine who will pick the crumbs — the soul and torso of the party having been offered to the two dominant parties.

What is even clearer, as another party, the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), has begun to show, is that both generational and paradigmatic shifts are taking place in Nigerian politics. The principles and ideologies of the Falae era, despite its warts, are no longer indispensable in Nigerian politics.

That transition had been in the offing for some time, indeed for the past three or four decades, but few ever imagined that the change, when it comes, would be accompanied by such horrendous abjuration of principles and ideologies as the country is witnessing today.

Voters were already moaning about the indistinguishability of political players and parties, and were sick to death about their flightiness, as they jump from one party to another, sometimes in a huff, but little did they know they were yet to see their political leaders and representatives plumb the gut-wrenching nadir of partisan politics.

 As the country laid wrong and weak foundation for the Fourth Republic, no party or political leader of substance and weight had attempted to remain faithful to principles and ideologies whatever the cost. It can only get worse, going forward, especially as the country’s poverty index grows worse.

The ACPN logjam is even more archetypal than the miasma the SDP embroil itself in. Though there did not seem to be any warning of the doom awaiting the party after the ACPN held its convention on October 7, 2018 and nominated former World Bank vice president and one-time Education minister, Oby Ezekwesili, as standard-bearer, it ought to be clear to everyone, given the amorphous nature of Nigerian politics, that attention must be paid by political players and analysts to both the structure of their parties and the character of their political leaders, particularly those offering themselves for election.

There was no indication that Dr Ezekwesili carried out any due diligence. She was probably flattered to be offered the presidential ticket on a platter. Though she knew victory in the race would be far-fetched, she however expected, at the minimum, the cooperation of her party to make the race at least stimulating.

But after a few weeks of turbulent but largely uneventful campaign, the ACPN pulled the rug from under the feet of their presidential candidate. On January 24, 2019, Dr Ezekwesili and the ACPN, represented by its chairman and presidential running mate, Ganiyu Galadima, parted ways, virtually on the same date, only hours apart. It is, however, speculated that Dr Ezekwesili simply stole her adopted party’s thunder, knowing that they were about to endorse President Buhari.

She beat them to the tape, announcing her severance of ties with the party hours before the party itself gave her the boot. The former candidate claimed the party was unprincipled and its leaders greedy; but the party in turn accused her of financial malfeasance. What is clear is that Dr Ezekwesili did not carry out due diligence on the party and its leaders, and also failed to understand the company of those she was travelling with.

Hear the former ACPN candidate in her own words: “Nigeria and Nigerians deserve a New Order of ethical, competent and capable leadership. I had earlier assumed the ACPN was aligned with me to offer that, until it proved otherwise.

The values and vision divergence with the party was a key factor that triggered my withdrawal from the presidential race on their ticket prompting me to dissociate immediately in order to help build a coalition for good governance. It is why I was instant in sacrificing my candidacy to uphold my values by withdrawing.

The party’s decision to immediately today endorse the candidate of APC, which was announced by my erstwhile VP candidate who is also the Chairman of ACPN, was their classic political entrepreneurship in full display for Nigerians to see. It is instructive. The party leadership’s transactional approach to politics began to manifest in their attitude following after the convention that adopted me as their presidential candidate. All who know me can attest that I detest transactional mindset.”

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But not to be outdone, the party replied with powerful accusations of their own, alleging that their former candidate could not account for campaign funds with all the scrupulousness, diligence and exemplary conduct she preached and idolised.

Yet, they could not deny the damaging fact that they had prepared themselves all along to endorse President Buhari, and that contrary to their claims that they had hoped the party’s presidential campaign would acquire traction, they in fact waited long enough, as sympathisers of Dr Ezekwesili argued, to give their party some semblance of presence and credibility in order to be able to market the party to the highest bidder.

Will there ever be a change to the way Nigerian political parties and politicians play politics? It is hard to imagine that possibility. Political actors will continue to be irresponsible, defecting from one party to another irreverently and casually; while the smaller parties, like the SDP and ACPN, will continue to fiddle with principles and ideologies.

Until there is a fundamental change in orientation occasioned by a deep structural change, politics will continue as usual, and many principled players will continue to be treated shabbily. The sad decline in leadership and partisan politics precipitated decades ago when the structure of the country became more unitary than federal will continue until systemic atrophy compels fundamental change.

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