New Wine in Old Wine Skins?
As far as most Nigerians are concerned, getting involved in politics and hoping to succeed in politics in Nigeria can only be realistic when you join one of the front-line political parties - some people refer to them as the ‘popular parties” others prefer the expression ‘notorious parties” (you can guess which I prefer…)
The question that we should ask is ‘popular for what” - for 21 years of broken promises, god-fatherism, impunity, in-fighting, cross-carpeting and the dwindling fortunes of Nigeria? What is the purpose of politics - to grab political power at all cost or to transform society through values reorientation, acts of service and sacrificial leadership?
Most politicians that belong to these so-called popular parties are only interested in the former, and I know this by their “fruits” - the continued decadence of our society while their personal and family fortunes continue to flourish.
Many who claim that they have come to do things differently join these “popular parties” and end up bowing to the whims of the godfathers or becoming godfathers themselves. They end up on the puppet strings - doing the bidding of their masters, leaving everyone to wonder - This politics must be terrible - how could such a “decent” person change so quickly now that they have gotten involved in politics and fanning the flames of even more cynicism about politics and political participation.
The truth is that there is nothing like New Wine in Old Wine Skins. Nigeria is in a mess and if you decide you want to clean up the mess then you cannot go and join the people who are neck-deep in creating the mess and think you can succeed - you will get sucked in. Jesus spoke about this in the Bible - Luke 5:36-39 (There is nothing like new wine in old wine skins). If we want to achieve the Nigerian renaissance, then we can only have new wine (new politicians) in new wine skin (new political parties).
Some quickly argue about the proliferation pf parties - in the same way that economists at some point argued about the proliferation of banks. In the late 1990s there were about 88 or so banks in Nigeria and the top 7 banks at that time held more than 50% of the banking business in the country. It almost seemed like a bloody waste of time as a young banker trying to convince some of the more conservative clients to move even a part (not all) of their business to one of the new generation banks, and I experienced this first-hand working in both Platinum Bank and Investment Banking & Trust Company (IBTC).
But we all know the end of the story – the combination of luck, persistence, and preparation has completely changed the face of banking in Nigeria, and many of the fringe players of the 1990s are the leading banking institutions in Nigeria today with footprints in the rest of Africa. So, with the same combination of forces, we believe that there will be a renewal of the Nigerian political space, and that those who are in for the long-run and are prepared to follow through, we will make a difference like the new generation banks did.
We ignore the fact that whereas the “popular” political parties received significant take-off capital and grants from the Federal Government, and may have abused their access to public funds to fuel their campaigns in the past, the newer parties had no such luck (not that they need it).
So, upon what foundation must these new politicians and new parties be built? Firstly, a clear difference in focus - not on grabbing political power at all cost, but on service, sacrificial leadership and the common-good imperative
Then, a strong stand against God-Fatherism. If we are to get out of our political and economic wilderness, then we must do everything to reduce and possibly eliminate the strangle hold that political God Fathers have on aspiring politicians and the electorate. Achieving this requires a significant amount of voter education, Politeracy and a deliberate effort by those of us who know better to push this message to those who are most vulnerable.
Another strategy lies in increasing the number of alternatives that exist, just the way banking was liberalized, so too will the liberalization of the political space improve the odds of new generation politicians. People should be encouraged and taught to vote for the candidate that they want, and not the candidate who seems more likely to win.
For example, If everyone identifies that Mr X is a good candidate, but fear that he stands no chance of winning because he comes from a lesser known party, then your fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in itself. You choose not to vote for Mr X and cast your vote for the candidate of the “popular” party that you know has nothing to offer or you abstain from voting altogether. If everyone thinks and acts this way, then it is no surprise that Mr X will not win.
Closely related to God-Fatherism is Campaign Funding. Please, don’t think that I am naïve about the important role that money has to play in politics. One clear reality in politics is that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”. If we the forward-thinking folks who want things to be different do not participate in crowd-funding our forward-thinking candidates, then be rest assured that they will not be able to compete with the establishment politicians and political parties and at the end the money-bags who typically finance those campaigns will have their way. So, the forward-thinking response – crowd funding, relying on the wisdom and magnanimity of the crowd and diluting the power of the money-bags and God Fathers. We all have something to contribute and that we can contribute, so let us do so. Politics and Governance in Nigeria will be truly renewed once we embrace crowd-funding and insist on supporting only politicians and political parties that embrace Crowd-funding and the principal-agency relationship that it recognizes between politicians on one hand and the electorate on the other.
Another cultural imperative is the internal democracy of these parties and the system of selecting flag-bearers from within the parties, especially for sub-national elections like Governors, National Assembly and Local Government. How big are political parties at these levels? Why must they use the delegates system that is fraught with money-politics and God-Fatherism? How about a simple election by registered members of the party in each area that truly reflects the popularity of the aspirants and eventual flag-bearers?
Finally, is the big issue itself – ideology! Do our political parties have a clear ideology? What exactly do they stand for beyond grabbing political power, insulting the opposition and abusing the power of incumbency to get the security agencies Election Officials and thugs to ensure their victory at the polls? This lack of ideology in most of our political parties means that forward-thinking voters really have no choice than between the “devil” and the “deep blue sea”. Each election in Nigeria seems to be a choice between these two sides of the same coin. Aren’t we tired of making these types of choices? Are we such a “bad” people that every four years we only have to pick the lesser of two undesirables? Where are are the “good” people? Too busy - struggling to pick the crumbs that drop off the table of the godfathers and politrickcians - I guess!
As we become more politically savvy, let us start to challenge the politicians and political parties who seek our votes and inquire about their values and ideology, and let this be the basis for our support for them. Thankfully, the two largest political parties in Nigeria have had a shot at the Presidency, Governorship in a majority of States and being a majority in the National Assembly, so the proposition of “change” or let’s just try the other guys as an ideology cannot continue to suffice. Remember, there is no such thing as New Wine in Old Wine Skin - #Let’sGetInvolved.