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Nigeria: The Unwritten Rules of Politics



According to Mesquita & Smith (2011), the logic of politics is not complex. In fact, it is surprisingly easy to grasp most of what goes on in the political world as long as we are ready to adjust our thinking ever so modestly. To understand politics properly, we must modify one assumption in particular: we should stop thinking that leaders can lead unilaterally.

Nigeria does not operate a true democratic system, but a quasi-emblem. It is, therefore, difficult to attribute the fundamentals of party politics to its nuances. First, political parties are formed on social grounds, not on ideological precepts. A party in power is like a magnet, attracting all forms of self-proclaimed politicians with large appetites to praise and worship the man-of- the-moment—the President.

The party in power has no ideological base; members defect/decamp to any winning party to form the next government. Criss-crossing is always in vogue. Everyone wants to be part of the winning party, even if he or she has just been elected by a well-known opposition platform.

The coalition that brought President Muhammadu Buharie to power is made up of unlikely actors: the Yoruba bloc, headed by Senator Bola Tinubu, and fractions of various relic parties in the north. Although members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) are of different concepts, views, and visions, the urgency to boot Jonathan Goodluck out of power, led to the formation of a party with Hyenas, Lions, and wildebeests. It is visible that the party platform will survive as long as members of the coalition envisage its victory. If a more prospective party emerges, everyone galvanizes there with an inductive victory momentum.

Nigeria’s political system is far from stable. Hopefully, the growing awareness of rights and responsibilities of the voters will infiltrate patriotism/nationalism into the minds of the top echelon of the institutions that form the sovereignty. For now, power will remain vested in the so-called winning party, and its feeble actors.

The Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), former President Obasanjo’s pet-projection, is on a train to failure;its leaders are migrants from failed parties of insignificance. Second, CNM will fail because Obasanjo is its founder and pillar. If Obasanjo had been true to the ideals of democratic norms, maybe, our political institutions would have ingrained ideological doctrines asprerequisites to joining a political party. A departure or defection to another political platform would trigger serious sanctions, including loss of the elected position.

For leaders, the political landscape can be broken down into three groups: the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate, and the winning coalition. The nominal selectorate includes every person who has at least, some legal say in choosing the leader. This means eligible voters in Nigeria are part of the nominal selectorate; all Nigerians of eighteen years or older. These are also called the inter-changeables.

The next group is called the influentials or real selectorate. This group is responsible for accepting the candidacy of a nominee. If President Buhari was in a real political party in a country that practices true democracy, the inner caucus of his party members would have decided his eligibility to recontest, not a few praise singers whose political future depends on Buhari’s victory.

The third group, the winning coalition extends only to those essential supporters, without whom the leader would be finished. In our own case, the essentials are the institutions that, without their support, the President’s effort will be fruitless. These are the Independent Electoral Commission(INEC), the Nigerian Police Force, the armed forces, and other security agents. It is conspicuous that all the essentials, for now, are in support of Buhari, which spells a big doom for the opposition.

Competition in democracies is cerebral, not physical. Repression works for dictators, but it is a suicidal path to a political oblivion in a democracy, if we are to momentarily call ours a democracy. From a democrat’s point of view, the corollary is that even good public policy does not buy much loyalty.

Everyone consumes policy benefits whether they support the incumbent or not. If a leader cleans up the environment or solved global warming then everyone is awinner, although, of course, the extent to which individuals value these things will vary. But past deeds don’t buy loyalty. When a rival appears with a cheaper way to fix the environment, or the rival finds policy fixes for other problems that people care about more, then the rival can seize power through the ballot box.

Autocratic politics is a battle for private rewards. Democratic politics is a battle for good policy ideas. If you reward your cronies at the expense of the broader public, as you would in a dictatorship, then you will be out, so long as you rely on a massive coalition of essential backers.

That democrats need so many supporters to make them vulnerable is an open secret. If you can find an issue over which the incumbent’s supporters disagree, then it will soon be your turn to lead. Divide and conquer is a terrific principle for coming to power in a democracy.

The 2019 elections will test Nigerians’ resolve to either get it right or lump it. Those who aspire for true democracy in Nigeria must not only shout through the social media butmust sacrifice their time and energy to see it through. This is a reality, not fiction.

The cyclic effects of bribe-for-votes have paralyzed attempts at good governance and accountability. Every time elections approach, money bags buy out INEC representatives. In a clear victory, election results have been manipulated to favour the incumbent—the perennialhighest bidder. From 1999 to date, election results remain practically similar. Buhari’s victory in 2015 was an aberration. It is difficult to estimate what will happen in 2019.

Already, the tide has remained steady. National assembly’s attempt to change the voting pattern has met awful resistance in the courts. It is obvious from my earlier analysis that the greatest impediments to true democracy in Nigeria are the institutions. Every one of them is for the reigning leader. The head of all the agencies, who are appointed by this government must be loyal in absolute term. Therefore, opposition parties have more than mere anecdotes to contend with. The challenges will become clearer as election time table draws nearer.

General Gowon and other previous heads of state have called for a united front to either change the status quo or render their support to another group. In the past, during the military era, retired generals were the winning coalition; their block vote or support could change the game, but not anymore. The winning coalition or the essentials are the institutions. For APC to lose in the coming elections to another party, there has to be an obvious fracture of its existing structure.

There is no doubt that President Buhari has, to the best of his ability, attained his optimum performance. Elongating his tenure may result in the law of diminishing returns. But his winning coalition stands to gain more if he remains in power. These are Nigeria’s rules of politics— gain as much as possible while in power. Once the leader is deposed or loses the reelection bid, everyone in the coalition becomes obsolete.