Governors as tyrants
Watching the shenanigans of the governors over the past week must be one of the most painful things Nigerians have had to deal with lately.
Indeed, the country currently grapples with a plethora of problems (some of them avoidable), including unpredictable prices for largely unavailable petroleum products, the collapse of the national grid (which has brought darkness that reminds us of the stone age) and increasing insecurity. Still, nothing breaks the heart like seeing those elected to tackle some, if not all of these problems, otherwise engaged in absolutely unrelated and selfish issues. It is even more disheartening when you see that none of the two biggest parties, jostling to govern Nigeria in 2023, is exempt. Remember Rome burning while Nero fiddles!
Last week, Nigerians woke up to hear stories of a coup de main in the ruling All Progressives Congress. It started with rumours that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had endorsed the removal of Governor Mai Bala Buni as Chairman, Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee of the party.
Promoters of the information said Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State had been named chairman and a series of activities to cement this followed. Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State would later validate the speculations when he said on television that Buni’s removal had Buhari’s seal and that there was no way the Yobe governor could return as chairman of the caretaker committee. He claimed that 19 governors of the APC supported Buni’s sack for obtaining a court injunction that would force the party to move its convention and presumably extend Buni’s tenure as caretaker chairman.
Of course, it didn’t take too long for Buni’s supporters to speak up through David Umahi, the Governor of Ebonyi State. The decampee, whose feet are still shaky following a recent court order, told Nigerians that Buni remained APC chairman and had only gone on medical leave (of course, outside of the country and on public funds) and Bello was only acting chairman. Therefore, contrary to claims by the other group that Buhari had approved Buni’s replacement, Umahi insinuated that Bello was a mere usurper. This controversy still rages at press time, with most party members still not clear about where the pendulum will swing.
One pertinent question every democrat should ask from the foregoing, however, is: where did President Buhari derive the powers to unilaterally, or in consultation with some governors, remove the caretaker chairman of the party, if he in truth did or even contemplated that? We should return to this question in a bit.
However, the APC is not alone in its naked public dance. Lately, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and his deputy, Phillip Shaibu, have been complaining about the Peoples Democratic Party’s treatment of those who joined the party when Obaseki decamped from the APC in September 2020. So, earlier this week, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, who has literally turned himself into the voice of the PDP, lashed out at Shaibu in the first instance and then Obaseki. Expectedly, Obaseki fired back at the Rivers State governor, reminding him that the party was not his personal property.
While we should be clear about the governors’ disgraceful acts, which I will return to presently, one agrees with Obaseki that political parties are no one’s property. This aberration is one of the most critical problems in this polity.
In a representative democracy, political parties epitomise more than just a desire to win elections or become chips on the shoulders of certain political actors. In the ideal sense, political parties are central to countries’ economic, political and cultural evolution. In a multi-ethnic/cultural society like Nigeria, political parties are essential for national integration because they naturally court and accommodate people from all ethnic, religious and cultural tendencies.
The only distinguishing features of political parties should be their ideologies, which should also determine their character and outlook on other issues that affect the country. Political parties should also belong to the people. They are the vehicles through which people actualise their dreams and exercise their powers. In Nigeria’s first and second republics, citizens made significant contributions to their parties; they paid dues and raised money for aspirants. As recently as 1999, we had Nigerians without much resource contesting for and winning elections. Think of the Adebayo Adefaratis and Bisi Akandes of this world. But money now governs our politics. So, political parties have become weaponised by a group of Nigerians who fight tooth and nail to gain control of the parties and run their affairs by proxy.
So, how did the president and governors become “leaders of the parties.” In contrast, the people’s original leaders and grassroots mobilisers become mere puppets dancing to the tunes from government houses. Invariably, the president and governor have become the owners of the political parties because they have access to and control state resources. They summon party leaders like they call their political appointees or staffers and have made a total mess of the idea of party supremacy.
This confusion of roles and inchoate structure is why the country is not working. Ordinarily, the ideologies of parties should guide governance. The system should work so that when a governor deviates from a party’s ideology or manifesto, such a party is empowered to call the governor to order! Such structures existed in first and second republic Nigeria but the monetisation of politics, which has turned governors into tin gods, who dictate what happens from the ward to the national assembly, accounts for this deterioration in values.
Perhaps Nigerians would be less bothered with who runs the parties if governors, who should give us good schools, provide quality and affordable health care and generally make our lives better, did their jobs well. But that is precisely the issue. Democracy is structured so that there is a limit to (checks and balances) the powers of every organ. An attempt to take over the role of another organ would lead to over-concentration and eventually absolute power, which would inevitably turn corrupt in the hands of some. That is the situation we are dealing with in Nigeria. How is it possible for people who cannot run parties well to govern right? There is just no way!
The only other thing to say here is to point out the lack of character and decency in the speeches of some state governors. When a man is elected governor of a state, he is no longer just that man but a representative of those whose mandate he holds. Everyone, more so another governor, who stands in the same position, must temper their speech about a fellow governor. Every governor represents the electorate, except that these governors do not even quarrel about things that concern the people. The vituperations are primarily about power acquisition and personal aggrandisement.