By Pat Utomi
Clichés have a way of reinforcing stereotypes and shielding either the truth or an understanding of trends that result in more than the narrow visions of the point. There is perhaps no better example of this than the frequently repeated view that there is no difference between the major parties. It is cliché that needs discerning exploration.
It may be true that no clear set of ideas defined engagement of political parties in the wake of the hurried departure of the military in 1999 but, lessons from history suggest that the kind of groaning and travails that currently mark the system have had a way of giving birth to something new and more desirable. It is this history that leads me to being more cautious in judgment.
It is in fact my expectation that not only are the more carefully observed signs pointing to an All Progressives Congress (APC) that will be ideologically left of centre, and very peoples-oriented, a kind of people sensitive and responsive enterprise economy, that is justice focused, but also that even the PDP will come out of this process less prone to impunity, even if conservative, and may become more disciplined. Why do I think so?
On this matter, I like often to point to the history of how the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States have evolved in relation to African Americans.
Many young people, who presume the Democrats have always been the more liberal of the Parties with higher sensitivity to the minority groups, are shocked to learn that the Republican Party was once the Party opposed to dehumanizing slavery, and that Abraham Lincoln – who fought to end it, as state policy, and who put the people at the centre of the purpose of government – was a Republican.
In the nature of how political party traditions emerge, as I indicated at the keynote I gave at the Leadership Newspapers annual lectures two years ago, referring liberally to Reberto Michels and his 1911 study of political parties, trends of how parties thrive, abound, and of Michels Iron’s Law of Oligarchy, informs of anything, it is the important place of the political parties structure in evolution.
This is why I think a close look at the political history of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, General Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Bisi Akande and some workroom people in APC do a better job of revealing where APC may be going than the excitable pundit on television points to or that the journalist seeking sensation is likely to see.
Let us take Tinubu. I can speak with a fair amount of authority to some of his strengths that I see leaving an imprimatur on the APC, which the pundits miss. This is because I spent a fair amount of time being part of or facilitating retreats of the-would be cabinet from when he was Governor-elect until some time into his first term. The first of the strengths is captured in his passion for competence and his comfort level with having the best around him. A U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria once said to me that he wished the Federal cabinet were half as good as the Lagos State Cabinet.
That disposition and the courage of the lion in taking on daunting obstacles is a flavor I see clearly affecting the course of the APC.
With General Buhari, his austere and ascetic ways with a clear following by the people at the bottom of the pyramid, who are looking for people of integrity with a monomaniacal focus on the needs of the downtrodden mark him out and show the imprint his preference will leave on how the party is shaped after all the building of critical mass settles. Then there is Chief Bisi Akande.
As I have indicated before, when The Concerned Professionals wanted a speaker for an event many years ago and decided it wanted someone who had been in government and had shown uncommon touch, for the common good while living integrity, it settled for Chief Bisi Akande.
Mesh this with the intellectual wing of APC, which includes elements from the Restoration Group that emanated from the Concerned Professionals and people like Nasir El-Rufai, who has unusual capacity for faithful execution, and the kinds of conversations quietly going on with the principals mentioned here that I have been involved with and you see that the APC will crystallize into a peoples’ party that is left of centre with programmes of free education, decentralization of authority and large scale small business support for massive job-creation, based on value-chains derived from the factor endowment of local development areas.
At a discussion I participated in on instructions of Chief Akande, to shape party policy, one professor summed up the nature of the vision of the party that emerged as “Ijoba mekunu” or “Party Umu Obenye”, in the spirit of the Talakawa focused thrust of Aminu Kano. To see the in cross carpets as coming to party in the party, and think there is no ideology in Nigerian politics or that there is no, difference between PDP and APC is to miss the point of parties in evolution and watch a test of analytic power on the part of commentators.
The parties are clearly in evolution and the future of Nigeria depends on the expectation that power can swing back and forth between parties. Nigeria is richer for the fact that the alternative is not now only much bigger than those who were previously in opposition, to but it is developing an ideological bent.
There are, in one orientation, or tendency in APC, people like myself who are more interested in principles, systems, values and institutions that shape human progress. Our path to the APC began with escalating roles in social enterprise and civil society, to trying to set the agenda for the political arena in 2007. On that track I was matched in the top traunch of the Presidential debates with candidates Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari.
Mallam Yar’Adua was either unwilling or unable to come, so I debated General Buhari on that fateful nationally televised debate. As permanent video records indicate, my last words at the end of the debates as we shook hands was: “This country can be fixed, General; we can work together to change this country for our children. We must fix Nigeria!” In that spirit, I ended up in his hotel suite for dinner that night.
From that moment forward, the main role I have played has been to try to pull together a formidable opposition and help build a value platform on which it could rest. After the terribly rigged elections that brought Yar’Adua to office, I worked with General Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and others to show how flawed those elections were. In 2010 and 2011 I worked, first with the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Olu Falae in pursuit of the same goal. When Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu invited me to accompany him on a similar mission a year ago, I confessed that I was near exhaustion on that track but will work with him where necessary.
He succeeded where we had failed and I have praised that accomplishment and been working, as promised, to help with future content and structure. I have no doubt that this is not perfection on day one but it is a strong head start in what may be one of the biggest left of centre, people-centred political movements in the world since Fabian socialism gripped the soul of Europe after World War II and catapulted the Labour Party into prominence in the United Kingdom.
This is both an article of faith and statement of hope on the one hand as it is a rigorous reading of trends on the other.
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