How To Build Political Parties…And a Bit About Deborah, By Reno Omokri

It is a very gratifying thing that both major Nigerian political parties have thrown out zoning. Zoning, by its very nature, is anti-democratic. It belongs in the past, along with other relics of colonialism and military rule, including the quota system and the unitary system of government.

Zoning panders to ethnicity, rather than ability. It is the triumph of nepotism, rather than ideology. That is why it should be a stop-gap measure, which was what it was designed to be in 1998, when the military class of 1966 decided to compensate the Southwest for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, which was won by a man of Southwest origin, Bashorun MKO Abiola.

No country should build political parties on the basis of region, religion, tribe, or zone. That is a very dangerous slippery slope that can lead to a Rwanda-style genocide if Nigeria is not careful.

So, if parties should not be built along primordial lines, how should they be built? Good question. Enduring political parties are built on ideological common ground. History has proved that parties built on primordial foundations not only do not last, they are also most dangerous.

Let us take the oldest political party in Africa – the African National Congress. It was founded on January 8, 1912, and has endured and against all odds, it became the governing party in South Africa.

It is built on a foundation of national liberation, and national democratic principles, as a political and economic model for the redistribution of national wealth.

Because of this clear-cut ideology, all South Africans, including even White and Asian South Africans, were drawn to the party.

However, South African parties that pandered to ethnicity, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party, which was unabashedly set up to promote the regional interests of the Zulus of the KwaZulu-Natal, have not been so successful.

This is even as the largest ethnic group in South Africa is the Zulu, with the majority of them living in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Despite that state of things, the ANC dominated the IFP because of its reliance on ideology over ethnicity, and that route to power saw Nelson Mandela, and Thabo Mbeki, of the smaller Xhosa tribe becoming successive presidents of post-apartheid South Africa.

In contrast, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu prince, and traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu nation, who had coveted that post, never attained it until he retired from public life in 2019.

Whether it is the Kenya African National Union, or the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or the Labour Party of Mauritius, the political parties that have endured and thrived in Africa are those which were founded on the basis of ideology, rather than ethnicity or religion.

And when a party makes zoning a permanent feature, it cannot in truth lay claims to being founded on ideology.

Some may point to Switzerland, where the rotation of power is a well-established principle. However, the situation in Switzerland is a constitutional and national convention, not a party affair.

In Switzerland, the positions of President and Vice President rotate annually, and the president of the Confederation of Switzerland is not the Swiss Head of State. The seven-member Swiss Federal Council, is the collective Head of State of Switzerland.

If Nigeria wants to go that route, which is similar to the recommendations of the 2014 Nigerian National Conference, then so be it. That is more workable than leaving it to political parties.

Because, when zoning is seen as a right, it breeds an entitlement mentality, and creates the type of “it is our turn campaigning”, where a candidate and his or her supporters campaign on that basis and get aggressively confrontational when their sense of entitlement is not reciprocated by other citizens.

And then in frustration, they fall back on primordial sentiments, deepening the ethnic politics that a country like Nigeria should be trying to move away from.

We ought to be moving towards a country where citizens are more connected through ideology than through region, religion and other primeval appeals. That is the only way Nigeria can thrive as a country, because we are currently striving as a nation.

Societies cannot grow beyond a point if their constituents stick with the tribal niche that they have always known and refuse to open themselves up to higher ideals that do not emanate from their neck of the woods.

If you want to be wealthy and upwardly mobile, you should want to be connected with another individual who has such aspirations. And where there are enough of you, then as a community, you should organise yourselves into a body to promote such aspirations.

Political parties are about aspirations and interest. Being from a tribe or a religion is not an aspiration. It is a settled matter. Therefore, if you build a political party around settled matters, there will be little or no progress in society, because there is nothing to aspire to!

Religion, region and ethnicity are fixed. There is little room for aspirations with them. They were chosen for you by either God, or your parents (very few people choose their religions). Thus, building parties around them leads to the death of aspirations.

Look throughout history. Wars and other conflicts, like genocide, and ethnic cleansing, have always been traced to political parties or movements built around race, religion and ethnicity, whether in Germany, Rwanda, or the Ottoman Empire. Nigeria ought to consider this, and take a step back or else we will take a setback.

It is easier to settle the conflict of interests in societies, when those conflicts are about economic and ideological positions, rather than when they are primordial. If you oppose me because I am rich and you are poor, then I can try to resolve that by introducing policies to help you prosper materially.

However, if you oppose me because I believe in Christ, or based on the fact that I have Itsekiri heritage, how would I be able to resolve that? And if there are no possible ways of resolving such conflicts politically, then the result would be like what happened in Yugoslavia – God forbid!

Nigeria needs to go back to the days when a Fulani, Umaru Altine, made history as the first elected mayor of Enugu in 1956 and Felix Ezejiofor Okonkwo (AKA Kwankwaso, a bastardisation of Okonkwo and sons) made his own history as a member of the Northern Nigeria House of chiefs in 1957.

And that is only possible with parties built on ideology, not on primordial sentiments.

In conclusion, I would counsel the Peoples Democratic Party to learn from contemporary politics in countries that are in the same stage of political development as we are, and with similar schisms in their societies, which should have similar populations as ours.

The Philippines is a good example. They just had a Presidential election last week.

The Peoples Democratic Party should study how Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos won the Presidency, because BBM, as he is fondly called, and his party, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP) have a lot of similarities with the PDP and its candidates, and can teach them how to win in 2023!

Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos’s political enemies tried to bring up his family’s negative political past (his father, Ferdinand Marcos was overgrown in 1986 and accused of corruption). But BBM did NOT respond to those comparisons. Instead he talked about his plans. And he won!

The All Progressives Congress will try to do to the Peoples Democratic Party, and whoever is their candidate, what the PFP in the Philippines did to Marcos Jr. The PDP must respond like Marcos, by talking about tomorrow. Let APC talk about yesterday and today.

On The Sokoto Incident

Sokoto is a place I understand. My family lived there for decades. The people of Sokoto are VERY TOLERANT, except for anything they consider as disrespectful of their major religion, Islam.

My father went to Sokoto as a 23-year-old NYSC corps member. He became Director of Public Prosecution of Sokoto at the age of twenty nine. He became a judge in Sokoto at the age of thirty six. And the Northwest gave my father, a Christian, their slot in Nigeria’s second-highest court, the Court of Appeal!

I know people who have never been to Sokoto, or lived there, will attack me now for saying this. But I have lived there. If you respect their religion, you will prosper there, even if you do not believe in their religion. They do not force their religion on you. But you must respect it. That is my eyewitness testimony from my personal experiences in Sokoto.

To all those saying Northern Nigerian Muslims are bad and barbaric, you may have forgotten that a Northern Muslim, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, saved the lives of hundreds of Christians on June 23, 2018.

You see, there are good and bad people in every religion. Face the culprits, not the religion!

Let us rather learn from this teachable moment. I urge everyone to observe the mature and orderly manner in which the Body of Christ handled the incident involving the blasphemy surrounding Sterling Bank’s MD, Abubakar Suleiman.

We did not kill, we did not withdraw our monies from the bank. We did not hold violent protests. However, we made our grievances known. And he apologised. And as soon as he did, the Christian Association of Nigeria officially forgave him. And that action helped promote religious coexistence.

Perhaps those who killed Deborah were unaware that what the MD of Sterling Bank was alleged to have done was just as bad. Or even worse. Comparing our Lord and Saviour to Agege bread. But we know there is a Judgment Day, and left judgment to God. They could have done that too.

We are never going to be rid of each other. Christianity and Islam must coexist in Nigeria, because the alternative will make what happened in Yugoslavia look like child’s play.

That is why all of us, especially clerics, must think about what we are saying to our congregants. If we do not learn to live together in peace, we will soon learn that it is hard to live apart in pieces.

You may attack me for what I write, but God did not create Reno Omokri and put me on Earth to live up to the expectations of any man, or any society. He put me on Earth for one thing and one thing only: To live up to His expectations. You may now insult me!


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