By Babajide Kolade-Otitoju
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It has been a most cherished privilege of mine, to be counted a voice that should at all be lending its own share of perspectives and insights on the long and difficult road we all hope will one day lead Nigeria to its promised land.
But the times we live in are now perhaps most significant, for they carry with them a great and troubling burden which, if handled more badly than is the present case, could result in a situation that none of us here could ever foretell.
Now those were merely my preliminary thoughts and I would immediately proceed to deal with the issues at the heart of the subject that you have so kindly asked me to deal with today.
Political provocation is a term that has been with us since the very beginning of partisan politics in Nigeria but it may only be appropriate that we begin by defining it.
Provocation consists of:
1. Unfriendly behaviour that causes anger or resentment.
2. Something that incites….a means of arousing or stirring action
By these two definitions, taken from the Advanced English Dictionary, we can take it that political provocation is made up of speech and actions that are unfriendly, that incite and that lead to or can indeed lead to negative, often violent, retaliatory consequences.
We do not have to look too far to discover the factors that create a fertile soil for political provocation to grow.
We can easily identify them and then go on to dissect them one after the other. By no means exhaustive, the following are among those I have identified to be leading causes of political provocation.
Lack of Internal Democracy
Lack of transparency & accountability within the party
Inflammatory and belligerent rhetoric during electioneering
Lack of a level playing field which can lead to rebellious tendencies within a party
Let me begin with the first, namely, lack of internal democracy.
This is a big problem because it is difficult to see how political parties who declare their faith in democracy will fail to practise it among their own members. The old saying, charity begins at home, cannot be truer here.
Where internal democracy is lacking and candidates are imposed on the parties, unhappy groups such as the youth, for instance, who have so much energy and passion could resort to unlawful means to make their voices heard. Violence cannot be ruled out wherever any person or persons feel that they have been given the short end of the stick.
Politics has been defined by a school of thought as “who gets what, how and when.” If the process for the distribution of power and resources within a party of equal members is conducted “unequally”, it is sufficient ground for those so affected negatively to be provoked and to take undesirable action. Lack of internal democracy is not only bad for the party; it also threatens democracy itself.
Next, I will speak to the issue of lack of transparency. It is related, and just as bad. Within a party, and indeed in politics, transparency is used as a means of holding officials to account. It is a path to improving the quality of governance and government. But when some persons work knowingly to hide what all should be aware of or have, there is often a loss of trust and confidence in the leadership. It’s the citizens’ right to know how the office is being run. The leaders should be transparent because apart from accountability, it also provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. When citizens are denied access to useful and necessary information, undue secrecy can undermine the quality of public decision-making and prevent citizens from checking the abuses of public power. The point here is that when the flow of information is made to favour others and give them advantages over others, the under-informed could be justifiably provoked with unpredictable consequences occurring.
The third factor that gives rise to provocation in politics is inflammatory and belligerent rhetoric during electioneering. This particular factor is one that we can all connect with. When a contestant leaves his message and starts to focus on his opponent and says things meant to ridicule his opponent, the consequence can be very extreme. How far belligerent remarks can go in politics is not something to be taken lightly at all. In Kenya, in 2007, a whole nation came close to being consumed in the fires of violence during post-election protests. Many died. What was the cause? Hate speech. We recall also that the Inspector-General of Police had warned against belligerent language in recent elections in the country. No amount of care taken to prevent hateful and hurtful speechmaking can be said to be too much because its consequence is not one very many survive to tell.
Lack of a level playing field is yet another factor responsible for political provocation. Some parties sell forms of intent at prices certain classes of persons, especially the youth, cannot buy. Even so, limited number of forms will be sold so that only the anointed or preferred aspirants end up buying available ones and thus buy and be allowed to feature in the primaries. Persons who are left out of this sort of manipulative process will not take such injustice lying low.
Prebendalism is the last on my list, a term that has come to stick, long after professor Richard Joseph thrust it into national consciousness and the global political science vocabulary. This is the politics of patronage. This is the politics of the highest bidder. This happens when party leaders favour preferred persons to become party standard-bearers in the hope of future financial gains. What this means is that merit, integrity, honesty, hard work, etc are all marked as needless virtues. Those who would rather see justice prevail may have no other way of seeking redress other than to react from provocation.
It has been said over and again, that for Nigeria to be fixed, or any other country for that matter, its politics must first be fixed.
It follows therefore that to fix Nigerian politics, we must first fix the political parties hat operate in it.
We may fix these challenges by creating a commission to regulate and monitor political party primary elections and other activities, providing equal opportunities to political party member.
There is a bias in political parties to concentrate power in one or few leaders at the top. For instance, only few parties keep membership registers and hold organisational meetings as well as conduct internal elections regularly. Ordinary members do not get sufficient information on what happens inside the party. They don’t have the means or the connections needed to influence the decisions. As a result, the leaders assume greater power to make decisions in the name of the party.
We can make the party system work. All power is derived from bottom up. I believe that fora of this kind are the starting points of a new order in political culture. That change will come and if we stand up to take up that challenge today, we will be counted on the right side of history in when that time comes.
God bless you all.
Babajide Kolade-Otitoju delivered this paper at the Ogun APC Freedom Day Summit which took place in Abeokuta on Thursday, 11 February, 2021.