Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fight For Your Right Not To Party

(Max, Nat and Zack are doing what they do best where they do best what they do best. What's that? You want to know what the hell I'm talking about? [Sigh] - I mean that they are having another discussion in the Junction.)

Nat: So, you guys know that the presidential elections are just around the corner. Have you had a thought about which party you'll be voting for?

Zack: I haven't yet seen any party with an impressive enough candidates or policies to tempt me to vote. What about you?

Nat: Well, I'll be voting for the PDP.

Zack (outraged): What?? Are you crazy? How can you even think of voting for the People's Destruction Party that has done so much to damage democracy and increase the suffering of the ordinary man?

Nat: You're not being fair. Obasanjo has tried, given the state the country was in when he entered. He's started to deregulate and privatise the telecommunications and power sectors which were terribly inefficient, he's begun to introduce more sanity and transparency in the process of contract bidding and financial record keeping, he's paid off Nigeria's debts and built huge foreign reserves, he's introduced sanity into the banking industry, he's set about reforming the country's pension system, he's...

Zack (even more outraged): Stop! STOP!! What's the point of deregulating the telecommunications industry if it sends the prices beyond the reach of the common man? Where are the effects of the power deregulation - are we not still experiencing irregular and infrequent power supply? What is all the point of the other financial mago-mago if we still can't see effect on the lives of Nigerians? A year of the banking consolidation, do we see the banks lending money to productive ventures in the economy? And I haven't even begun talking about how he's acted like a dictator, terrorising his opponents, seeking to extend his rule...

Nat (protesting): You're still not being fair. A lot of the reforms that have been started will take time to bear fruit, so you can't say they are successful or not until a reasonable period has passed...

Max (raising his hands): Enough, please! Guys, spare me the debate. I really could do without hearing about Nigerian politics today.

Nat: That's odd, Max. You usually revel in arguments of this sort. Haven't you decided who you're voting for yet?

Max: Me? I'm voting - if you want to call it that - for the party I always vote for at party elections.

Nat: Oh? Which party is this?

Max: The biggest, most successful and most widespread party in Nigeria - the Apathy Party of Nigeria.

Zack: You're not voting, then? I can't really say I blame you.

Nat: Why not? Is it because there's no party that represents your interests?

Max: As a matter of fact, even if there was a party that represented my interests, I still wouldn't vote for it!

(Nat and Zack look at each other, confused.)

Zack: Max, I know you come up with some strange ideas from time to time, but this has to be the strangest. Can you explain this new idea of not voting for a party that supports your ideals?

Max: Simple. I wouldn't vote for it because it's a party.

Zack: You mean you don't vote for parties?

Max: No. I believe that party democracy is a terrible basis on which to form a group of people to make new laws.

Nat: Why?

Max: Well, think about it. Let's say you have a group of a hundred people who meet together to decide what laws a society should live by, and let's say that they decide to adopt a view if more people vote for it than against it.

You know that each person in the group will obviously have his own agenda, and he will argue for it to be included in the group of laws. But the extent to which he succeeds will depend on how good he is at convincing everyone else - which is how it should be. He knows he has to work damn hard, because the other members of the group are free agents - they aren't bound by anything other than the force of a good argument to go along with his agenda.

Now picture the same situation, but this time, the group is split into political parties, and one of those parties is a dominant one with seventy members. The difference now is that if our man with an agenda happens to lead this dominant party, then what he says goes - even if it’s a terrible idea. In other words, political parties just stifle debate.

Nat: Err... Max - hold on o! You're forgetting that before the party leader with his own agenda can push it onto the rest of the group, he must have convinced his party that this is the agenda that they should go with. So he still has to do some persuading - it's not just a case of imposing his will on his people.

Max: Well, Brother Nathaniel, of course he would need to persuade them if he didn't have any other way of getting them to do what he wanted. But remember - he is the party leader, and if he is a leader, he has a very powerful instrument to wield - expulsion from the party.

I mean, think about it. On the one hand, a party member could continue to be a member of this dominant party, although he would have to agree with the leader. On the other hand, he could leave the party and shout his views to the high heavens, even though there's no chance of the rest of the group adopting them, because basically his former party's sixty-nine members will always vote with the leader.

Zack: Come on, Max. You're really exaggerating here. Sometimes, there is a rebellion, and there are so many people in the dominant party who disagree with the leader that he dare not risk expelling them because it means that his seventy-strong party will be reduced to thirty or forty. So he has to accept their opposition. This has happened the United Kingdom, where
party members have voted several times against the Labour Party line in many matters.

Max: Well, the politically devious leader can easily prevent those kinds of rebellion by divide-and-rule tactics. He might make an example of one or two randomly-picked rebels - including a ringleader or two - and kick them out of the party, then turn round and say "OK - who wants to rebel next?"

But even in the UK, the rebels only rebel over things they feel strongly about. There are other matters where they vote with the government because even though they may not agree with the government, their disagreement is not so strong that they want to risk their position.

And that's my point - as long as you are a member of a party, there's always this implied coercion! It's the same reason why we follow traditions and customs - not because they are necessarily right or wrong to follow, but because we want to follow the crowd! And I think that this internal coercion stops open-minded and genuine debate from taking place, which is a bad thing - because we need this kind of debate to produce the best laws for the society.

Zack: Well, I still think that you're exaggerating the extent to which parties stifle debate. But let us even assume that all parties were banished. What would you have in their place?

Max: Well, every candidate would have to present himself for election based on his own merits. Incidentally, that's another thing I hate about party politics. You get all manner of mediocre people being elected to a position when they don't have a clue about what to do in that position - and they can get away with this, because the Almighty Party pushes them forward. Even if the powerful party pushes a goat forward, people vote for it because it is the Goat of the Almighty Party.

Well, in my New Dispensation, there'll be no more hiding behind Mama Almighty Party's skirts! You'll now live or die based on your ideas, your charisma, your experience and your ability!

Nat: Hold on - so all parties will be banned under this new dispensation? That's extremely illiberal! Whatever happened to Freedom of Association? What's your business with what several consenting adults and party goats get up to in their spare time?

Max: Wait! I didn't say that parties would be banned. What will happen is that parties will no longer put forward candidates. Simple. Also, parties will no longer be recognised in the Senate and the House of Representatives. All you will have is just a group of people who have put themselves forward at constituency level on an individual basis to be elected to these houses. There will be nothing like Majority or Minority Leaders.

Zack: OK, so no party names during elections. But there's nothing stopping a group of people from deciding to support a group of candidates at all levels by funding their election campaigns, for example?

Nat: And there's nothing stopping the leaders of this group with funds from dictating what laws should be passed and executed by those people it has sponsored to power, with the threat that disobedient candidates will have their support withdrawn, and may even be subject to negative campaigning?

Zack: In other words, this group will look like a party, sound like a party, feel like a party - but it will not be a party.

Max (laughing): Of course you can't stop these pseudo-parties from forming. But I believe that by denying them official status, their clout will be much weaker and you will have many more independent-minded candidates, including many who would never have been able to contest under a party election system.

In fact, I blame the current situation on the ridiculous laws set by
INEC - like having a presence in two-thirds of all the states. This just forced many 'funding organisations' that would have been happy to be on their own to merge to form the Frankenstein monster that is today known as the PDP!

Nat: I'm still not convinced at this idea of yours. One nice thing about parties is that they represent a political brand. If you have a group of candidates who come to your door canvassing for your vote and you don't know them from Adamu, it's difficult to decide who to vote for. On the other hand, if you know that one is the PDP candidate, one is the AC candidate and one is the ANPP candidate...

Zack (interrupting): Then you bring out your koboko, chase all three of them away and ask them never to darken your door again!

Nat (laughing): Actually, I was going to say that it makes it easier for you decide what to do since you have an idea of what each party stands for.

Max: Come on, Nat! Do you seriously think that there is a difference in any of these parties? You know that they all swear by the same creed - "Rig, Loot and Chop"!

Nat: I don't agree. By the leadership of the party, you can guess which ones are likely to perform better than others.

Max: Aha! So you admit that the people that lead the party matter! So why not do away with the party altogether and let the people's characteristics come to the fore?

Zack: It will be too confusing. Imagine the number of people there will be! Too much choice means that you end up confused, and you just pick the loudest candidate rather than the most suitable one.

Max: Well, there can be a deposit that each candidate is required to make so that if he gets under a certain percentage of the vote, he loses his deposit. This will discourage unserious candidates. But so what if there are many people? I believe that it's something people will get used to.

Zack: Anyway, I don't see your idea ever coming to fruition, unless there's some sort of popular revolution. I can't see parties willingly agreeing to their dissolution and releasing the power that they hold - that would be like chickens voting for Christmas.

Nat: In some ways, that's not too bad - at least, it means that the PDP will still be around for a while yet.

Zack: Nat, I still cannot understand your support for this demonic party. Is it that
Jennifer's father is a party chieftain and you are using this strategy to pursue his daughter?

Nat: Ay! Don't bring Jen into this. And I've already told you about why I support it. Can you not see how Nigeria's international image has been improved from the days of Abacha, how...

Zack (scornfully): What international image?? When the Western media isn't calling us "the most corrupt country in the world", it is referring to us as "the capital of advance-fee fraud scams"...

Max: Guys!... Guys!! (He gets no response, as Nat and Zack continue to bicker. Thinks to himself.) Oh well. It's a nice dream... no parties to blight Nigeria's political landscape and cause quarrels like this one... (looks at Nat and Zack) But there'll be situations where all the independent candidates will be unacceptable - so it'll still be a good idea to keep just one party around - the biggest, most successful and most widespread party in Nigeria...

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