The war within By Segun Gbadegesin

We live in a republic defined by its self-governing status and the constitutional principles by which it conducts its affairs. Those constitutional principles respect, among others, the fundamental rights of human beings to live their lives with minimum interference from government or any other authority. That is one difference between a monarchy and a republic.

Republicanism is predicated on the principle that individuals have rights and those rights must be protected against the whims and caprices of any groups or individuals. One system by which a republic proceeds to respect the principle of respect for human rights is the democratic system of governance according to which citizens directly or indirectly participate in the formulation and implementation of policies. In either case, the majority principle has the edge in the practice of democracies. This has led to the denigration of democracies in contrast to republicanism.

But while much has been made of the virtues of republicanism and while the tradition has been to applaud republican virtues over democracy, it seems to me that the bifurcation can be misleading because there can be no republican virtue without adequate attention to democratic virtues.

In truth, democracy is the rule of the people by the people and for the people. Here the people can rule themselves directly or indirectly through their elected representatives. Either way, it is the majority voice that is heard and respected. From which it follows that the minority will always lose out. Talk about internal democracy in group and political party procedures cannot lose sight of this crucial aspect (defect?) of democracy. Yet, it cannot be overlooked that as flawed as it is, democracy is still an indispensable instrument of governance in a republic, a reason why we are quick to cast aspersion on non-democratic (self-governing) republics.

The most important instrument of democratic governance in modern democracies is the political party. For democracy to function properly and thrive, political parties must function properly. But there is no guarantee that political parties will function properly. From which it follows that there is no guarantee that democracies will thrive. Two questions follow naturally. How must political parties function? What is the criterion for proper functioning? And why is there no guarantee that they will?

Before we look at the possible answers to these questions, it is perhaps helpful to look at an alternative to a system of political parties in a democracy. A clear-headed argument was once made by the Ghanaian philosopher, Kwasi Wiredu, for “a no-party consensual democracy” in Africa, based on what he considers the prospects of such a system in forging harmony and protection for minority interests. Wiredu’s position is not too far-off from the position of those early nationalists who argued for one-party democracies on ground of harmony and consensus, though he differed from them in the sense that they “murdered” competing political parties in order to make their case, while he doesn’t assume the prior existence of any parties.

I am not persuaded by the argument for a no-party system because it is unworkable in our modern complex societies with not just one but numerous groups—ethnic, religious, linguistic—with competing interests. The modern political party is clearly indispensable to the governance of modern democracies.

But what is expected of political parties and how must they function. The assumption is that a political party brings together people of like minds, with similar interests and ideological persuasions about the place of government in the lives of citizens. The party competes for political power along with others by selling its programs and policies to the electorate. If the electorate buys its programs and policies, and there is a free and fair election, it wins the support of citizens and assumes power. This is where the practice of majority rule becomes a problem for critics of democracy and efforts have been made by theorists of democracy to suggest corrective measures that promote minority interests. I will not go into this here. Suffice it to say that the system is not that obnoxious.

Now, the norm is what has been spelled out briefly in the last paragraph. However, the practice has not often conformed to the norm. The interest that brings people together has not always been that which they can sell with honesty to the citizens and the virtue of the political party, to articulate the foremost interests and aspirations of citizens, has not always been the motivating factor for a good number of contemporary political parties. The political party has been turned into a business organisation where the pecuniary interests of the leadership are dominant; but they are able to access political power and keep it because of their ability to manipulate the citizenry.

In a system that is rigged against the majority of its members because of the conditions of their existence—poverty, ignorance, disease—such manipulative practices succeed and a political party in power gets to impose itself on the nation with impunity even when it doesn’t discharge the responsibilities of governance to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Recall however that the satisfaction of the citizens is not a category that is high on the list of the party’s priorities in the first place. This is the reason that there can be no guarantee that the party will function adequately or that democracy will thrive. For in the last resort, when citizens are tired of manipulation, no matter the nature of the force levelled against them, there will be mass revolt, and it cannot be guaranteed that democracy will survive such a revolt. But even before such a time, there is bound to be war within the structure of the party itself.

The personal interests that bring its members together cannot be reconciled through consensus because human nature is egoistic and acquisitive as Hobbes told us long ago and we still don’t believe him.

If nothing else has demonstrated the veracity of Hobbes’ theory, the war within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) seems to me to a veritable example of a party, whose members are governed by the principle of personal egoism. Recall an unfortunate exchange between the late Chief Afolabi and the late Chief Bola Ige when the former accursed the latter of ingratitude to the leadership of the PDP who out of their generosity extended an invitation to Chief Ige to “come and eat.” The expression was that raw.

Consider now the grounds of the complaints of the members of the “New PDP” against the party leadership. Every bit of the complaint has to do with personal interest. Jonathan must forget contesting in 2015. Tukur must go. Amaechi must be restored as NGF Chair, etc. How does resolving any of these disputes or acceding to any of these conditions impact the fundamental interests of Nigerians? The New PDP faction has not made any case that focuses on issues of party accountability to the people. It has not faulted a governance style that has emboldened terrorists and sentenced innocent citizens to a life of perpetual insecurity. Indeed, the New PDP has not worried itself about the conditions of existence of the poorest of our fellow citizens.

The war within, no matter how it is resolved, whether in favor of the old or the new PDP, does not seem to have any prospect of benefitting the average suffering Nigerian. Indeed, what is most likely is that a consensus will be reached by the warring parties in the crisis. Attention would be paid to the original interests that brought them together and the personal interests at stake and the settlement will have no bearing on what a party in power owes to democracy or to the people who are the ultimate beneficiaries of a democratic republic’s system of government.

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