Opinion: Preaching to the devil

by Andrew Obuoforibo

Preaching to the devil forms Part 1 of the series “How To Build A Party For The Masses”


Why Neither APC Nor PDP Are Built To Serve The People

Ask a handful of educated Nigerians what they dislike about our political system, and you will likely hear the following points from most of them:

The parties have no ideology.
The politicians jump from one party to the other out of personal interest.
No matter the party in power, the same group of people seem to be getting the positions.
Once elected, politicians don’t care about solving real problems.
To summarize, the average educated Nigerian believes the political system is broken. Next, if you ask her what should be done to fix it, she will probably start her sentence with:

Government should…
The parties need to…
The President must…

Yes, Nigerians expect those benefiting from the broken system to fix it. We must understand that to the elite who run Nigeria, the system is working just fine, and if we want to change this system, we cannot rely on political parties that are funded, run and populated by that elite. This includes my party, the ruling APC, as well as the PDP and APGA. None of them can ever be expected to side more with the masses and the professional class than with the current power elite that gave birth to them.

How Parties Are Born

On Paper

Maurice Duverger, the man who wrote the book on political parties*, told us half a century ago that the first parties are usually built by “notables” who already have wealth, influence and political power. They use these qualities to dominate elections in their local area. Once elected, notables from all over the nation form alliances to protect themselves in Parliament and Government, and to help push their individual ambitions. This national alliance becomes a political party, a loose confederation of local champions fighting for each other at the national level. These parties are thus at their roots non-ideological. Their only true ideal is the progress of their core members. Yes, they will weigh in on ideological issues, but they only do so because their interests are at stake. No permanent ideology, only permanent interests. They may also favor policies that make life easier for the masses, but as a rule only to the extent that they need the goodwill of the masses to stay in power.

Duverger calls these Elite Parties or Cadre Parties. He gave us a checklist of their characteristics. They:

  • have levels of membership. At the centre, small “caucuses” of notables in each area. These are assisted by agents and Electoral Committees in sub-areas who enforce control of the vote. At the fringe, there are supporters and loyalists who have no real say in the Party’s direction, but are useful in driving votes.
  • are not interested in enlisting the masses. They want your votes, not your membership.
  • are truly led by political officeholders and other politicians, not the party officials.
  • are more concerned with political questions than ideological ones.
  • fund themselves through donations from the notables, not through membership dues.

In Nigeria

PDP, APC and APGA are all Elite/Cadre Parties. Let’s go through the checklist:

In these parties, we talk about “chieftains”, “godfathers” and “stakeholders” in each Ward, LGA, State, Zone and at National. These are current and former officeholders, financiers. We say that each of these notables has a “political structure” made up of foot soldiers of various levels* whose job is to “deliver” votes in a particular polling unit, Ward or LGA. The structures also contain other functionaries like media commentators and social media activists. Beyond all these, we have of course self-proclaimed “PDP men” and “APC men”.
The PDP barely ever performs membership drives, and when it does, membership cards are distributed secretly and are hard to come by*, one sees various local caucuses independently agreeing to unite under a national banner or separate back into regionality, all based on the interests of their leaders.
An important takeaway is that the four problems our Educated Nigerian listed at the beginning are all necessary consequences of Elite Parties. They are built to protect the interests of the godfathers, not to propagate any ideology. It is therefore natural for politicians to abandon a party built to protect their interests when it no longer does so. Since all our parties represent the elite, they will draw their appointees from this elite. They will also prioritize their issues over those affecting the Common Man unless the latter intersects with the former, or the masses are needed at a particular point. So, our regular intellectual criticisms, while accurate, fail to take into account that this is simply the evolutionary stage our politics has reached.

This is not the first time in history a country’s entire political space is dominated by elite-supporting parties. In fact, Political Science teaches us that in new democracies, this is usually the necessary first step*. The second step is the formation of strong working-class parties that base their strength not on the elite but on the masses*. The arrival of these parties cements the political power of the masses, and paves the way for populist policies in governance.

When will Nigeria get to that next step? Based on current trends, never. Some of the key factors necessary for the development of mass parties do not exist in Nigeria at present. Our politics will remain stagnated at this stage as long as the political elite is the only class that can organize parties to champion its interests. In the next article, we will explore the economic, social and cultural reasons why the professional class, small business and the masses have been unable so far to float their own parties and fight for control of Government.


*Figuratively and literally. His most influential book is titled “Political Parties”.

*A notable is often a member of a bigger notable’s structure.

*In its last “membership drive” last year, each Party LGA Chairman in Rivers State was given a stack of cards and a list of local notables among whom to share them. Each notable was then charged to give one card each to trusted members of his Structure. They were not handing them out at street corners.[/Footnote]. The APC had an open membership drive, but like the PDP, restricts voting in Primaries to delegates. Members merely choose those delegates (from options pre-screened by the Party leadership).

*The President, not his Party chairman, is considered the leader of his Party. I could stop there. Nobody would suggest that John Oyegun is more influential in the APC than Bola Tinubu who holds neither political nor party office, but is a former Governor.
Nigerians already agree that our parties are not focused enough on ideology.
The only time a party I joined asked me for dues was when I was running for office in 2011. Nigerian parties do not even pretend to be interested in collecting money from regular members. They live on the public and private donations of the notables.
So, Elite Parties all. They were born more or less as Duverger described. The PDP was the coming together of various Third Republic political veterans (including the legendary “PF” faction of the SDP) from all over the country. If one takes a microscope to the mergers that created the AC and later the ACN and APC[footnote]Or the schism that gave rise to the CPC out of the ANPP.

*The UK had the Tories and Whigs (later Liberals).

*UK’s Labour Party

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Andrew Obuoforibo is the Managing Partner of Harcourt Lane, a communications agency. He has worked as a policy consultant and speechwriter for political campaigns, and has a background in M&E.

This article was first written here

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