All posts by Yinka

Political Party and Democracy

Robert Michels was a German intellectual and politician.  In the early part of the last Century, Michels joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany.  He left the party because he thought the party had deviated from its democratic principles, and later joined the Italian Socialist Party, which he saw as a more democratic form of socialism.  Michels believed in true democracy but, as he moved through the ranks of the Socialist Party, he found out, that even among more militant factions of the party, that the slogan of people-participation was nothing more than oligarchic bureaucracy.  Michels was consumed with the asymmetry between political parties and true democracy.  He concluded that it was impossible for any party to bring about true democracy in practice—that oligarchy was inevitable.

Michels explained that for any party with a democratic base to consolidate the legitimacy it requires, it must have an organization that delegates tasks.  He reasoned that the rank and file within the party would not have the time, energy, wherewithal or inclination to participate in the many, often minute decisions necessary to keep the party functioning.  Over time, this bureaucracy becomes permanent, full-time cadre of leadership.  And, inexorably, there grows up a great “gulf which divides the leaders from the masses.” The leaders now control the tools with which to manipulate the opinion of the masses and subvert the party’s democratic process.  Thus the leaders, who were at first no more than workers within the party, will soon become independent of the party’s control.

A political party is an organization of people that utilizes political power by leveraging the goals and objectives common to its members.   Some political parties have ideological objectives, and others do not; some are formed around social or economic issues while some champion their ethnic or cultural identities.  In spite, the formation of political parties, in most countries, are organic—political parties typically coalesce around the goals, objectives or ideologies common to the group.

National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons (NCNC) was formed to eradicate colonialism; while Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG) were both formed as socio-ethnic organizations.  On the other hand, the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), the first party formed in the North, was more ideological.   In the United States, the stark differences in thought between the factions of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson gradually led to the formation of the Democratic and Republican parties.  In the United Kingdom, the differences between those advocating constitutional and absolute monarchy led to the creation of the Whig and the Tories.

The current political associations in Nigeria, with antecedents in past political parties, do not follow any of these trends.  While the political and socio-economic conditions of the past appears to have moderated for newer ones, the two dominant political parties, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) lack discernible goals, objectives and ideologies to match those current conditions.  As such, it is difficult or impossible to critique/analyze the means and objectives each of the parties proposes to solve those current challenges.  Equally, the lack of discernible goals, objectives and ideologies blur any differences that might exist between the parties, if there was any at all.

True democracy, on the other hand, is the government by the people.  Among a small set of people, it is easy to have each member of the group participate in the act of governing but this becomes rowdy and impractical as the group enlarges.  As such, a representative democracy is established to correct the anomaly.  In a representative democracy, each subset of a larger set selects a member from the subset, and the selected members combine to govern on behalf of all members of the larger set.  Representative democracy does not need party organization to succeed.  The central argument of this essay is that party organization or political party, on the other hand, destroys representative democracy.  In the United States, the first party to be formed, the Democratic Party was formed around 1832—more than forty years after representative democracy started.

The end goal of a political party is to integrate the power inherent in each representative for common ends.  This power can both be positive or negative.  It is important to note, as Michels did, that political parties, by its nature, promotes insularity and impedes the free flow of ideas.  In the United States, the Republican Party was formed to prevent Kansas from becoming a slave-friendly State and promote industrialization; while the Party has recently formed opposition to expanding healthcare to all Americans and immigration.  Polls taken of how each representative would have voted if immigration were to be introduced in the US House of Representatives indicate, contrary to the Party’s position, that immigration would pass the House by a significant margin.

In conclusion, flexibility and durability are the hallmarks of a people Constitution; and the goals and objectives of a people Constitution are to enhance the human capacity within its geographical area.  At the heart of democracy is the capacity for each individual in the society to influence governance.  As such, human growth is the outcome of the interplay between a people Constitution and true democracy.  A political party, as Michels concluded, is antithetical to true democracy; it substitutes its internal organization—designed for its survival, for true democracy.  Political parties crush the individual in a democracy to create, at best, its persona and ideology.  As such, instituting party politics over true democracy in a people Constitution is unnecessary and repressive, and superfluous at best.  Sections 221 and 222 of the Nigerian Constitution establishes rather than allow the organic formation of political parties.  The two sections are the military’s attempt to foster uniformity and organization upon true democracy, while the energy that fuels true democracy is the wide diversity in the people’s ability—it is what makes democratic institutions succeed.

While representative democracy is the bridge between true democracy and political parties, it is not necessary for the State to promote political parties above true democracy.  Political parties are natural and organic, and not mechanical creations.

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Israel and Iran’s Policy

In his book, Of Africa, Wole Shoyinka argued on a new currency for enlightenment and development. According to him, some tribes and people-group have shown, in spite of tangible developments, that they have not outgrown their base instincts. Among his anecdotal references are Africans willingness to forge peace in the face of great oppression. Nelson Mandela referred to this as Ubuntu–human kindness. Netanyahu has shown that his claims to the mother of all religion–Judaism, has afforded him no high above his base instincts.

For the sake of argument, what would Netanyahu have US, France, Germany, China, Russia and United Kingdom do if negotiations with Iran fail–if Iran refuses to stop its nuclear development? Does Netanyahu believe US could hold the coalition against Iran together indefinitely? Does Netanyahu want to see a dismembered Iran joining the ungovernable land masses in Middle East? How much more money, blood and sweat would Netanyahu requests from America to pursue the endless defense of arrogance and belligerency? Does Netanyahu understand the demise of Empires, from antiquity to the present, have coincided with unnecessary ambitions and overstretched resources?

Equally, for the sake of argument, what would Iran do with military grade nuclear weaponry that North Korea, Pakistan, India and others have not done that makes Iran’s possession existential?

Saber-rattling is okay, for as long as it does not define the real. Quit this show of shame!

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SOTUS–Stop this Dance of Shame

Thurgood Marshall, the late Supreme Court Justice, was reported to have frowned against the notoriety gained by Martin Luther King (MLK) over his contributions to Civil Rights and advancing the rights of blacks in the US.  According to the report, Marshall thought his own contributions were underplayed while MLK’s was overplayed. He was frustrated that he wasn’t accorded more attention. The nine members of the Supreme Court are humans, with all their failings and cravings.  Each of these folks seeks attention and notoriety created by political wrangling over the ACA–to them, the attention is welcomed rather than discouraged.  It’s easy to turn the ACA into legal abstractions, forgetting about ordinary men and women struggling with life and health challenges that are directly impacted by the law.  It’s time these folks in black robes understand that Americans know the King is Naked!

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Disaster Kapitalism & Nigeria

In Naomi Klein’s multiple books, especially the Shock Doctrine, she focuses discussion on capitalism and its darker edges, which she described as disaster capitalism.  One of her argument is the pernicious symbiosis between capital and a small click of elites, and at the detriment of the 99 percent living around the globe.  To be precise, these small elites are mostly not politicians or your usual hustler around the seat of government.  Even, in Nigeria, the bastards that have stolen the Commonwealth dry are not part of Klein’s small click of elites.  So, who are they?  Aliko Dangote is on my mind.

Soludo’s evidence for the success of the bank consolidation in Nigeria was the testimony of Dangote, which according to Soludo, Dangote could not have grown as big as he is without those consolidations.  The argument is that with bank consolidation, there were banks that grew big enough to syndicate loans big enough for Dangote to grow his empire.  In 2012, Sanusi Lamido, Emir of Kano, in Warwick, England, continued the same mantra, in defending the consolidation.  According to his Highness, banks perform several roles, of which Nigeria banks fail, and as a consequence, those banks had to be eliminated.  To most Nigerians, the salacious theft of Cecilia Ibru, Akingbola and others was enough reason for the bank consolidation.

In one swoop of legislative suicide, Nigeria reduced the number of her banks from more than 80 banks to about 22—and, a new era of megabanks was borne.  The balance of cash and equities in those smaller banks accrued to the benefit of the surviving megabanks, and they in turn became awash in money.  And, all for the benefit of Dangote and his few 1 percent neighbors.  There is nothing to wonder about that the advent of Nigerians on Forbes list of billionaires coincided with the bank consolidations.   The Dangote, Adenuga, Otedola, Kalus and others, now compete on the Forbes list.

On the other hand, the first casualties of the bank consolidations were the young, employed and unemployed graduates of our universities who either would or have secured entry level corporate jobs at those smaller banks.  The small town farmer, who needed a goat milk extractor or medium Tiller for his farm, struck out next.  The spare parts dealers and others, whose goal were medium to short term small loans, suddenly became history.  The neighborhood vulcanizers, market women, and contractors were unknown consumers of credit or banking services, so, they couldn’t have factored into the casualty list.

There are more than 6000 community banks in the US, representing 93 percent of all lenders in the country.  Community banks, which typically have less than $10 billion in assets, account for about 45 percent of all of the $4-5 trillion loans to businesses and farms made by insured institutions in the United States.  In short, the JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and others constitute merely 7 percent of all lenders in the US.  While the asset of a smaller bank in the US far exceeds that of a bigger bank in Nigeria, the relative investment of a Nigerian businessperson is undoubtedly served by those smaller banks.

Before I am being jumped and thrashed, the crimes of Ibru, Akingbola and others were serious, as they undermined credibility in our banking institutions, but the solution is not the total elimination of those smaller banks.  Between 1986 and 1995, US witnessed the Savings & Loan Crises (S&L), where 1,043 out of the 3,234 S&L banks failed.  About ten years later, another banking crisis that affected the entire world struck.  Each of these crises had its antecedents in one fraud or the other, but what has not happened in America is to eliminate the need for the small-town community banks.

 

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As Global Prices of Crude Oil Drops What Should Nigeria Do

In Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein argues that each catastrophic condition is an opportunity to press the reboot button.  While she argues that the neo-conservatives have used many of the world catastrophes to push their ideas of capitalism, which she describes as disaster capitalism.  Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize this phase to press the reboot button.  She points to disasters from the Noah’s flood to Iraq war and Katrina in the US—and, that changes after each of these disasters have mirrored the ambitions of dreamers and thinkers.  I am not sure if she cited to the fires in Rome and Paris during the times of Emperor Nero and Napoleon respectively, as examples where both leaders have used the catastrophes to embark on major construction and architectural projects in the respective cities.  But if she did not, these are typical examples to emphasize her shock doctrine.

I am thinking of the current drop in the world oil prices and its effect on Nigeria’s economy.  Whether the drop in revenue is enough catastrophes to shake Nigerians into pressing the reboot button, is an open question.  Would Nigerians reflect and challenge our autocratic culture for a more democratic system, is equally an open question.  What is not open to question is the hardship that the drop in the world oil prices shall present.  Also, the current democratic system is not open to question, as Nigerians understood that more democracy is better than less.  So, how should the next government tackle the economic hardship?

Two independent experiences should point to a way forward for any incoming government.  First is the 2012 removal of petroleum subsidy and, second is Buhari’s handling of the bleak economic condition of the early ‘80s.

In his New Year message to Nigeria in 2012, President Jonathan unceremoniously removed the subsidy on petroleum products.  He cited, unconvincingly, to how the subsidy negatively affected the economy.  Nigerians went out en masse to protest against the policy.  Weeks of demonstration that threatened the country forced the government to make changes.  On the other hand, the government of Buhari encountered a massive deficit, dwindled foreign reserves and oil revenue, left behind by the Shagari’s administration.  IMF advised a set of harsh economic conditions in Nigeria that, at the time had never been practiced anywhere before.  Buhari, with advice from the SMC, refused to bargain or play ball, and the economy stagnated.  The subsequent government of Babangida cited to the failure of Buhari to negotiate with the IMF as basis for the change in power.  So, in light of these two experiences what should an incoming government do?

First, the next government must be sincere with Nigerians—the government must explain the true nature of the economic challenges to all Nigerians.  The president and his team must be able to mount a fresh campaign throughout Nigeria to reveal the fault lines of our fiscal and economic problems, and how both of these affect our system of government.  As it currently stands, the ratio between our recurrent and capital expenditures is highly in favor of recurrent expenditure, and this has to be reversed.  Also, the Federal government assumes too many roles that ought to be handed to the States.  Finally, the cost of running our democratic system is over exaggerated and must equally be addressed

So, as priority, an incoming president must be prepared to challenge the enormous waste within the presidency.  The presidency could do without the massive State House Medical Center (SHMC), with facilities for post mortem, embalmment, CT Scan, ambulances and many others.  The National Medical Center in Abuja can perform these functions.  Also, the various presidential lodges in Abuja and Lagos, including Dodan Barracks and State House at Marina should be disposed.  As an after-thought, EFCC, Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE), Bureau of Public Enterprises and others must be removed from the presidency and reconstituted into independent agencies or under existing agencies.  And, this list is just a tip of the finger.  The president must be prepared to redefine the office of the presidency.  It should be lean and muscular.  In 2012, the Jonathan administration failed to convince Nigerians why it was important to remove the petroleum subsidy, in part, because Nigerians did not see an equal commitment from the government to address wastes.

Next, the president must confront the legislative largesse in ways to avoid any institutional conflict.  A similar campaign, to educate Nigerians on the true nature of the economic challenges, must be waged against legislative wastes.  There is no justification for legislative security votes.  National Assembly clinic, like the SHMC, should be reduced to providing mere first aids to legislators, and not a full hospital.

Last, the president must be prepared to work with the legislative bodies on restructuring the huge Federal government bureaucracy.  The number of ministries is insane.  There is no need for an independent Ministry of Aviation separate from the Ministry of Transportation or the Ministry of Women Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Niger-Delta, and others.

In many areas, Nigeria is on the right track, but the huge disparity between the recurrent and capital expenditures stunt progress.  First, many of the ministries under the Federal government are a mere conduit for wastes and fraud, and at best, salary disbursements, and without any appreciable money for capital expenditures.  This phenomenon has to be reversed.  The States need to see a well-run Federal government, and a president could provide fresh leadership in this area.  Nigerians are matured and will support any leader that understands that leadership is a bond between the governed and the governor, and not in anything physical or cosmetic.  Our democracy will thrive better when our elected officials develop the necessary bond with the electorates.

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