Monday, 22 April 2013

Article: Nigerian Activists and Politics; How Serious?

By Salihu Moh. Lukman

Sometimes in 2004, at an interactive session with Mr. Rodrigo de Rato, then visiting Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF), a member of President Obasanjo's economic team who was a Minister emphatically announced that the People Democratic Party was in government, "not to practice democracy but to defend democracy". This assertion was made against the background of opposition of Nigerians led by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) against the federal government reform policy of deregulating the downstream petroleum sector. Apparently angered by NLC's viewpoint that the deregulation policy was informed by neo-liberal capitalist agenda of the IMF, the former Minister was reported to have told NLC that "If Labour feels concerned about some of these policies, let it go and form a communist party and form a government. But for this PDP-led government, we cannot be discussing every policy with everybody".

Realities may have changed, loyalties could have shifted and allegiances no longer the same, although ideological claims may still be retained by all the 2004 actors, including the former Minister. However, the message to NLC reflects the contemptuous disposition of public officials and politicians to the category of people referred to as activists. These are mainly leaders of civil society, trade unions, women, youths, persons with disability, non-governmental organisations, etc. They were at the centre of all the barricades, picket lines, campaigns against military rule in the 1980s and 90s. 

Interestingly, this very category of people decided not to join politics in 1998 when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar announced the transition to civil rule. Not even the appeal by Comrade Thabo Mbeki, then Vice President of South Africa, calling on activist to engage the transition, moderated this decision. One of the activists that was strongly opposed to participation and mobilised young people to disrupt a meeting in Port Harcout in 1998 is today a Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, his opposition to participation in politics ended immediately after the 1999 election, having been appointed as Commissioner in Bayelsa State Government. Of course, there are activists who from day one did not accept the decision not to participate. They include the current Minister of Information. It is contestable whether such activists can at all justify their position with reference to performance.

Left ideologue will readily justify the transient nature of their conduct with Karl Marx's argument in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte to the effect that "Men (and certainly women too) make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past". Some of these explanations may only serve to legitimise opportunism and the absence of humility. It is very clear that some of the time activists make wrong judgements. It could also be sheer recklessness and the arrogance that activists know better. In every respect, it require deep reflection and soul searching.

Perhaps, in recognition of this reality, since June 2012, there has been attempts to stir up debate amongst activists on issues of participation and engagement with partisan politics. The main issue is the need to engage our political process especially given the way things have deteriorated in the country. In so many respects, the considered objective is to facilitate the process of change in the country. The focus therefore is how the political process can be engaged and eventually the possible role of activists, especially the need to promoted/encourage those that are already in politics or contemplating going into politics. 

First, there is the limit about what possible political change can be produced with the present crop of politicians whose main interest is not more than their personal aspirations for political offices. The second issue was the potential role of activists in politics. There are many activists who are interested in transiting to politics but have problems bordering on what party to join. Related to that are issues of preparing their organisations for leadership change and generating the necessary funding for partisan political activities. 

In the process of discussing all these, a necessary focus is internal party dynamics and why often time, good as activists' aspirations might appear to be, they may not be able to go beyond aspirations to the level of possibly emerging as candidates. This underscore the point that part of the problem of politics in Nigeria today is that it is almost on autopilot whereby party development is given and most activists appear not to be interested in engaging the parties. The conclusions therefore could be summarised as follows:

Political organising is required to engineer process of change in the country and direct partisan engagement by activists, which is important in producing the kind of change Nigerians yearn for; and

While it may be necessary for activists to narrow their engagement and initiative to a particular political party, it is important that they are also able to develop a strategy that would facilitate recruitment of patriotic Nigerians to develop necessary interest in partisan politics. 

Specifically, given current realities there are strong and advantageous reasons in favor of joining the party to emerge out of the merger of ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA - APC. However, it need to be stressed that the dynamics of electoral politics may push activists to enroll in other parties for the purpose of contesting elections. In other words, the electoral prospects of the party will be its most important selling point.

Activists need to engage partisan politics based on clear assessment of entry points and existing power blocks. Given consideration for bigger parties for example, what are the entry points for engagement by activists as being envisioned? What are the leading political players and to what extent can activist engage them? There is also the question of can activists engage in partisan politics covertly i. e. can activists engage without being exposed? These and so many other questions need to be answered from the beginning. 

Above all, are activists really organised? Can they to the extent of their organisation present a cohesive political front. This will entail developing a clear engagement programme and commencing its implementation based on organic relationship with existing party structures and some political leaders. Current consultations and initiatives around the merger and the prospective emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC) could stimulate a shift from the 1998 activists non-partisan disposition. The broader challenge is whether it will lead to changing the orientation of our parties from being election platforms or merely become a tool for the recruitment of activists into partisan politics and sucking them into the establishment. 

Largely because our parties are simply election platforms, they don't look for members, one consideration is that activists need to initiate broader organising strategy before mainstreaming themselves into any particular party. This could be a strategy that can make political negotiations easier and impactful. How can activists get started? As activists therefore seek answers, they need to appreciate the reality that no matter what anyone will want to claim, Nigerians, no matter their identity or attribute, are partly guilty of why Nigeria is today what it is and the challenge is not any lengthy or glamorous analysis of excuses and self-glorification. 

Activists just need to be very practical politically and less academic. They need a clear roadmap that should facilitate smooth and successful transition from the current rot to a fresh new beginning, from authoritarianism to democratic rule, from culture of impunity breeding corruption, lawlessness, injustice and anarchy to rule of law and constitutionalism, and from so-called non-partisan activism to organic activists with strong links and influence with political parties. The absence of such transition has stagnated activists individually and organisationally and even nationally. On account of these stagnation, the nation's political landscape is today over saturated with all sorts of primordial anger and hatred. 

Activists with some national conscience, even if residual, need to appreciate the challenge to act differently so as to begin to foster good solutions to our national political problems. Doing so would require that activists also focus attention to themselves and honestly accept the reality that they are largely conservative, conveniently critical and in a sophisticated way very tolerant of the status quo. Since 1999, activists have exceptionally deployed their skills in the so-called services of democracy. Unfortunately, their skills have inadvertently contributed by commission or omission to entrenching bad governance. 

Can activists therefore agree to a minimum programme of action between now and 2015? What can activists do to ensure that such a programme of action contribute to the emergence of new political leadership in the country in 2015? Is it possible to have a programme of action that is broadly defined in such a way that it is able to accommodate all interests? One of the big challenge of engaging partisan politics is big time funding. Activists tend to be very idealistic and puritanical, which partly accounts for their stagnation. The reality requires that activists truly open up and institute a good strategy for fundraising. The truth is that success in politics is highly correlated with capacity to raise funds. Some of the activists that may have on second thoughts went into politics based on these puritanical beliefs may have tested the bitter test of being defeated by predictable factors. 

One of the things that needs to be urgently addressed is that engagement with partisan politics must go beyond conferencing, workshops and reflections, which often in all cases end up only restating individual positions and why it is almost impossible for activists to adopt a common position. Given that the goal of virtually all activists is to influence public policies, the context of a democratic system of government, require that public policies should have their foundations in political party programmes. Unfortunately, the Nigerian experience, at least since 1999, represent an aberration which reduced political parties to merely election platforms. Individuals only join political parties for the purpose of contesting elections and citizens only relate with political parties with reference to candidates of the parties. Reference to principles, manifestos or programmes are simply absent. 

This has enthroned the unfortunate reality whereby, the difference between PDP and ACN, CPC, Labour Party, APGA, and by deduction APC is only in the name and the faces that represent the leadership of these parties. Partly on account of this, switching membership and with it also emerging as party candidate of all the parties is as easy as entering a mosque or church. No scrutiny is required and with the absence of party principle, manifesto or programme, all that any citizen require is capacity to mobilise funding. And since government positions are always "lucrative", individuals will always aspire to occupy those offices and therefore there is no need for parties to look for members. Candidates will look for the party and it will be the responsibility of such candidates to bring in members into the party. This way, candidates bring in members into parties and in the same way take them away once they didn't get what they want. 

With all the claimed commitments of activists to superior democratic values, activists who decide to join partisan politics, hardly conduct themselves differently. The consequence is that activists who succeeded in winning elections become vulnerable and often get compromised. In other words, although they won elections, they were not able to make the difference. There are of course incidences where activists who get into government at different levels fail to connect with even simple policy advocacy work of civil society groups. Certainly, there are contextual issues which would have accounted for that. 

Without any attempt to reduce the discussion to reviewing the roles of individuals, we need to ask the questions, how can activists engage partisan politics in Nigeria in such a way that their engagement challenge the parties to define their orientations with respect to commitments to social welfare programmes such as education, health, water, etc.? Beyond paper commitments, can partisan engagement by activists facilitate the emergence of frameworks within political parties such that party office-bearers at all levels are compelled and empowered to deliver on these commitments? Is it possible to construct broad engagement scenarios that could cover the fundamental challenge of recruiting party membership and organise and facilitate training programmes for party membership covering issues of managing party administration, recruiting political candidates among party members, fundraising for party and political campaigns, constitutional responsibilities of arms of government, etc? 

Based on realities facing us today, across all the parties, what are the entry points for partisan engagements by activists? How can activists institute a coordinated orientation for partisan engagement without compromising the independence and above all non-partisan identity of the individual organisations that activists belong? Apart from contesting for political positions in government, what other roles can activists play? How can activists orient themselves to be able to play all the roles?

These are questions that can guide us to focus the debate so that we are able to in particular accelerate the transition from so-called non-partisan activism to organic activists with strong links and influence with political parties. Activists owe this much to the country in order to justify any claim to being committed to the emergence of responsible governance in Nigeria in 2015. Activists need to recognise that Nigeria is today in series crisis largely because of the absence strong countervailing political force to contest the hegemony of today's politicians. This is the result of the inability of activists as a group that led the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in 1999 but failed to provide a coordinated framework for participation and engagement with partisan politics. 

The absence of participation and engagement of activists in our national politics has also weaken/discourage engagement and participation by professional, women, youth and other organised groups. The only exception is labour which formed labour party after truncating the participatory and all-inclusive framework of 2001/2002 under the network of civil society groups. The narrative about the labour experience is a matter that must be studied and responded to in order to avoid its manifestation in different form. In fact, the experince of January 2012 anti-fuel subsidy protest is another variant of this manifestation. One of the clear conscious political decisions of Nigerian trade unions led by the NLC under the current democratic dispensation is that its political strategy revolves around the aspirations of one person.

The point therefore is that activists can contribute significantly in shaping the way to a brighter and prosperous political future for the country by broadening the frontiers of engagement beyond any single personality. One issue that will be of interest to everyone is the capacity to develop a mass political front. What should spur actions is the acknowledgement that realities facing Nigeria are disturbing and need collective action. As a nation, we really don't have certain luxuries. All analyses must have good measure of practical actions that would enable us to bring about political change in the country, or at the minimum stimulating motion towards the creation of a new political reality. Activist in politics could have since learned that our people have serious contempt for knowledge and therefore if truly we want to bring about political change we must have a good response and not just capacity to engage in analysis and express opposition to the current status quo. 

One thing is very clear, activists shouldn`t go into politics divided. Two, they shouldn`t go into politics with arrogance. Three, they can't win election without being able to enjoy mass support. Therefore, should they continue spending valuable time debating whether the issue before them is to go into politics? While we are spending precious time wondering what to do, those already in politics are busy amassing looted money for 2015 elections. Yet, our activists are dissipating so much energy to even agree whether they should go into politics. Perhaps, God has created Nigerian activist with the purpose of only organising protests, strikes and campaigns against people in politics and government.

It is quite traumatic that here we are as a country without a functional educational and healthcare system. The generation of the current rulers of Nigeria, including most of our activists live in the illusion that the best response to the governance crisis in Nigeria is to send their children abroad for education. And when they and their loved ones are sick, they go for medical treatment outside this country, often at public expense overtly or covertly. Are these really our best responses? The answer should be emphatic no! Our best response is to go into politics and aspire to take positions directly in government and do the right thing. It should not be about one person taking that decision. 

The sad thing is that activists invest more energy fighting themselves rather than the political 'enemy'. As a result, they (activists) have more capacity to disorganise themselves and by default strengthen the politicians they seek to defeat. This is really very sad. This was the story of Campaign for Democracy and most political initiatives by Nigerian progressives. Is it that activists are more comfortable being called upon to serve as appointees of elected people? Why are they (activists) so contemptuous of each other? As one reflect on our experience in politics and the challenges facing our country, one cannot but express some reservations about the readiness of activists to sincerely fight for democracy and national development. 

It is true that ACTIVISTS CAN'T AVOID DISAGREEMENT BUT THEY MUST REMAIN UNITED IF THEY ARE TO BE RELEVANT POLITICALLY! The strength of activists should be their organisation, numbers and above all skills and commitment to make sacrifices and be selfless. This is necessary because politics is a terrain of struggle. As much as it is about access to public offices, it is also about interest articulation and aggregation. In the context of contemporary Nigerian politics, there is always the temptation to reduce it to good relationship with powerful political actors and who would then guarantee the access. This has made many people to pay more attention to developing relationships with powerful political actors without defining clearly what they want to use the offices being aspired for. In the circumstances, many people become successful without making any difference. Few are able to distinguish themselves from the crowd of motley politicians.

Obviously this pattern is also true for activists who have gone into politics. Like all other Nigerian politicians, the first thing that attracted activists to politics is individual ambitions to contest elections. The timing therefore coincides with election periods and the reason for joining a party was to emerge as candidates for specific offices. Choice of the party to join is most of the time informed by individual assessment of prospects. Often times, prospect is narrowly defined in terms of being able to emerge as candidate of the ruling party. It is a dominant belief that once emerged as candidates of the ruling party, it is as good as wining the elections, partly because the party machinery will rig candidates to victory.

As activists who are passionate about social justice, is this the best strategy? Is this not a case of just following the bandwagon? Why can't activists design a new political path, a path that can enable them emerge as candidates at the same time ensure that they are different? These are questions activists must convincingly and practically answer. Sometimes, activists are too quick to advertise themselves without objectively being able to appreciate true reality. They get blinded by claimed celebration of purist credentials, which in reality is as dirty, if not dirtier than the image of contemporary Nigerian politician. A good illustration is the reality of their organizational life in the Nigerian civil society sector today. Financial and personnel management is as bad as any typical Nigerian public organization. Transparency and accountability are at best concepts in relations to public policy advocacy. Personnel management conforms to Obasanjo’s logic of 100% loyalty, or IBB’s strategy of non-tolerance to criticism based on inducements. Yet, we are the champions of the struggle for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

How can activists lay the foundation for selfless politics? How can they organize and develop superior moral authority for politics? If they (activists) are serious about partisan engagement that will challenge current politics, these are questions that must be answered. It is the nature of answers to these questions that will define the orientation of the struggle led by any political party. Irrespective of partisan affiliation therefore activists should be ready to engage in struggles on daily basis so that they are able to win concessions regarding party decisions. It should not be about broad categorisation around internal democracy, but more about specific demands. It is the capacity of activists to win followership within the party that will determine whether they can influence party choices and decisions, including leadership and candidates' selections. There are interesting experiences even in the current context to inspire activists. 

One thing that all our analysis must recognize for it to be practically relevant to Nigerian politics is that circumstances differ across the country. What exists in Kaduna State is completely different from what exist in states in the South West or South South or even North Central. On account of those differences, the factors that for instance make activists to succeed in one state may even be the factors that would have undermined the electoral prospects of another in a different State for instance. Even within states, there are different political factors at play. In all states, there are different political cultures and behavior across towns and local governments. Activists must be capable of understanding these factors and engaging the political space in a manner that enable them to be influential.

This leads to the critical point about the fact that if activists are serious they must develop a relationship with their communities, and politically, their communities would be the wards. For the relationship to be meaningful and have some electoral prospects, it must balance effectively capacity to respond to monetary demands and being able to regulate the conduct of local politicians. Often, because activists don’t have relationship with their wards, entry point to politics has to be through politicians who already have relationship with the wards who would then introduce them to the wards. Since the timing for joining politics always coincide with election period and the purpose of joining is to enable activists contest elections, the method becomes transactional. Can activists have a different approach, one that is not based on the transactional method? Do they have the commitment to be able to make the necessary sacrifices to develop a non-transactional political relationship with our wards and local politicians? These are questions that are easier asked than answered. Sometimes, it is far more convenient to follow the bandwagon around adopting a godfather or godmother who can then take over the financial burden.

There is no easy answer and there is certainly no political group at the moment with a clear national strategy on these issues. Nigerian activists need to open debate on these matters so that they are able to clarify and be in a position to develop a clear roadmap. Although remote, how activists are able to respond to this challenge based on a practical strategy that is not doctrinaire, simplistically ideological and narrowly academic, is fundamental requirement for the development of capacity to bring about change in Nigeria. It would appear that activists are only at their best when there is a big challenge. Small or remote challenges hardly elicit attention. In political terms therefore, activists may be very comfortable to reduce issues of participation in politics to excellent commentaries, criticisms and election monitoring or setting up election situation rooms. In terms of engagements with political parties, there may be weak or individual initiative. Does this mean that activists are not interested in politics? Are they not interested in who emerged as candidates and eventually who become elected, rigged or not? 

One thing is very clear, to the extent that one of the major plank of work of activists is policy advocacy and engagement, they are certainly interested in politics. The interest in election monitoring is a confirmation of activists interest in who rule this country. However, these are very weak strategies. They do not even guarantee activists any political minimum such as capacity to influence national budget, sponsor a bill in the National Assembly, influence approaches to policy implementation by the Executive, etc. 

Looking at these parameters, it is very interesting that since 1999, the scorecard of activists with respect to engagement with National Assembly, excellent as it would appear, is largely reactive and hardly include sponsoring bills. Activists are most active in fact when there are bills to be shot down. That is when they now look for allies in the National Assembly and may end up encountering smart lawmakers whose interest is not more than good media reports. With such crook lawmakers, they get easily contented, only to be scandalized by the corrupt conducts of such lawmakers later. 

Of course, there are times activists are lucky to have their own in the National Assembly. The best period was 2003 - 2007, when there were activists like Dr. Usman Bugaje, Hon. Uche Onyeagucha, Dr. Haruna Yerima, Prof. Sola Adeyeye, etc. In fact, it was the presence of some of these activists in the chambers of the National Assembly that made the struggle against Obasanjo's Third Term effective. Even then, there was also very interesting experiences with some of our activists. The point is, activists need to review of their political engagement strategies. Today, we have very few activists in the National Assembly. Unfortunately, like the political parties, these activists have no structured relationship with organised groups in the country. Relations are remote and activists are hardly thinking in terms of setting agenda for their colleagues in the National Assembly. 

Is this how activists can bring about political change? Certainly not. Political inaction can only be explained with reference to conservative behavior that may have dominated the conduct of Nigerian activists. This is because, clearly, activists are not able to lead the process of change since they cannot take the necessary personal risks. Activists cannot risk jeopardizing funding sources on account of aspiring for politics and may not risk leaving their small organisations for politics. 

On account of this, activists and their organisations have stagnated. Just look at a typical civil society organisation and its leadership. You are likely to find that the set of leadership is largely the same since 1999, the source of funding and perhaps quantity, almost the same since 1999. As a result, vertical mobility within the organisation is frozen and many middle level cadres and officials are frustrated, which breeds crisis resulting in most break-aways and the new organisations that emerged between 1999 and today. Just check, almost all new organisations formed since 1999 were on account of this reality. Perhaps, the only exception are the international NGOs that gives tenured contracts of 2 - 4 years. Interestingly, activists always present themselves as progressives. Clearly, they are only progressives to the extent that they are able to criticise governments. 

There is the side of activists that project the hypocritical attitude of criticizing government on the one hand and on the other hand serving the same governments in different capacities, including serving as consultants. This has created the terrible impression that activists are critics because they are out of government and once they get the opportunity to be part of government their criticism will give way. Unfortunately, because of the conduct of later day activists who were once in government at different levels and who while in government expressed strong resentments against activists and their policy demands, the view that activists criticise because they are outside government is gaining stronger currency. 

We just need to practically deal with political realities confronting us. Imagine that activists have resolved to decisively intervene politically by engaging political parties such that our engagement is to lead to negotiation to throw up at least 20 - 30 activists as candidates for elections at different levels. Naturally, for activists to be taken seriously, they have to present their best, people that should be leaders of organisations today and to that extent therefore disengaging them from current responsibilities. This is necessary because politics has to be full time for one to be able to command the influence necessary, at party and community levels, to emerge as candidate and win election. 

This will practically mean, creating 20 new top-level vacancies in civil society organisations. A big challenge is that this will need to be managed because almost all our civil society organisations are molded in the image of the individual leaders that need to be promoted. Funders confidence on these organisations is around these individual leaders and therefore withdrawing them will lead to complete erosion of the funders confidence. This is a matter that must be addressed. 

The point is, if we are serious about political change in this country, it is not enough to criticise or theorise. These are issues we must urgently address. How can activists start organised engagement with partisan politics? What will be the driving interest of activists in partisan politics? These are some of the questions that needs to be answered for engagement with partisan politics by activists to stimulate interest even among themselves. Ordinarily, we can say that these are questions to be answered by the activists themselves. It is however important that Nigerians acknowledge the fact that activists can simply ignore or fail to answer these questions. In which case, we would have to just continue to live with the scandalous limitations of activists. 

Besides, discussions of engagement and interest in politics will largely be academic exercise. Who among activists is involved is a function of personal interest. How interest is stimulated is a function of other variables, which is beyond public debate. At best, public debate may assist in catalysing interests. Therefore argument about partisan political engagement should mean clearly defining an agreeable goal for the engagement, setup structures that will drive the process of achieving goal and estimate resources needed for the engagement to take place and commence mobilisation. 

In terms of agreeable goal for engagement, it is important that activists define a goal that is not coloured by just our ideological inclinations but one that take into account the challenge that politics is not just about what we want. It is also about giving people what they want. Often times, this is the source of activists failings largely because while they are very aggressive in demanding what they want, they are stingy in giving others what they want. Part of the reasons for activists stinginess in giving other people what they want is simply because there is always a conflict between what activists want and what other people want. It is easy to justify the conflict in the fact that what other people are demanding is inimical and represent some danger which must be eliminate in the interest of our national politics or so-called collective good. 

Most of the times, once activists are confronted with these realities they go back to their purist shell as they did in 1999 and in the circumstances, they give others, especially the politicians that are today's rulers what they want. The hard truth is that activists are very deficient in working out a national political strategy of how they can get what they want. Activists hardly work hard to develop their political negotiation skills and go an extra mile to negotiate what they want and achieve results at national levels. They always adopt a very simplistic individual or micro organisational approach and the reality is that politics is complex and partisan politics is as sophisticated and demanding as preparing to go to heaven. 

Before activists are able to set any goal therefore they must come to terms with this reality. Engaging partisan politics means relating with current political party leaders. In the context of PDP, it means relating with Alh. Bamanga Tukur, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Arc. Namadi Sambo, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Tony Anenih and down the lines in states, you will have party chairmen, state governors and other stakeholders. With respect to ACN, activists must be ready to relate with Chief Bisi Akande, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Audu Ogbeh, six state governors and other party leaders. CPC has Chief Tony Momoh, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Engr. Buba Galadima, Alh. Sule Hamman, Nasarawa State governor and others. This will be the case with ANPP, Labour Party, APGA and all the other parties. Of course, in the context of the merger negotiation and our prospective APC, it means relating with ACN, ANPP, CPC, Okrocha-led APGA and Chief Tom Ikimi led merger committee.

Assessment of party governance and individual conducts of these leaders may only produce the disappointing outcome of non engagement. One option for activists will be to proceed and create their own political brand. Even that, they have proven to be very bad political organizers. If anyone doubt this judgement, check the experience of Campaign for Democracy, Democratic Alternative, National Conscience Party and of course Labour Party. In all cases, the experience is that activists were unable to move from the realm of conceptualization to the practical field of politics. Once activists come close to the practical field of politics, they shiver and allow themselves to be pushed back to activism and at best return to social criticism. When they manage to get into practical field, they hardly are able to do so with the necessary momentum and consistency to be able to win elections. 

Therefore, learning from the experience of activists and in the context of challenges facing the country today, a realistic goal for activists' engagement with partisan politics will be to establish a framework for activists to transit to politics and win elections. And given the very urgent and critical conditions facing the country activists don't have some comfort of exploring whether they can correct the limitations identified with CD, DA, NCP experiences. The critical challenge facing us is that activists just have to do something towards 2015. Invariably, this will mean working with current parties - PDP, ACN, CPC, ANPP, Labour Party, APGA, etc. 

This being the case, activists need to ask the question, what are the prospects in each of these parties and how can activists initiate process of not just expansion of democratic space but more importantly the emergence of democratic leaders in the country? Prospects in terms of getting activists to emerge as candidates within the party may be important but should not be end in themselves. Here assessment of local political dynamics is also important. While it can be very easy to emerge as candidate of any of the smaller parties, in terms of capacity to mobilize resources needed to win elections, activists must explore opportunities in the bigger parties. 

This is one reason why activists cannot afford to adopt a blanket strategy of arguing that they should work with only one party. While working with only one party will be ideal, it will not be a successful venture across the nation in terms of winning elections, except if the party is one that accommodate all the different shades of political divides in the country. To some extent, at the moment, only PDP meets this qualification. Unfortunately, PDP is the government party. Whoever is in government will emerge as candidate of PDP. If the objective of activists is to bring about change in government therefore, PDP cannot be the consideration. The party that may meet this specification, once the current merger is successfully is APC. Even then, it will not be automatic. Activists need to engage the merger negotiation process to make that possible.

At this stage of the merger negotiations to produce APC, the structures for engagement that activists should aspire to have should be ones that would commit the party to some minimum. These minimum should include having clear structures within the party that relate to broad interest groups such as civil society, trade unions, youth, women, professional groups, persons with disability, diaspora, etc. on the one hand and people-oriented policy directions on the other. These are factors that would distinguish our new party, APC, from PDP and all the parties created in its image. These are also the factors that would guarantee that public officials in governments produced by APC would practice as well as defend democracy. To that extent, a government produced by APC will necessarily consult Nigerians on every policy initiative.

(Lukman Can Be Reached On: )

Article: Realities Facing Women, Their Imprints and Travails

Late Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka

(Tribute To Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka)

By Salihu Moh. Lukman

One of the messages of Frederick Engels' book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, of 1884, was that women face direct challenge from dominantly held beliefs about God-ordained biological, physical, intellectual and moral inferior status. Across all human societies, this is perceived as timeless and unchangeable. It simply means that women have to take a backseat, live at the pleasure of men and restricted to the home front handling menial responsibilities of being cooks, housekeepers and mothers. Anything outside these could be defended as male preserves.

Irrespective of ideological, religious and any other worldview, this is real and in very fundamental ways define the credentials of every successful woman in career, business and politics. This is partly because by nature, career, business and politics are competitive and the dogma about inferior status would support men as the natural winners of any competition involving men and women. The reality therefore is that for any woman to be successful in career, business or politics, it is indisputably a recognition of exceptionally enduring skills and high courage.

The life and times of Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka (1960 - 2013) will no doubt bear the imprint of her enduring skills as a successful career banker rising to senior management positions in UBA and Ecobank and high courage as a victorious politician who won her election as Deputy Governor of Ekiti State against all odds. Both as a banker and politician, she would have competed with men for the positions she held. Her ability to win these positions must have been a product of first and foremost her credentials.

Often times, these are presented in very ordinary terms that hardly captures the true challenges and how individual women would have applied themselves exceptionally. Some accounts deliberately attempts to present them as beneficiaries of male generousities based on theses that highlighted how their spouses might have been tolerant or weak or how other male colleagues or associates would have supported and nurture them. These are defensively male biased theses. The truth is that no one win a competition simply based on love just like no war is won based on proclamation of support.

Our women in career, business and politics are combatants that are daily redefining human societies and moving us closer to a space guaranteeing equal opportunities for both men and women. This necessarily require re-interpretation of religious and customary beliefs that favours men. In many respects, it means also that men accept or respect new realities that permits women to aspire beyond the menial responsibilities. In fact, it is the acceptance or respect by men to new realities that is the foundation for success of most women in career, business and politics. Many women's career ambition get terminated on account of the inability to win this primary recognition and/or respect.

Why is it difficult for men to accept or respect new realities that permits women to aspire beyond menial responsibilities? It is often a reflection of crudity with hardly any rational basis beyond the need to represent women as private properties of the men. It is simply about the power of men to control women. In the expression of that power, it is mainly about ensuring that the status of women does not over shadow that of the men. In other words, women must not enjoy higher rewards and privileges than men.

Experience has shown that families become more prosperous if women, just like men, are allowed to access opportunities equally. The Nigerian context, especially since the 1980s following the emergence of harsh economic realities that diminished the earning capacities of men and with it diminished capacities to enjoy the monopoly of being bread-winners, has shown that women can shoulder more responsibilities beyond menial ones. On accounts of poor incomes of male spouses, most Nigerian families are being catered by women. There lies what can be regarded as the contemporary paradox. While in the face of limited opportunities, men are willing to accommodate a situation in which women handle more than menial responsibilities, such a situation must not alter the power equation between men and women.

The sub-text in the life of every successful women in career, business and politics therefore is the capacity to navigate this hard pitch of life. It is a dominated life, characterised by patriarchy, injustice, oppression and prejudices of all sorts. It is a life in which success for women in any one particular situation represents a major shift in human endeavour and therefore to the extent of the shift producing new boundaries of relationships between men and women, which inclusively expand the scope for human competition.

Mrs. Olayinka was no doubt a successful career woman and politician. One doesn't need to know her closely to discern her accomplishments. Although, in the contemporary Nigerian situation, high placed government officials always enjoy glowing tributes, this tribute to Mrs. Olayinka is more on account of recognition of her contributions in terms of redefining our societies as spaces guaranteeing increasing measure of opportunities for both men and women.

Therefore as we celebrate the accomplishments of Mrs. Olayinka, we must not lose sight of the fact that the so-called God-ordained challenges facing women are still very pronounced, notwithstanding achievements of many illustrious Nigerian women. A good pointer is the revelation contained in the British Council Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 to the effect that women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in Nigerian public sector and only 17% of senior positions. The report further shows that women run only 20% of enterprises in the formal sector in Nigeria.

Wide range of factors have been highlighted to entrench the challenges facing women. They include barriers and workplace discriminatory practices. In particular, the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, identified that "pay gap between male and female bank managers is significant." Being a successful bank manager, this report meant that Mrs. Olayinka must have endured discriminatory practice of lower pay as compared to her male counterparts. Her success as a banker is definitely an indication of her capacity to persevere and overcome these barriers and discrimination. Her transition from a banker to a politician must have been a mark of her capacity to access opportunities. No doubt, her victory in politics leading to her emergence as Deputy Governor reflects her disposition for teamwork. As Deputy Governor, she has been credited with many of the accomplishments of the Fayemi administration, which demonstrates her leadership and managerial credentials.

Perseverance, capacity to overcome barriers and demonstration of excellence are the imprints of every successful woman. Behind these imprints are harsh unfavourable conditions which signify the travails of Nigerian women. Often characterised by disturbing statistics, these travails are underlined by high maternal mortality, high infant mortality, high poverty levels high unemployment rate and declining primary education enrollment which according to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai one in every six out-of-school children in the world is a Nigeria.

With estimated 80.2 million representing 49% of the population of Nigeria and against the background of appalling welfare conditions in the country, women are made to shoulder more responsibilities than any group. This begs the question about the extent to which individual successes of women should be celebrated. Perhaps, herein lies the big political question - is there a correlation between the fact of low participation of Nigerian women and the poor state of welfare conditions of citizens in the country?

Attempts to answer this question could only underline the primacy of politics and why participation is critical to improvement in citizens' welfare conditions. This is one area that Mrs. Olayinka demonstrated good understanding when she argued that "everywhere you go, you play politics. If you are married and if you have more than a child, you must be a good politician to survive. We play politics everywhere - at home, even at workplace." The logic being that politics is mainly about influencing our actions.

To what extent could we correlate poor conditions to low participation of women in virtually all fields? Some research findings argue that in situations where resources are to be allocated, allocation is more effective and efficient, and ultimately produces superior human development outcomes where women are represented. Pursuant to this argument, the British Council Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 argued that "men and women allocate resources differently, and that women tend to favour a redistributive agenda, and to spend more on children's education, social services and health".

Certainly, there will be strong counter arguments against deliberate policies promoting women participation. Such counter arguments could hardly dispute women bias for redistributive agenda in favour of education, social services and health. Given a political context therefore, disposition to issues of women participation are defining progressive credentials of a political party. This is particularly important for us in Nigeria today given that our leading opposition parties represented by Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Okorocha-led All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have decided to merge into a progressive party, All Progressives Congress (APC).

For the APC to qualify as a progressive party, it has to come with strong commitment to promoting the participation of women in politics and economy. The degree to which the party, APC, expresses commitment to women participation as provided in the provisions of its constitution and manifesto may confirm or question the party's claim to promoting free education and improved healthcare delivery services. This is because limited participation of women in the structures of the party and government could be interpreted to mean weak commitment to increased or efficient and effective management of resources allocated to education and health.

Given that Mrs. Olayinka was a leading member of the ACN, one of the parties merging to form the APC, should Nigerians expect that at the minimum ACN leadership would commit themselves to issues of women participation and based on that therefore ensure that APC offers higher opportunities for women in the party structures and in APC governments? In any event, was the success of Mrs. Olayinka's political accomplishment a reflection of ACN commitment to providing opportunities for women participation in politics?

With women emerging as Deputy Governors in five out of six states controlled by the ACN, the political success of Mrs. Olayinka leading to her emergence as a Deputy Governor may no doubt be a reflection of ACN's liberal disposition to women participation in politics. Whether this liberal disposition translate into a strong commitment to take on board issues of women participation as priorities for the merger negotiations is a different matter entirely, which may not be taken as given. In some ways, given entrenched male dominated prejudices, prioritising issues of women participation in the structures of APC may have to depend on the degree to which women structures both with the merging parties and outside engage the merger process.

The reality is that women structures within the merging parties are weak. Partly, on account of the weaknesses of women structures, participation in party structures as candidates for elections and invariably at different levels of government is low. In virtually, all the parties, women constitute less than 1% of the leadership. In 2007, women were only 6% of candidates. In 2011, it was 9.1%.

Beyond weakness is the reality of low quality representation by the few women that are successful in Nigerian politics. Most of our successful women have no relationship with women organisations as a result of which they lack any form of loyalty to women issues. Conversely, many of our women organisations hardly support the emergence of women politicians. In most cases, women organisations establish links with women politicians only after they emerged as potential party candidates for elections.

It is however important to note that, even in the face of this weak relationship between politicians and organised groups, more than any group, women have a better score sheet. In the face of this reality therefore, it could be argued that women have a brighter prospect of making stronger impact in Nigerian politics. If one is to deduce from this, it then means that the fastest way to Nigeria's democratic development is through strengthening women structures both within political parties and in wider society.

Where will APC stand in relation to attempts to respond to this reality? Will APC be indifferent to the task of strengthening structures for women participation or will it adopt a proactively progressive position providing wider spaces and opportunities for women participation in politics and government at all levels? Is APC going to actively engage platforms of Nigerian women organisations as part of its broader strategy of recruiting quality women politicians or will it continue with currently implied untargeted patronising recruitment approach? Are women organisations going to continue with current framework of weak relationship with women politicians or will there be new initiative aimed at engagement to influence the emergence of quality women candidates for elective positions?

Answers to these questions will define the nature of tributes to Mrs. Olayinka. In all, Nigerians will expect the tribute of the ACN leadership, in particular, to bear strong commitment to increased participation of women in the structures of APC in particular and governments at all levels general. For Governor Fayemi, Ekiti State government and the people of the state, the death of Mrs. Olayinka must not translate in lower participation of women in the politics of Ekiti State in anyway.

The people of Ekiti State and the nation at large are hugely indebted to the husband and children of Mrs. Olayinka. Mrs. Olayinka's career and political successes represented high measure of family sacrifices. Her strength and capacity to persevere was a testimony of the high quality support she enjoyed from the family. Olayinkas, thank you.

May the spirit of Mrs. Olayinka challenge political parties and the nation to expand the spaces for women participation in politics. Rest in peace Funmilayo!

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