By Hameed M. Bello, PhD
It is an often repeated maxim among politicians that ‘All politics is local.’ In other words, every political development, including the politicians themselves, have their roots in the local structure that produced them. Hence, all disputes arising from the complexities of politics are necessarily referred to, and are resolved locally. That is why, for instance, political parties in Nigeria and even elsewhere in the world usually resort to internal mechanisms that are local to the parties for the resolution of such internal disputes.
We saw what played out recently in the two main political parties in Nigeria, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP regarding the tension among key presidential aspirants over who among them should emerge the unanimous consensus candidate. The tension this has left behind is yet to abate.
The essence of consensus in party politics, as it were, seems to be to mitigate divisive tendencies within the party that could widen the chasm of discord, prevent the party from losing the much needed electoral votes and bring all party members to agree to follow a common course of action. This is what has come to be understood variiusly as consensus politics, political consensus, consensus democracy or consensualism as the case may be.
The question is, at what point is consensus good or bad? Consensus can be good if it produces the desired result, and it can be thorny sometimes when the parties involved suspect the existence of plots to compromise the integrity of the consensual process by some parties in order to dominate others in a desperate bid to gain power and control. if the original intent and purpose of consensual politics produces a troublesome result, then it becomes an exception to the general expectation of the consensus plan, and as such becomes antithetical, counterproductive and anachronistic. In that case consensus becomes an anathema, a curse and must be discarded to pave way for representative politics that reflects the wishes and aspiration of the majority.
Before we situate divisive consensus politics within the context of our immediate political experience, let us reflect on some philosophies and portrayals of consensus as a political tool for problem solving.
Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia acknowledges that consensus is characterized by a decision-making structure that involves and takes into account a broad range of opinions reflecting both the majority and the minority points of view. This is to prevent a situation whereby minority opinions can potentially be ignored by vote-winning majorities which will be tantamount to ‘majoritarian democracy’. Consensus democracy is expected to feature increased citizen participation both in determining the political agenda and in the decision-making process itself.
And according to ‘A Theory of Consensus Politics’ advanced by Richard Heffernan, lecturer in Government and Politics at The Open University, Milton Keynes in the UK,
consensus politics should embrace notions of stability, continuity and, most particularly, a concept of change.
In his paper. ‘Political Consensus: A crucial and key element of political organization’, Sali Shehu, PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Law, University of Tirana, Tirana, Albania suggests that consensus is an
important element of cooperation, and is a political instrument of political decision-making bodies which, in the use of wisdom and calmness, will reach
important objectives and goals in favor of the country’s future. Shehu also cited Max Weber as defining consensus as something that exists when our expectations regarding the behavior of others are realistic.
Kavanagh as cited by Shehu also defines consensus as a set of parameters that define a “range of policy options that politicians and state officials value as administratively practicable, economically feasible and politically acceptable”.
‘Teams of political and strategic decision making bodies should work in consensus in solving critical issues. Some of the critical tasks that require consensus are: Strategic assessment of the situation; Identification of the key political issues; Expression of policy objectives; Establishment of a strategy; Execution (Implementation) of the strategy’, Shehu said.
One of the vital points raised by Shehu is that the main goal of a strategic team is to take decisions that reflect the best thinking of its members or, in other words, to “forge” the consensus of the members. But he observed that ‘we can be easily confused about what we mean with the term ‘consensus’ and what we can define as such, and provides two scenarios to illustrate his point about the confusion:
– First, consensus as the process and the output of this process. Consensus in this case is the process where everyone has the freedom of expressing his argument. Opposing views are being addressed and resolved by the team. A satisfactory level of unified individuals starts to appear during the process of reaching a general agreement.
– Second, consensus as an agreement, but not necessarily a full agreement. It is an outcome or a result that is very close “to being acceptable”. All, or most of the
team members, or the group members, of a political party or a community may
be in favor of it, and just a few or no one of the team members disfavors it.
The type of consensus process we have experienced in Nigeria in the last couple of weeks may not fit into any of these scholarly templates. In the PDP, we witness how the consensus plan initiated by the presidential aspirants of the northern extraction hit the rocks like a pack of cards. The aspirants, four of them, including Sokoto state governor Aminu Tambuwal, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed and business man Mohammed Hayatudeen had resolved to proceed with their individual campaigns after it dawned on them their plan to produce a consensus aspirant from among them to be the sole Northern aspirant collapsed. According to a protest remark by Tambuwal which was adopted by Hayatudeen, Saraki who was mandated to communicate the impasse and decision to discard the consensus arrangement came to announce the shocking emergence of himself and Bala Mohammed as the two victorious consensus candidates of the northern bloc after a vote allegedly conducted in Minna, Niger State, which was mediated ostensibly by former military President, Ibrahim Babangida and witnessed by chieftains of the Northern Elders Forum, particularly Professor Ango Abdullahi.
In protest, Tambuwal and Hayatudeen rejected Saraki and Bala’s emergence and dubbed it as unrepresentative of the northern aspirants. Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar had distanced himself from the purported emergence of Saraki and Bala as the candidates of the Northern PDP for the Presidential primary election. Also, the ex Jigawa state Governor, Sule Lamido group dissociated itself from the Minna meeting saying there was nothing like Northern PDP. The consensus bid has clearly been put to rest since all the aspirants have been screened and are all set to face delegates for the presidential primary election. The lesson from here is that desperation in politics often produces unfavourable result, and that consensus can be manipulated for selfish interest through clandestine plots, or through backstabbing.
On the other hand, the South-West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA) group on Friday said it will not agree to a consensus arrangement for the selection of the All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate.
Speaking in Abuja after purchasing the APC presidential form for Tinubu, Chairman of SWAGA, Sen. Dayo Adeyeye said all aspirants must be allowed to test their popularity at the party’s primaries. Tinubu, a former Governor of Lagos State, is one of many aspirants seeking to fly the APC’s flag for the 2023 presidential election.
Other candidates who have shown active interest include the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. Kogi state Governor Yahaya Bello, and Senator Rochas Okorocha. Also in the race is the Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi. Protest against a consensus candidate by Tinubu’s men presupposes that there are talks for a consensus candidate in the ruling party, and should the other aspirants tow the line of Tinubu, it is only a matter of days that consensus may collapse in APC the way it ready did in PDP. The big question is in whose interest is the drive for consensus candidate since the aspirants themselves are suspicious of it. Political parties should let go of consensus politics which is fast becoming unpopular among political aspirants, and instead allow for representative democracy where every aspirants tests his popularity at the primary election and the general election.