My party, right or wrong!

CARPET-crossing as a slang which entered our political lexicon in the First Republic has been upbeat since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999. In the then Western Region where it first became notable, it reared its head as smaller parties in the regional legislature sided with the Action Group of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which came second in the regional election, to torpedo the NCNC led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, which had come first in the same election. The expectation of many was that the majority party would form the regional government, but because it fell short of absolute majority and did not reckon the AG could pull a fast one on it, its lethargy or over-confidence caused it the plum post. Contrary to efforts by revisionists to distort history, the NCNC members stood solidly behind Zik; those who crossed the carpet to AG and Awo’s side of the political divide were the smaller parties.

In 2014/2015, however, carpet-crossing assumed a new dimension as leaders and members of the then ruling the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) renounced their party membership and crossed over to the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to make it a mega party strong enough to pull the rug from under PDP’s feet. While seven PDP sitting governors started the rebellion, five eventually decamped to the APC, led by ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar and followed by a motley crowd of supporters, which included National Assembly leaders, State Assembly legislators and other political heavy weights. The rest, as they say, is now history. In the last one or two years, history has repeated itself with big-name defectors moving back and forth. These included a handful of sitting APC governors, leadership of the National Assembly and other political heavyweights. There has also been a bizarre twist to defections, party loyalty and discipline than meets the eye.

What the then PDP Gov. Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State fruitlessly experimented with in 2007 has become the order of the day, so to say. While still in PDP (in fact, he was the South-west coordinator of President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential campaign), Daniel pushed his supporters into another party, the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) on which platform his political godson, Gboyega Nasir Isiaka (GNI), contested the governorship but lost. Up against then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Daniel had been unable to secure the PDP governorship ticket for GNI, which Obasanjo railroaded to his preferred candidate, retired General Adetunji Idowu Olurin. Today, Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of the same Ogun State and Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo State are in the APC but sponsor and support the governorship candidate of another party. In fact, both Amosun and Okorocha contested for Senate on APC’s platform and have been declared winner by INEC but are vigorously and unrepentantly rooting for the candidates of their choice on another party’s platform. They did it right to the face of President Muhammadu Buhari and other APC leaders who appeared helpless. For Buhari, it would appear he merely stooped to conquer. The party-is-supreme APC chairman Adams Oshiohmole has slammed a dubious suspension order on the duo, which appears too little, too late as well as a face-facing device and medicine after death.

Political parties properly so-called have not only lost their relevance but have also lost their meaning and bearing across the country – in Ekiti, Osun, Oyo, Ogun, Kwara, Imo, just name it. Parties are no longer to be defined and seen as an assemblage of like-minds propelled and acting towards a common goal. In Ogun, not only are PDP leaders not supporting their own party’s flag-bearer, they are also so disorganised, disoriented, and disunited that they are supporting different opposition parties. How can one defend the decision of a section of Ogun PDP supporting the APC to win the governorship? Don’t they know that strengthening the APC in the States is tantamount to also strengthening it nationally? And how can another section of the same Ogun PDP support Amosun’s adopted Allied Peoples Movement after hearing Amosun say they will win the governorship today and decamp to APC the next day? Yet, PDP is in court against the same APC over the last presidential election! What kind of party leaders do you call these? In Ekiti, rigging apart, the PDP leaders were instrumental to the party’s defeat in last July’s governorship election and as pay back, ex-Gov. Ayo Fayose openly campaigned against Senator Biodun Olujimi’s re-election bid. The PDP not only lost the presidential election in the State, it also could not win a single senatorial or House of Representatives seat. In Osun, again rigging apart, Iyiola Omisore, erstwhile staunch PDP leader, handed the trophy to APC. As impressive as Seyi Makinde’s momentum is, if PDP fails to clinch Oyo state, blame erstwhile PDP leaders. We can go on and on!

I then began to wonder about the place of party discipline, party cohesion, party loyalty, party goals and objectives in the scheme of things in the Nigerian political firmament. Remembering the rallying cry: “My country, right or wrong” I wondered if we could have here “my party, right or wrong” Thanks to Google, I bring you an interesting expose on “My country, right or wrong” When we return, we draw some germane conclusions: “The phrase, “My Country, Right or Wrong!” may seem like the rambling of a drunk soldier, but this phrase has an interesting history behind it.


Stephan Decatur: Was he the original creator of this phrase?

The story goes back to the early 19th century when a US naval officer, commodore Stephan Decatur was gaining immense admiration and accolades for his naval expeditions and adventures. Decatur was famous for his daredevil acts of valour, especially for the burning of the frigate USS Philadelphia, which was in the hands of pirates from the Barbary States. Having captured the ship with just a handful of men, Decatur set the ship on fire and came back victorious without losing a single man in his army. British Admiral Horatio Nelson remarked that this expedition was one of the boldest and daring acts of the age. Decatur’s exploits continued further. In April 1816, after his successful mission of signing of the peace treaty with Algeria, Stephan Decatur was welcomed home as a hero. He was honoured at a banquet, where he raised his glass for a toast and said: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong!”

This toast went on to become one of the most famous lines in history. The sheer patriotism, the blind love for motherland, the egotist zeal of a soldier makes this line a great jingoistic punch-line. While this statement has always been contested for its highly narcissistic undertones, you cannot but help the prevailing sense of patriotism that is the hallmark of a great soldier.


Edmund Burke: The inspiration behind the phrase

One cannot say for sure, but perhaps Stephan Decatur was greatly influenced by Edmund Burke’s writing. In 1790, Edmund Burke had written a book titled “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, in which he said, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

Now, we need to understand the social conditions prevailing during Edmund Burke’s time. At this point in time, the French Revolution was in full swing. The 18th-century philosopher believed that along with the fall of the French monarchy, there was also a fall of good manners. People had forgotten how to be polite, kind, and compassionate, which led to depravity during the French Revolution. In this context, he lamented that the country needs to be lovable in order for the people to love their own country.

Carl Schurz: The US Senator with a gift of the gab

Five decades later, in 1871, a US senator, Carl Schurz, used the phrase “right or wrong” in one of his famous speeches. Not in the exact same words, but the meaning conveyed was quite similar to that of Decatur’s. Senator Carl Schurz gave a fitting reply to a haranguing Senator Mathew Carpenter, who used the phrase “My country, right or wrong” to prove his point. In reply, Senator Schurz said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Carl Schurz’s speech was received with a deafening applause from the gallery, and this speech established Carl Schurz as one of the foremost and distinguished orators of the Senate”

Extrapolate “my country, right or wrong” with “my party, right or wrong” Space constraints will not let me print some of the reservations against a blind application of “my country, right or wrong” but basically it dwells on the fact that if it is used to engender blind patriotism, it could become counter-productive. I agree but we need patriotic fervour and zeal to move any enterprise forward. Politicians must show enough commitment to their political party to be able to nurture it. Parties are indispensable building blocks of democracy; where the blocks are weak – as they are here – it is a matter of time before the whole edifice erected with such crumbles like packs of cards. Rather than run away at the least excuse, politicians ought to stay to fight for the soul of their party.

But here, where they remain at all, they now do to sponsor and support candidates in another party. They stay inside and piss inside, subverting the institution from within. Scripture says a man’s enemies are the members of his own house and that we should keep our secrets away from such. But how do you handle political leaders who stab the party in broad daylight but retreat thereafter to Aso Villa to hobnob with Buhari? They quarrel with the ground but walk on ant hills! These are political prostitutes. They are politically immature. They are no good party members, not to talk of being leaders. They fail the personal integrity and discipline test. They lack team spirit, which is sine qua non in any human organisation. They cannot play give-and-take. They are vile dictators and petty tin-gods. They love to dictate all the rules and run one-man shows.  They are not party builders but party destroyers. They endanger our renascent democracy with their authoritarian streak. They inflame passions needlessly and heat up the polity. Often, they are embittered species whose bile pollutes a whole pot of soup. They are incurable opportunists lacking in enduring principles. They are the ones who give politics the bad name of “politics is a dirty game”

I can go on and on! They serve selfish, personal interests regardless of their claims to the contrary. They serve their stomach and not the interests of their so-called “my people” Once they have eaten; they care less if their followers retire to bed on empty stomach. Their policy is “use-and-dump”. However differently they may paint themselves, they are the same fingers of a leprous hand. If political parties must retain their definitions and functions, then, it is perfidious to up-end one’s party for Esau’s mess of pottage or on vindictive grandstanding and destructive ego trip.