Much ado about a unity government

Much ado about a unity government

As the Peoples
Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Goodluck
Jonathan, work to give shape to the next federal administration, one of
the issues that have occupied public discourse is the possible
participation of politicians from other parties in the new government.

This would not
necessarily disguise the massive lead that the PDP has over the other
political groupings in the country as shown by the last election.
Matter of fact, it is to be desired that the president will not limit
his appointments to only people from his party, as the country sorely
needs the best in manpower that it can get at this point in its
development. It is apparent that a large number of these skilled people
would not be members of the PDP, despite the large size of its umbrella.

But the arguments
of those advocating a government inclusive of opposition politicians,
often grandly called a government of national unity, are that it will
foster a sense of togetherness among politicians and reduce the
propensity to make mischief. After all, as an American president
succinctly explained this arrangement, it is better to keep your
opponents in your tent and have them pissing out than have them outside
pissing in.

Of course, more
critical Nigerians are likely to see the call for a unity government by
some politicians as little more than a self-serving move to ensure they
enjoy the benefits that can be acquired by holding public office. This
situation is reinforced by the fact that some of the political parties
actively worked for Mr Jonathan’s victory at the polls – either by
choosing not to present candidates against him and campaigning
energetically for his election. They will expect the president to
recognise their efforts and reward some of their members with public
appointments – that is, after all, part of the political game.

There is, however,
a sense that Nigerian politicians have a warped idea of what a unity
government really should be and, despite the shrillness of its
leadership from time to time, the Action Congress of Nigeria appears to
have its heart in the right place in its loud opposition to membership
of any such government being put together by Mr Jonathan.

Unity governments
are ideally put together in times of national crisis – to make sure all
political voices speak as one against identified threats, be they local
or international. There could also be such a government in a situation
where the ruling party does not have sufficient numbers to drive its
policies through and may, thus, be forced to operate within a
coalition, as is happening in the United Kingdom at present and in

Even then, this type of government is often associated more with parliamentary systems than with presidential ones.

In any case, the
victory of Mr Jonathan and his vice president Namadi Sambo is emphatic
enough that they could govern without recourse to any other political
parties. As it happens, the PDP also enjoys a comfortable majority in
the National Assembly and should be able to get its programmes through
the legislature. So why does the PDP feel it must involve politicians
from other parties in governance when it is quite likely that it cannot
satisfy the appetite for high office among its own members?

Then there are the
other considerations that drive the argument for unity government:
there are the pleas for so-called African magnanimity; there is also a
sense of the need to assuage guilt. In 2007, buffeted by cries of
stolen mandates amidst a contested election, the late president Umaru
Yar’Adua felt driven to bring in politicians from other parties,
especially the main opposition party at the time, the All Nigeria
Peoples Party (ANPP). Although the presidential candidate of that
party, Muhammadu Buhari, kicked against it, other leaders in the ANPP
overruled him and embraced Mr Yar’Adua’s offer.

On paper, a
national unity government should strengthen the polity. But it has the
perverse effect of weakening opposition, which is a critical part of a
democracy. As one politician rightly said, if politicians want a
government of one party, why do they contest elections on different
platforms in the first instance? Parties in hock to ruling parties
might lose their identity and vibrancy – and stand the risk of being
tarred with the brush of failure should the main party fail to deliver.

The PDP should bring in talented individuals from other parties if
it must. But, really, the party’s politicians should govern on their
own so that Nigerians can judge the party on the basis of their
competence and should they be found wanting, vote in another set of
politicians from another party, the next time around.

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