Framing defeat as victory


In 1967, two social psychologists identified what prevents people and organisations from reflecting properly on defeat and failure. It is called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Since the defection of Governor Godwin Obaseki to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the dissolution of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and subsequent appointment of a caretaker committee to stem the crisis within APC, it has been interesting reading the tales, deflections, fabrications and ridiculous spin that have evolved with the battle for the control of the APC.


Politics is everywhere and everything is now political, with politics that is poisoned with bitterness bleeding into all aspects of the Nigerian society. It feels especially so because the battle for the soul of the APC seems to be the only game in town. Since it is now a trend to be political, political commentaries, especially on social media platforms, have become lame and sometimes laughable because the party’s foot soldiers are painfully disconnected from the command and control centres of whoever they are following. Most often, shallow commentaries, hyped as political analysis, are ludicrous enough to be recognised as comedic. We have android phones to thank for the brickbats, cheap opinions and table-pounding we are subjected to.

What happened in Edo was an unexpected, fast and furious spectacle. The biggest loser of the game – Adams Oshiomhole, the ousted APC chairman – has no one to blame but himself. He allowed himself to be pushed and used, and he blundered into a David and Goliath checkmate by a ward chairman. The outcome of the crisis he precipitated is a perfect example of how we tend to attribute successes to ourselves, and blame others for our failures. Has APC learnt any lesson from the loss of Zamfara, Bayelsa and the bungling in Rivers State? It is doubtful. They have also failed to understand that political failures are a mix of internal and external factors. Smart politics dictate that we shouldn’t ignore or understate our own role in our failures or fail to understand what led to them. The jostle for power is understandable. What is sad is the willingness to use inscrutable means to achieve political goals.

Is it okay to use any means to eliminate opponents? A the-end-justifies-the-means mindset and the stinging ouster of Adams Oshiomhole and the accompanying intrigues and political melodrama exposed the delicate fissures in the connecting threads of APC’s fabric. Along with the crisis came the rising murmurs of “godfatherism” and the buying of power through the hosing of money. Without a sense of psychological safety, these murmurs will grow into loud noises and continue to fan the embers of discontent and cries of liberation. “Godfatherism” and the buying of power have led to the feeling of the lack of internal democracy within political parties. This confusion is present because people think of political parties as institutions of democracy, rather than instruments of democracy. What the last few years of our democracy has revealed is that political parties are instruments of democratic governments, which can take any form, depending on the powers within. Political parties are not institutions of democratic governments. If they were, they would be obliged to be democratic. What this means is that players should learn to play the game before they can change the rules. To rule, every player must learn the rules and play the game.

The fight for survival and relevance is critical in politics. Governor Godwin Obaseki refused to take the blow on the chin by taking the Ambode treatment silently. He fought the forces that invest in denying governors their right to present themselves for a second term in office through arm-twisting. He has secured a temporary reprieve in PDP. He may win, he may not but he has put up a counter fight. Another grand loser of what played out in Edo State is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Hopefully, he has learnt his lessons. His formulaic letter, framed after the Caretaker Committee was formed, was a dramaturgy of victory; a perfunctory gesture dressed in denial. He has made serious mistakes, even though he may not admit these publicly, I hope he owns them. He needs the catharsis of being honest with himself about the real reasons for his Edo failure to be able to navigate the road to future success. Excuses and a long winding letter to no one, do not cut it.

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2023 is still far. It is too early for the constant butting of heads, shenanigans and frequent gridlock that have come to define the political terrain. If Buhari becomes a lame duck this early, it will make a bad situation worse and it may fracture the party. If that happens, it means no lesson was learnt from the implosion of the PDP. Whatever happens to APC and its powerful actors, the lessons of history are immutable; it is established that time, space, geography and history constrain even the most powerful people. Karl Marx captured the only agency of human endeavour in the opening paragraph of his classic The Eighteenth Brumaire, in it he offered these famous lines: “Men 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.”

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