The Economics of Decamping

We see it fairly regularly. A politician (let us call him/her Politician X) who has sworn enmity to a political party (Party A) leaves his political party (Party B) and joins the political party he has called the worst thing since the Nazi party in the past. He is received by the “stalwarts” in the Party A amidst fanfare, especially if he is moving with thousands of his supporters. He makes a speech saying Party A is now the best thing since sliced bread and Party B is responsible for all the evils, never mind that he might have be occupying or have previously occupied elective office or top party positions in his now evil ex-party. And we lambaste them about how unprincipled they all are and compare them to politicians in other climes who stick to the party of their conviction for life.

My non-Nigerian readers might find it hard to imagine this phenomenon but it is one that is part of our everyday politics in Nigeria. We call it decamping. Many an aide has been left ashen faced after their principal decamped and they have had to swallow words they said in the past while feting those they abused on behalf of their oga in the past. The politicians themselves don’t have these inhibitions — for them, they say it is purely politics and acceptable rules of their game. But is there a rationality that drives this irrational behavior and can it be predicted? The more I think about it, the more I realize that there’s an economics behind decamping and it is quite possible to predict decamping.

You see, for most politicians, their source of income is directly tied to access to state apparatus at the level of the Nigerian state where they operate. It doesn’t matter whether the state apparatus they have access to is at the federal, state or local government level. This income is often not official and requires them to control or have access to those that control the flow of funds extracted from oil rents and in some cases IGR. This income is required to fund a couple of things

· Lifestyle Maintenance (LM) — Most politicians build a lifestyle far above their means while in office. The also do not have any skills to make money to keep up the often high running costs of this lifestyle. So our politician builds huge mansions and buys a fleet of expensive, fuel guzzling cars. Out of office and without access to the state apparatus, Politician X gets to a point where paying domestic staff in his mansions or fueling and servicing the expensive cars become unbearable.

· Privilege Maintenance (PM) — Because life in Nigeria is so unbearable, Politician X used access to state apparatus to get great privileges while in office. So rather than travel the battered road like the rest of the Nigerians, our man will fly a chopper. If he falls sick, he will not go to the deathtraps we call hospitals. He will fly abroad. Out of office or outside the party controlling the state apparatus at the level he is operating, maintaining privilege becomes extremely difficult. Privilege in Nigeria is not by birth or name, it is by money.

· Patronage Network (PN) — No politician is Nigeria can survive without stomach infrastructure (sorry to non-Nigerians again) for his teeming supporters, whether those impoverished ones who will worship him for rice or those more advanced ones who require more sophisticated settlement for their support. These things cost money. Some of them cannot even be done with money; they require being part of the party controlling state apparatus at Politician X’s level.

· Next Elections (NE) — Nothing is more sacrosanct than having a warchest for the next elections to Politician X. Or if he is not the main candidate, be able to buy being a godfather or at least a strong influence who must be settled with this warchest. Elections are not cheap and Politician X does not really have any real business, so politics must fill this warchest. Any party that will provide the access to state funds to fill this warchest is fine.

· Legal Expenses (LE) — Because enemies are plenty and they will want to neutralize him, Politician X maintains a Legal Expenses fund to pay top lawyers (SANs preferably) and/or refund to EFCC without going through lengthy trials or to “move” your loyal supporters to decamp so that your new party will see you are a strong politician who is now in their camp and the legal wahala will go away.

Notice that the actual governance is not one of the things the politician considers the income for. But I digress.

Back to creating our economic model. To do this, I need to include three other variables

IP — Income from control or connection to state apparatus.

IB — Income from non-political business

WC — Politician X’s Warchest

Here’s the governing equation for how politicians make decamping decisions

Decamping Happens when

(IP + IB + WC) — (LM +PM +PN +NE +LE) <= 0

The above is the politician’s balance sheet and the actual amount will vary due to Politician X’s playing level (LG, State, Federal) which will affect IP, NE and PN and the kokoro in his eyes which will impact LM, PM and LE. IB is usually negligible for most Nigerian politicians.

The graph below explains how Politician X will make his decamping decision. Apply the model to favourite politician. Should be fun. As usual, feel free to disagree or modify my model in the comments.

A Beautiful Mind