By Henry Umoru
ABUJA — FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, took a swipe at political parties in Nigeria, saying many have no manifestoes to operate with. He also charged Nigerians to hold political office holders accountable to their party manifestoes.
Speaking at a Roundtable Conference on Party Politics in Nigeria and Lobbying the Lobbyist and the Legislature, organised by the National Institute for Legislative Studies, NILS, in Abuja, Obasanjo said party manifestoes had suddenly become mere instruments for political campaign in Nigeria.
Obasanjo, who noted that these were normally thrown away by elected political leaders soon after they were elected, asked why political parties or elected officers should not be held accountable to their promises by the public.
He said: “I want to say that there are some areas where political parties need improvement. I am sure and I hope that the discussants and speakers would lay emphasis on these areas. One of them is the issue of manifestoes. What I have come to see and understand in Nigeria is that manifestoes are prepared for campaigns and after wards, they are thrown away.
“How then can we hold parties and their elected leaders to their promises and manifestoes? Or if they have no manifestoes, what do we hold them for?”
Discipline among political parties
Obasanjo stressed the need for discipline among political parties but warned that no human institution endured for long without discipline and urged politicians to acquire basic ingredients of party politics geared towards ensuring free, fair and transparent elections.
He said: “One point I would want to make is about service. We really see service in party politics. Senator David Mark has said that the only means of going into election in this country is through a political party.
“Political parties are vehicle through which one can participate in elections. What are the ingredients that must be there for political parties to participate the way they should and make elections what they should be— free, fair and transparent in such a way that the outcome would be fairly, generally accepted?”
Many parties exist on paper—Mark
Meanwhile, Senate President, David Mark, while declaring open the event, also attacked some political parties in the country, describing them as mainly existing on paper and floated to attract financial subventions hitherto guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
He also stressed that lobbying legislators, which is designed to influence, them had been turned into a situation where people in government used it to extract personal favour, mostly political appointments and money from political office holders.
Mark said: “Lobbying targeted at legislators is the act of attempting to influence legislation and resolutions made by parliament. But that is only a theoretical definition. It is unfortunate that the term, ‘lobbying’, has come to acquire a pejorative connotation, despite its many inherent and positive benefits. This is due largely to the abuse to which it is often liable.
“Even here in our country, it has been turned mostly into a very aggressive and predatory endeavour to extract personal favours, mostly political appointments and money, from political office holders.
Lobbying is legitimate complement
“Let me state one point clearly: Lobbying is a legitimate and necessary complement of the democratic process. It is natural for individuals and organisations to want to influence decisions that affect them or their environment. Legislation is enriched in many ways by the knowledge, views and expertise that lobbying brings. The problem, however, is that the line between ethical and unethical lobbying is a very thin one. In this connection, both the lobbyist and legislator who is being lobbied, bear a very heavy moral burden.”
Ekweremadu calls for closer party, legislature collaboration
Earlier in his remarks, Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Governing Council of the National Institute for Legislative Studies, NILS, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, warned that democratic governance and national development would continue to suffer setbacks if the culture of internal democracy was not entrenched in the nation’s political parties.
Ekweremadu, who noted that political parties were critical institutions of democracy against the backdrop that “their philosophies and manifestoes were the fulcrums around which politicking and governance should ordinarily revolve”.
The Deputy Senate President stressed the need for a closer collaboration between parties and their elected officers.
He said: “Whereas the legislature in an emerging democracy like Nigeria’s is faced with onerous tasks of deepening democracy and quickening development through effective law reforms, repositioning of democratic institutions, effective appropriation and subsequent oversight functions, among others, it needs the support and collaboration, of all stakeholders, especially the political parties to succeed.
“Since parties are the vehicles by which elected leaders, including the legislators get to office, they can be rightly described as the spring source.
“Unfortunately, the management of the nation’s political parties gives us cause for concern, for as it is put in Latin, Nemo dat quod non habet (No one can give what he does not have). And when the processes of political recruitment become diseased and the management of political parties degenerate to rowdy engagement, certainly, the falcon will no longer hear the falconer.
“Unless the spring sources, being the parties are themselves impartial, disciplined, buoyant with ideas, populated with visionary leadership, and in fact free of impurities and ardent observers of their own rules and the rule of law in general free of impurities, then the hope for good governance could not be realised.”
On legislative lobbying, Senator Ekweremadu regretted that whereas lobbying in the legislature was a well accepted democratic norm in developed democracies, the notion associated with it in the Nigerian clime sometimes made both the lobbyist and the person or group being lobbied guilty of assumed dirty dealings and misconducts.
He said rather than perceive lobbying as inducement or corruption, efforts should be made to borrow from international best practices to redefine issues bothering on the role of the lobbyist, ethics and rules of engagement, regulation, transparency, and indeed effective approaches and manners of lobbying in our various legislatures.
The event was attended by lawmakers, civil society, election management bodies, political parties and leaders, including the Senate President, Senator David Mark, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former Vice President, Chief Alex Ekwueme, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, among others.