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How to effect internal democracy within ruling parties (3)

By John Amoda

BOTH  the old rulers and the rulers-in-waiting ruled the same society, the colonial province of Nigeria. On September 2, 1957 Tafawa Balewa became the first Prime Minister of the British Colony, Nigeria. After the 1959 Independence elections he became on October 1, 1960, the first transitional Prime Minister voted for in colonial Nigeria and to be Prime Minister of an independent Nigeria. The federal election in 1964 was the first  organised by the Federal Government of an independent Nigeria.

The Nigeria which became  independent on October 1, 1960 predated the parties that were elected to rule that Nigeria. That Nigeria was a colony of the British Empire organised politically as such. The parties recognised as successors to the British government of the colony were transformed by the very fact of incumbency from private organisations of politicians with sovereignty interest into ruling parties of politicians in control of the institutions of the colonial government, economy and of the state. From private interest groups they have with the agreement of the British government and the international community changed into a ruling party regime.

Ruling party regimes have appropriated proprietary control of societies through military or negotiated means. It is because they are the parties both with power and in office, that they are ruling party regimes. Such parties appreciate dissensions as security threats. Thus from the onset the basic threat to the regime is that of opposition to the party leadership. Opposition in ruling party regimes imply both threats to the power of the leadership and to the authority of its government. Managing internal factional divisions so as to eliminate divisions is the prevailing strategy for the containment of internal opposition. Ruling party regimes become preoccupied with transforming differences over goals and objectives into differences over strategies; in so doing room is neither provided for the resolution of differences over visions or goals nor differences over strategies for goal attainment. Internal differences become conflicts over control of power and access to office.

The opposition that cannot be co-opted must be eliminated. This is what makes the issue of internal democracy of ruling party regimes the paramount problem of security and stability of party rule. The above remarks were true both for the ruling coalition of parties at the centre and for the ruling parties in the three regions of Nigeria at independence. For all the parties differences led to factionalism and factionalism to open strifes. This is as it was reported in the following:

“Shortly after independence, on May 25, 1962, a split in the AG government in the Western Region led to fighting on the floor of the regional House of Assembly and subsequently to disorder in the region. Sir Abubakar declared a state of emergency; suspended the government and appointed an administrator to run the region’s affairs for six months. But the crisis did not subside; it was followed by a major political upheaval involving the leader of the AG opposition in the Federal House of Representatives, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his supporters who, it was alleged, planned to overthrow the government of Sir Abubakar. On  November 2, 1962, Chief Awolowo and 27 other were arrested and charged with treason, tried and sentenced on  September 11, 1963 to terms of imprisonment” (Makers of Modern Africa P73-40).

From the preceding arguments it is difficult to regard these breakdowns in law and order in these first years of Nigeria’s independence as a teething problem. They were more matters of symptoms of problems in the foundation of the colonial society whose rulers had transferred power and control to the successors on the basis of elections. The legitimacy of the colonial rulers was not a result of elections and nowhere is the issue of overlord settled by elections. Power and authority transferred by the mechanism of election have to be secured through the use of the resources of state and government by the party in power.

Control of government and the instrument of states, including the courts and prison systems become the principal means for consolidating and institutionalising control. Control thus becomes both an end and means issue. Internal dissensions that lead to democracy of decision-making and implementation within leaderships must be dissensions among factions with independent bases of support, support that is crucial for the survival of the leadership. Such factionalist differentiation of leadership must have a class context that binds the factions together through common interest in the dominance of the class. Class as an institution of power must be developed, a process which is in itself conflict prone. This is where election qua election has its own effects. Elections have been organised on the cheap; party leaders used strategies that are effective for organising voting blocs as opposed to canvassing for votes for elective offices.

Voting blocs provide aggregatable majorities required for election into offices with the clear understanding that office-holding is a strategy for establishing control and ownership over governments and the society ruled by them- for this is exactly the end result of colonial rule; that is, the exercise of power over society constituted of subjects. Internal democracy defined as the constitutionalisation of factional differences and the resolution of such differences to ensure the solidarity of the leadership is a persisting structural project that is the other side of the coin of the decision by the First Generation nationalist politicians to accept elections as a mechanism for the acquisition of state power.

In countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe that decision is now in itself a subject of electoral contestation. It is clear that leaders are finding the rules of elections as imposed by the international community shackles that impede their effort to establish total and exclusive control. The violence that has accompanied the 2008 Presidential Election in Kenya suggest that the future possibility not of election reforms but of the outright rejection of elections as a means achieving proprietary control of governments, state and economies. In such a scenario the prospects of internal democracy within the ruling parties are structurally reduced. It may make more sense in Africa’s election reform politics to talk about internal democratization of power relations within ruling parties as opposed to reforms leading to internal democracy such as those typical of Liberal Democratic Election Parties of Western Europe.


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