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Internal democracy, independent candidacy

*Jega is the man

By Bisi Lawrence
A phrase that has been swept in by the current developments in our political life is “internal democracy”. No pause was needed to decipher its meaning. It was so explanatory. It blew to shreds the assumption that accepted democratic practice, which normally includes the decisions of any group as a function of the will of the majority, was mandatory in all circumstances. It may be so made to appear outside a political party, especially when several parties are in contention, but it does not have to hold when decisions were made within each party.

The notion was that decisions to choose a representative for each party, in the case of a multi-party election, would be along the wishes of the majority as indicated on the principles of votes cast. That was one of the main functions of the party conventions, and the item was indeed listed on the agenda as the “primary elections”. But the traditional procedure would appear to have been gradually eroded down the years until it has now become almost obsolete in several parties, even (or especially) among the so-called “progressives. There is no election to be found for that purpose any more anywhere. At the best, it has been replaced by a sham.

Surprisingly enough, it is absolutely legal. It is in the area of the internal administration of a political party that is outside the jurisdiction of any court of law. This point was recently capably elucidated upon by Hon.Eseme Eyiboh, writing for the Daily Sun, (page 42, 25/1/2011) in the course of which he quoted from a Supreme\Court decision delivered by Onnoghen JSC, (in the case of EHINLAWO  v  OKE):

“The nomination by a political party may be by way of primary election, selection, appointment etc, or a combination of the above. “Whatever the method adopted, the law is that the nomination of a candidate to be sponsored by a political party remains within the absolute jurisdiction of the political parties.”

The political leadership within every party, whose whims and caprices created this situation in the first place, is lapping it up. The so-called primaries were mere selections and endorsements in almost every instance. That is why the leadership of the ACN at the national level was able to openly acclaim the process recently. At one time in the past, it was the custom to rigorously deny that any candidate was imposed on the party, despite the public protests of the membership.

The party was usually confident, if it was the preferred one in the concerned constituency,  that it would win anyway. Little consideration was given to the service rendered in the past to the party by the candidates, their suitability or competence. The wishes of the people were routinely thwarted to glorify the party, or pander to the personal desire of the “leader”.

But it sometimes carries a fatal recoil. For instance, Ikorodu has always been home-ground to the forebears of the ACN since the halcyon era of Chief S.O.Gbadamosi.

The only factor that tended to disrupt the equation was the charismatic presence of Chief TOS Benson. But the party came a cropper in the recent bye-election into the Lagos State House of Assembly because the membership revolted against the candidate that was imposed on them. It was almost incredible, but the party members have no regrets…only a warning: it could be worse next time. Other constituencies, and other parties, must have taken notice. The sponsorship of candidates by parties may very well no longer be “by way of primary elections, selection, or appointment”, but by “a combination of the above”.

***Many politicians see the party endorsement as a do-or-die affair in its worst connotations because there is nowhere else to turn to beside the party. Each candidate has to be sponsored by a political party which submits his or her name to INEC. Anyone who fails to get a party to give out the flag is out in the cold. In a former dispensation, this was not the case. An aspirant who is shunned by the party could sponsor and present himself for election. Such people were known as Independent Candidates. They constituted a colourful appendage to the electoral process. But they were sometimes more than mere appendages.

In the old Western Region, for instance, Babalola who was the first-ever Minister of Works in the First Republic government of  Tafawa Balewa, found his way into the House of Representatives on his own steam. So did the brilliant Minister of Education in Awolowo’s cabinet, Oduola Oshuntokun who went to the Western House of Assembly by the same route. They both declared for the various parties later.

Perhaps the most stirring example was Nwakpa, a former Mayor of Port Harcourt on the platform of the NCNC, who was dropped as the candidate for the House of Representatives in favour of Ayorinde, the Chairman of the constituency. It was merely to prove a point actually, since Nwakpa, a glamorous personality and an outstanding politician was infinitely more qualified than Ayorinde.

But the NCNC was out to demonstrate its distance from tribal and ethnic preferences by sponsoring a Yoruba to represent an Ibo community. The point was made. Nwakpa then proceeded to make his own point by entering the lists as an Independent Candidate, and thoroughly trouncing his opponent, as everyone knew he would. He later declared for the NCNC and became a minister.

In the present dispensation, the only alternative would be for an aspirant who was discarded by the party to seek the membership of another party in time for him to be considered for its sponsorship. That is fraught with several pitfalls, especially in future developments – as a certain former Vice President of this nation found out. But beyond the consideration of personal political fortunes, it also concerns the expression of personal freedom. That is fundamental to democracy.

It is to do with the enshrinement of the human right which everyone owns exclusively, as a law-abiding citizen who may like to vote and be voted for, or may neither like to vote nor be voted for. In this season of constitutional reform, the issue of independent candidacy calls for serious consideration, if only to provide a wider horizon for political “practitioners.”

***Professor Attahiru Jega, one would have assumed, should now have realized into how much of a tizzy he has thrown the nation’s aspirations for a smooth-running election. Those who went to bat for him at the start, spoke highly and repetitively of his “integrity”. That is yet unsullied, but we are now faced with how much we can rely on his competence. Some people are now comparing him unfavourably with a certain Maurice Iwu – and you can hardly go much lower than that in such matters.

No one could reasonably expect a registration exercise of this magnitude to start and end without several hiccups. But some of the lapses tend to be rather embarrassing. How could entire communities in a well-known area, like the Redemption Camp, Mowe, and other locations along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, to have been overlooked in such a programme? Of course, we agree that it is the direct responsibility of the officers in charge of the area. But we have established the rules of the game from the outset: we can only accept one man to be in charge of it all. We are not about to change the rule now. Jega is the man. He has to take responsibility for it all – the inoperable or disappearing voting machines, the poor logistics, the untrained supernumerary staff, the dispute about remuneration, the lot.

A lot of the exercise now appears to be on an even keel. However, we are yet to even come face-to-face with the main feature, which is the election proper. The harshness of the earlier problems would have been much lessened if the reaction had been more timely. Jega should have, in the first place, addressed the nation about those difficulties with more urgency, in order to set the mind of the public at rest. But the complaints kept pouring out from all quarters before anything in the guise of a soothing reaction came from INEC.

And to crown it all, we are now expected to fling out another six billion…what?.Some of the pains of INEC appear to be self-inflicted, and yet we are to pay good money for them? Anyway, one hopes we all get out of this with only a few broken bones. The lessons are there so far for those who wish to learn. When the main exercise begins, it may be too late then to save the integrity of the elections, no matter how many billions we are willing to throw at it.

Time out.


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