A colloquium on building bridges among the country’s political parties last Wednesday was a revealing description of the rot among the political class. How they build on the home truth would define their relevance in the polity.
BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
ERSTWHILE National Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Dr. Usman Bugaje held the gathering of party chieftains, civil rights activists and the media present spellbound as he opened up on the rot in Nigeria’s political parties last Wednesday.
“Political parties including mine have no content, no courage and have no conscience,” he said as he noted that the majority of political party chairmen in the states are those who have no academic qualifications and are there simply for what they can get out of the system.
The gathering in the Bolingo Hotel, Abuja was the first of what has been promised as a Political Parties Dialogue Series. It is part of the Democratic Governance for Development, DGD project sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, the Development for International Development, DFID, Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA and the Korea International Cooperation Agency, KOICA to entrench the democratic system in the country.
Borrowing spacious offices
Bugaje’s revelation was indeed not the only one. The disclosure by Mrs. Regina Omo-Agege the Director for Political Parties Monitoring at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC was also shocking.
The INEC official in her presentation disclosed that many of the registered political parties deceived the commission at the point of registration by borrowing spacious offices which they subsequently abandoned for rented shops. She was further miffed that many of the parties involved in such acts also send those she described as their shop girls to important policy conferences.
Among those present at the dialogue were officials of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC led by its national organising secretary Alhaji Yusuf Salihu, a delegation of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Justice Party, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN among others.
The dialogue was opened by the UNDP Country Director for Nigeria, Ade Lekoetje represented by Joyce Pitso, the UNDP_DGD Project Director. But before her remarks, Mr. Bodunrin Adebo the UNDP-DGD National Expert on Elections had briefed the gathering on the essence and purpose of the meeting.
The lead paper for the dialogue was presented by Prof. Adele Jinadu, erstwhile National Commissioner in the defunct National Electoral Commission, NEC between 1987 and 1993 and presently Executive Director, Centre for Advanced Social Studies, CASS.
The Jinadu paper was enriching as it was incisive and traced the concept and origins of political parties noting particularly the definition of parties along functional and structural terms.
Noting the functional definition of a party especially as applied in the west, Jinadu said parties have two core elements in helping to structure electoral choices and conducting the business of a government under a party label or banner.
He subsequently outlined the historical sociology of parties in Nigeria with an elaborate review of what he described as the “ethno-regionalisation and the personalisation of party politics, particularly between 1951 and 1965” to the constitutional reviews between 1975 and 1979 which redefined political parties from their hitherto functional label to the constitutional definition which defined parties along the constitutional structures spelt out by regulatory authorities.
Under the new framework parties were expected to have national outlook, internal organisation or democracy and their recognition by an electoral body.
Justifying the need for inter-party dialogue, Jinadu said: ”It is not that inter-party dialogue is a new idea in inter party relations in Nigeria. In fact, much of it goes on in structured forums, such as in parliamentary committees, constitutional reform conferences, workshops among others in less obvious unstructured or informal ones among party leaders and members of different political parties.” While acknowledging the essence of inter-party dialogue, Jinadu, however, noted that it would amount to futility in the face of no intra-party dialogue.
He thus advocated four conditions for the entrenchment of intra-party dialogue and subsequently productive inter party dialogue. The four conditions he espoused were building party discipline and cohesion; upward aggregation of party structure and administration; party congresses and conventions as a tool in managing diversity and lastly, the conduct of credible party primaries for the selection of party candidates.
The discussion of the lead paper was done by a panel comprising Dr. Bugaje, Chief Emmanuel Okereke, Chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council and Mrs. Omo-Agege.
Besides his damning verdict on the content and carriage of political party chieftains, Bugaje also asserted that inter party dialogue must be focused otherwise it would serve no purpose.
He also challenged opposition political parties to proffer alternatives to government positions saying that the absence of alternative views rendered political parties as inconsequential.
One moment of hilarity at the session was when Okereke, the IPAC chairman made his remarks. He made scathing criticisms of the Prof. Attahiru Jega led INEC which he said had a determined agenda of de-registering political parties instead of providing a conducive environment for them to flourish. In remarks that apparently shocked if not amused some at the gathering, Okereke said that Jega was destroying the good works done by his predecessor, Prof. Maurice Iwu. He further accused Jega of having a master agenda of implementing the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Uwais committee on electoral reforms one of which was the reduction in the number of political parties. Jega was a member of that committee.
Mrs. Omo-Agege was, however, to refute many of the allegations raised by Okereke as she said that the political parties deregistered were those who failed to win any election during the recent round of general elections asserting that all actions done by Jega were in line with the constitution and the electoral act.
As the policy dialogue ended, Mr. Adebo revealed that the dialogue would continue with focus on other issues as covered by the mandate of DGD.