By Tonnie Iredia
One question which a committee I once belonged to could not find an answer for was why every Chairman of our electoral bodies of old was always booted out of office. For example, Professor Eme Awa who was appointed to Chair the Commission in 1987 was holding a crucial meeting with electoral commissioners when a radio announcement removed him from office barely a year later.
His successor, Professor Humphrey Nwosu organized the world acclaimed best election in Nigeria in 1993 but he was not allowed to release the results. Other Chairmen before them like E. E. Esua and Victor Ovie-Whiskey were not better handled. Incidentally, they had all distinguished themselves in other assignments before being saddled with managing elections. So, why were such outstanding personalities rubbished?
The question re-echoed in my sub-consciousness, a few days ago when my friend, Yemi, informed me, that a premature end to the tenure of Dr Bamanga Tukur, the current chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) appears imminent.
Yemi imagined that the recent adverse criticism by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) of the party’s convention which brought Tukur to office would instigate some members of the PDP to increase the tempo of their bashing of their chairman. How come it took INEC about one year to make public its reported negative observation of the convention?
This is a poser for another day. For today, it is instructive that it was reportedly made at the height of anti-Tukur campaigns within the PDP. Oh yes, no other executive officer of the party has been subjected to the type of sustained attacks which Tukur has faced since the last one year that he took office.
Interestingly, it is not quite easy for any political analyst to comprehend the issues at stake. For instance, what type of chairman do PDP members want? Would they prefer a robot, that is, a person who lacks discretion and initiative? I ask this because the first complaint against Bamanga was that he was doing things differently from how others did it befo
re. For this reason, the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) rejected a memorandum from the chairman to reform the party.
In fact, despite the widely held belief that corruption in the party secretariat was being perpetrated by some directors who had spent over eight years in office, a proposal by the chairman to move such directors around was rejected by the NWC.
Again, a purely advisory body led by a distinguished second republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme to help the chairman generate ideas and strategies on how to move the party forward was similarly opposed by the members. The argument of the latter was that such a committee was unknown to their party’s constitution. At another point in time, the party’s national secretary allegedly sent a memo to all chairmen of state branches of the party not to relate directly with the national chairman without passing through the national secretary.
One analyst attributes the rumpus to what he described as how Tukur was elected. Whatever is the case, the reality is that PDP members usually treat the chairmanship of their party as if it is a part time or temporary position. In fact, the case of Bamanga Tukur looks like that of a new appointee on probation, but for how long it is to last may be hard to know.
This is because it is not about Tukur; rather, it is in the character of PDP to put its chairman in the position of a refuse bin before he is booted out. And it has been so since 1999. As in the case of our electoral commission of old which always brutalized its successive chairmen, PDP without being uncharitable, appears to relish being a headless body. With what then does it think?
Some say the founding chairman-Chief Solomon Lar was not disgraced out of office but not many agree with the assertion. What about his successors? Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Vincent Ogbulafor, together with the indomitable Ahmadu Ali who was nicknamed the Garrison Commander were all virtually rubbished.
Our democracy cannot take root, if party management is weak. There is indeed danger when the chairman of the ruling party in a state finds his way to the position of Deputy Governor of that state as PDP did in Kaduna the other day. Also, party activities ought to be chaired by the chairman and they ought to hold in party offices and not at the Presidential Villa or Government Houses in the States.
In other words, party leaders should not be subordinated to their members who are elevated to the executive arm of government. PDP should borrow a leaf from the posture of older politicians. During the second republic for instance, Alhaji Shehu Shagari won election as President under the banner of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Thereafter, he faced the task of governance while Chief Adisa Akinloye, National Chairman of the party continued to call the shots on party matters. In addition, Shagari deferred to him at all times and refused to be interviewed by journalists on an issue upon which, in the words of Shagari, ‘the boss’ had spoken.
It is a posture which puts a political party over its members –a stance which is no doubt more significant today because unlike the past when we had independent candidates, the law now provides that elections can only be won by political parties and not by individuals. This creates party supremacy.
This legal environment of party supremacy is therefore not the time to place party members who win elections over the legal platform which enabled their victory. Elected party members like Governors should not be the only group to nominate members to the different party committees; otherwise they will hold the party to ransom as it frequently happens now in the PDP.
In the last few months for example, PDP Governors have been calling for a meeting of their party’s National Executive Committee simply because they want to use their cronies there to dislodge the national chairman. But when will any of such Governors allow a meeting of his own State Executive Committee?