political parties

By Tonnie Iredia

On December 12, 1987, local government elections were held throughout Nigeria and because the country was at the time, under military rule, the elections were conducted on non-party basis in the absence of political parties.

Voters were therefore enjoined to use their knowledge of the traits, charisma and integrity of individual candidates to make their choices. The elections were peaceful but the characteristic flamboyance and joyous environment which political parties create around elections were absent.

The military government of the time led by General Ibrahim Babangida was merely testing the waters before instituting a full-scale transition to civil rule political programme. By the time political parties came on board, the 1987 situation had been completely reversed.

To start with, efforts to register genuine political parties were thwarted by the politicians who evolved a plethora of malpractices. This prompted the creation of two government approved parties. Although the political class greatly criticized Babangida, it is now clear that his understanding of our politicians was near perfect. Nigerian politicians have never been interested in the formation and management of parties, all they always wanted was to be in government – a posture that is yet to change till today.

There were other subsisting defects in the structure and disposition of our political class. First, the parties did not and still do not attract persons of like minds into their fold as is typical of political formations. Most of our politicians have no time for principles, instead they have remained opportunists.

Opposition parties do not exist in the strict sense to offer alternative view-points that can keep the ruling party in check. The result has been daily decamping of mostly opposition politicians to the government party. Everyone wants to hold a government position which is generally seen as lucrative.

Even legislators prefer the execution of projects to law-making. In other parts of the world, legislators are rated by the quality of their contributions to debates on the floor of the legislature. In the circumstance, no one wants to manage the party, it is government positions that everyone aspires to occupy.

In other words, whereas political parties form and run government in other parts of the globe, it is government that runs political parties in Nigeria, hence, the holder of the highest political office in a state (governor) automatically becomes the leader of the party in such a state thereby displacing the original party strategist who worked for the party’s electoral victory.

Today, the two major identical political parties are on the same page on the subject. In fact, it was the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that introduced the strategy of subordinating party executives to government positions. The current ruling political party at the federal level, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has revised it by running the party with a caretaker committee that is led by a serving governor – a party member who had managed to win a governorship election. Caretaker committee management of a political party is an aberration because a party has no business dissolving an entire executive to foist an emergency on itself.

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The constitution of a political party if followed faithfully, provides for how to handle every development. On the other hand, making a governor to lead a party even for just one day is inappropriate because there is no way such functioning will not adversely affect the running of a state which the governor was elected to govern.

Besides, the spirit behind the country’s constitutional provision which insulates presidents and governors from litigation was to ensure that nothing distracts them any day from performing their executive functions. To that extent, governors should be encouraged to concentrate on governance.

Is there a strong correlation between being an elected executive and the capacity to effectively run a political party structure? If not, why are governors always put forward by their parties to perform party functions?

As we saw in the recent national convention of the PDP which was a purely party function, it was committees led by state governors elected under the banner of the party that organized it. Consequently, it is not irrational to agree with the criticism that Nigerian political parties patronize the strategy so as to get their members in government to use public funds to finance their party activities.

Our contention however, is that a good political party administrator can raise far more resources for the party through a pragmatic arrangement for the collection of membership dues from the acclaimed millions of party members. Many politicians are so wobbled in thought that they feel it is better to divert public funds to the parties. What makes a person a member of a party if he/she cannot be persuaded to pay low membership dues that virtually everyone can afford?

The combination of all that has been said so far is that ours is not yet a democracy. In a proper democracy, apart from emblems and logos, party identification is a major distinguishing factor; making it virtually impossible for strange bed fellows to belong to same political groupings. 

It is in earnest unusual for leftist politicians to belong to rightist parties. But in Nigeria, it is not only normal, it has become so notorious that it is no longer easy to understand which political party certain politicians now belong to having incessantly moved around.

There is also the joke that a ‘decampee’ would so disparage the party he left the previous day as if he was never there, yet would return there some months later and be applauded for it. This inadvertently shows disregard for political parties by politicians  who are products of the parties.

We have two other examples which show the deliberate weakening of political parties by their privileged members. The first is the enactment of bogus laws by State Houses of Assembly to empower governors to dissolve local councils in breach of the constitutional directive for local governments to be run by democratically elected officials. The second is the recent decision by the federal legislature to impose direct primaries on parties through the instrumentality of an amendment to the electoral law. While there is nothing particularly unusual with direct primaries, imposing the mode on the parties confirms that politicians do not want their parties to be viable entities with a set of initiatives and discretion to select what best suits a particular circumstance.

Yet, the same politicians keep asking the judiciary to refrain from determining party cases which the internal structure of the parties should be allowed to handle. If a political party cannot be trusted to exercise sufficient wisdom to select the most suited mode of primaries for certain times and environments, why should anything be left to the party to superintend? In other words, the National Assembly has decided to turn political parties into robots who are incapable of reasoning.

We are not unaware of the advantages of direct primaries. Our point is that direct primaries also have disadvantages. The best way to deal with such issues is to avoid replacing the thinking caps of elected party executives with those of law makers.

Why can’t every segment be given a chance to grow and develop in line with global realities when some jurisdictions allow the so-called indirect mode at general elections whereas Nigerian lawmakers are unable to allow it for party internal processes?

Unfortunately, the argument that it was done to curtail the powers of governors is also not persuasive because one of the worst forms of law is one whose enactment targets specific individuals. What is more, our governors know what to do to control any mode of primary elections.

It seems more reasonable to create strong political parties whose elected executives should be respected instead of the present arrangement in which party executives grovel at the feet of prosperous elected government officials.

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