As long as our political parties are more about persons than ideology, values, and philosophies, nobody can wish away internal crises from them. It is only unfortunate that the siege will be transferred to governance, with Nigerians paying the price, if any party built on sand is elected to run our country. The current challenge is how to free the parties from the stranglehold of power and political entrepreneurs.
Reading through the newspapers and social media in the past two weeks, I found myself thinking about how nothing much seems to have changed in the conduct of the affairs of the political class and no lesson seems learnt from past occurrences. That self-inflicted crises plague the two major political parties in Nigeria – the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party – is worrisome. But more unfortunate is that without the ability to organise themselves, the hope that they can provide the platform to galvanise ideas and talent required to bring Nigeria out of the dungeon and make us a great country is dashed.
The two major political parties and the other parties are all experiencing intense crisis arising from the struggle to control the souls of these parties soul for personal or selfish interests. The internal crisis of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be more visible and virulent. This was allegedly triggered by the perceived conflict of interest between a South-South governor and the party’s national chairman, with the governor, believed to be its major financier, fast emerging as the strongman or feudal lord of the party.
The strategy of the “national chairman must go” orchestra included inducing seven officers of the National Working Committee to resign, allegedly on the excuse that the national Chairman lacks the capacity to run the party. It further included mobilising disgruntled youths, under the “Save PDP Group”, to protest, and organising the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives, led by the governor’s allies, to demand the resignation of the party’s national Chairman. Things moved very fast, almost spiraling out of control, until the influential PDP Governors Forum and Board of Trustees intervened. What may have saved the party from total disintegration is that, though it is an amalgamation of regional blocs and powerful elites, it has evolved organically with a culture and systems in place.
The system, though not perfect or resilient enough to stop the emergence of a strong man or feudal lord – which is a role the South-South governor desires, is good enough to check the excesses of any individual. This system has momentarily given the party some respite, leading to a resolution to hold an early national convention in October; but the root of mutual suspicion runs deep.
On the other hand, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is also embroiled in its own crisis, though this has been less visible to observers, for the single reason that the party is in power and has a President in office. The immediate catalyst for the APC crisis was the recent Supreme Court ruling on the last Ondo State governorship election and the ward congresses. The apex court judgement gave rise to multiple interpretations of the import and implications of the verdict. The ruling became a subject of contestation in the media for lawyers, semi-lawyers and professional social media commentators. When this is juxtaposed with the expereinces of those who either lost out or felt unjustly treated in the ward congresses, the complete picture of the tension building up in the party becomes clearer.
Last week in Abuja, I had the opportunity to meet a professor of Political Science in one of the universities in the North, who is a keen observer of developments in the country’s political parties. His interpretation of the rumbling within APC is three-dimensional.
The professor’s first hypothesis is that at the root of the emerging crisis in the national ruling party is the perception by a section of the APC leadership that three governors and a serving minister, all from the northern part of the country, have constituted themselves into the new engine room of the party, and they allow their interest to clash with the collective interest.
His second hypothesis is that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) elements within that APC are attempting to subsume the other groups that came together to form APC, to take control of the party and position themselves for 2023, because the Buhari personae would then exit the stage. He believes that this is a genuine pursuit of self-interest.
A pertinent question then arises: Why is there an emergence of strongmen or feudal lords in our political parties, which ought to be bastions and symbols of democracy? Apparently, the answer to this question lies on their funding, as he who pays the piper always calls the tune. The manner of funding of our parties is at the heart of the issues they all have. Wealthy and influential individuals and interest groups finance the parties and not the members.
His final hypothesis is that the orchestrated inability of the party’s Caretaker/Convention Committee to hold congresses and conventions fourteen months after being empowered to do so, is part of the plot to perpetuate and entrench a tiny clique within the party over and above the collective interest.
I disagreed with the professor on all fronts. I told him that the Governor Buni I know is a man of honour who will never be part of a plot to hand over a party that many persons toiled to build to a few, for some inconsequential and parsimonious reasons. The professor’s perception seems to stick, even when there are indicators to the contrary. Proponents of this idea believe that three governors and a serving minister have laid siege to the party, in an manner similar to the siege of Jericho in the Bible and the battle of Badr in the Holy Qur’an.
Unfortunately, the professor believes that the APC still operates as a “special purpose vehicle”, instead of a fully integrated organic party. However, according to his analysis, the party is lucky to have an emperor- monarch figure in President Buhari, who can call principal actors to order and rein them into line.
A pertinent question then arises: Why is there an emergence of strongmen or feudal lords in our political parties, which ought to be bastions and symbols of democracy? Apparently, the answer to this question lies on their funding, as he who pays the piper always calls the tune. The manner of funding of our parties is at the heart of the issues they all have. Wealthy and influential individuals and interest groups finance the parties and not the members. It is only natural that such individuals will impose their ideas and interests on the parties.
I cannot stress enough the need for party members to fund the political parties. This approach is the democratic process and it stops party financiers from hijacking them and, by extension, public governance.
The other answer is that the political parties are created and structured in such a way to be controlled by political office holders and not the other way around, which ought to be the proper way. In most cases, the president’s or state governors’ whims and caprices determine the direction of the parties. Instead of the president and governor being answerable to the political party through which they came to power, these people holding executive offices end up moulding the political parties in their image and likeness.
In situations where a state governor decamps and moves to the opposition party, all the organs and instruments of that new party in his state are handed over to him. He suddenly becomes the face of the party in the state. Those who stridently criticised his policies and decisions before the decamping suddenly start to praise them. In contrast, those who were ‘high’ over his policies and pronouncement would suddenly see anything he does as devilish. This anomaly is the tragedy of the Nigerian political situation.
The second question is: Why can’t political parties organise themselves to give Nigerians hope of the translation of our country’s potentials into tangible and relatable results? This question presents a chicken and an egg situation. Between the country and the parties, which one should demonstrate the capacity of being organised for the collective interest? The truth is that the political parties reflect the dominant political environment in the country, despite slight variations in persuasion. We make bold to say that political parties are microcosms of the larger political and social environments. If the larger society and its structures and systems function well, the political parties would follow suit and reflect this efficiency.
The fate of Nigeria’s democracy links to how well our political parties function. We should strengthen the laws governing the conduct of the parties, to make them more effective. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should have powers to enforce internal democracy in our political parties. INEC should function like a real umpire that does not pander to the interests of the president, the ruling party or any other interest…
Two models have emerged from other climes that can help us understand this better. In the first model (represented by Western democracies), political parties are essential institutions of democracy. By competing in elections, parties offer citizens choices of direction in governance, and while in opposition, they are positioned to hold governments accountable. When citizens join political parties, volunteer their time, donate money, and vote for leaders, they are exercising their fundamental democratic rights. Participation in political parties offers unique benefits, including opportunities to influence policy choices, to choose and engage political leaders, and to equally run for office. In this model, the members are subjected to the parties, and adhere to the rules of engagement, both legal and convention, while following the internal and external procedures of the party.
The second model is the mono party system (represented by the Chinese model). In this instance, the party is linked to state power, and both reify each other. The state is under the party’s direct influence, and the party is a conduit to supply the state with both personnel for the control of power and perpetration of the dominant ideology. The state, on the other hand, funds the party and defines how it functions. In terms of specifics, the party and the state championed the state-driven neo-capitalist economy that has brought great wealth to China. The party sets the reformed socialist-capitalist ideology that the state runs and, apart from the insufficient freedom credentials, this has worked well for China.
In the two models above, the parties play significant roles in shaping the governance and economic prosperity of the countries. Political parties in Nigeria must do the same. The parties should have explicit ideologies and formidable structures that will allow them to obtain power and use it in line with their ideologies and policies, as articulated in their manifestos, to deliver prosperity to Nigeria.
No one expects that the APC and the PDP would suddenly become bastions of ideology like the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States of America or the Conservative and Labour parties in the United Kingdom. However, after 21 years of uninterrupted democratic rule, it is expected that the parties would at least have some semblance of order and direction. An aspiring politician in Nigeria should be able to identify which party aligns more with his or her beliefs and outlook in life. They should see the parties as distinct assemblages of like-minds, in order to decide which set of people are of their like.
The nexus between some emergent feudal lords in the political parties, who are trying to control the soul of the parties before the next general elections, to the exclusion of their perceived competitors, and the rise in internal resistance and wrangling, is a pattern that is evident to even the least discerning. It is an orchestrated trend seeking to enforce prominent personalities, instead of good ideologies. As long as our political parties are more about persons than ideology, values, and philosophies, nobody can wish away internal crises from them. It is only unfortunate that the siege will be transferred to governance, with Nigerians paying the price, if any party built on sand is elected to run our country. The current challenge is how to free the parties from the stranglehold of power and political entrepreneurs.
The fate of Nigeria’s democracy links to how well our political parties function. We should strengthen the laws governing the conduct of the parties, to make them more effective. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should have powers to enforce internal democracy in our political parties. INEC should function like a real umpire that does not pander to the interests of the president, the ruling party or any other interest, aside from that of Nigeria and her chequered democracy.
The election period is a time to test the resilience of the political parties, which always tend to fail. This test often exposes the weak foundation of the major parties as assemblages of people driven by self-interest and not national interest.
The present crises in the two major political parties in Nigeria, if not checked, will dovetail into and complicate the coming elections. The key beneficiary would then be the judiciary, whose members would be empowered to feed on the land mines in the constitutions of the parties.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.
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