Political parties and the frequent sore points

Issues bordering on individuality and other mundane factors characterise the structure of political parties in Nigeria. KUNLE ODEREMI examine.

The unceremonious exit of President Jacob Zuma from power in South Africa and his replacement by Cyril Ramaphosa is evident of the dominant place of the political party as an institution in a democracy. It shows the supremacy of the party over and above individual members no matter his status and position, as well as circumstances no matter expedient. It was glaring that the issue that climaxed to his stepping down was devoid of primordial factors of prebendal and money politics, as well as ethnic prism, manipulation and subterfuge, but was rooted on vital issues of good governance and integrity, even though the opposition party was instrumental to the entire episode.

The well-coordinated procedure and due process underscored the ideals and philosophy behind a political system and party structure. There is also the factor that parliamentary democracy adopted as a form of government helped raise the temperature of the pressure from the African National Congress (ANC), on Zuma, culminating in his inglorious exit from the country’s power apex.

Eminent personalities like former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; two ex-ministers: Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, as well as human rights and pro-democracy campaigner, Dr Olisa Agbakoba have consistently spoken on the imperative of expanding the capacity of political parties in Nigeria so that they could become institutions to boost democracy and governance.

Vice President Yemi Osinabajo alluded to some core issues impeding democratic growth and development, including factoring the role of the elite. “The elite, it appears, prefers the status quo which sets the lowest possible bar for political advancement that is identity politics; where do you come from? Or to which religion do you belong? And it is through that paradigm that most issues are analysed. So, the real issues that concern our people are often diminished – good governance, jobs for a growing population of young people, poverty alleviation, peace and security, etc. Those are never properly analysed, or even allowed to take their prominence in public debates especially in debates leading to elections,” he observed.

The South African situation is a dramatic twist to events in an African continent, where intoxicated governing elite perceive political parties as constituting an extension of personal business empires, to be used in holding on to political power. Rather than build, nurture and grow political party to a veritable institution meant to deepen democracy and bolster development, the emphasis has been on strengthening the capacity of personalities, who, whimsically, determine critical issues of choice at every stage of the democratic process. Due process is substituted with impunity in the formation, running and managing the affairs of political parties. It conjures and engrains the founders and joiners mentality.

Parties form part of the locus in a democratic system. As a critical institution in promoting democratic ideals, they are required to be based on definite philosophy, which individuals cherish, promote and sustain towards achieving overall stability in a democracy. Parties like the Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the United States have stood the test of time because of such shared philosophy among the members. In Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), which metamorphosed from being a mass movement against racial segregation in South Africa, has become an institution in the democratic process of a new South Africa.

In Nigeria, the Action Group (AG) was a model in party formation, structure and philosophy because of the lofty ideals it espoused and propagated through its irrepressible leader, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. With such a firm foundation, the AG was able to weather through tempests and actually survived a contrived crisis by a few elements at the federal level in an unholy alliance with some Fifth Columnists in the First Republic. The AG also became a template for the evolution of new parties in the country even till today. Its offshoots like the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the Second Republic consolidated the cardinal programmes of the AG, which distinguished it from other parties with pretentious or quasi-ideology or philosophy. Dressed in borrowed apparel, the rested National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) foisted on the country by the military during the still-born-Third Republic soon sank as a result of the cacophonies created by the convergence of disparate political gladiators.

Regrettably, the steady political somersaults has been sustained in Nigeria mainly because of the circumstances surrounding the birth of parties that formed governments at the federal and state levels on May 29, 1999. But the greatest casualty of the instability remains the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which was orphaned by internal crises induced by external forces. While AD has continually gasped for breath in its quest to regain relevance as a platform, the All Peoples Party (APP), which has changed colour and identity like a chameleon, has been swallowed by the current ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), under the merger that involved the defunct Congress Progressives Change (CPC) and the atrophied All Progressive Grand Alliance (AGPA) in 2014.

Nonetheless, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which formed government at the centre for 16 uninterrupted years, acted like a cat with nine lives each time it was split down the line by internal crises. Its loss of power through the 2015 elections delivered a more devastating blow that threw the leaders off balance before the party ‘miraculously’ rose from the dead again.  Its tortuous and acrimonious journey to redemption left landmines which the Governor of Bayelsa State, Serieka Dickson, has been assigned to clear as the head of the PDP Reconciliation Committee. After the first phase of the troubleshooting mission of the governor to some aggrieved PDP top shorts, there is suspense in the air about the next stage of the critical assignment as the ‘shuffle’ towards the 2019 elections becomes a ‘push.’

As the arrowhead of the APC Reconciliation Committee, a national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, carries a big cross on his shoulders. His choice by President Muhammadu Buhari, as the man to cement the yawning cracks in the party, is widely perceived as curious. Some of them have an axe to grind with him because of his awesome influence within the party, just as others see him as an interested party in the schism in the rank and file of the APC in a number of state chapters, as well as the top echelon of the APC, including the National Assembly leadership.

Beyond these controversies dogging the path of the parties is their aversion to internal democracy. The disdain remains the bane of the parties, in view of the negative effects that manifest before, during and after a general election. The culture of impunity manifests more glaring in the imposition of candidates, with dire consequences with powerful and influential party members as the agent provocateur. Government machinery is deployed to thwart the genuine desire of the majority of the party members who want to make their rightful choice for elective offices. Therefore, aggrieved party members often resort to engaging in anti-party activities during balloting; aspirants, who felt shortchanged during primaries, seek other platforms to actualise their aspirations only to return to their original parties after elections. Sometimes, the bitterness resulting from contentious primaries lead to transferred aggression as party members take to self-help instead of seeking legitimate means to seek redress. It is because of some of these reasons that state governors and members of the legislative arms of government sometimes emerge without actually obtaining the mandate of the people through a general election.

The disdain for party supremacy constitutes another mess in the political circle, as a few regard the political parties as personal properties. This has further encouraged the emergence of mushroom parties, which their owners with no clear ideological understanding of the essence of a political party as an institution, deploy as a veritable tool for negotiation and compromise to subvert democratic ideals and due process.  But of major concern in the Nigerian political space is the role of a few powerful and influential party members that encourage a reign of impunity with the resultant intraparty squabbles and conflicts. With the mentality that politics is an investment, such leaders expect a huge and fast return once their parties form governments, while campaign promises based on party manifestos become inconsequential. The few tend to dictate every form of negotiation on the sharing of pecks of office and position, either elective or appointive. Therefore, greed and ego take an upward swing once an election has been contested for and won.