Nigeria: How did we get here? (3)
Undoubtedly, such men of character can emerge under any form of government in one way or the other. In Nigeria, however, since we have adopted democracy, that is, opportunity for the people to choose their leaders through elections, it is important that the system must be practiced in such a manner as to produce the caliber of officials required.
Election, undoubtedly, is at the heart of democracy because, without the ability of the people to elect their own leaders, there cannot be a democracy. Similarly, elections alone do not make a democracy. There must exist some fundamental principles that must be adhered to in order for a society to claim to be a true democracy. A society that elects its leaders but lacks accountability, transparency, government effectiveness, adherence to the rule of law, neutrality of state institutions and control of abuse of power cannot lay claim to such credential. These imperatives are only achievable where credible leaders emerge in a transparent process. This is the foundation of where we missed the road, among others, that we shall be interrogating in weeks to come. Thus, our next consideration is the electoral system in Nigeria.
The electoral system in Nigeria is regulated by the Constitution of the country, the Electoral Act, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)regulations and guidelines and the case law developed by the courts. A discourse of the electoral system must necessarily start with a discussion of political parties because, under Nigerian law, independent candidacy is not permissible. In fact, it is unconstitutional to canvass for votes or sponsor candidates without formal registration with INEC. However, all you need to register a political party are the submission of names and addresses of national officers to INEC, open membership to all Nigerians, register your constitution or any alteration to it with the commission, ensure that the name, symbol or logo do not have any religious, geographical or ethnic coloration and locate the headquarters within the Federal Capital Territory.
Although these are all that is required, your constitution must reflect democratic election of party officers periodically as well as federal character in the distribution of party positions. The constitution must also conform to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution on fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. Once a political organisation or person satisfies these requirements, it is registered as a political party.
There was an attempt in the past to add more requirements through other instruments by INEC, but the effort was shut down by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional. Equal attempt to reduce the number of parties via the introduction of filter was resisted by the court. This I believe explains the multiplicity of political parties in Nigeria today. As at date, 91 political parties exist in Nigeria. As much as I believe in the liberalisation of the political space, I share the anxiety of those that believe in the unwieldy nature of what presently obtains. I, therefore, advocate more constitutional stringent conditions. In contradiction, I advocate independent candidacy with its own pre-requisites to stem abuse, but to tame the excesses of those who have hijacked the political parties.
Unlike in other republics that political parties reflect some measure of ideology, the current political parties in Nigeria, to a large extent, lack such political ideologies so as to be able to classify them. In fact, most of the constitutions and manifestoes of Nigerian political parties are products of lazy ‘cut and paste’ manipulation, as used in information technology parlance. This is one of the areas where we got it wrong.
In most civilised nations, political parties operate on ideologies to give focus to members who are potential leaders of the nation. The absence of ideologies is one of the factors responsible for high deficit of quality people in politics. Today, most political parties parade thugs mainly as their members. We need more quality people in the political parties, particularly the elite. The excuse often given by the elite is that politics is dirty. I do not share this opinion, as it is not the platform that is dirty but the members who are contaminants. Politicians use this device, thuggery and violence to scare away good people so as to continue monopolising the political space. Therefore, the elite need to move in and help sanitise the system. It is not all about contest but, at least, reform the ignorant lot populating the various political platforms.
A major role for the elite, therefore, is education and enlightenment. Majority of the people in the political parties are ignorant people that need knowledge and emancipation in order to affect the system positively. They need people that can educate them on their rights. From my experience, if we can just mobilise 20 per cent of good people into the various political parties, the political structure would change radically and positively.
This is my challenge to the elite and one of the solutions to the challenges we are confronted with as a nation. This is the more reason there are no robust outputs from their deliberations and, eventually, when they ‘seize’ power, no good governance occurs. This lacuna also accounts for political prostitution in the country’s polity. We are living witnesses to the ailment of cross-carpeting among politicians, particularly close to election season. This bears eloquent testimony to the problem of lack of political ideology in the system. It is part of the reasons for material or opportunistic allurement for joining political parties.
Political merchants and scavengers now dominate the political parties. Most party members are in it for one form of patronage or the other and not for the purpose of good governance, which is the primary goal of democracy. Little wonder, therefore, that we are where we are today. I think the time is ripe to insert as part of the constitutional requirements the adoption of a political ideology that must govern the operations of the party. Ordinarily, as in other jurisdictions, this ought to be unnecessary but because of our peculiarity, I advocate the introduction. Any deviation must earn sanctions from the regulatory body, INEC.
Another vice that has plunged us to our precarious situation today is the hijack of political parties by some powerful elements within the various parties. Unlike the first and second republics, where members contributed funds to sustain their various political parties and, therefore, had a say and commitment in the operation of the political parties, since the third republic and now, this has progressively waned off. Members no longer contribute membership fees, thereby leaving it to the few moneybags in their midst. The rule remains, he who pays the piper calls the tune. A few people now dictate events in the party to the total disillusionment of the majority of members. Proper management of the political parties to produce good candidates and, ultimately, good leaders, becomes impaired. It is again no surprise that we are where we are today, arising from this ugly practice. We, therefore, need to mandate funding of the political parties in one form or the other by members of the party. Appropriate monitoring, surveillance and sanction ought to be put in place in this regard.
Failure to promote and observe internal democracy in the various political parties is another area where we went wrong.
This is because nomination of candidates into the various elective positions ought to be the responsibility and right of all members of the party. The rationale for this is presumably that this will throw up quality candidates with vision and mission. However, this largely has not been the case in recent political party practice in Nigeria. The scenario obtainable is where any electoral position within the structure of a political party is a subject of conferment without any consideration of the competence of the beneficiaries of the conferment.
In other words, only those that the political kingmakers consider worthy are conferred with the ‘honour’ of being party’s candidates; the process of engaging a method that includes the members of the party in the decision making generally and the nomination of the standard bearers of the party is considered alien by both the party oligarchs, apparatchiks and their suitors. Without mincing words, minority will have both their way and their say. The few occasions where the majority get to have their say (when purported primaries are held), the minority still retain the ultimate power of having their way by superimposing their decisions on the outcome of such internal elections. Internal democracy is slaughtered on the altar of imposition.
In Nigeria, the biggest and most constant headache that confronts the legal adviser of any political party is the reluctance of the party leadership to observe internal democracy. Until of recent when the apex court started enforcing compliance with internal democracy as spelt out by the various legal instruments, internal democracy was a mere tag that only existed in the imagination of politicians. In this vein, it is instructive to note that internal democracy transcends the internal affairs of a political party. The Nigerian legal framework duly recognises it and commands compliance with it. All the legal instruments, including both the Nigerian and political parties constitutions now have abundant provisions regulating internal democracy. The piece of good news now is that the various courts in Nigeria, particularly the apex court, now enforce internal democracy in the various political parties. It is now clear that non-compliance can no more go unpunished. The importance of internal democracy is underscored by one of the illustrious jurists of our time, Kekere-Ekun, JSC when His Lordship opined that “the failure of internal democracy within our political parties right from the grassroots level eventually leads to the instability in the entire political system.’
Good governance is the desire of every society. In order for any society to have good governance, there must be good leadership. For there to be good leadership in a democratic setting, internal democracy must be effectively and effectually practiced. Thus, in order to right the wrong that has afflicted our system overtime, it is important that all means must be found towards ensuring observance of internal democracy in the various political parties. This is more so when the good leaders can only emerge through the transparent process. I dare say loud and clear that without internal democracy, there can’t be democracy. I therefore wish to commend the courts and the 8th Senate for the enforcement and amendments to the constitutional provision on internal democracy respectively and to however admonish politicians too in this regard to shape up in the interest of the nation.
Let me narrate the dangers of ignoring this vital aspect and the way it has negatively impacted us. Assume that there are three political parties contesting. Party A nominates an imbecile; Party B nominates a charlatan whilst Party C nominates an idiot. Among all these characters, you will be made to vote one at the general election. Their governance style you must consequently subject yourself to. The ultimate effect is that they will be unable to engender any good governance and we are all worse for it. This demonstrates the need for us to show serious interest in the nomination of candidates and promote internal democracy. It is the major means of throwing up credible leaders that will move our nation forward