Intra-party politics and the future of democracy in nigeria onyishi, anthony obayi university of nigeria

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In this section we shall address specific questions raised in the introductions b seeking their answers within the context of the unique culture of institutionalism in Nigeria. It is pertinent in this regard to make even if cursory reference to competing explanatory schemes which scholars, both indigenous and alien Africanists, have overtime espoused as explanatory models for making sense of Nigerian, nay sub-Saharan African, politics. Notable amongst them are the ethno-regional model, the class model, and the neo Marxian characterization of post–colonial state as an obstructive phenomenon in the march to democracy. While each and every one of these variables play several and collective roles in molding the character of politics in Nigeria, it is methodologically more fruitful to focus more on the more inclusive variable namely,the institutional form and patterns through which they exfoliate. For instance, one of the exponents of the ‘post-colonial state’ as an efficacious explanatory tool for analysis of party crises in Nigeria posits:

The Petit-bourgeois found out that although they have acquired political power, they were not truly in control of the economy. However, they understood that political power offered opportunities for economic power and therefore the opportunitiesinherent in their political power where best and perhaps the only way they had to create economic base for themselves (Mbah 2011:9)

This is typical of the analysis that flows fromdominant perspectives on Nigeria politics, particularly by neo marxian scholars. A prominent strand of it is to blend with class analysis whereby a pseudo economic motif is imputed to the ruling elite. Unfortunately, these frameworks scarcely proceed further than this. Why is it possible for the so called officials of the post–colonial state to succeed in using state power to enrich themselves? To answer this, one will eventually turn to the process of institution building and how the rulers and the ruled think about same. If for instance, all the institutional guards of democracy: the police, the judiciary, the constitution, the legislature, the election management body, the civil society display a good measure of integrity and patriotism would the political elites be able to manipulate political decisions and programmes to suit their self–interests? The post-colonial state simply bears a character which the sum total of institutional effects constructs. It is ditto for the ethno-regional variant of this explanatory scheme.

So, to explain intra-party politics in Nigeria, it may be more beneficial to focus on altitude to institutions and why the integrity of vital institutions, or even a morass of them in some cases, predispose leading actors to personalization of collective goods, autocracy, impunity, and lack of internal democracy in the leading political parties. When disgruntled party members complain bitterly about lack of internal democracy, do they also accuse their parties of lacking sufficient statutory instruments for regulating the actions of leaders when it comes to intra-party elections and in appointments? In Nigeria, to be sure, there has hardly been a political dispensation without an avalanche of rules and regulations. The problem is their breach by those who should be guided by them. Why do they get away with flagrant breach of rules? Some illustrative cases need to the cited at this point. The PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 (Sixteen) years: 1999-2015. Its operators are by the same token, representative of the character of party politics in Nigeria. It has had almost three constitutions since inceptions. Regarding state congress and national conventions for electing the members of its executive committees at the state and national levels; these constitutions have been very elaborate and lucid. For instance: the PDP Constitution 2006 as amended in 2012 pledges in chapter 8 under “Nomination of Candidates for Election into Politic Offices” that its provisions would be consistent with the (1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)in 2010 and the Electoral Act 2010 (as a mended), in matters relating to internal electoral processes. Accordingly, the party set its internal electoral guidelines and regulations in consonane with the national constitutional provisions and electoral laws. If these statutory instruments: the party constitution, the electoral laws and the National Constitution of 1999 were compiled within the party’s internal electoral processes, it would have minimized the rate of squabbles within its ranks regarding the highhandedness if not outright directorship in the nomination of candidates for public offices. Former President Obasanjo’s outright rejection of his Vice-President AlhajiAbubakar’s presidential candidacy in 207 pushed the latter into Action Congress of Nigeria and as a result he had to run for the presidential election against PDP’s candidate, late UmaruShehuYar’Adua. That completion was very ferocious, because Atiku’sdecampment from PDP was a major year turning pointin the general elections of that year. Atikucould not participate in the PDP presidential primary elections because the outgoing President simply did not want him to run on the platform of their party, with little or no regard to the degree of Atiku’s followership in PDP. In ex- President Jonathan’s bid for a second term he was believed to have deployed, albeit illegitimately all manners of executive power, influence and privilege in frustrating the ambition of potential candidates for the presidential ticket. It is indeed a common place knowledge that the “historic” walk out of State governors and their teaming supporters in 2013 PDP’s Special Convention was a culminating point of the political skirmishes within the party which had brewed covertly and, at times, overtly during the preceding two or three years.

The torching off point of the internal crises within the PDP became the party’s Special National Convention convened to supposedly formalize the process of electing some members of the National working committee that had severed for more than one year easier. Rather than allow this simple, straight further constitutional formality to take place, the President’s political hatchet men prevailed on him to use this opportunity to get rid of some party executive members, like the Deputy National Chairman, the National Secretary and others, who in their calculus might not be deadly supportive of the President’s Second term ambition. Characteristically, the party hawks on a hatchet man’s brief from the Presidency decided to “outlandishly” and with impunity, exclude the names of some serving National walking committee members from this validation voting.

Other smaller political parties bear the same character and outlook: candidates were handpicked by leading gladiators and party executive positions dispensed like “prebends”. The emergent political amalgam, the APC, in its for tuitions wisdom refrained, at national level, from handpicking candidates, and tried to present some semblance of internal democratic process at its presidential, primary election in Lagos. At the state level, the abuse of the principles of internal party democracy became even more horrendous. Here both the President (in the case of the PDP), the national chairman, members of the national working committees working in collaboration with the state governor have consistently hi-jacked the nomination of the party’s gubernatorial and national assembly candidates. Where it involved a party not holding power at the centre, the NWC and governor but particularly the latter, almost single handedly selected party flag bearers for general elections. This is like a time honoured practice of the Nigerian party system. But it is number one culprit of intra-party crises. A few illustrations will bear this proposition out: the former governor of Rivers state, Barr, ChibuikeAmaechi clearly and loudly, won the PDP’s governmental primaries held early 2007, received his certificate of return from the NWC of his party. In addition, the nation’s election umpire, the INEC witnessed the process and endorsed the outcome which had Amaechi as the winner of the PDP gubernatorial primary. Curiously, the President who is also the leader of the party, directed the outgoing Governor, Dr. Peter Odili to replace Barr. Amaechi on account of an unsubstantiated allegation of financial malfeasance while Amaechi was the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly.Amaechi regained his candidates from the Supreme Court, simply because the case was too crystal to be a victim of judiciary manipulation that had become a major feature of Obasanjo’s Administration.

It has become a norm in Nigerian politics of the Obasanjo-Jonathan eras, for outgoing governors to “anoint” their political favorites to be succeed them in utter disregard to the parties’ constitutional provisions governing intra-party elections. In Bauchi State, this autocratic action forced Alhaji Isa Yuguda to dump the PDP and ran to the ANPP, on the platform of which he won the subsequent gubernatorial election. And to demonstrate fact his political umbilical cords were tied to the PDP he ran back to the party (i.e the PDP) after winning election on the platform of the ANPP.

In Benue State, the two leading contestants for the gubernatorial seat were once PDP members – a minster and a speaker of the House of Assembly. The former had to decamp to the All Progressives Congress (APC) when the outgoing Governor, Barrister Gabriel Suswan, scheme him out of the PDP’s nomination game. And Ortom, who got elected under APC, was indeed a leading member of the PDP a few months to the gubernatorial election. Curiously, the same Governor today’s haunted by the bleak future of losing his seat because he did not subject himself to the primary election of the APC. As I write these lines it is widely believed that he is now holding his position on borrowed time, as the legal outcome is almost a foregone conclusion; yet President Buhari of APC Ortom’s party, is believed to be making frantic efforts to save his seat; a possibility that can only be contemplated in a clime in which the personality of the politician weighs so perniciously again constitutional imperatives.

Ambivalence and contradictions define the constitutional orientation of Nigeria political culture. Looming political figure manage to get away with covert and overt breaches of party and democratic processes simply because the constitutional configuration of the politics is vulnerable to wanton breaches. Nigerian parties are organized along caucus lines, most of them grant undue privileges, to some influential politicians. Once a person wins election at any level – local, state or federal –as the political chief executive he / she automatically becomes the leader of the party, even if hitherto was not the most popular leader. As the leader of the party, he exercises enormous discretions: including initiating moves to amend the party’s constitution to suit his political preferences. As the political chief executive, he also wields the power of patronage, in a clime where the impunity of political leaders is of leaving in various realms. The extant constitution of Nigeria has an “immunity” clause that protects the Governors and Deputies the president and his Vice” against legal prosecution on criminal charges while in office. In his situation, autocratic predilections becomes highly appealing. Potential party competitors are scared by the awesome privileges of the chief executive, in most cases they chicken out and find solace in opposition. The seven (7) governors who defected from PDP with over 40 national assembly members, so to speak, left the PDP for President Jonathan – a pattern which was replicated at the state level. Has the 1999 constitution conferred some indefensible privileges to the state Governors and not few of them have readily deployed these illegitimate privileges in privatizing otherwise democratic proceedings in their states. In the South East for instance, there exists a plethora of atavistic engagements between State governors and leading politicians in their parties – in Abia, between Governor Orji and his political benefactor, ex-Governor UzoKalu; in Imo state between Okacha (of APC) and his Deputy whom he eventually removed in office in Enugu, between Governor Sullivan Chime and his deputy the same in Ebonyi State. Most of these battles come to a head in the build up to elections, when the question of who picks the party’s ticket is in the front banner.

Bearing the procedure and due process amuse persuade in Nigeria party system in newspaper column notes:

“The reasons are greed, ego, power and above all, lack of internal democracy. All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) just patched up their differences because of the upcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State”. (Eghosiube 2013:1)

The author notes further that in Imo state Governor RochasOkoroachawas in engaged in a pitted battle of supremacy with erstwhile Governor AchikeUdenwa for the soul of the then newly registered All Progressives Congress (APC). Again in Anambra State, a former Governor under the platform of the PDP Dr. Chris Ngige, was about to be railroaded to party gubernatorial ticked “Consensus” candidate when widespread protests from other party big wigs forced a primary election which all the same was highly flawed (Egbosiube Ibid).

The crises in Nigeria political parties are basically institutional and this former the foundation of other variables/factors adduced by authors who have attempted explanation of this endemic malaise. For instance, let us more critically examine Tyoden (2013) explanatory variables: social heterogeneity, origin of the parties, level of socio economic advancement, the primacy and supremacy of political power.

Regarding the first factors, Tyden (2013:2) posits: “in societies that are highly plural or fragmented, political parties will tend to reflect, the cleavages in the society, in both number and nature of relationship! This, thesis can scarcely be validated in the light of extant practice and experience in party system in Nigeria because of two major factors, one historic and the other institutional. The experience of Nigeria’s First Republic party system, had showed that sectional parties hardly win national elections, hence the NPC needed to radically transform for the major progenitors of its original greed to create it in the new form it got reborn in 1979 as National party of Nigeria (NPN); the Action Group which retained its ethio-regional character got re-baptized as UPN and accordingly failed to make appeal beyond the South West. A second factor was the Constitution of 1979 which required, as a criterion for registration, the national spread of political organizations seeking to be registered as a political party with effect from the second Republic Gberevbie 2014, Ogbeide 2012). Furthermore, the character of intra-party crisis since 1999 does not bear out this thesis: ethnic/communal platforms have not often been used by disaffected party men to fight their causes. The only exception was the 2013 national crisis of PDP which on the core north cited President Jonathan’s pledge in 2011 not to contest for the presidency in 2015 so power could move back to the North. The second factor is origin of political parties. Here the author argues that how political parties reflect the interest groups and their dominant ideological orientations are vital to the character of inter and intra-party relations. (P.3) here he tries to draw a distinction between the first, second and third Republic parties with the SDP and NRC which were formed, according him, by “an over-arching Leviathan”, that is, the Military Regime of General Ibrahim Babagida. For sure, institutional discipline tended to the more in evidence during the diarchical party system of Babagida (1989-1993) but it can hardly be historically validated that first and second Republic party system, although reflecting the social character of their leading authors, were in any way ideological. Indeed, their ideological blankness represents their major setback. But I agree with Tyoden that ideological orientation is needed as a compass for party life. The fluid factor - the level of socioeconomic development is a function of the strength of institutional foundation, considering the potential affluence granted to the country by Mother Nature – abundant solid and liquid mineral arable lands bearing.

By the time Nigeria got into the 2011 General Elections about 62 political parties had been registered by INEC – the Independent National Electoral Commission. The 1999 Constitution outrightly outlaws independent candidacy. So in addition to decamping to existing parties, tiny, unimpactful organizations masquerading as political parties mushroomed to provide platforms for desperate politicians out manoured. In the larger, more established parties. So the indiscriminate founding of political parties became one initial result of intra-party autocracy.

A second one, closely related to the first, is the ferocity of inter party electoral competition. Unresolved intra-party crises in Nigeria inexorably produce “push impact” on most disaffected members. The most immediate illustration lies in the immediate past and current altercation raging between the PDP and the APC; the latter had admitted seven serving governors of the former with their massive followers. The former Governor of Rivers State, Rt Hon. ChibuikeAmaechi was a staunch caucus member of the PDP; he served as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Porum for more than 7 years. Upon decamping from the PDP; he became one of the most awesome political nemeses of the PDP and in particular the incumbent President Jonathan, who incidentally is his “brother” from the Niger Delta geo-political zone. The same was the case with the erstwhile PDP Governor, Engr. RabiuKwakwanso who remained on the war path with the PDP until the latter’s defeated at the national level. The 2013, 2007 general elections were most irregular and marred by violence principally because the PDP, not enamored of internal democracy handpicked objectionable candidates; and fearing that they might lose in the general elections rigged the elections massively. Such was the in horrendous dons level of the irregularities that attended the 2007 general election that its number one beneficiary, late President Yar’Adua openly acknowledged it and pledged to initiate without delay, the process of reforming the electoral system of the country.

Live coverage of the elections of 2015 showed that in Rivers State the PDP Embarked upon hear military operation police, army & navy accompanying its agents as they perpetrated one of the most horrible travesty of electoral process in the nation’s history, forcing voters to either vote for the party or leave the polling station, Governor Amaechi and his party members in the APC were relatively helpless principally because they had no control over these security agents. Worse still, in the build-up to the general elections violence of historic proportion had engulfed Rivers State, occasioning sponsored cult wars in which prominent politicians had been killed. In most parts of the North West and North East, like Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Borno, the orgy of malpractices perpetrated by erstwhile PDP Governors, now in APC was widely reported. But in Gombe State, AIT and Channels Televisions showed the military blockade in the residence of Senator DanjumaGoje, immediate past Governor of the State who had defected from the PDP to the APC along with 10 other PDP Senators. While the election lasted, he was virtually held in a “house arrest”.

In the South West, intra-party crisis reverberated negatively on the general elections of September 1983. A near replay of the (wetei uprising of 1964-65, in the old Western Region took place particularly in Ondo State, where Akin Omoboriowo a former Chieftain of the UPN, having defected to the NPN, deployed the “federal might” to try to “capture”, the state, so to speak, for his new party. Similar, scenario also played out in the old Anambra State where Chief C.C. Onoh with a horde of NPP defectees used the “Federal might” to secure a “landslide” victory against sitting Governor Jim Nwobodo of the NPP. The Anambra State case involved a long-drawn and celebrated judicial trial that reached the Supreme Court which eventually decided in favour of C.C. Onoh, of the NPN who in reality never pulled up to 30 percent of the total vote cast. The crises generated by the 1983 elections in which the ruling party at the centre, the NPN showed unremitting resolve to achieve “landslide” victory, were principally responsible for the Military Coup of December 1983 led by Major General MohammaduBuhari.

There is clearly a direct relationship between intra-party altercations, disaffection and downright war fare and ferocious election-earrings in Nigeria.

The Future of Democracy

Democracy, is a concept that needs to be clearly comprehended by both the key political players and other citizens. Dahl (1989 in Gberevbie 2014:135) identifies the existence of high level of civil liberties, political pluralism, political participation that provides the choice for the electorate to select candidates in a free and fair elections, as a condition for a society to be regarded as democratic Similarly, Badru (2005, 77-101), states at length:

Democracy represents, first and foremost, an increase in citizen’s political equality in terms of their popular participation in the society.

He argues that democracy is a system of government that enables both leaders and the citizens to be conscious of what is required and accomplish it for the betterment of that society in terms of political, social and economic development (Gberevbie 2014:135). These definitions imply that authoritarian method of running democratic institutions, such as political parties would impede the cause of democracy. Which brings us to intra-party crisis. At the centre of it all is how to choose the executive members who will run them and candidates who will bear their flags in inter party elections. This is still a very rudimentary level of democratic evolution, yet it is fraught with seemingly intractable crises. If wrong and objectionable candidates are selected by parties, in flagrant disregard of democratic procedure and rules, it would not only generate crisis within the party but also rub off negatively on the quality of alternatives that the electorate is presented with. Since independent candidacy is constitutionally prohibited, electorate apathy might result. Experiences of the 2003 and 2007 general elections showed large scale apathy by Nigerian voters: imposition of party candidates and large scale rigging of the voting process, including outright writing of results by agents of political parties, were widely reported (see Ggberevbie, 2014, Ojiefor 2007, Usman 2007, Oluwaseun 2012). We have noted earlier that these anti-system conducts were outgrowth of crises that brewed from within the political parties. This situation is sustained by the glaring weakness of key institutional guards of democracy: the police, the judiciary, the legislature, the election management body, the constitution and the civil society. Let us briefly examine how their interplay makes the democratic process in Nigeria to wobble.

The Constitution

Nigeria’s extant ‘ground norm’ is the 1999 Constitution. It was promulgated and inaugurated by the General AbdulsalamAbubakar Military Regime that handed over to the civilian regime of President Obasanjo. Informed Nigerians and foreign commentators alike have severally pointed to its many pitfalls. With specific reference to party politics and elections, the Constitution has failed to provide adequately for safeguards against the anarchical tendency of desperate politicians. Let us see, for instance, sections 68, 1 (g) and 109 1 (a) on party defection: although section 68 1 (a) states, “A member of the senate or the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999:34), Experience has shown that relying on the last part of this provision, politicians have always found excuses to defect indiscriminately in their never ending quest for political power.

The first four years of the Fourth Republic – 1999 – saw a number of notable national legislators decamp to the ruling PDP, upon citing some phantom division in their parties: three Alliance for Democracy Senators; Wahab Dosunmn, Yemi Brimoh and Fidelis Okoro represented the first example. But the more anomalous of the 1999 constitutional provision in this regard relates to its position on members of the executive branch of Government who change party membership in the course of an existing tenure in office. Hence it was possible for the erstwhile Vice-President, Abubakar and many Governors to decamp from their parties without losing seats. This is as it affects party politics.

Apart from containing contradictory and ambiguous provisions on the operations of political parties, the 1999 constitution is looked upon as a “democratic albatross” because it is believed to have legalized impunity through a host of provisions which support “executive” high-hardheadedness – executive control of the police and other critical democratic institutions, especially at the state level, coupled with the immunity clause in section 308 are cited as a veritable fillip to autocratic behaviour by chief executives at different levels of governance in Nigeria.

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