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

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The Legislature

Before the first amendment of the 1999 constitution in 2010, the legislature at all levels in the federal structure were made vulnerable through their financial dependence on the executive branch of government. Even so, the amendment affected only the National Assembly. Here it is instructive to know the curious twist of process in this amendment. According to section 9 of the 1999 Constitution it takes two third majority of the members of two Houses of the National Assembly to approve an amendment of any section of the Constitution and simple majority each of two thirds of the State Houses of Assembly. This Day Newspaper reported in one of its daily editions of July 2010 that “Sixteen Imperial Governors” arm-twisted members of their Houses of Assembly into voting against the “financial autonomy of the states houses of assembly, the states judiciary and the local governments”. Paradoxically, the newspaper reports, “the same Houses of Assembly easily voted in favour of the financial autonomy of the National Assembly, the Federal Judiciary and the INEC”. This report summarizes the vulnerable state of the legislature in Nigeria. One can behold robust legislating only relatively at the National level.

Election Management Bodies

In Nigeria, the 1999 Constitution, under section 153 (1) vests the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with the sole power to conduct all elections, except local government elections which are reserved by section for a body to be set up by the State Houses of Assembly. The latter have long since been established in all the states of the federation as “States Independent Electoral Commissions”.

The structure of INEC is made up of the chairman, 12 Federal Commissioners and 36 Resident Electoral Commissioners in the 36 states of the Federation. All these Commissions, that is, 48 plus the National Chairman are appointed by the President on the strength of the powers conferred by the same constitution. However they are subject to National Assembly‘s ratification. Analysts point at this as a loop hole which makes the body pliable to the presidency. Their fears were vindicated during the Obasanjo regime, when he appointed Professor Maurice Iwu as the INEC Commissioner in 2005. All the national and state electIons conducted by INEC under him remained the most compromised in terms of efficiency and integrity (See Adegbamigbe 2007, 20-25, Aiyetan 2007, 22-27, Ploch, 2008, CRS – 7, Gberevbie, 2014, 141).

JusticeUwai’s Report on Electoral Reforms (2008) points out that the classification of INEC as a federal executive body in section 153 of the 1999 Constitution brings it under the oversight of the executive arm of government, which makes it ill-placed to conduct free, fair and credible electrons (See Uwais Report 2008, Gberevbie 2014). Although the amendment of the Constitution in 2010 has since strengthened the independence of INEC, one cannot rule out the influence of the President when it comes to pushing through the National Assembly any prospective INEC Chairman he appoints. At present, there is raging political war fare between the APC which produced the current President and the PDP, which is now the main opposition party, over the current Acting Chairman of INEC who President Buhari appointed upon the expiration of the tenure of Professor AtahiruJega, the immediate past INEC boss.

At the state level, the election management bodies are nothing but governmental bodies for legitimating the undemocratically selected political functionaries. The party that controls a state almost always sweeps local government polls, which makes the local government elections throughout the federation shambolic.

All cases of electoral malpractice since the inception of the Fourth Republic have always implicated members of INEC and/or its agents, which shows that this body as it currently operates is a central problem of democracy. But to be fair to this body, politicians and some unscrupulous Nigerians exacerbate INEC’s integrity crisis – majority of INEC operatives during elections are ad hoc staff recruited for the purpose of each election. They are often vulnerable to the manipulative antics of politicians. Under an ambiguous institutional context, most polls are compromised, and the electorate short changed ultimately.

The 2007 General Elections witnessed the removal from office of four governorship candidates already declared winners by INEC and in fact sworn into office as democratically elected executive governors of their states. They had spent between 18 and 30 months in office before being removed through court judgment and their opponents sworn in their stead (See Gberevbie 2014). States involved are, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Osun. The next pertinent question is: What happens to the salaries and fat allowances which the wrong incumbents had collected? Do they return them? This points up another institutional lacuna because the judicial determination of a election cases ought to have been completed before swearing in the candidate whose victory is under judicial scrutiny. The amended electoral law of 2010 failed to do this.
The Police

The Nigerian Police is vested with the power to regulate the behaviour of citizens and their civil and political groups. During elections, its major functions include: safeguarding the security of personnel, materials and venues for voter registration, safeguarding the security of the lives and property of citizens at voters’ registration centres, campaign rallies. (FGNC, 1999). But the Nigerian Police Force so far has proved to be a very loyal tool of the executive arm of government. When the new PDP was formed by a formidable faction of the old PDP, the police was used to seal its office and bar its members from operating in it; when the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon. AminuTambuwal, defected from the PDP to the opposition APC in the build up to the 2015 General Election, it was the police that did the unconstitutional, dirty job of attempting to prevent him from going into his office. At the state level, depending on the state governor’s political relationship with the Federal Government, it is the police that is used to harass, hound and suppress political opponents. In 2003 and 2007 “charades” called elections, in the 1983 “landslide victory” mayhem of the NPN which then wielded the federal might, the police led other security agents in harassing political opponents and the electorate to submit to monumental manipulations of the General Elections.

The justice Uwais’ Report on Electoral Reform (2008) had noted that “the leadership of the Nigerian Police often issue instructions against opposition political groups by not granting them permits to hold political rallies (even though this is a constitutional right), encouraged policemen on electoral duty to intimidate and harass people on the day of polling. (Gberevbie 2014:147).

Most citizens and scholars believe that the Nigerian Police does not belong to the nation state but to government chief executives, at various levels of governance and in some cases, a few non-governmental “strong men” in the country.

The Judiciary

The staccato of judicial pronouncements and court injunctions has complicated the crisis within and among Nigerian political parties. In 2011, the PDP’s national convention for internal election of its presidential candidate was nearly marred by a flurry of court injunctions relating to the removal and counter-removal of its Chairman Dr. OkwesiliEzeNwodo. It is a classical illustration of what has become the norm among the courts – to issue injunctions as vendors parcel out news tabloids to enthusiastic readers for a price. In Nigeria, the courts seem to have joined the political fray with their power of judicial injunctions. At the state level where the judiciary does not enjoy sufficient financial autonomy, the democratic process has been manipulated by the political “strong men” who in most cases use the police to beat opponents to submission or defection to another party.

The Civil Society

Standing between the government and the individual citizens is the civil society – the organizational component of society devoted to the articulation of civic interests in various forms and shapes, and on the basis of which it engages the government of the day. Primarily, it seeks to protect basic rights including most especially, democratic rights. However, apart from labour and professional associations that pursue mainly professional and economic interests of members and expediently deploy he tools of strikes and withdrawal of service and/or threats of same, very few civil groups have had enduring records of sustained pan-Nigerian civic struggle –the campaign for Democracy and some civil right groups were prominent in the wake of the annulment of June 12 1993 election in which Chief M.K.O Abiola was believed to have won the presidential election. But since the inception of the Fourth Republic genuine civil society activities have been few and far between; its organizational status can best be described as “rag-tag”.On the contrary,the civil society space has been dominated by ethno-sectional and sectarian groups, mobilized and financed by ethno-sectional and sectarian entrepreneurs amongst the political class, basically to support their self-seeking interests. The proliferation of groups such as OhanaEzeNdi Igbo youths, professionals, elders etc, the Arewa Elders Council, Northern Elders Forum, Afemifere Groups, Ijaw Elders Council,Ijaw Youth Council, South-South Leaders Forum, Southern Nigerian General Assembly, including an assortment of pseudo civic groups that mushroom overnight to comment on selected national issues and evaporate almost immediately, belong to this category.

The combined effects of the imperfections and vulnerability of the institutional guards of democracy discussed above produce obstructive impact on the civil society and the latter’s weakness and vulnerability in turn reinforce the persistence of these institutional guards in dysfunctional conditions. This is the institutional dilemma of the Nigerian political society. But if the civil society was virile and well-focused on critical issues of good governance and democracy, it would have been in a position to check the activities of other institutional guards of democracy, which are presently too weak and compromised to put the “Strong men” in the society, under check vis-à-vis the fundamental human rights of not only party members but the citizens at large.


Political party is just an organizational instrument for conducting the art of politics; there may be other platforms for political participation such as the civil society and sundry media of civil engagement, such as the print and electronic media (including the internet). However, in the current constitutional configuration of the country, political party is the only platform for seeking elective political power. Its politics is therefore pivotal in the game of power. But the rules of party politics both formal and informal are contradictory and ambivalentthus defying prediction at times. We have examined the institutional trajectory of party politics and noted that it reflect the institutional dilemma of national politics, but its manifestation in party politics has been all the more pernicious to the integrity of politics in the country.

The scenario yielded by a critical analysis of party politics casts doubt on democratic enactment, to say far less about democratic consolidation (DC). In this regard, Schneider (1997:6) notes that it does not make any sense to speak of “democratic consolidation” when democratic transition has not been completed. This is because “consolidation” is a verbal derivative of “solidity” which in a word is “firmness”. As a key driver of politics, the political party can only be firm if it institutionalizes internal “democratic practice” and relegate to far flung background the “strongman” and “Godfather” syndrome; if laws, rules, regulations and constitutional bases of engagement are not contradictory, ambivalent and protective of special interests.

Only thus can we hope to have general elections with less ferocity and tension, and the electorate on its part would be presented with lists of credible candidates, while those who get elected would be more likely to abide by the rules of politics that are system-supporting. This is the condition that not only conduces transition but also engenders a qualitative leap in our rather sluggish approach to genuine democracy.

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