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

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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.

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