Political parties and the promises of democracy
By Josef Omorotionmwan
THE absence of internal democracy in a political party is one sure prescription for the party’s demise. Nothing is more important to the continued existence of a political party than the selection of candidates for office because some of these candidates will eventually run the government.
When a political party no longer has the capacity to provide the channel of reconciliation and compromise by binding the different political interests together, that party is dead. The two major political parties in Nigeria are today totally immersed in their internal squabbles. In whichever direction you look it is either PDP versus PDP or APC versus APC.
Besides, a political party that is unable to fund itself is dead. When a party becomes too lazy to source for its operational funding but must rely on the President or Governor to pilfer from the much-needed funds for development to sustain it, that party should consider itself kaput. Stealing to fund a political party is the very beginning of corruption.
Perhaps most importantly, a political party that lacks discipline and is bereft of ideological standpoint is dead. And so, the parties in Nigeria died the very moment their leadership was transferred to the President and State Governors. They cheaply inherited the diabolical structure which the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida had carefully crafted to perpetuate itself in power before tragedy struck in that direction.
That was when party administration became inter-mingled with government administration. From that point, only the naïve could make the faintest reference to party supremacy – when party administration and governance were already concentrated in the hands of a single individual or institution. That was how we enthroned the new despots. Once the despots took over what they did not own, it became a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.
In the beginning, we had political parties that were discipline–driven. We recollect with nostalgia the days when a Governor easily boxed himself to a kneeling position by arriving five minutes late to a party meeting, when the party leaders were already seated. But today, a meeting would be scheduled for 10 a.m. and the Governor would feel he is doing party leaders a favour by sluggishly straying in at 6 p.m. They must wait because the Governor is the provider.
The hungry party leaders are not helping matters, either. There are instances where some secured an appointment to see the Governor. They would go to the Governor’s office for eight hours every day for an entire week before seeing the Governor.
In those days, the Party Whip was busy in and out of the legislative assembly. When an important vote was about to be taken in the chambers of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic, the Late Hon. Tom Egbuwoku (UPN/Isoko Federal) would pull every UPN member of the House out of his cocoon to come and cast his vote. In the event of a division and your name was missing on either side of the list, you would be better advised to obtain a Doctor’s Certificate that you were on admission at the Lagoon Specialist Hospital for the treatment of Ebola – as a way of explaining your absence to Baba Obafemi Awolowo.
During the consideration of the Electoral Bill, 1982, this writer had an encounter with Prof. Opeyemi Ola, a renowned Professor of Political Science at Obafemi Awolowo University. I tried pointing out to Prof. that what he wanted put on the Order Paper had been defeated at the previous day’s plenary. He agreed perfectly with me but retorted, “That’s how Baba wants it”. Truly, Baba would rather see that you towed the party line to the end before you were cut down by the superior power of the NPN majority than that you capitulated to the line of least resistance.
Discipline was that high then. There was no television coverage of House proceedings but every day, Baba got copies of the Order Paper, Votes and Proceedings and the Debates.
The Cabinet must be constituted promptly and the Governor must explain why the constitution of a Board was delayed a day longer. It was the check-off dues from political appointees that formed the bulk of party funds. This also explains why the Governor would not dare award any contract outside the list of the party’s contractors.
On the NPN side, a list of nominees for appointment emanating from the party Headquarters under the hands of the National Chairman, Chief Adisa Akinloye and the National Secretary, Senator Uba Ahmed, could not be altered at the presidency.
Political parties were ideology-driven to the extent that if you entered into a UPN territory, you did not need to be told as there were visible signs of education. And when you entered into an NPN territory, you saw visible signs of housing and their Green Revolution, so-called. Each party had its cardinal programmes.
But today, there is no difference between the various political parties, except their names and their sloganeering. Each Governor implements whatever programme appeals to him without regard to any party ideology.
No political party has any special appeal to anyone since all the parties are the same. What people do is to hang on loosely to any political formation from where they sporadically release some cheap shots at perceived political advantages.
Nowhere is the doctrine of Separation of Powers more relevant than in the relationship between the political party and the government administrations. As we desperately seek to recover our lost political parties, we must quickly divest political parties from the President and Governors; and return them appropriately to the party organ where they originally belonged.
As a direct corollary, political parties must brace up to return to the era where they were funded by their owners – the party members. The Chief Executives must leave party administration and leadership to the parties; and face the task of governance for which they were elected. It is in their best interest to quickly fall in line and seek their relevance under the control of their political parties.