The apex court made a pronouncement this May, dismissing an appeal filed by one of the 74 political parties deregistered by INEC in February 2020.
The National Unity Party (NUP) had filed a case to challenge the earlier 29 July 2020 verdict of the Court of Appeal upholding its deregistration by the electoral body.
A member of the apex court’s panel, Chima Nweze, who delivered the lead judgment on Friday, ruled that INEC rightly exercised its powers conferred on it by the Nigerian constitution in deregistering the party last year.
It was probably the effort to address issues of strengthening political parties that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) de-registered 74 political parties for failure to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitutional Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
According to the INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, “The Commission has determined now that eighteen (18) political parties have fulfilled the requirements for an existence based on Section 225A of 1999 Constitution (as amended) as follows.”
The limited number of parties in the system at present provides a genuine opportunity to instil the spirit of proper accountability in the country’s political parties.
Political parties are meant to link citizens and the government, serving as a bridge by which people can have a voice on how they are governed. But this does not seem to exist in our present dispensation, as the political space is always saturated with activities of political parties whether on or off the electioneering cycle.
Since the advent of democracy in 1999, political management has been bedevilled by problems of cohesion, leading to complete distortion in the sense that when the military left in that year, it was those who had resources and relationship with the state that eventually formed the political parties of this day. The reason for creating these political parties was very clear. The parties were vote-catching machines for political power.
Part of the challenge has been the ambush of party administration by the executive and godfathers. It is a quest for the acquisition of political power that has always been a tussle between vested interests of godfathers and the will of the majority of the members of the political parties.
Management of political parties has become the exclusive preserve of godfathers and moneybags who decide the political fate and ambition of members. The modes of funding campaigns and political parties have become threats to the performance of political officeholders as they get entangled with godfathers for who they are indebted to. Irrespective of how good a candidate is, money plays decisive roles as party leaders and members also prefer someone who has made significant financial contributions to the party.
Some political aspirants sell their properties or borrow money to become party candidates. Invariably, they will first recoup their investment when they get into power, as the majority of the politicians win elections so that they can have access to material wealth.
This trend always plays out during elections when citizens prefer someone who can throw money around. People have realized that those they vote into power fall short of expectation in providing good governance. So, they look for how to get what they want as a people before casting their votes. It’s a social engagement that we all collectively designed where materialism is the key thing.
Attempts to subvert party constitution and the will of the people by moneybags and godfathers spell disaster for party politics in Nigeria, where who gets what is decided by moneybags in most cases. That reduces politics to wheeling and dealing. We have seen over time that such trends take a huge toll on the quality of governance by elected representatives who feel heavily obliged to their financiers at the expense of the people. This generates intra-party squabbles that distract political officeholders and affects the chances of success of political parties during elections.
Vested interests of moneybags contradict laid-down political ideology and weaken the organs of the party. Power is also appropriated at the sub-national level during elections by governors, the majority of whom buy up nomination forms for their parties and decide who to ‘anoint’ for election. This act criminalises aspiration.
This lends credence to the disconnect between party managers and their members, and the electorate. What seems to be an organic link is seen when the party leadership rallies its members around for purposes of elections, ward congresses or conventions. Ordinarily, party members should be the driving force of the party, as they form a considerable chunk of the electorate where the party can get assured votes, so that their target will be how to hunt for those who are undecided or win over persons from other political parties.
Sadly, the electorates have no direct contribution, neither can they claim ownership of these parties. Because of political patronage and cronyism, they continue to hold on to those in power. This is a part of the leadership failure that could lead to series of fragments such that the internal structures of the party will not gain solidity; there will be a deficit of accountability of internal party democracy because of the opaque nature the party is run.
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It is hard to imagine that members who wrote party constitutions and manifestos cannot interpret these documents, and so, when there is an internal crisis, they go to court. Many times, party members give different answers concerning their policies. This is partly because the majority of the candidates sometimes come in with individual manifestos which are different from the party manifesto which was the social contract they signed with the public. This leaves a negative impact on citizens’ perception of not just the political system but also the legitimacy of the political parties themselves.
Party members crisscross parties which also offer similar ideological and philosophical choices. There is little or no difference between the parties. In more advanced political systems, parties are representative of ideas and values and this makes it difficult to migrate from one party to another.
Politicians form parties, and at the same time, want to be presidential candidates of their parties. It is worthy to note that the African National Congress (ANC) was created in 1912, but one of its founders, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, didn’t become the president of the party until 13 years later.
What we have are entrepreneurial parties that enable people to use them as platforms to win elections rather than parties that have been established and developed to win power and run government effectively.
If we have to move from this period of arrested development to transit into some form of institutionalisation, and entrench the tenets of democracy, then the leadership of the party needs to rethink how to run the organisation and begin to talk about the future. That is why it is important for them to respect their constitution or manifesto.
Sustaining legitimacy and goodwill among the electorate is a task that must be achieved. Political parties must improve and adapt to global practices in party management to continually guarantee good governance by way of training, reorientation, among others.
We may have to revive the Party Democratic Institute (PDI) for instance, where party members went for training. Party members should be trained in such a way that they will be deeply involved with the modus operandi of the party and its ideological base. Party leaders must be willing to learn and begin to see that the future of their political party is tied to the future of their political aspiration, and more importantly, to the future of the country.
INEC needs to connect with organisations and electoral institutes that are willing to support political parties in terms of reorientation. The National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies should rise to the occasion to strengthen legislative capacity and deepen democratic culture.
The ownership imperative in political party management is important. Parties have to be sufficiently creative in raising revenue. It is critical to the fortune of the party. Managing a political party will be easier if members contribute to the survival of the party by generating funds and making sure they pay membership dues, which are supposed to be the guiding financial force that will determine their independence. This will eliminate the vulnerability of members to moneybags. This way, power will not be usurped, as members will be in control. Internal party democracy will follow naturally.
A political party is expected to grow by having an identity so that it can be distinguished from other parties. This way, the party evolves a culture built around its goals and ideologies. The party will now act independently of the government and other external forces. This will ensure the enthronement of administrative structure in the party, and guarantee transparent party processes.