Political parties have been growing exponentially since the inception of democratic governance in Nigeria.
But stakeholders in almost all the parties appear to be focused on making the party an instrument for their ascendance to power by all means rather than a tool for good governance.
It is against this backdrop that Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje recently called for the immediate proscription of all pre-merger political groups and tendencies within the All Progressives Congress (APC), noting that their continued existence and relevance was inimical to the growth of the party.
Governor Ganduje, who spoke at the Northwest meeting of the Constitution Review Committee meeting of the APC in Kano, lamented that the party, years after its birth, was still a mixture of pre-merger parties and not yet a cohesive whole.
There appear to be grey areas in all the political parties, especially with respect to their ideological ethos right from the pre-independence era.
Today political parties tend to be organised along ethnic, religious or geographic lines, and around personalities rather than around ideological issues.
Recent developments of democratisation, even as the 2023 general election approaches, provide indisputable testimony of inter-party cum intra-party skirmishes, as well as fractionalisation across political parties in the country.
The remark made by Governor Ganduje is quite germane because the current ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) came into being through party merger of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress of Progressive Change(CPC), All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance(APGA).
All these parties had manifestoes bereft of clear ideological commitments and this gave rise to the protracted political/democratic problem in the party in Nigeria because many claimed to be “progressive” and others “conservative”.
Recall how the citizens witnessed the worrisome and unhealthy country’s democratisation process with the emergence of the fractionalisation of the PDP into ‘new’ PDP, and ‘real’ PDP.
Political analysts described the move then as a crisis that has bedeviled the political movement in the country and not a family affair, as the ruling party called it.
This scenario while it lasted, took a great toll on the country as it facilitated distractions and hampered economic, political and social development in the polity.
Since parties are basically platforms for politicians to ascend to power, primaries have become mini warfare. While some theories advocate that party primaries may reconcile factions within a party or select popular nominees with local appeal, others argue that primaries which lead to the selection of unpopular extremist candidates in the principle of ‘winner-takes-all’ generate intra-party conflict that could destabilise political parties and harm nascent democracies.
Political elites pretentiously compete for power in one party and when their pursuits are threatened for whatever reason, they apply “the push and pull effect” to weaken the party institutions and solidarity before crossing to another party to achieve their political ambition.
This occurrence has been predominantly evident when rival APC leaders with presidential aspirations had to struggle to exert control over national leadership of the party and at state level through internal skirmishes and schisms within the party at that level.
Defections are commonplace, particularly ahead of elections, as politicians jostle for the best platform to secure victory.
A case in point is the Edo State gubernatorial elections which took place in September 2020 where Osagie Ize-Iyamu and incumbent Godwin Obaseki “swapped” parties to contest elections.
Political parties have just remained as convenient platforms for politicians to pick political offices. This is reinforced by exorbitant prices parties sell nomination forms. Candidates are forced to pay, while wealthy “godfathers” use money and influence to sponsor “godsons” who use their political positions to foster their mentors’ interests.
There is the need for political parties, just like Ganduje recommended, to jettison their current rent-seeking posture and reorient their engagement to prioritise citizens’ welfare and to restore the country’s democratic gains ahead of the 2023 general elections.
In Nigeria, party primaries are often just as fraudulent and violent as Nigeria’s general elections as some parties introduce various electoral processes in different states that will favour their preferred candidates.
The culture of candidate imposition through consensus is now becoming a norm in Nigeria. For example, the APC constitution Article 20 (ia) (as amended in 2014) provides that all positions of the party, as well as all nominations must be done democratically in line with the provision of its own constitution.
Contrary to all democratic norms, values and best practices, the political culture of Nigeria, from 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule, has seen state governors become the main financiers of the party, particularly wielding enormous power within their respective parties, as they believe that they have the ‘right’ to impose candidates on the party at will.
In most instances, such undue influence leads to internal wrangling because a level playing field is lost in the process. Hence, most election related legal tussles are cases that originate from pre-election activities of political parties.
Except there are strong amendments in the Electoral Act that are fraught with a lot of lacunas, political parties will continue to take advantage of weaknesses in Nigeria’s legal framework for elections.
For instance, the pending amendment to the Electoral Act of 2010, which enables the substitution of primary winners with a party’s preferred candidates, and does not impose sufficient penalties for party defectors, should be passed into law.
The Electoral Offences Commission bill, currently before the National Assembly, should also be adopted to establish one independent governmental body responsible for investigations and prosecutions of electoral violations.
The party hierarchy can checkmate the problems that weaken the primary process, such as opaque candidate selection, vote buying, expensive nomination fees, disrespect for party constitutions, and the large number of petitions challenging the primary results in court.
In order to enhance their transparency and credibility, political parties can adopt direct voting, develop comprehensive membership databases, as well as respect the genuine outcome of primaries.
Similarly, party constitutions and manifestos should be reviewed, mass produced and distributed to all members. Parties should educate their members across all levels with a view to promoting the culture of party supremacy, especially as it relates to internal party democracy, inclusiveness, enforcement and appeal.
INEC should be granted the power to recognise winners that emerged through credible party primaries only. All these are imperative to consolidate the gains of Nigeria’s nascent democracy.