The much awaited verdict of the Supreme Court on the appeal filed by the sacked chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, will bear resonance in the polity beyond the party.
Seondus is contesting the legality of his removal from office as well as the convention of the party, which has produced Dr. Iyorchia Ayu as the chairman-designate of the party billed to be sworn in on Friday. It is expected that the judicial verdict on the legality of Secondus’ removal could be pronounced this week. Essentially, the court is expected to help the party interpret its own rules against the background of the constitution of the country. The significance of the ruling of the highest court in the land on the party’s leadership dispute is huge because, as lawyers would say, that would henceforth be the position of the law on such matters.
By the way, the PDP is the only political party of consequence that has essentially maintained its original identity in the last 22 years of this civil dispensation. So, whatever happens to the PDP could as well be a barometer for measuring the condition of party system in Nigeria on the basis of the relative longevity of the party.
Beyond legality, however, the dispute in PDP raises the wider historical question of political underdevelopment afflicting the whole polity. The issue is also about the legitimacy of the existing parties as organisations putting forward those to control power. Pundits comment a lot about the socio-economic underdevelopment of the country, but less attention is paid to the development of the polity.
Meanwhile, there is the obvious interplay of forces between political development on the one hand and development in the socio-economic realm on the other hand. It takes strong and well-organised parties to present credible candidates armed with well-articulated programmes to provide solutions to myriad socio-economic problems.
It’s certainly a measure of political development in the land that all the major political parties are organisationally troubled.
For clarity, disputes in the political arena are not necessarily a negative thing since the legitimacy of disagreement of views is the real the stuff of liberal democracy. What is worrisome, however, about party organisation in Nigeria is that unlike elsewhere the disagreements are not based on programmes and principles. The acrimony is always about who controls the party as a special purpose vehicle for elections in the struggle for political power. The differences are not about ideas; the fight is often about raw ambition.
As a result of this political defect and structural deformities, political parties have been unable to play their roles as central institutions of democracy. You only hear from the political parties during elections. Admittedly, the presidential system of government structurally keeps the party leadership at the background. But then politics in the parliament is based on the divergence in the policies and programmes of the political parties of the legislators. So, in the United States, for instance, congressmen vote on defence or taxation issues on the basis of the philosophies of their respective parties. Things are even more obvious in the parliamentary system in which the government defends its policies daily during the Question Time in parliament. The opposition takes the opportunity of the interrogation of the incumbent government to present its own alternative policies and programmes to the people. The debates are about differences in ideas for solving problems.
However, here in Nigeria the heat is always generated over the question of who decides the candidate to fly the party‘s flag during election. The party secretariats do not defend and explain the party programmes whether the party is in or out of power. For instance, the removal of Secondus was not based on the divergence of views on the programme of the party or how it should be executed if the party gets into power. Political parties also have the duty of promoting political education and mobilisation of people for good purposes beyond the electoral seasons. These functions are hardly performed by the current Nigerian political parties.
In the process, the political parties are organisationally ailing with the implication that the polity remains stunted. A symptom of the stunted development is the worsening decline in voter turnout in the various elections. The trend is that increasingly fewer voters are interested in who governs them because the people are generally alienated from the system. The implication for the system is that the popularity of the elections is on a downward trend. This also somewhat calls into question the legitimacy of the government.
In some quarters, the perception of the parties is that they engage in cynical manipulation of the voters during elections to gain power. What is said of the PDP can also be said of the other political parties. For 18 months now, the caretaker committee that runs the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been unable to organise the party’s national convention to elect its leaders. The organisation of the convention is the primary purpose of the committee chaired by the Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State. The tenure of the committee has been extended twice without results. Instead of the committee being seen a solution, within the recent convulsion provoked by the youth in the party not a few are beginning to see the Buni committee itself as the problem. Again, the quarrel is not about programmatic differences. You cannot pinpoint in the turmoil the differences of ideas about how to resolve the Nigeria’s multi – sectoral problems. Similarly, in the recent gubernatorial elections in Anambra, the three leading parties in the state had disputed primaries which resulted in litigation. As elsewhere, there were no issues of policy in these intra-party quarrels .
This decline in the quality of parties has been variously explained. For instance, the role of the chief executive officers of state who got into power on the party platforms in the distortion of the party system should be critically examined. As aspirants and later as candidates these chief executive officers of state -president and governors – are members of the party, in the first place. In some cases they are among the senior members of the party. As soon as they get elected into office, they assume the powers of the owners of the party.
The tendency has been since 1999.
A president or governor might not have been part of the formation of the party. He might not even have engaged in partisan politics. With the support of some political forces he could get elected as president or governor. After the election the president or governor begins to take a grip on the party. The chief executive brooks no alterative views on how the party should be organised. The president or governor determines who should be party chairman and when he should be removed.
The story is often told how a president made a party chairman to quit office in an action that was akin to acting under duress. After a good meal of pounded yam, the party chairman was given a draft letter of resignation to sign . The chairman signed the letter as directed only for the president to discover it was not properly dated. So the letter was taken back to the hapless party chairman for proper dates.
The same political spectacles are so staged at the state levels where the governors treat the parties as mere political parastatals. Some of the governors assume absolute control over the parties.
It is intriguing that a president or a governor could fail to reckon with the fact that one day he would be out of office and he might not have the same control over the party. After all, a president or governor who had his party in his pocket 10 or 20 years ago might not wield the same influence in the party today as another man is now in the saddle.
This obvious fact seems to be lost on the part of the governors tending to play God in the current politics of the passed electoral bill waiting for the president’s assent. Other useful provisions of the bill have been subsumed in the controversy over the provision for direct party primaries. The governors see direct primaries as a process that could whittle down their enormous powers to dictate candidates of the party in elections. They forget that the application of the law would transcend their terms of office. The overall effect of the grip of governors on the parties has been that of political suffocation. The parties cannot breathe in alternative ideas.
Party supremacy has been replaced with the supremacy of the president or governor in party affairs.
The trend of emasculation of the party in this dispensation is in contradistinction with what obtained in the Second Republic. In terms of the provisions on political parties, there is virtually no difference between the 1979 Constitution which was operated in the Second republic and that of the subsisting 1999.
Yet the supremacy of the party was asserted in varying degrees. The presidential candidate of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the 1979 election, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was also the leader of the party. The party’s constitution stated so clearly. Other parties, however, made a distinction between the presidential candidates and the party chairmen. A clear example of the separation of the structure of the party from that of the government was demonstrated by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The party formed a government after the 1979 presidential election in “accord” with one of the opposition parties, the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). President Shehu Shagari, as a leader of the NPN, attended the party caucus meeting in which party chairman Chief Adisa Akinloye presided. Senate President Joseph Wayas (who sadly passed on a few days ago) would also be in attendance as well as Senate Majority Leader Dr. Olusola Saraki among other senior party members. The Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time was Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke. He was a member of the NPP, and so could not be part of the NPN caucus.
The caucus under the leadership of the party chairman (and not the president) decided on the party line to be pursued in the National Assembly and the executive alike. The NPN secretariat with stalwarts such as Alhaji Uba Ahmed, Alhaji Suleiman Takuma and others vigorously defended the party programmes of qualitative education, Green Revolution, Mass Housing and, of course, national unity, which the party proclaimed as a programme. A similar structure and method were adopted at the state levels. A state chairman of NPN was more than an errand boy of any governor, unlike what obtains today. You might ideologically disagree with the NPN, but you could not deny its organisational character. The party was not amorphous.
The formlessness of the political parties of this era is demonstrated by the ease with which politicians move in and out of the parties. There are, of course, no ideological boundaries and the parties are hardly distinguishable in terms of programmes and policies. This lack of organisational character is also a factor militating against maturity of the party and by extension the nation’s political development.
Politicians often dismiss the call for a better organisation of political parties as sheer idealism. For them, the real politick is ”winning” on the platform of any party available.
But the fact is that the polity is not developing.
This pathology of ailing parties deserves a cure. The healing of the parties of their ailment may be the beginning of the process speeding up the growth and development of the polity.