In the last few years, the challenges of internal democracy and godfatherism have been a recurring factor in our political space. It is so much that our law reports are replete with so many decisions bordering on lack of internal democracy and the extent it has distorted our democratic experiment. This has led to the enactment of new legislation seeking to regulate not only the litigable issues around this problem but also the length of time within which such cases are to be disposed off. The resources wasted in terms of time and finances could be channeled towards other developmental issues than this ugly venture. This need not be if we are able to tackle squarely these issues of internal democracy and godfatherism. In Nigeria, a person can only aspire to occupy an elected political office through political party platforms. In other words, canvasing for votes requires one to be a member of a political platform registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). To get a political association registered demands amongst others, a political manifesto with a political ideology. In civilized climes, you hear of right wing, left wing ideology, the in-between and other peculiar ones.
In Nigeria, we cannot assert the existence of ideology in virtually all of the political parties. I find it difficult to ascertain the political ideology of any of the political parties in Nigeria. They all virtually possess the same ideas in terms of the statements in their manifestoes and the constitutions. That gave me the idea of their being ‘cut and paste political parties’. All that are mostly done is to substitute the names and addresses in the existing political party documents for a new one; no ingenuity or value added. A political party is supposed to be a conglomeration of people with similar beliefs and convictions. The frequent cross-carpeting that takes place in the nation’s political space attests to this lack of ideology in the political parties. Since there is no affinity between those politicians and the political parties in terms of ideology, they easily move from one political party to the other as a matter of convenience. Latest in the series is that of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara. One wonders if there is any justification for his decamping from his erstwhile political party to the ruling one. For a politician holding a public office to decamp from one political party to another requires some objective conditions necessitating such a move. It is true that the law does not forbid such cross-carpeting but there must be a huge division or factionalisation in his political party at the national level by which such a party cannot be considered as one political platform again before a politician holding a public office can lawfully decamp to another party. This was established as a rule by the Supreme Court in the case of Senator Mohammed Goni who, close to the end of his tenure as the elected the Governor of Borno State, decamped from Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP) on which platform he was elected to Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in 1983. However, these days, politicians decamp from one political party to another without any justification or any condition warranting same save for personal convenience. It is an evidence of lack of faith in or lack of existence of any political ideology for which a political party ought to be identified.
Typically also, the political parties are expected to be funded mainly by the members in the form of membership dues and donations. This is essentially to guarantee a say for each member of the political party. Again, this is lacking in the existing political parties in Nigeria. It is their lot that an individual or a group of individuals constitutes the financial soul of the parties. Consequently, it is no surprise that most times, majority of the members do not have a say in the administration, or decision making process of the political parties. This is what has given rise to the unenviable state of the Nigerian political parties. The scenario we have found is where an individual or a group of individuals hijacks the political parties and becomes the life wire of the party. In fact, no member derives anything without the concurrence of the individual or the group of individuals. This is what is described today in the political parties as godfatherism.
It implies a situation where the determination of who gets what is the prerogative of the godfather or godfathers. In the words of one of the Nigerian apex Court Justices, Ngwuta jsc “….it is the greed, borne of inordinate ambition to own, control and manipulate their own political parties by individuals and groups therein and the expected reaction by other party members that result to the internal wrangling and want of internal democracy that constitute the bane of political parties in Nigeria.” It is apparent that a few powerful elements therein hijack the parties and arrogate to themselves right to sell elective and appointive positions to the party member who can afford same. In the context of elective positions, while the laws of the nation, particularly the Electoral Act and the various parties’ constitutions mandate the conduct of primaries for the nomination of candidates, these are often sabotaged by the godfathers in connivance with the officials of INEC that are saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the nomination process. As said above, this is why provisions are made in the Electoral Act to safeguard the unlawful interference with the process and the courts are empowered to intervene within the narrow confine hitherto provided.
It will be remembered that this cost the ruling All Progressives Congress, States like Rivers, Zamfara and some other seats in both the Federal and State parliaments. Notwithstanding, it cannot be said that so much lesson has been learnt going by the recent nomination process of the ruling party in Edo State. The sad implication of the violation of the internal democratic principles in the political parties is the relegation of the rights of the members in the nomination process to the background, and the promotion of impunity of the ‘nominated’ candidates. Most eventually, elected officials imposed on the members end not having regard to the members in their constituency. They believe that their tickets came from the godfather(s) to whom they are solely responsible. In their representations, they never mirror the views of their constituents. They relish in the satisfaction of the dictates of the godfathers. Where does this lead us? Nowhere, as the growth of their various constituencies continues to be stultified.
Therefore, in order to eliminate this malady and let the elected officials be true representatives or ambassadors of their people, there is a need for further intervention, both political and legislative. As alluded to earlier, we have had both legislative and judicial interventions that have not absolutely addressed the challenge, so a step forward might be more helpful. The step contemplated and being suggested is independent candidacy. We need to allow aspirants run on their own steam without the need for any political platform. I know this is no news in our political system as we had it in 1954 when majority of the elected officials were products of independent candidature. Many of the elected leaders of those days came as independent candidates from their various town unions and not political parties and, incidentally, they were in the majority immediately after the election.
For instance, while the Dr. Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) had only 40 seats in the Western Nigeria House of Assembly, the Action Group (AG) led by Chief Awolowo had 25 seats; the independent candidates had more than 70 votes and thereby constituted the majority. It was upon these independents that Chief Awolowo worked before the Parliament had its inaugural sitting and got them to join his political party thereby constituting the majority. This incident introduced into our political lexicon the word ‘cross-carpeting’ as the NCNC suddenly realised that they were in the minority. While there was actually no cross-carpeting, the word gained popularity as it came from the mouth of no less a political idol than Dr. Azikiwe. The same scenario played out in the East as the NCNC led by Professor Eyo Ita had the minority compared to the independents who contested from Ogoja Town Unions and the likes. It was the ingenuity of Professor Ita in converting these independents to join his party that gave him the majority upon the inauguration of the government. The advantage of independent candidature is the capacity to water down the overbearing nature of the political parties in the development of the nation’s democracy. It will certainly endear the people to their representatives in whom sovereignty will then truly lie.
The power of recall and impeachment becomes potent. Representation assumes the right complexion of people’s expectations. Objective representation becomes the order of the day. Furthermore, the urge to satisfy godfathers’ insatiable appetite is reduced, if not eliminated, as the people now become the power base apart from enhancing the country’s democracy. In fact, I reckon that internal control mechanisms in terms of checks and balances between the executive and the legislature would take pride of place where politicians can debate issues outside the confines of political party’s prisms of interests and maintain fidelity to the interests of the masses who elected them. Legislatures cease to be rubber stamp and the executive becomes upright. The nation tends to gain more than the dividends purportedly obtainable now. It is against this background that the efforts in the enthronement of independent candidature so far made by the National Assembly is appreciated. I had the privilege, amongst others, of serving as a legal consultant during the Eighth Assembly in the constitutional amendment process by which I know that the proposed bill scaled through both Houses but suffered a set back at the presidential level for technical reasons. It is hoped that the resurrection of this noble idea by the Ninth Assembly will bear fruit in time. That we must curtail the excesses of the political parties is a task that must be achieved urgently. The ‘cut-and-paste political parties’ existing in Nigeria must be tamed in our collective interest.