Recently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara touched a raw nerve in Nigerian politics. Speaking on “Dynamics of managing a political party” at a retreat organised by the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Dogara gave a damning verdict on political parties in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
He said political parties in Africa, especially in Nigeria, are weak, lack internal democracies among other challenges. He noted that these challenges include the absence of organisational structures, lack of ideologies and manifestoes etc.
According to him, “ in Africa, and Nigeria in particular, political parties are weak, lacking not only a stable and functioning party apparatus, but also a clear programmatic appeal. “They also suffer from low organisational capacity and a lack of internal democracy. Such weak political parties cannot support democracy as parties are expected to serve many important functions, including citizen mobilisation, interest aggregation, public policy formulation, leadership recruitment, and government organisation.”
The Speaker added that a Capacity Needs Assessment of Political Parties in Nigeria done by the Democratic Governance for Development Project (DGD), in 2013 identified several gaps in the political system in the country. These include: “an unclear legal framework, poor relationship between parties and INEC, lack of civility and insufficient inter-party dialogue, lack of cohesion in political parties leading to frequent ‘cross carpeting’ between parties; a lack of ideological and policy orientation in the contest for power between parties; and a limited ability of opposition parties to compete with the ruling party.
“ At the level of individual party capacity, a number of challenges also stood out. These include: lack of an inclusive and research-based policy and manifesto development process that provides a clear policy framework for them to govern; lack of ideological or institutional identities; and limited competence in research and analysis that looks at their own performance and supports clear plans and strategies for building the party.” Dogara did not say anything new. It is what everyone knows but only a few are willing to voice out, because everyone wants to be politically correct.
The major problem with political parties in the country is their personalisation, especially since the inception of the present political dispensation. Following the liberalisation of the process for the registration of political parties in 2002, most of the political parties become more or less individual property. Prior to the 2003 general election, late fiery lawyer, Gani Fawehimi had gone to court to challenge the non-registration of his political party, the National Conscience Party(NCP), by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC). The court decided the case in favour of the late lawyer. Consequently, the flood gate for the registration of parties was opened. Today, politicians who could not find accommodation in the major political parties, simply form their own parties,where they will call the shots in perpetuity. At the last count, there are 67 registered political parties in the country, with many more waiting to be registered, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.
However, apart from the ruling APC and the major opposition party, the PDP, and a few others, most of the registered political parties exist only in name. Simply put, most Nigerian political parties can best be described as the personal enterprise of those who mid-wifed them. Any of the political parties not owned by individuals is under the total control of some strong men in the party.
For instance, the defunct Congress for Progressive Change(CPC) was tied to the apron strings of President Muhammadu Buhari, who formed it as a vehicle to actualise his 2011 presidential ambition after he dumped the All Nigeria Peoples Party( ANPP).
Similarly, the Action Congress( AC) which metamorphosed into the Action congress of Nigeria (ACN) before joining in the coalition that gave birth to the APC, was under the control of former governor of Lagos State, Senator Ahmed Tinubu. On the other hand, the PDP, in its days as the ruling party, had strong men like the former chairman of its Board of Trustees(BoT), Chief Anthony Anenih and former President Olusegun Obasanjo calling the shots.
If anything, this proliferation of political parties, which ordinarily should have liberalised the political space, has done more harm than good to the polity. Nothing portrays the weaknesses of the Nigerian political parties more than the “limited ability of opposition parties to compete with the ruling party.” In the 2015 general election, it took four political parties-ANPP, CPC, ACN and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APC)- which fused to form the APC to sack the then ruling PDP. Besides, as Dogara rightly pointed out, “the essence of having strong, better organised and professional political parties lies in the fact that they are better able to contribute to good governance through the promotion of accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, control of corruption and rule of law. “
In his view, “parties must be competently managed, internally democratic, well rooted in society, law-abiding, financially transparent and adequately funded, ideologically defined, inclusive of women and youth.” However, the legislature cannot be completely absolved of blame on the state of affairs in our political parties. The lack of internal democracy in our political parties, personalisation of political parties, as well as shameless cross-carpeting by elected public officials, especially lawmakers are because of the absence of a strong legal framework on the regulation of the affairs of political parties.
On the issue of cross-carpeting by lawmakers , which is fast becoming a serious challenge to our democracy, Dogara as leader of the House of Representatives share a big blame. Since August, last year, no fewer than six lawmakers, elected on the platform of the PDP who have defected to the ruling APC, cited a non-existent crisis in the opposition as the reason for their defections. Yet, the Speaker saw nothing wrong in their actions.
After one of the defections was announced on the floor recently, Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Bello urged Dogara to invoke section 68(1g) of the 1999 constitution ( as amended) and declare the member’s seat vacant. Section 68(1g) of the 1999 constitution (as amended), provides that a member of the House shall vacate his seat if he defects from the party on whose platform he was elected before the expiration of tenure, except there is a division in the party that sponsored his election.
The Speaker ruled her out of order, relying on Section 68(2), which gives the Senate President or Speaker of the House of Representatives the power to declare a member’s seat vacant. Therefore, methinks that it is not enough for Dogara to sermonise about how bad things are in our political parties. He should take steps to make things better. If things would get better in our political parties, the legislature, as a very powerful arm of government, and by extension its leaders, must come up with a new and strong legal framework that will govern the registration and operations of political parties in the country.
There is no doubt, that there are lots of gaps in the present laws guiding the registration and operations of political parties in the country. Except these loopholes are blocked, the political parties and by extension, the nation’s democracy would not make the required progress.