• Saturday, May 18, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Curtailing the excesses of party leaders in Nigeria

businessday-icon

Political parties are the main vehicles for organising political representation, political competition, and democratic accountability. They link the state and civil society, influence the executive, formulate public policy, engage in political recruitment, structure electoral choices and facilitate coalitions. In fact, political parties are seen to be agents of power, or vehicles through which the most divisive elements of a society manifest themselves; it is often an ideal of people to be able to have a political system that can seemingly rise above politics. It is in this regard that the warning by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, last week that Nigerian political parties were perilously close to ruin due to the excesses of party leaders should be of concern to all Nigerians.

Ekweremadu while delivering the 54th Founders Day Lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, condemned the prevailing practice of imposition of candidates in the political parties. According to him, leaders, well-connected private citizens in the egotistic pursuit of hegemony ignore democratic imperatives, especially the need to enthrone internal democracy; activities of party leaders convey, not a lesson in party administration, but a sad story about the state of the nation’s democracy and political development. Also, he stressed that Nigerians deserve political parties that are free from the clutches of overbearing party leaders, where party members will have the freedom and liberty to choose their leaders and flag bearers.

Sections 221-229 of the 1999 constitution make elaborate provision for the registration, functioning, conduct and finances of political parties, setting difficult conditions for the registration of political parties. Analysts opine that the effect of these conditions is that parties that emerge must be very big, very rich and have the capacity to bring together money-wielding forces from different parts of the country. In effect, the major factor in party formation is not the aggregation of people with similar ideologies or interests but the establishment of ethnic coalitions led by regional barons with strong financial backing.

Despite the amendment of the Electoral Act, Nigeria retains a very illiberal regulatory regime for the registration and functioning of political parties, and the regulatory framework tends to give rise to a situation in which political ‘godfathers’ play a major role in internal party politics. Parties have formal procedures for the election of their leaders but these procedures are often disregarded; when they are adhered to, the godfathers have means of determining the outcomes.

According to political analysts, from Russia to Pakistan to Peru to Venezuela, and other countries experiencing political crisis, the troubled state of parties lies at the heart of their political problems. There are also a number of countries where political parties have actually lost their mandate to function through their own mismanagement of the political system. In Pakistan, for example, political parties effectively frittered away their credibility to the point where the military’s overthrow of the established political order was accepted, if not welcomed, by the citizenry.

We have had enough of hubris in the name of heroic party leadership in Nigeria; true leaders engage others with their thoughtfulness and humility because they engage themselves in what they are doing and not for personal gain. Such leaders bring out the energy that exists naturally within people.

Therefore, to stop the excesses of the leaders of political parties in Nigeria, given their inability to adopt true internal democracy that can throw up only genuine leaders, enabling laws should be passed to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), take over conduct of all the party’s primary elections. In addition, screening by political parties should be outlawed since it has turned into a tool for party leaders to foist preferred candidates on party members.  Party members should be allowed to make that choice in all primary elections; and if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, the two highest vote getters should have a runoff election and the winner will carry the party’s flag in the general election.