Senator David Mark
Chuks Okocha, Onwuka Nzeshi and Dele Ogbodo
From the prognosis of Senate President David Mark, Nigeria may soon end up with far fewer political parties than the present 57 in the polity.
Mark, at a conference on “Party Politics in Nigeria and Lobbying, the Lobbyist and the Legislature”, in Abuja Monday, decried the proliferation of parties in the country, which he said was driven by the quest of their promoters to benefit from the grants to political parties enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha; former President Olusegun Obasanjo; Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega; and former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, who also spoke at the occasion, condemned the way the parties were being run and proffered suggestions on how to make them more efficient.
The conference, organised by the National Institute of Legislative Studies, was convened to address the problem of internal party discipline and cohesion and how to resolve the issue of intra and inter-party squabbles, among others.
In his comments, the senate president said many of the parties were not viable and predicted their demise soon rather than later, because so many of them were floated simply to attract the financial subventions which the 1999 Constitution, before its amendment, guaranteed them.
“We know that in reality, most of our political parties are fledgling and hardly able to stand on their feet. Many exist mainly on paper, and were floated to attract the financial subventions which the 1999 Constitution hitherto guaranteed them, before it was amended,” he added.
Mark identified funding as one of the biggest problems facing political parties in the country, stressing that this has paved the way for the rich to hijack the parties and party administration.
He said: “A situation where a handful of individuals tend to fund the party is not good for democracy. Like the saying goes, he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
“I believe that all Nigerians, no matter how small, should contribute to the running of political parties. There are political parties in this country where people are called national leader; I don’t know where that fits in the constitution of the party.
“He is not the chairman of the party, not the chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT). He is simply a national leader and takes precedence over every other person in the party.
“He is simply a national leader; he owns the political party. Such a situation cannot augur well for our democratic parties.”
According to him, even the big ones, which control various executive and legislative arms of government, are often threatened by internal convulsions, lack of cohesion, indiscipline and a glaring absence of internal democracy.
Earlier in his remark, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said political parties were key players and critical institutions of democracy and their philosophies and manifestoes should be the fulcrum on which politicking and governance should revolve.
“Unfortunately, the management of the nation’s political parties gives us a cause for concern. As it is put in Latin, Nemo dat quod non habet: no one can give what he does not have,” he said.
In his contribution, Ihedioha tasked politicians to run the parties efficiently and ensure that patriotism and merit played a vital role in the emergence of candidates for political offices.
Ihedioha said it had become imperative for political parties to rise to the occasion, to run their parties efficiently, as democracy cannot be firmly entrenched in Nigeria without political parties playing their role well.
He argued that the problem of indiscipline, lack of cohesion, intra-party squabbles and inefficient organisation of political parties was dependent more on the maturity of politicians than on laws.
In his contribution, Jega accused ruling parties in some states of using the incumbency factor to deny opposition political parties access to basic electioneering materials such as radio and television as well as denying them freedom to campaign and canvass for votes.
According to Jega, “Some political parties even go ahead to budget funds to bribe members of the Election Management Board during elections. This is one of the challenges of deepening democracy in Nigeria.”
He described some election petitions as frivolous, stating that they were a mere waste of funds, as some politicians who even knew that they had no case insisted on challenging the results of elections.
The INEC chairman, who called for the abrogation of Section 31 of the 2011 Electoral Act because of abuse by political parties, said: “Let the names of candidates sponsored by political parties remain final and not use the names of candidates as a temporary measure to seek for the ‘good candidate’ to be replaced at a later stage during the elections.”
This, he said, breached the procedure of the emergence of candidates for elections as stated in Section 87 of the Electoral Act.
He also expressed regrets that political parties had not been allowed to function effectively because the rich have hijacked them.
In his comments as the chairman of the occasion, Obasanjo blamed the political parties for operating outside their manifestos and wondered how the people could hold them responsible, if they did not comply with their manifestos.
He also accused the political parties of lack of discipline, stating that “discipline remains one of the greatest assets of moving political party democracy forward. Discipline must be taken seriously, because no human institution can move forward without discipline.”
Nwodo, who spoke on strengthening party structures and internal democracy in political parties, said that the PDP had been hijacked by a clique and moneybags.
He also advocated a ban on carpet crossing, which he blamed on indiscipline within the parties.
Nwodo said the PDP had derailed from its people mass movement, adding: “In the PDP, when you say, PDP, we are supposed to say power to the people; but now, PDP has now been hijacked by a clique, hijacked by the anointed, so PDP has become ‘power to the godfathers!’”
He called for e-registration of party members, which will prevent moneybags from stopping other Nigerians from becoming members of the political parties of their choice.
In his comment, a former Governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, accused the PDP of lack of ideas, explaining that that was why former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came with his seven-point agenda and President Goodluck Jonathan has his transformation agenda.
He noted that the programmes of the duo were never part of the PDP manifesto.
“When the late President Yar’Adua came into office, he came with his seven-point agenda and President Jonathan has now come with his transformation agenda; yet they are from the same party and nowhere in the manifesto of the party will you find these agendas.
“All these get the electorate confused. There is the need to respect the manifestos and ideology of the parties,” he said.