19 Years After, Political Parties Still at Their Infancy


Nineteen years after Nigeria returned to democratic governance, political parties whose responsibility it is to drive the process of deepening the system, continue to crawl, writes Tobi Soniyi

‎Until recently, the Peoples Democratic Party was considered Nigeria’s most disorganised political party.
However, after conducting its‎ ward, local government and state congresses, the All Progressives Congress has emerged Nigeria’s most disorganised political party.
On Saturday May 19th, APC held election that produced new executives for the party in all states of the federation. Those elected will serve as delegates to the party’s national convention billed for next month in Abuja.

However, the election was characterised by violence. In a few states, lives were lost. In ten states, parallel congresses were held which produced two different executives.
The ward and council congresses were no different. In some states, no congresses took place but wards and council‎s’ executives were produced.
Virtually all the ills that let to the downfall of the PDP have inflicted the APC.
The PDP is struggling to rebuild itself. Smaller parties are not fairing better. Accord Party and Labour Party are battling with internal crises of their own.

Yet, in a democracy,‎ political parties remain indispensable. In Nigeria and elsewhere, democracies can not function without the existence of political parties. In Nigeria, only political parties can sponsor candidates and canvass for votes.
Section ‎221 of the constitution states, “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”

The constitution in Section ‎222 further provides that, “No association by whatever name called shall function as a party, unless –
a) the names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Independent
National Electoral Commission;”
Nigerian political parties, due largely to greed, desperation, lack of internal democracy and other factors have remained at infantile level.

Except political parties learnt to organise themselves better, democracy will remain endangered. Nigeria unity and stability eventually depends on how parties conduct themselves.
Even, the nation’s development rests squarely in the hands of political parties. Since parties nominate who gets elected as president, senator, governor and member of the House of Representatives, the nation’s development will be driven by whoever the reigning political party presents.
At press time, Nigeria has 68 registered political parties. The list is likely to grow further as other associations seeking registration remain hopeful.
Proliferation of political parties should be a source of concern for Nigerians. Organising elections is made difficult by such large number of political parties. The work of the Independent National Election Commission will be made difficult. Electorate, especially voters who are illiterate will be confused.

Earlier in the year, Chief Technical Adviser to INEC chairman, Prof. Kolade Eyinfa warned that with over 100 associations seeking registration, the number might increase before the general election.
He noted that such a large number of political parties could give INEC logistical nightmare.

He said: “We are also going to be challenged if these 68 political parties and counting continue this way. We are just a commission. I cannot begin to imagine even as the technical adviser, how we will divide ourselves to monitor party conventions and primaries of 68 political parties across the length and breadth of this country.

“Already we have envisaged some of these challenges and we are coming up with strategies to deal with them in our election project plan.
“Ancillary to this is the fact that political party agents will also increase. I can imagine 68 political party agents in a polling unit. I think these are issues that we have to manage; but most importantly, how do we manage the ballot for 68 political parties?”
‎Despite the enormous responsibilities placed on political parties, ‎it is shameful that they have proved, times without number, that they are unable to organise themselves in a way that will earn the people’s trust.

An issue which has been widely acknowledged as a challenge for political parties in Nigeria is lack of internal democracy. This is also partly responsible for proliferation of parties in the country. People leave a political party to form another when they are alienated. Candidates who emerged winners of primary elections were arbitrarily substituted with someone who did not participate in the election.
Even when they have a constitution that governs the activities of their parties, Nigerian politicians obey such rules in breach. Those who can pay often get their way. Others, who are not so rich but lucky to have godfathers will also be favoured. Nigerian politicians appeared to have adopted Harrold Lasswell’s definition of politics- politics is about who gets what, when and how.

Anyone seeking a fuller understanding of how lack of internal democracy can destroy a political party should undertake a study of the Peoples Democratic Party. The All Progressives Congress that promised change is also turning out to be a good case study too.
To deepen Nigeria democracy, the Electoral Act and to some extent, the constitution will require further amendments to ensure that political parties are held liable when they breach their own rules. The judiciary which should have helped to enforce internal democracy in political parties, has allowed corruption to taint its judgment.

The Supreme Court plunged the judiciary into avoidable sandal when in the appeal involving when the former governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamako was qualified to participate in a rerun election when his party had been found to have violated the Electoral Act. The rest is history, it was the case that led to the face off between then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Katsina Alu and then former president of the Court of Appeal, Ayo Salami.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has tried to reclaim its past glory as demonstrated in its judgment that eventually resolved the crisis that threatened to destroy PDP. But before the apex court stepped in, the Federal High Court had messed itself up with judges, at the instances of politicians giving conflicting judgments. Sadly, they were not punished for that ignoble outing.
The politicians have to do better, INEC has to regulate fairly while the judiciary will have to be firm, consistently and courageous to sanitise the mess political parties have turned themselves into.