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Creating a sustainable and accountable democratic system in Nigeria -Part 4

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Political parties are the bedrock of democratic institutions. They provide the umbrella under which political activity takes place. If these parties are broken, then the system within which they operate will be broken. I fundamentally believe that the concept of the political party does not exist in Nigeria. Instead we have political vehicles that serve the interests of narrow elite. They are funded by individuals not members, they do not identify with particular ideological positions and their party members exploit a loophole in the constitution which allows too much fluidity between political parties, resulting in our yoyo effect and encouragement instability.

If we want to strengthen our democracy then we have to strengthen the governance and accountability of our political parties. We must have paying members of parties, who earn the right to vote in party elections and participate in the convention. Members must be paying and active for at least 6 months beforebeing allowed to vote, or contest positions. We have to close the loopholes that enable the fluidity and opportunism in the system, and make it harder for career politicians to maintain control or relevance.

Our parties should be required to produce manifestoes that are properlybinding. They must make pledges that they can be held accountable for, and with which a more educated, enlightened and empowered party membership and population can make choices. We must also raise the bar for the creation and operation of political parties. We had over 70 candidates for president in the 2019 elections, and perhaps over 90 registered parties. This is too many. It is too easy for people to create factions within a party as a vehicle that enables fluidity. This problem is easy to solve through measures such as more stringent conditions for registration including performance bonds andminimum number of members and sufficient national level representation. If we can have fewer parties, we can increase the competition for relevance and increase the quality of debate in our political system, rather than just the volume.

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Look at the big political parties in the UK and the US. They have sophisticated policy development units. The British Labour Party and the Labour Unions for example have well-funded capacity development programs. The Labour unions have colleges at Oxford University! They fund an ecosystem that adds value, and which creates future leaders. Where are these institutions in our own parties? Where is the inclusion for the youth? Where is the policy creativity and innovation? Where is the ideological hub? The sad reality is that they do not exist, and they are an essential part of proper democratic systems. Our parties need to get serious, and if they do, they will quickly become better at governing. Tony Blair, David Cameron and George Osborne are products of the Labour and Conservative Political Research Institutes.

They had been grounded in how to shape and maintain party policies that can be translated into government policies. Both the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States (US) have research institutes in their parties namely, Democratic National Institute (DNI) and Independent Republican Institute (IRI). They operate in the US and throughout the world. Both bodies are in Abuja. Moreover the US political party system is shored up by hundreds of research institutes – some very famous – for the study and propagation of each parties ideologies and policies to back them – The Hoover institution. Institutions set up to push Democratic Party doctrines and ideology; those to push and support Republican interest.

Political parties should not be allowed to be vague about what they are going to do to address Nigeria’s problems. They must be specific and accountable. This in turn affects the budgeting process, because without clear policy and direction, it is difficult to cost initiatives. Parties must be the engine that prepares people for government, so that when they arrive, they are ready, they are prepared and they are empowered. The impact of this alone, on the effectiveness of governance (and so, by consequence, the likelihood of re-election) could be hugely significant.

Party reforms can only come from our experience. What have we experienced up till now?
Extreme volatility within the elected party among Governors, Ministers, legislators and party members was what the constitution was aware of and tried to stop by requesting that if an elected member wanted to join a party different from the one which elected him, he should resign and seek a fresh mandate. This has now been undone because elected Governors, Legislators exploit a loop hole in the constitutional provision, which allows elected officials to stay hold their offices resigning if there are factions within a party. Consequently legislators and other elected officials first foment intra party factions and then leave to join another party.

The courts have been lenient in accepting on the face of it a statement of factionalism instead of being strict in interpreting what is a faction in the party. The intendment of that clause is patently obvious. You want to leave the party on whose back you rode to the legislature or Government House; you resign and seek a new mandate. The existence of a faction in the party cannot exhaust the original legitimacy given to elected officials in the first place. If the official has confidence he should seek a new mandate from the votersfor his new party.

Moreover, it is morally unfair for members of the elected officials elsewhile party to suddenly lose their member to the party they had beaten in the election.If the party is that factionalized, then the Electoral Commission should suspend all its members, set up an arbitration process: if that fails then all should resign and seek new mandates. If Mr. Raji was a rabid leftist from a rabid leftist party beats Mr. Sule an ultraconservative in the election; how can Mr. Raji cross carpet over to those he had beaten? What happens to the supporters in the Raji party who voted for him? They have lost their voice and franchise.

Electoral Candidates should give the party a presigned undated letter of resignation should they wish to move to another party then the letter is activated. If the party broke up, then all its elected officials automatically resign and be ready for new elections. If the party is factionalized, as it is often claimed, then all its elected members are suspended until the problem causing the faction has been resolved. The parties could have an antifaction committee which should be able to handle factionalism within the party, knowing that while the faction exists, that party remains suspended from all electoral post.

This may sound draconian but factions are an existential threat to the party and its members must be dedicated to maintaining unity through dialogue, compromise and seeking the general good of the party. If indeed the party breaks up, then all its elected officers should seek a new mandate under the new party they have joined.

We have seen what Governors do to the political parties, how they dominate and pocket them in their states; how the resources of the state are requisitioned by the Governor while building his own political base, often strong enough to frustrate the national leadership of his party. At the end of 8 years in office, the Governor is a threat to the state except where his machine has installed a new incumbent protégée. The new incumbent soon learns that his tenure is dependent on taking over the old political machine of his predecessor if he is to survive. Because the former Governor islikely to seek refuge and protection in the political sanctuary in Abuja as a Senator or Federal Minister. One thing is common; they all seek immunity from their past alleged wrong doing while in office. The Senate provides a seemingly more secure protection from punishment for past misdeeds. It also affords them plenty of time and money to seek to control their earlier “provinces” or states. The result is utter instability, a lot of energy spent on protecting one’s turf, through seizing the national party structure, which is now full of past Governors.

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For Nigerian political parties to grow they must remove the cancer of past Governors at the National levels. They must not be allowed to be senators, or ministers or National parties’ office holders. They should be members of Governors’ advisory bodies. Some ingenious way must be found to accommodate the former Governors, who, if not reined in, would destroy the political party system. I am sure there is nothing in the constitution that prevents a former President from contesting to be a Senator or Governor. But such a move is unthinkable.

The finances of a political party should be based on subscription and donations but this should also be transparent and accounts published every quarter.The names of large donors should be known and published. The parties are not to accept foreign money. Political Parties should not engage in corrupt practices. Campaign expenses should be regulated. The parties should submit campaign budgets and expenses.

The number of political parties must be reduced. All the parties must form alliances so that only two candidates eventually emerge for the presidential election. The threshold to survive as a party should be at least 5% of vote.There is a theoretical argument that the above regulations are an affront to democracy and would reduce the depth of our democracy. For example what happens if a “party” is merely interested in one or two States and has no national focus? Or a candidate is interested in only a few issues and wants to run as an independent. I believe these are weighty arguments but the history of “democracy” as we have it in Nigeria would suggest that going down particular narrow roads would further erode rather than enhance our democracy which up till now is rather weak like an infant. Interests in particular matters may weaken our nation. A Fulani party in Borno or Adamawa may want to join fellow Fulani’s in Cameroon. A Shuwa party in Borno may want to join Shuwa in Chad. A Yoruba party might wish to incorporate the Yorubas in Benin. We have enough problems in Nigeria now. We should not complicate them further.In any case the constitution and the electoral laws vest the conduct of elections and registration of parties with INEC and they have no mandate to entertain independent candidates.

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