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Internal democracy and rule of law

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The judgment of the Supreme Court the other day barring the All Progressives Congress (APC) from fielding any candidates in Rivers State for the 2019 general election has again brought to the fore the contentious issue of internal democracy or intra-party democracy in the democratisation process in Nigeria. While President Muhammadu Buhari expressed sadness over the turn of event, especially its consequence for the ruling party, he said his party would abide by the ruling of the apex court. It would be recalled that the litigation which culminated in the apex court’s ruling emanated from a dispute over the conduct of the APC congresses and primaries, which held in the state while keeping out other members.

Notwithstanding the ruling of the apex court, the matter tugs fundamentally at the principles of party organisation. Although the country is in the throes of another election cycle, internal democracy is one of the key contradictions of its nearly two-decade old democratisation. Beyond Rivers, Imo, Ogun and Zamfara states have political bickering over the issue of internal democracy, which has divided the party and sapped their strength for electoral battles.

Regardless of the fact that parties have constitutions, these are subjected to changes at the whims of party stalwarts who are inclined to imposition of their preferred candidates. In the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), despite the engrossment of zoning formula in the party constitution, members went over to contest the highest office in the land with an appeal to the constitution, which does not recognise such arrangement. Also, in the count down to the current 2019 general elections, we witnessed the ruling APC tampering with its process for primaries either through delegate or open democratic processes.

The consequence of course was the adoption of a bifurcated approach, which allowed states to choose either of the two alternatives. The subtext of it all was to naturally determine the fate of aspirants lining up for public offices. The repercussion has always been a weak party loyalty and so-called carpet crossing to other parties, which are willing to offer electoral windows to aggrieved aspirants.

Indeed, cases abound today of questionable substitution, disqualification and reversal of nomination of previously screened and cleared candidates due to party intrigues, rude power display, impunity and disregard for fair play and justice. The practices of state governors, potentates, who have now hijacked party machineries, have added a cancerous tumour to the Nigerian condition. Their words are laws and have absolute disdain for counsel from stakeholders on the choice of candidates to succeed them and other positions. In their respective states, they ride roughshod on their unfortunate party members over the management of the parties. 

From the advent of the fourth republic in 1999 till date, the running of political parties in Nigeria has left much to be desired with regard to the operationalisation of the principles of internal democracy. The scene has been dominated by moneybags and godfathers who have been controlling the parties and wielding enormous influence over who become candidates for public offices. In this context, the long period of military rule as some scholars have argued, meant closure of the civil society. The net effect is that the country’s political arena has no institutionalised parties. If politics is a contestation among actors with different perspectives on how to run the affairs of the state, logically political parties acknowledged by scholars as the engine of modern politics is the platform for such contestation. A political party in essence is a commune of individuals with similar interests aggregated in a holistic worldview consigning the governance of a state.

This has implication for organisation: it means discipline and commitment to those interests, which coalesced into the party ideology. That is why party organisation is not a tea-party affair. It is on the basis of its ideology that it becomes an imprimatur to its members and onlookers; a platform of leadership recruitment; and a government in-waiting as its primary aim is the winning of governmental powers through the ballot to run the affairs of the state. This is why some scholars of politics see a political party as a platform for recruitment of political leaders and the organisation of parliament and government, both in advanced and developing democracies.

Unfortunately, political parties in the country are yet to arrive at this desired destination. And its major contradiction aforesaid is the absence of internal democracy. This was underscored by a faculty member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPS) who remarked that “parties face considerable challenges in the area of internal democracy with party elite frequently manipulating party rules to subvert internal democracy for their personal political interests…Nigerian parties continue to be based on fragile foundation, including godfathers or dominant personalities.” The element of internal democracy gives content to the school, which sees party as a crucial institutional device not only for representation but as conflict management mechanism. It’s critical in our clime for the reason that it was central to the crisis of the country’s first republic and the consequent intervention of the military, which sealed the fate of the republic.

This newspaper would like to suggest that state actors should begin to ruminate over how to reinvent the party system in ways that underline the mechanism of internal democracy. Historically, there are two approaches to promoting internal democracy in political parties, namely, advocacy and legal. The latter has not really worked. A school for socialisation and orientation of party members to the ideological perspective of their party is imperative at this time. It is not enough to be getting membership cards and PVC without knowing what party ideology is all about. Besides, there should be orientation about the expediency of understanding ideals such as supremacy and rules of engagement in the party. So, within the internal affairs of the party, the laws must rule too. That is the essence of the Supreme Court’s ruling and the reverses suffered in Rivers State.


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APCMuhammadu Buhari‎
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