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Internal democracy in political parties – Part 2

By Pat Utomi
07 August 2020   |   3:31 am
I have tried to encourage the building of such internal organs unsuccessfully. How does a party member unhappy with policies of the government of his party express it and help it change for better?

Continued from yesterday

I have tried to encourage the building of such internal organs unsuccessfully. How does a party member unhappy with policies of the government of his party express it and help it change for better? Where are the organs for that? What of the internal Ombudsman to ensure open transparent party primaries? I was pressuring for the establishment of such, as well as an academy to socialize all potential candidates into the ideology, ethics and development philosophy of the party with former APC Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in his office in Abuja, a few years ago when Osita Okechukwu of the Voice of Nigeria walked in. Osita supported my position.

But nothing was done. The machine politics view of how to organize society no doubt contributed largely to Forbes Magazine verdict, late last year, that Nigeria was a money-losing machine. If you want to lose money the globally regarded magazine said, go to Nigeria and invest it.

The absence of those internal organs have made the courts the arena of internal party disputes. Unfortunately, this has contributed to corrupting the judiciary and making the courts dysfunctional. By contrast, the ANC party organs in South Africa have regular meetings on government policy all the way down to grassroots. A Nigerian who is a member of the ANC and is currently an Assistant to the Kaduna State Governor has much experience of these. Then there is INEC and its role. In my view INEC has been unable to do the needful. A few years ago at a public lecture at the NIIA in Victoria Island, I raised this issue with then INEC Chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega.

I gave him the example of South Korea where the politics was as dysfunctional as ours is today. There the Electoral Agency sought to change things by insisting on debates at all levels, from the grassroots to television, to enable those running to be properly interrogated on their ideas, programmes, and character in a way that can be actionable and used to hold the candidates to account. He agreed with me but there was not much time left then on his watch. This is what eliminated money from their elections and opened the way of committed and capable people driven by selfless service into the arena in South Korea. The bottom line is that institutional failure characterizes the political party process in Nigeria. We need to start afresh to build political parties here. The only alternative to massive reform is popular revolt. They should read Ted Gurr on “Why Men Rebel”. My own experience with the process in the APC primaries of 2019 is a classic example. In that case, the party collected large sums of money from its members and then ‘419ed’ them by not allowing primaries such that the APC Governors asked the party to refund the monies but they have not done so.

The sad state of our political parties as instruments of state capture may seem like a paradox but was long identified on commentary made more than a hundred years ago in Roberto Michael’s 1911 frame setting book, political parties. The idea of the iron law of oligarchy suggests that political parties tend towards control of a few.

This is why the right institutions are necessary for them to belong to all. From this, political science students have learnt to chorus: he who says organization says oligarchy. Elsewhere in the world, these challenges of the democratic process have led to soul searching. In the US, ironically for our subject, many think that it is recent reform that tied the hands of party bosses and probably enabled a person like Donald Trump who party elders, in smoke-filled rooms, could have stopped, reach the presidency. But here party elders have not acted to stop candidates perceived as troubling in character but have rather promoted such people in a cash and carry transaction pattern that has defined our current Republic. From Cambridge University in the UK and Harvard, a series of books have emerged rethinking Democracy. Harvard’s Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt title theirs: How Democracies Die; while David Runciman’s is titled How Democracy Ends. Unfortunately, we have not exposed our democracy, which started with citizen aplomb, as measured by the Afrobarometer data on democracy and governance in Africa, to such scrutiny.

The fruit of the Afrobarometer partnership between Michigan State University in the US and major Civil Society Initiatives across Africa with base in Ghana, show Nigerians are far from being upbeat with our democracy today as they were in 1999. What needs to be done, to save the situation, is for INEC to act from the institution-building perspective and for civil society to do much more on the culture angle. Values shape human progress. If the public arena is dominated by people of public virtue, as Montesquieu calls for, or public morality, as Prof. Peter Ekeh, former head of the department of political science at the University of Ibadan suggests, in his 1975 seminal essay on “The Two Publics”, then the democratic arena can truly define modernity. For the ultimate contemporary philosopher of modernity and the public sphere, Jurgen Habermas, that is about “rational public conversation” which our lack of internal democracy frustrates. Unless we make parties more democratic rather than transaction enterprises of “owners” of the party our democracy will remain that of “is ok, its ok”. Switch off the mic’. Happy birthday Ude Ukehe.

Post Script. Of the many interesting questions raised at the webinar I find it necessary to react to two.

One from co-panelist Otunba Gbenga Daniel raises the question of the vote of the uneducated weighing the same as that of someone who can analyze the issues. This makes vote buying easy for money bags. It is easy to be sympathetic to that line of thought. The British historian Niall Ferguson showcases that in his discussion of voting rights in the United States in the book; Civilization – the West versus the rest. I think that grading the value of the vote, by status would do more harm to the dignity of the human person and equal rights. The antidote, for me, include massive investment in voter education, strong sanctions for vote buying, strict campaign finance regulation and debates like in South Korea.

The uneducated are not stupid and can tell who is highlighting their best interest in debates. The second was a question about the youth being locked out of politics and power. My view is that if political parties were properly organized they would have youth clubs, especially in tertiary institutions with recruitment, socialization and mentoring of young people. Government should stop muscling Students Unions and allow them to be vehicles and pipelines for future leaders.

Prof. Utomi is founder, Centre for Values in Leadership, being remarks in tribute at Webinar to celebrate Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo at 70 recently.