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Internal democracy in political parties

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Pat Utomi

Let me congratulate Dr. Nwodo on reaching the prescribed age of 70 in scripture, and trust, because I know he is strong, that 80 and more is his portion. The angle I have been assigned to speak to on this critical subject, the place of institutions and regulators in assuring internal democracy in the political parties, set me out on the track to a great debate about what is the most responsible for human progress. To many it is institutions. To others it is culture. How have institutions of restraint failed us such that internal democracy has been lost in a way that has reduced our democracy to a farce of sorts and allowed our country to become the laughing stock of the world, besides the many directly related failures of governing that have made us the poverty capital of the world, and Abuja, a Reality show attracting more viewership than Big Brother Naija.

First, let me commend Dr. Okwi Nwodo for recognizing that the absence of internal democracy in the political parties, is the reason for the deep leadership crisis that currently torments wellbeing in Nigeria. A few days ago Dr. Nwodo and I both featured in a Diaspora webinar organized by NIDO – Americas and he spoke quite eloquently on the subject of internal democracy in political parties. That it is the theme for this webinar to mark his 70th speaks much to a sense of commitment. Even though I was assigned the sub-theme of institutions and regulatory oversight on internal democracy a few hours ago, yester night, I am very pleased to speak from that angle, especially as I have written several books on the subject of institutions and economic performance in particular, and institutions and human progress generally, and therefore have been passionate about the subject for more than 30 years. I would however, like to begin the conversation on the big question of which matters more, Institution or Culture.

In the instance of internal democracy, the critical institutions are party organs, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), The Courts, and in a manner of speaking, the Agenda Setting Function of the media and organized public opinion. But the domain of culture includes the norms and ethics of political actors and the values of the political culture. Even though I can be called an institutionalist, I disagree with people from that school like the Peruvian Economist Hernando De Soto whose excellent work on the mystery of capital, suffers, in my opinion, from trying to dismiss the importance of culture. That value of culture I am quite pleased, was raised by the colloquium at Harvard on Patrick Daniel Moynihan’s two truths which resulted in the book: Culture Matters. I shall return to these organizing thoughts in wrapping up but for now I will turn to the nitty gritty of the practical question of internal democracy in Nigerian political parties, which in spirit, and in truth, in my opinion, make most elections in Nigeria coup d’états.

The outcome, the subversion of the will of the people, by means other than force of arms (barely, given the violence that attends many of these elections) is the same. A graphic illustration of this phenomenon of internal party democracy goes back to the one man one vote campaign by then Edo State Governor Adams Oshimole. The campaign was evidently motivated by a desire to stop the godfathers of Edo politics. As a committed democrat who risked everything to end military rule, I took the trouble to journey to Benin to participate in the final rally.

When I arrived at the stadium I was pleased to see President Ibrahim Babangida. But it was a bit of a spectacle seeing him wearing a T-shirt over his traditional gear so I teased him and bantered around that and matters of democracy with him. To be sure I did not miss my flight out as I was connecting from Lagos to go abroad that night, I left early. At the Benin Airport, I met an ACN contingent that had arrived by a private jet. They included Senators Biola Ajimobi of Oyo and Bola Tinubu of Lagos. They had heard IBB was at the stadium and wondered if it was impolitic to go to a rally on Democracy with General Babangida. My flight arrived and I left them trying to make up their minds.

With benefit of hindsight, today, if I could rename the rally, it would have a banner of ‘Summit of godfathers’, rather than ‘one man one vote’, because the organizers and those who debated whether or not to go to a democracy event with the General, seem, no thanks to the suppression of internal democracy, to do more damage to democracy than the Generals. In my view, IBB smells more of “Democratic Roses” than the other main actors in the feast of hypocrisy, I had taken so much trouble to go to Benin for. At the least he would look for quality people or play the corporatist state game of incorporating populists and people from the unofficial opposition like NBA and NMA, drawing Attorneys-General from radical NBA and Health Ministers from the critical groups.

As we can see in what has unfolded in both PDP and APC, the quest for state capture, using manipulated party primaries, is to corner political power for legal plunder and a combination of petty and mega corruption that recent National Assembly hearings manage to showcase, if only the tip of a horrifying iceberg. Given the goal of those who frustrate internal democracy, it should be obvious that the target is to prevent people who Think (or have capacity). People who have integrity, and people passionate about the Common Good from roles in public life. Surely, they know, or assume that such people will be in the way of their objective to substitute public goals for development and society’s wellbeing, with theirs for unhindered access to the Treasury of the Commonwealth. So how have institutional arrangements responded to this? The first line institutions are internal party organs. The leading political parties in Nigeria have not even bothered to set up the internal organs and party leaders who have made the effort, like Dr. Nwodo, have been frustrated by money bags and high stakes power players who want to send their Tea boys to the House so they can use state resources to build stupendous wealth which they then use to further deepen state capture.

To be continued tomorrow

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


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