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Ogun council polls and Abiodun’s push for internal democracy

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Dapo Abiodun. Photo/facebook.com/ogsgofficial

In a few days time, the people of Ogun State will be heading to the polls to freely elect councillorship and council chairmanship candidates of their choice. The local government, as everyone knows, is the closest level of government to the people, and any fissure at this level promises to upset the country’s march to democratic development and hence the sustenance of life.

This is why the people must approach the coming elections with all the seriousness it deserves. Indeed, there is a massive cause for cheer going by the actions and pronouncements of the Dapo Abiodun-led administration in the state, which offer hope that the coming elections will be truly democratic, reflecting the wishes of the Ogun electorate.

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In the first instance, quite unlike some governors who would merely dictate the names of candidates for the various local councils in the comfort of their offices and thereafter impose such candidates on the people, the Iperu-born prince and business mogul chose to invite major stakeholders in the three senatorial districts to his office and interface with them, with a view to ensuring sterling representation across the wards.

He told the stakeholders that the party needed to come up with candidates that would be acceptable to the people, urging them to go back to their various places, hold meetings with the aspirants for the various positions, and come up with a consensus list where necessary. Where such an arrangement is not possible, they were to prune down the list of aspirants so that those who would participate in primaries would be known. This, it has to be acknowledged, would reduce cost and reduce acrimony within the fold.

In places where people intended to use their financial purse to overwhelm the system, the governor also invited stakeholders and urged them to conduct a fair process. He harped on the fact that those who had served the party faithfully ought to be recognised even if they did not have a huge purse. This was partly in response to protests by some aspirants who alleged that candidates were being imposed on them.

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Thus, in pushing for strict screening and free, fair and transparent primaries, Prince Abiodun aims to see a situation where the party leadership would put only the best forward. This is as it should be.

According to the Electoral Knowledge Network (EKN), if a political party would like the democratic principles of electoral politics to be applied within the party, it may consider practices like internal information and consultation processes, internal (formal or informal) rules and structures for the organisation and decision-making within the party, and transparency in the party’s functioning at all levels. The EKN notes with clarity: “Party members may also take on more formal roles in decision-making like participating in internal elections for leadership positions or in selecting the party’s candidate(s) in the upcoming elections. Many parties also work actively to enhance the role of traditionally under-represented groups in their parties.”

As argued lucidly in a national newspaper, “Internal party democracy is a key ingredient of any democratic system of government. This is because democracy ought to begin from the parties and how they choose their candidates for the election proper. If the candidates are chosen otherwise than in line with tenets of democracy, then the political space would be tainted and no true democracy can be said to be in existence. A key ingredient of internal democracy is the avoidance of the imposition of candidates on the party. Every candidate interested in an elective office should be given the opportunity to test his popularity within his party through democratically conducted primaries, which will produce the most popular candidate for the election proper. Anything short of this is a total detour from democratic norms and principles.”

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The claim cannot be doubted that in Nigeria, imposition of candidates on the party by some influential leaders has spelt doom for many political parties and even their candidates whose political ambitions had been truncated undemocratically in preference for some sacred cows. Indeed, as Yigal Mersel, a researcher, Hauser Global Program and Emile Noel Fellow at the Jean Monnet Center, New York University has argued, “the very interdependence between political parties and democracies should promote the parties’ adherence not only to democratic goals and activities but also to democratic internal structures.” Such internal democracy, she argues, must be mandatory, and “in rare cases, there is a valid justification for banning political parties that lack internal democracy.”

To be sure, the level of interaction so far demonstrates the fact that the government wants a fair process. He wants to build the party and deepen democracy. He is, without doubt, a governor who believes in grassroots mobilisation and development, and party supremacy. To him, “you must initiate and communicate ideas with the grassroots; you must not behave like an island on your own; you must not embrace autocracy just because you are governor.” That is not mere rhetoric: Governor Abiodun has allowed the various constituencies to bring out their preferred candidates and fortunately, the candidates that have emerged so far are accomplished individuals are freely chosen by the people, which is why there has been no rancour or voice of dissent since their emergence. This is a very good development for our body politic. In any case, naysayers can now realise that being a technocrat does not preclude one from being a good politician. With Governor Abiodun’s distribution of goodwill, peace and stability are assured in the state. 

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Instructively, even as the All Progressives Congress (APC) seems positioned to win the election, a level playing field has been created for all political parties in the state. In some other states, the ruling party ceaselessly harasses opposition candidates. That is not the case in Ogun, although it continues to be a problem not only in the country but also around the world. In January 2020, Joyce Fegan of the Irish Times reported that political parties were being asked to play fair online in the General Election and to avoid using the “toxic tactics” employed in the UK and US. According to the report, “All parties are being asked to sign up to the Fair Play Pledge, which has four commitments. Parties are being asked to campaign honestly and openly, respect the dignity of others, participate in financial fair play and once elected – champion election integrity in the new Dáil. The Fair Play Pledge has been endorsed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICLL), Transparency International Ireland and DCU’s FuJo (Future of Journalism).”

Happily, with Governor Abiodun’s push for transparency within the Ogun APC and the larger local government electoral process in general, the good people of Ogun State can expect better days ahead, particularly if purpose-driven candidates are put forward across the board.

Branco wrote through funmibranco@oal.com

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