One cynic once told me that political parties in Nigeria are nothing more than organised greedy gangs. Although I considered that too harsh and uncomplimentary, I could not sum up courage to challenge him. He had unending accounts of the evils politicians do in the name of political parties. In a country where assassinations, looting of public funds, flagrant abuse of power and erosion of the constitution are ascribed to political parties and the people do not bother enough to take to the streets; I was bound to endure the political doom sermon of my friend. There was nothing I could say in defence of political parties, especially so when the setting was Lagos on the day the assassination of Funsho Williams was announced to the public. As a public commentator and a student of constitutional democracy, one is bound to be affected in a most telling way by the anti democratic and unconstitutional activities and of course, poor public image of such critical institutions of our democratic process as the political parties. This discuss is an attempt to tell the public that their economic emancipation and socio political deliverance in the near future do not lie in personalities (since these are election times, I would say candidates) but in political parties. Without a responsible, people centred democratic and development oriented party culture, democracy and its ideals would continue to elude us.
In Europe and America political parties have gone beyond being just a group of persons organised to acquire and exercise political power. They have established themselves as the generators of the ethical and moral principles that sustain and nurture their democratic process. Political parties are largely responsible for the democratic glory that America enjoys today and for which it now prides itself as the flag bearer of modern representative and constitutional democracy. Interestingly, the American people did not start their constitutional democracy with clear or definite duties for their political parties. It is the beliefs that with our without specific urging or prompting, people are by nature gregarious and easily bound together to pursue shared interests that made the writers of their constitution to avoid setting aside specific roles for the American Political parties.In Nigeria, however, the constitution went out of its way to literally make the political parties the engine of democracy and the political process. It is those roles assigned to the political parties that I want us to revisit and perhaps have a shared feeling of their relevance to our political lives.
A critical assessment of Sections,65,106,130,147,156,176,187,200 and 221 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will confirm the following: The President, Vice President, Ministers, Members of executive bodies like Federal Judicial Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, National Judicial Council, Nigeria Police Council, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Governor, Deputy Governor, National Assembly Members, and State legislators must be members of political parties and must be sponsored by political parties. What this simply means is that it is only the political parties that can supply the manpower for all the political offices and institutions in the country with the only exception being the judiciary (and that is if we insist that the judiciary is a political institution).
It is from this premise that I keep asking my self the question as to whether Mr.President can ignore the political parties in, say for example, his drive to employ the best hands for the most critical offices in the land? Could he have employed Iwu into INEC without the sponsorship of a political party? Remember Section 156 says that no person shall be qualified for appointment as a member of INEC if he is not qualified or he is disqualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives. To be qualified for the House of Representatives, one must be a citizen, belong to a political party and sponsored by that party. If Iwu must be a party member, is it not right to know his political party and for INEC to be structured and manned in a manner representative and protective of the other political parties? How would the political process develop if the political party that wins election and gets the constitutional mandate to recruit and appoint personnel into all institutions that are supposed to deliver the dividends of democracy turns out to be as my friend puts it a greedy gang?
What I am wishing to introduce into this discuss in such a casual manner is the my belief that the constitution has (erroneously?) shut out all other forms of civil organizations and groupings in the exercise of political power and has made the exercise of political power whether (as the westerners would have a right to say) by forming a government or by exercising the function of opposition, the exclusive preserve of political parties. Putting this against the backdrop of an apathetic middle and upper or elite class in Nigeria, one can easily know why it has been so difficult to wrestle the political process from the crooks.
I have had arguments with people who strongly believe one does not need to belong to a political party to contribute to the political process. Some would even say that the vote is the strongest political weapon but my reaction would always question the quality and value of a vote without the backing of a political party. My thinking is that besides the fact that the voter’s participation in the political process starts and ends at the polls ( I am even referring to the ideal vote that has a direct bearing on the electoral process),the recruitment and appointment of political office holders which accounts for the quality of governance and the democratic delivery process is restricted to the political parties.
Another aspect of the constitution concerning political parties that I feel we should all be worried about is the freedom given to parties to choose who to sponsor from among party members. Many observes who not found time to assess the discretionary powers of the parties have had cause to shout blue murder when parties decide to sponsor as their candidates people in detention with murder charges or when they decide to chose their candidates for elective offices by what they call consensus. Though the arrogant sponsorship of a person detained (with no chances to campaign) can be obviously spiteful of the electorate, or the consensus formula can be less democratic, both are constitutional. Whereas the constitution enjoins the parties to employ democratic and electoral process in the recruitment of their executives, nothing is said about how they recruit those they want to sponsor for elective or political offices.
What this means is that political parties are not obliged to sponsor responsible or credible Nigerians for elective offices. Having assigned the function of selecting and sponsoring candidates and public office holders to the political parties, I would have loved a situation whereby the constitution prescribes the way the parties are to exercise that function. The parties should have been reconnected in one way or the other with the people. The caucus system in the United States, for example, makes sense. Caucus members work as a matter of course with local committees. The part primaries have to my mind not developed beyond being fora for those that have long been left out in the looting of public funds to have their shares of the loots.
If the constitution did not bother to assign specific function and spell out certain behavioural patterns or if it had not connected
the parties to the electoral process and INEC, I would not have bothered much about the funding of political parties. The sources of funds for political parties should be a concern to everybody, this is especially so when those who have occupied political offices between May 1999 and to date are known to have been the financial backbones of the parties. If political parties are left to run like profit making corporations, then the public should not complain if those who exercise political power emphasize what they get more than what they put into the system.