Theories of political parties are hardly more than systematic efforts to understand or clarify the relationship between the powers vested in persons to exercise the functions of a state and the recruitment of such persons from among the citizenry of that state. Such theories seek to clarify and systematize not just the relationship between elections and the exercise of political powers but also public opinion and judgments about state policies and programmes as well as public responses to the conduct of political leaders and functionaries. The fact that the conducts of political functionaries and/or policies and programmes of Governments are generally viewed from at least two different points of view is a function of political parties. This is so because political parties are formed to contest for the power and capacity to influence the Government’s conduct and policies by nominating and presenting candidates for elective public positions. Whereas the party that wins elections forms the Government by supplying the personnel to the designated offices, institutions and agencies through which state power is exercised, the losing party forms the opposition by constituting itself into a focal or reference point for alternative governance principles, standards and goals. Whereas it is illegitimate for the opposition to undermine the legitimate authority of the Government or administration that is formed by the winning party, it is legitimate and lawful for it to challenge or make a reality check of the policies and programmes of the Government. This is so because the opposition party personifies the interests, concerns and aspirations of that segment of the citizenry that lost in the election. As such, both the aggregators of the electors and the electors are in reality the components of political parties. Therefore, a political party comprises leaders, promoters, administrators, active members and followers.
There is, of course, considerable disagreement about what a political party is. Even so, there is a tendency to agree about the primary goal of political parties, which is to win elections and constitute the Government or administration of a state. Being a donee of the power to influence or control the activities of the body polity is by no means ordinary. It presupposes an embodiment of effective strategies for interest aggregation and conflict management and capacity for a high-end organization of men and material resources for maximum productivity of all the agencies and institutions of the state. A political party must have a clear and identifiable agenda for the state. It need not be ideological; but it must be offhandedly identified with a set of goals and programmes for the state.
A political party is in theory not supposed to be a slave to any other political authority of the state because it is the donee of the sovereign political power of the state. Winning a general election is one thing and being in government is quite another thing. To be a party in government presupposes the capacity to dominate the politics of the state. It is, for example, a political aberration for a political party to depend on the benevolence of the President for its survival or effectiveness. The ideal is for the President to retain the confidence of his political party to remain in office because it is the party that canvassed for votes and was voted for at the election. It is the party that enters into the social and political contract with the citizenry as represented by its electorate. See Sections 221 and 229 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I will return to this point shortly. For now, it is apt to emphasize that this is one reason why courts should refrain from dabbling into the affairs of political parties or annulling political party discretionary decisions. To be effective and bear true witness to their constitutional responsibilities, political parties must be allowed to function within their spheres uncontrolled or unhindered by external authorities. Like the Constitution of the Federation, the constitutions of political parties are sacrosanct and binding on their members.
Returning to the constitutional powers of political parties, I must state that the drafters of the Constitution were not creative enough to crystalize in the constitution the theoretical powers of political parties. They were rather tentative and cautious in expressing the powers of political parties in a presidential system like ours. Unlike the parliamentary system of the United Kingdom and South Africa that route the powers of the Prime Minister or President through Parliament, the President in our presidential system derives his imperial executive powers directly from the Constitution. See Section 5 of the Constitution. The President’s tenure is sanctified by Section 135 of the Constitution and therefore literally, technically and effectively independent of his party. The position is the same for the Governors and, of course, the federal and state legislators. A vote of confidence or no confidence of a party on one of its public authorities or functionaries is of no moment. A party cannot recall its erring or deviant legislator. That power is donated to the electorate by the constitution. In this sense, the plight of the political parties is nothing more than the case of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop.”
Be that as it may, political parties are not entirely helpless and powerless. They are imbued with immense and critical periodic or cyclical powers. Elections are held in the country every four years for all elective political offices. During such periods, the leaderships of the parties become most influential and dominant. They set the guidelines and principles for the nomination of candidates to bear their respective flags and contest elections under their platforms. Before 2010, the discretion of the leaderships of the parties regarding those who become their flag bearers was absolute. Disputes arising from party nominations were nonjusticiable. They were regarded as political disputes that the courts should have no business with. However, the Electoral Act, 2010, carved out a narrow window for the courts to look into the activities of political parties by empowering the State and Federal High Courts to entertain and determine complaints from aspirants (that is, persons who participated in the primaries of political parties) that provision(s) of the Electoral Act and guidelines of a political party has/have not been complied with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for the election. See Section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
This tiny widow has not in any way diminished the powers of political parties in the selection or nomination of their candidates for elections. It is the discretion of parties to determine the procedure for the nomination of their candidates. To some, direct primaries are a nightmare. Whereas delegates for indirect primaries can be easily controlled or teleguided, direct primaries are not only more democratic but also constitute the true test of a candidate’s popularity.
This brings me to the power politics and what Asiwaju Bola Tinubu recently referred to as the 2023 virus within the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC will, between now and 2023, have to make two critical decisions. The first is whether or not its presidential candidate should come from the South or from the North. There is an unwritten but firm memorandum of understanding among politicians that power should rotate between the North and the South every eight years. Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan incurred the venom of many Northerners because he was considered a supplanter of the turn of the North. The APC cashed in on that sentiment by fielding a Northerner from the part of the country where the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua hailed from. Although there were other weighty considerations for the candidacy of President Muhammadu Buhari, which included his cult following and sellability as a man of integrity and no-nonsense incorruptible General, the need to sustain the rotation formula was in itself significant and crucial in assuaging frail political nerves. Although it will be naive to conclude that there is a consensus on it, what is certain is that the issue must be weighing very heavily in the minds of members of the APC.
Another equally crucial issue which is dependent on and akin to the first one is that of the likely candidates for the party. With Mr President’s seeming indifference (and if his conduct and attitude so far regarding matters that do not affect him personally matter, his indifference is real and perpetual), the room is there for clustered interest groups within the party to start scheming for vantage or leveraged positions for the eventual battle for the presidential candidacy of the party. Such schemes will always include the taking over of the soul of the party. Most times political pretenders or amateurs are desperate and less discrete. They start the long race with uncanny excitement and, in the process, burn out before the decision time. Coming after the pretenders are those who are currently thrown up by the administration as dominant political and economic actors.
The dream to continue to enjoy their present favoured positions beyond the tenure of their benefactor is bound to generate unholy temptations that include the audacity to play God over the affairs of the party. Such persons easily throw the name of Mr President around to create the image of invincibility. They bask in stolen valours and confuse undiscerning and complicit members of the party with unbridled brazenness. More dangerous about their activities is the message they pass across to both party members and the general public. They come across as saying that Mr President does not care a hoot about the structure and authority of the party and thus couldn’t care less whether the party is weakened and incapacitated like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that was incapacitated before its eventual fall in 2015. They give the impression that empowering the party to withstand the hurdle of winning the 2023 elections without the numerical wand of a Muhammadu Buhari is not part of the agenda of Mr President. They perceive and present the party as a rudderless entity that can be kneaded by a few to suit their whims. With that, they portray and sell the party as a cheap assemblage of useless or purposeless individuals.
Coming after “the arrogant and audacious President’s men” are those who shirk their responsibilities as leaders of the party. Such apathetic or indifferent leaders are unwilling to put out themselves for the party. They are not bothered about the schemes of charlatans who are foisting on the party personal grievances. They see those who elevate personal frustrations to the frustrations of the party as mere irritants who will wear themselves out with time. These “Siddon look” leaders are as treacherous as the desperados whose actions and activities are affecting the integrity of the foundation of the party. Such apathy or ambivalence brings about an unjust or morally illegitimate form of political association.
It is with this backdrop that one should view the travails of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the Chairman of the APC – a strong-willed and self-assured individual. He is a decisive gentleman who takes responsibility for his actions and not afraid of taking sides in political battles. The main complaint of his adversaries within the party is his penchant for party discipline and insistence on the articles of the Constitution of the party. Wishing to transit the party from the politics of vested interests to the era of internal party democracy is indeed a heavy burden for the Chairman. Those who have no regard for the principle of equality and fairness for all members of the party see him as an intolerable devil who must be gotten rid off before he wreaks further havoc on the party. This group sees him as a risk not worth taking in the consideration of the issues of power rotation and the 2023 candidacy of the party. Such a fastidious individual is likely to expose the determination of those two issues to the constitutionally prescribed democratic processes of the party and thereby erode their perceived dominance and control of the party. In sum, Oshiomhole is a victim of his courageousness and determination to uphold the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the APC. Characterizing him as being belligerent or tyrannical is a mere excuse. All his internal fights are with members who flout the principles of the party: from those who do not see the necessity of conducting direct party primaries to those who would summon a handful of legislators to his house to constitute the leadership of the State House of Assembly, Oshiomhole’s fault is in seeing the wrong and collateral damage of such political offenders.
To the outsiders and members of the opposition, Oshiomhole’s crime is in robust support for anything APC. The polity has never before seen such a party warrior who puts himself entirely for the interest of his party. To them, the victory of the APC is largely personified by the aggressiveness and ruthlessness of Oshiomhole. To them, there is no better way of weakening the APC than egging on those who want to remove the party’s strong-willed Chairman from office.