How Not To Diminish Party System By Alabi Williams

The failure of the party system to offer reliable alternative to military rule is glaring. Democracy is a participatory system of governance, so that as many people that are interested are allowed without let or hindrance to participate. Today, instead of vibrancy in the political space, there appears a lull, compared to this same period in 2014. In February 2014, there was a lot of political excitement in both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the fledgling All Progressives Congress (APC). The PDP had a life-threatening opponent, which had just coalesced and was ready to terminate its existence. So, it deployed its last strength to stay alive- mindboggling resources. The APC, on the other hand had a once in lifetime opportunity to push out a ruling party. So, this time of 2014 was full of action. And there was choice.

But today, despite having close to 70 registered political parties, the party system has become so constrictive, with some who would have otherwise plied their trade in the major parties ahead of 2019 have becoming somewhat timid. It is either they have lost faith in the party system or they have woken up to realize that the answer to bad governance will be addressed in new coalitions. Whereas the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised to add more parties, it appears there will be no end in the search for solutions. One is tempted to ask if this is where party politics ought to be 18 years after this dispensation was flagged off, and after decades of politicking.

The dramatic entry of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the fray, after he called it quits with partisan politics could only have meant that no lessons have been learned in the task to build and deepen democracy. It also sends the strong message that the existing parties have failed to live up to their rating as constitutionally approved platforms to agitate and aggregate. The Constitution in Section 221 says no association, other than a political party shall canvass for votes for any candidate or contribute to the funds of a political party. Until there is a further amendment of the Constitution, it is the parties are already in existence that can aggregate on behalf of groups and persons, in respect of the 2019 elections.

But as they stand, those who once had the opportunity to grow parties have devalued them; hence they are scampering for new movements, as if parties are items you could purchase one for three pence.

From the time the military proscribed parties in the Second Republic, it has taken quite some energy, mental and physical resources to grow parties to where they are now. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida took it upon himself to determine the calibre and age of persons who should form and be members of parties. He decreed new breed politicians into existence and that joke continued until he licensed two parties to participate in the transition programme that lasted from 1989 to 1993. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republic Convention (NRC) could not survive because they did not follow natural growth pattern. Despite being well funded by the State, they died as soon as the military leader stepped aside. Between 1993 and 1998/99, many associations and political parties were birthed in another futile transition exercise engineered by Gen Sani Abacha. The parties as well as the government did not end well because their motives were not to promote popular participation.

Given that background, many thought our political leaders would be kind to learn some truths about public ownership of parties. But that was not the case. The PDP for instance, has all it takes to be a model in party discipline and organization. It won many states in 1999 and had a good spread across the country. With its good numbers in the National Assembly, the stage was set for the party to offer stable governance and recover all the grounds lost since 1983. With a favourable international market and good revenue from oil, the decade and years the party was in power were sufficient to provide good governance and stable polity, such that the people will not hunger for another coalition.

That did not happen. At the party level, the PDP willingly afflicted itself with crisis. The leader of the party for the first eight years, who happened to be the President, did not see the urgent need to allow internal democracy to flourish. Instead, he intervened at every level to tweak the processes in his favour. He intervened severally in the choice of national chairman of the party, such that it became difficult to draw the line between the government and the party that brought it into office. State governors also copied the despotic style of the President and together, they ruined the party.

As for the APC, it used to be the toast of lovers of democracy just a few months back. It held great promise at the beginning, to make right all that the PDP had bighted. We thought the APC would be a shining example in matters of party discipline and organization. But alas, the opportunity has been lost. There were foundational issues the party should have brought on the table immediately after it won the 2015 general elections. For instance, since it cockily announced that it does not subscribe to zoning as a policy in its books, it should have shown courage to throw all offices open on the basis of merit and capacity. But it did not.

Some of its members thought it amounted to being clever by half to tout one thing and attempt to do another. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki and his group decided to do it their own way on June 9, 2015. Since then, the APC has been unable to summon one house for any useful purpose. And as 2019 beckons, many of its members are being distracted by new coalitions.

The greatest burden the party has had to carry in its few years of existence is the surrender of its soul to a President who is not a politician but a moral crusader. In his choice of ministers, President Buhari boasted openly that he would not allow top leaders of their party to dictate to him, so that they wont ask the ministers (proxies) for contracts and 10 percent. So the leaders left him to agonise over a simple job of nominating minister designates. It took him all of six months, and governance was put on reverse.

President Buhari’s toilsome style of micromanaging governance has seen him become the most provincial leader since Nigeria was born. His appointments do not reflect the broad spectrum of choice that is available in his party. Instead, he exhibits fright and acute lopsidedness in selections. This has seen members of the party gasping for air and calling for redress. Not too long ago, the President summoned a leadership meeting of his party, where he promised to appoint more ministers. He hasn’t done that.

The failure of the PDP and the APC to showcase Nigeria as one of the best countries in terms of internal security and quality of life has seen a flurry of movements seeking to intervene quickly, so that 2019 is not wasted like 2015.

This is where we are and it is most unfortunate. The same Obasanjo who shredded his PDP membership card after he had enjoyed the best of it now wants to rally another group to take power. He does not believe in democracy. If he does, he would have handed a well-managed political party to Nigeria. Buhari also does not believe in democracy. If he does, he too would have ensured that APC does not disintegrate. To save the party system, real democrats must take back the parties they toiled to create.

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