Political Parties Need Restructuring Too, By Ayisha Osori

…in the long run, with innovative strategies, the right party values; transparent processes; competent candidates; and consistent communication, parties that are ready to do things differently will start winning but we must all contribute to the salvation of our politics by enlisting and supporting them.

If it is true that political processes determine the economic institutions that people live under and political institutions determine how political process works, then something else that requires urgent retooling in Nigeria is our political and leadership recruitment process. 80 percent of the battle for decent leadership is lost before election day because of the way our winning parties operate.

In order to positively interrupt the current trajectory of our politics, we need more enlightened and concerned people belonging to political parties. We either force existing political parties to open their doors to transparent and accountable membership or we create new parties to set the trend for the future of politics.

Members are the most important element of building a party. They determine how parties are run, influence ideology and values and also fund the party. Independent funding for political parties is critical because whoever funds the party has the power to determine who becomes a candidate and who gets elected. Inevitably, party members influence systems and processes – this is why the professional politicians do not need membership drives. They are not looking for N1000 from one million members annually – they want to control the structures, determine political outcomes and maintain the status quo that we inherited in the ’60s.

There are theories about why our parties are dysfunctional: it started with Babangida and his troublesome decrees which made strange bedfellows out of the political class determined to meet the eligibility requirements for 1993. Obasanjo enhanced the dysfunction with his onslaught on opposition parties, his control over the leadership of the PDP and his membership re-registration exercise as a prelude to the 2007 elections. In truth, the present is not much different from the past – political parties are organised to extract and maintain the status quo, not to serve and develop.

Parties in the ’50s and ’60s may have been more disciplined about keeping membership records and collecting dues but the quality of membership and powers of the members to influence the political structures remain questionable. Our parties have always been organised around strong personalities who believe they know better than the members of the party and citizens in general. Hear Richard Sklar in Nigerian Political Parties: “when Adelabu organised Mabolaje (as part of the NCNC alliance), he had no well-educated or professional colleagues…he was the sole authoritative spokesman. They trusted him implicitly, endorsed his candidates as a matter of course… Adelabu personally selected many of the NCNC candidates for the 1954 local election, and assumed full responsibility for the campaign.” Sounds familiar? This is the model used by parties today to populate the federal, state and local governments and we feign disbelief about our inability to get rid of the politicians we say we do not deserve.

It is absolutely crucial to get our politics right because of the impact politics has on all our institutions. First, politics determines how committed our politicians and their partners (civil servants) are to good governance. If we cannot vote them out and cannot vote in better people, these two groups will never work for the benefit of the majority. Instead, they work for themselves and a clan of elites, amassing personal fortunes that they use to subvert political and judicial processes and float above decaying social services.

There was a sliver of hope after the 2015 elections that PDP would consider internal reform but they cannot find justification to change something that has worked so well for them. The parties in power are not interested in members, especially not of the dues paying, question asking variety.

Second, politics determines the talent in government and what we typically get are the incompetent, the ignorant or the ignorant incompetent. Occasionally, people with capacity and ideas get in but they have to work within an existing system and without the political will to improve systems, talented people find the translation of their intentions is incoherent and their impact is limited and rarely sustainable.

Third, politics has implications for the peace and stability required for effective governing. Development and long-term planning is impossible in a war zone or any place with constant insecurity of life and property. Virulent politics, political inertia and government ineffectiveness raises our risk profile and there is always the looming possibility of a saviour dictator taking over, changing rules and further compromising our institutions. This deters investors and attracts extractive speculators. Add threats of secession and years of identity politics into the mix and we have the perfect storm, and banking on the majority to swallow injustice in exchange for peace is not a sustainable strategy.

And fourth, political considerations trump economics. It explains why governments concern themselves with state industry and take crazy decisions like placing a shoe factory where there is no easy access to leather or a market. When politics is base and subversive, those in power constantly have to negotiate to legitimise their power – they cannot make the right policy decisions when they have to appease their stakeholders and entice accomplices.

There was a sliver of hope after the 2015 elections that PDP would consider internal reform but they cannot find justification to change something that has worked so well for them. The parties in power are not interested in members, especially not of the dues paying, question asking variety. Some of the experiences of Nigerians attempting to join parties are hilarious – ranging from playing find a needle in a haystack to determine where to register, to being asked ‘who sent you?’ If parties don’t want us as members, then are they worthy of our votes?

We need millions joining political parties to dilute what exists and restructure them from within to create alternatives to the old party models. Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party registers members online and they have no youth and women leaders. These two differentiating elements are important; frameworks matter – they can become prisons or catapults. These factors alone will not win elections in the short term but in the long run, with innovative strategies, the right party values; transparent processes; competent candidates; and consistent communication, parties that are ready to do things differently will start winning but we must all contribute to the salvation of our politics by enlisting and supporting them.

There is no time like present.

Ayisha Osori is an ordinary citizen who writes from Abuja. The views in this article are personal and not attributable to any organisation the author is affiliated with.

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