The ongoing debate among members and supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on whether the party’s national convention would or should hold as scheduled in February this year has once again brought to the fore the importance of internal democracy within political parties in Nigeria.
The APC leadership under Governor Mai Mala Buni has tried to see that the APC’s planned National Convention is devoid of injurious litigation. The best efforts of the party leaders however, has not stopped the crises in various state chapters of the party. This is coupled with plethora of court cases instituted by aggrieved members.
This has posed serious danger to the planning for the conduct of APC’s national convention.
The congresses conducted by the party at the ward, local government and state levels was adjudged successful by INEC, by majority of party members as well as by independent observers, however it has also led to further polarisation of some state chapters of the party.
At the end of the congresses, some of the state chapters of the party were riddled with crises. There were accusations and counter accusations in at least 14 state chapters of the party. The states include: Lagos, Bauchi, Imo, Enugu, Plateau, Zamfara, Kwara, Gombe, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Kano and Taraba. Aggrieved members from Lagos, Zamfara, Taraba, Ekiti, Kwara and Kaduna states have filed or threatened to file cases against the party leadership at both state and national levels.
No fewer than seven cases are pending before the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging either the legitimacy of the Buni-led party committee or the outcome of decisions taken by the committee since its inauguration on June 25, 2020. There were at least five cases in various courts challenging the eligibility of the party leadership. Of the five pending cases, three were initiated by members of the ruling party while the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the New Nigeria Peoples Party each initiated one.
It is important to note that whatever problem we see today in the APC rests squarely on lack of internal party democracy, especially the refusal of those who lost out during the congresses of the party to accept defeat.
While one could not stop anyone from seeking redress in court when the person is aggrieved, however it must be done within the context of the party. It is only lack of discipline and trust in the structure of the party to address grievances that accounted for the quick resort to courts even when the party had set up reconciliation committees to address such grievances. It is a classic demonstration of members’ refusal to adhere to internal party democracy, especially when the election does not favour them.
The importance of internal party democracy cannot be overemphasized. Internal party democracy is a matter of organizational choices and aspirations as well as of strategy. A party’s internal procedures help to define what the party stands for. Clear internal rules and procedures are invaluable for parties, which are seeking long-term electoral success. Procedures that regulate internal conflict can contribute to a party’s longevity, particularly if rules are transparent, well-publicized and understood by members.
Internal party democracy is the implementation of a minimum set of norms within the organization of political parties. This minimum set of norms should provide a bottom-up approach to forming a decision in the party and the internal distribution of power at different levels, bodies, and individuals. The minimum set of norms is internal rules and procedures that give ordinary members greater influence on issues such as candidate selection, leadership selection and policy platform.
The most engaging models of internal party democracy are inclusive, participatory, deliberate, responsible and include fair distribution of power. The internal rules of political parties should be guided by clarity, transparency, accountability and independence, as well as by effective links between party leadership and local and regional levels of the organization. Their interaction with society should be based on dialogue, interdependence and co-operation.
Parties have to use open conditions for membership and list the members’ rights. Parties generally adopt party constitutions or party statutes to spell out the relations between different levels of the party, and to define procedures for making decisions. These rules usually detail how local and national party leaders are selected, how candidates for public office are selected, and who is eligible to stand for both types of positions. Parties’ organizational choices reflect the environments in which they compete, and because of this they are likely to vary widely over time.
As parties contribute to the expression of political opinion and are instruments for the presentation of candidates in elections, some regulation of internal party activities can be considered necessary to ensure the proper functioning of a democratic society. It is also essential to decentralise power within political parties, and not only to allow fair and inclusive participation by their memberships but to hold party officials accountable in the bigger battle to combat abuse, corruption, and misgovernment.
Political parties are key vehicles through which people can participate politically, and while they are private, voluntary bodies, they are still subject to laws of the country. The importance of intra-party democracy lies in the institutionalization of its key elements, which can be used to deter corruption and mismanagement.
These provisions include decentralised and inclusive party elections; inclusive policy-making; fair disciplinary rules and disciplinary outcomes; freedom of expression, association, and assembly; transparency and; accountability.
Internal party democracy is essential for the smooth running of democracy, as such, it should be embraced by all political actors in the country if democracy must survive. For internal party democracy to work, the members must be disciplined and play by the rules. Same goes to the operators of the machinery of political parties. There should be consequences for the actions of members that are clearly aimed at undermining parties’ interest. Political parties should take discipline among members seriously.
If APC wants to show that it is a disciplined organization it should go ahead with its planned national convention in February and wield the big stick on those that had taken the party to court without exhausting internal party mediation efforts. But then, party leaders must set example by allowing their members to vote and be freely voted for! As they say, they who go to equity must go with clean hands. It will be undemocratic to expect compliance from party members when leaders do not allow members their due democratic space.