TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on concerns about intra-party conflict and the place of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in tackling the disturbing trend.
Over time, the absence of internal democracy in political parties as manifest in party congresses and primaries signals negative implications for the country’s stability and consolidation on the gains of its democratic sojourn.
Besides the recent fracas that trailed the membership registration and revalidation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the recent North West Congress of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which ended in chaos comes to mind.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has repeatedly expressed deep concerns over the astronomical increase of violence and destruction of property which characterise party congresses and other activities in recent times.
The nation’s electoral umpire said, “The commission is considering far-reaching consequences in any situation where party congresses and conventions degenerate into violence and destruction of INEC property.’’
Apart from replacing such destroyed materials, the commission said ‘’parties may be blacklisted from the receipt of INEC materials for their activities in the future. The Commission may also withdraw its staff from monitoring such violent political party meetings, with the resultant non-recognition of their outcomes.”
It also condemned the recurrent acrimony, attacks on its staff and electoral materials and innocent Nigerians during party congresses.
INEC, while lamenting the violence which led to the destruction of the commission’s ballot boxes during a party congress in Kaduna, said it will not stand and watch party conventions and congresses degenerate into farcical rituals and violent fiascos that threaten lives and destroy property.
But does the commission have the requisite powers to sanction parties on such grounds at the moment?
As much as parties are platforms for recruitment of political leaders and the organisation of parliament and government in democratic systems, pundits in Nigeria blame lack of internal democracy, acrimonious primary elections as some of the reasons for the upsurge of deep leadership crisis in the country.
Since Nigeria’s independence, the concept of internal democracy has been relegated to the background through the activities of political parties from the First Republic and the germane issue has become contending in the present Fourth Republic.
Lack of internal democracy in political parties contributed to crisis in past civilian governments, and a causal factor on which the military anchored its intervention in 1966.
A frontline civil society organisation, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said the law governing thecountry’s electoral architecture must be devoid of the malfeasance which currently characterise the system.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP, CDD’s senior programmes officer Austine Aigbe said the nation has a poor leadership system and leadership challenge because of the poor selection and election processes at party levels.
Aigbe said intra-party conflicts and management seems to have received scant attention despite a plethora of work on internal democracy within political parties.
According to him, “At the moment INEC lacks jurisdiction to control political parties. Recall that we have had recommendations from judicial pronouncement that internal working of political parties must remain party affair, and what this means is the political party can abuse its own internal democracy processes and INEC can not hold them responsible.
“For INEC to raise the alarm on this issue, it means INEC is ready to take the bull by the horn and I do believe that if political parties get their internal democracy right it will impact our governance architecture positively.
“One of the reasons why we have a poor leadership system and leadership challenge in the country is because of the poor selection and election process at the party level.
“It is glaring that political parties do abandon their own rules and impede their internal party democracy which in the long run, in turn, have adverse effects on our governance system.”
For INEC to sanction erring political parties, he said the nation’s electoral umpire must take advantage of the repeal of the Electoral Act before the National Assembly and ensure that salient sections are properly amended so that the electoral body can sanction erring parties.
“I must say it is the best thing to do to improve our electoral and governance system in the country.
“The implication for INEC taking that stance is to improve our nascent democracy and political landscape. We recognise that the weakest link to democratic architecture and growth is the political parties; they are the weakest. They contribute almost nothing to improve our political system,” he said.
He alleged that what most party executives do is to select candidates that will run affairs of state or other elective positions without thinking of their capacity and how they can improving the nation’s democracy.
As much as he acknowledged that the Constitution gives political parties the right to select their candidates, he, nonetheless, said they must ensure that the best candidate that will improve the nation’s leadership and change the narratives at all levels of governance, who is generally accepted by the people, is considered.
“INEC must be directly responsible for supervising party primaries not observing party primaries as we have it today. Any candidate that emerged during the process should go to the ballot. INEC must use the new electoral amendment act to correct that imbroglio,” he added.
On his part, the chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Chief Leonard Ezenwa, told LEADERSHIP that any party that does not promote internal democracy should be considered unfit to contest for election.
For him, any party that cannot practice internal democracy, cannot practice external democracy.
“Lack of internal party democracy is one of the major issues we are facing today. Political parties should promote internal democracy that can promote our democratic system. Any political party that does not promote internal democracy should be sanctioned,” he said.
He added that all members of a given political party should have equal rights and privileges.
“The idea of ownership of political party is one of the major problems we have. Individuals should not own a political party. Or in some situations, 10 people can own a political party.
“It should be emphasised that irrespective of the position of a party member everyone should have equal rights.
“Personal ownership of political party should be discouraged. This rubbish will not take us anywhere and that is why we are lacking internal party democracy,” he said.
Meanwhile, the executive director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, Faith Nwadishi, decried that the do-or-die nature of the political system .
Nwadishi who spoke with LEADERSHIP said most of the political party executives don’t know the content of their constitution talk less of respecting the laws guiding their parties.
She stressed the need for a new electoral law which will empower INEC to sanction erring political parties on that ground.
Nwadishi said most political party members are desperate to get party tickets, which according to her is a major reason for the acrimony in parties.
She said, “We need to advocate leaders in a society or elected persons who understand that the people must be ruled. The other part is that there is a need for people to interrogate these leaders and ensure people who perpetrate violence don’t get into office.
“Unfortunately, we are in that era where money spent during an election is what determines who gets elected.
“The new electoral law should empower INEC to penalize those politicians. INEC should have an integrated system whereby it plays a bigger role, rather than just observing an election. Using security agents, INEC should instantly arrest and prosecute offenders,” she said.
She added that INEC should be empowered sufficiently to monitor primary elections effectively.