By Moses Oyediran
Politics in Nigeria has witnessed ideologies favorable and unfavorable to the tenets of democracy in the country. Recently, political parties began a new trend in encouraging spouses, children and family members of elected politicians who died while still in office to take over elective positions of their deceased family members.
Strange as this is to our culture and despite outrage from onlookers, the practice appears to have come to stay. The criticism trailing the practice is described as alien to the Nigeria polity and according to some academia it is undemocratic and if not checked will create serious setback to democratic practice in the country.
In reality, a by-election to occupy the Isi-Uzo State Constituency in the Enugu State House of Assembly seat, previously occupied by late Chijioke Ugwueze, is slated for 31st October and the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has concluded plans to compensate the widow, Mrs Amaka Ugwueze, with the seat of her late husband. An interesting political battle is expected as the two dominant parties in the election, the PDP and the APC will go to the polls to outwit one another.
Many observers have blamed the ruling party’s bid to foist the wife of late Chijioke Ugwueze on the people of Isi-Uzo as compensation, wondering why it chose a woman whose husband died just four months ago. The Dean of the faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) Prof. Aloysius Okolie, a political social scientist who spoke to the Daily Times, frowned at the decision of the party and said the decision is left for the people. Okolie said: “This is not the first time this kind of a thing is happening. Recall that when a member of the Enugu State House of Assembly representing Agwu South died, the party called his cousin to contest the election and eventually he won.
“Some of us raised issues then and we were told informally that it was to help the late colleague so that the cousin will help to take care of the family. It is another major issue if you check what happened in Okigwe senatorial district recently when Senator Uwajumogu died and the elder sister came up to take the ticket to complete what the brother didn’t finish. You will also recall that the ticket was given to one Chief Anyanwu and the lady in question has been crying foul and accusing the cousin who is the Minister of State for Education for shortchanging the family while the minister responded that it was not a family affair.
Going further, he said: “It is becoming a trend so much that former governors now are automatic members of the Senate. It is a disturbing trend especially when we consider the fact that you don’t have opposition in the state and you still have to do a number of things concerning internal party democracy.
“The option left for aggrieved members in matters like this would be to use another political platform to see whether they could scuttle this trend,” he said.
The University Don continued: “While we are trying to bring Nigeria out of the woods, we are bringing a new brand of politicking that is more and more closing the doors for other people to participate. So if you think that this type of politics will contribute anything to Nigeria’s democracy, no. It will reduce political participation to mere patronage, this time family patronage, but if only people can challenge them, using another political platform even though, by Nigeria’s political history, it is very difficult to dislodge a ruling party.
“I think the best option for us to do is to go back again to broaden the scope of political participation and not to shrink it. To broaden it is to allow effective competition so that the people would be given the choice to select who they want because we are already crying foul about what the federal government has been doing.
Let us not do worse than that. Head of the Department of Political Science of UNN, Prof Jonah Onuoha, described the practice as “Circulation of the elites in politics.” Onuoha, who is also the Director, Center for American Studies, condemned the action of the PDP warning that if such a practice was not discouraged, there would be dire consequences for the party and the nation.
He stated: “It means the power keeps circulating among them. They marry among themselves and when a spouse dies, the other person takes over. This will not augur well for any country. The space is not open for everybody, it is a closed system and I don’t think it should be encouraged.
“This kind of politics where someone dies and the spouse or another family member is given the go ahead to takeover should not be encouraged. The ideal thing is that the next eligible person in the party should be supported. Why must it be restricted to a particular candidate or individual?
“This is condemnable and if this type of ‘compensation’ continues no country can move forward,” he cautioned. Chidi Emeaghi, a Corporate Administrator and developmental journalist, described the gesture as a taboo, giving the party’s ticket to a woman who just lost her husband to fill the same seat of her late husband.
Emeagi who is also the publisher of Nigerian Newsguide said: “It is a taboo for a woman who is still mourning her husband to have a political appointment let alone coming to stand an election. She is still mourning, still wearing a sackcloth, infact if it were in the olden days she cannot mix freely with people but because of awareness and human rights she now can.
“But naturally in our cosmology here in Igbo land, she is not supposed to hold any political office until after one year when she must have successfully completed the mourning of her husband.
“Unless the party is telling us that the late member did not enjoy in terms of his contribution to the party, they can then look for any of his siblings to give the ticket and not his wife who is the chief mourner,” he opined.
Meanwhile, Chief Chekwas Okorie, a founding Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and United Progressives Party (UPP) saw nothing wrong in allowing somebody from the family of the deceased to contest the byelection. It is a matter for the political party to consider what it thinks is appropriate to do. If the party and the leadership feel strongly that the late member contributed so much that they wouldn’t want it to go away from the family, why not? If the wife is qualified, fine. It doesn’t offend any tradition, to the best of my knowledge, but if the people of the constituency feel differently they will show it during the election especially now that elections are beginning to be determined by voters not like before where everywhere, including Enugu State results, do not reflect the voting pattern.
He continued: “But if another party thinks that PDP has committed political blunder, of which they could cash in on, they can find a more popular candidate. But I personally see nothing wrong in fielding the late Ugwueze’s widow as candidate by PDP in the coming by-election.”
A card carrying member of the PDP who pleaded anonymity, in another reaction, noted that his party did not carry out due diligence before giving Mrs. Ugwueze the ticket.
“I want to say that we, the party members in Isi-Uzo, are not happy that Mrs. Ugwueze is the PDP candidate in the forthcoming house of Assembly bye-election. We see the action by the party as imposition.
“Yes, Mrs. Ugwueze was imposed on us by the party, and it wants to impose her on Isi-Uzo. I wish that our party PDP fails in its bid to force this woman on Isi-Uzo people,” he said.
The chairman of the Enugu State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Dr Ben Nwoye, stated that the plan by PDP to compensate Mrs Ugwueze with the seat of her late husband will fail.
Nwoye said, “I want to say that electoral positions are not done on the basis of compensation, elections are not used to reward anyone who lost his or her relatives.
“PDP should begin to think on credible election and jettison any rigging. APC will definitely resist all forms of undemocratic conduct of electoral processes,” he said.
Nwoye boasted that his party’s candidate, Engr. Macdonald Ejiofor Okwor, would win the election in a free and fair context, hinting that they have concluded arrangements for a massive and robust campaign in all the 118 political wards that make up the constituency.
“We may not have the financial strength to match PDP, but we have the electorate by our side.
“We are ready and fully committed to deliver our dear candidate come October 31st. So, he will use our broom to sweep away corruption and all manner of electoral undemocratic conducts as well as manipulations in his constituency.
“Electoral position is not to compensate. It is the electorate that elects its representatives,” he concluded.