By Salihu Lukman
The critical issue of citizens’ participation in politics and how it leads to the difficult task of candidates’ selection is an issue that appears to be the cause of most of the frustrations Nigerians seem to be having with our democracy. Additionally, it is the cause of virtually all intra and inter party disputes and conflicts in the country. The inability to resolve these issues and put in place functional systems that could regulate internal mechanisms for wider national political contests and ensure that there are some minimum standards of institutional behaviour that could guarantee periodic membership recruitment, which can be calibrated to citizens’ participation in decision making process leading to candidate selection during elections is the drawback.
These are dynamic challenges, which have been the focus of political enquiry sometimes both in the developed and less developed democracies. Unfortunately, in our context, in Nigeria, these are issues that are at best discussed as subsidiaries to other associated democratic challenges, largely electoral laws. The reality is that electoral jurisprudence may not even recognise or prioritise the challenges of membership recruitment in a political party, which could result in ambiguities, conferring more powers to individuals and power blocs in a political party.
The consequence will include undermining membership participation and therefore reducing the critical task of candidate selection to some technical internal plebiscite, which may have very little or no democratic value involving only small section of the party membership. This reality creates conflicts, which weakens democratic institutions, including political parties, and retard political development. Exploring these issues, Paul Webb and Stephen White, in the book Party Politics in New Democracies, argued that analysts could make damning conclusions about parties based on the consideration that ‘democracy is not fully realised until citizens expressed their shared interests as members of the same community.
Participation in the democratic process is vital to the political education of citizens if they are to develop this civic orientation. Contemporary political parties are unlikely to fare well by the civic democratic standards.’ This made them (Webb and White) to ask: ‘Does this mean that parties are failing democracy?’ The question of whether parties are failing democracy made Richard Gunther and Larry Diamond, in the book Political Parties and Democracy to come up with the concept of ‘decline of parties’, based on which they submit, ‘in both developed and less developed countries, there is growing evidence that membership in political parties is declining, that parties’ ties with allied secondary associations are loosening or breaking, that their representation of specific social groups is less consistent, and that public opinion toward parties is waning in commitment and trust.
Does this mean, as some have argued, that parties as institution are declining, that they are ceasing to play a crucial role in modern democracies, and that their functions may be performed as well or better by other kinds of organisations – social movements or interest groups, for example?’ Gunther and Diamond further asked: ‘Are political parties in modern democracies losing their importance, even their relevance, as vehicles for the articulation and aggregation of interests and the waging of election campaigns? Or have we entered an era, more keenly felt in the advanced industrial democracies but increasingly apparent in the less developed ones as well, where technological and social change is transforming the nature of the political party without diminishing its importance for the health and vigour of democracy?’
Both in the case of issues presented by Webb and White with respect to participation, on the one hand, and decline of parties as argued by Gunther and Diamond, on the other hand, they are all very familiar to the Nigerian political environment. It is almost as if the scope for political enquiry that made Gunther and Diamond to reach that conclusion is Nigeria. For instance, the scope for membership participation in our parties since 1999 could appear to be declining. Looking at the Nigerian reality, it will almost be easy to conclude that hardly any of our parties is mass-oriented or having relationship with any organised group.
That being the case, to what extent is APC any different or orienting itself differently? Will being different result in more decline in membership participation or will the APC succeed in opening itself up to ensure increasing recruitment of members and more participation through at least guaranteeing that structures of the party meet as provided in the provisions of the APC constitution? These are practical issues. If APC is to open itself through membership recruitment, the debate around the issue of whether there is a credible and verifiable membership register will not be taking place.
Rather, appropriate steps should have been taken to ensure the existence of a credible and verifiable membership register. This may be a case of improving on what is already in existence. To improve on what exists may have to involve all structures of the party, so that the question of managing the membership register is also not in dispute. For instance, how members are recruited would have a lot of implication in terms of the format that would be used to guarantee participation.
Take for instance, the argument that APC membership register is domicile on the Cloud. Who uploaded it to the Cloud with whose authority and who is managing it? How was it generated in the first place? Are the members of the APC in the register that is said to exist on the Cloud, financial members? Who did they pay their membership dues to? Immediately after the merger, which produced the APC, between 2013 and 2015, there were strong internal debates towards establishing computerised membership data centre for the whole country, located at No. 10 Bola Ajibola Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. It could be recalled that on November 22, 2014, the APC membership data centre was reportedly attacked by the PDP -controlled Federal Government security operatives. Later, the Department of State Security (DSS), which carried the attack claimed that they acted following a petition, which alleged that the APC membership data centre was being set up to clone INEC Permanent Voters Card with the intention of hacking into INEC database, corrupting it and replacing them with APC data.
Part of the internal dynamics that were considered in commencing the establishment of the APC membership data centre included challenges during the conduct of the APC’s congresses and convention between April and June 2014. The projections prior to the congresses was that the process of electing party leadership at all levels of the APC will be expanded beyond the scope of limited number of party delegates, which should cover all members of the party. On account of experiences during the conduct of ward congresses in April 2014, which exposes the problem of conducting all-members’ inclusive elections for party offices without authenticated membership records, the Chief Bisi Akande Interim Leadership initiated the establishment of the membership data centre.
Since the incident of November 22, 2014, when the DSS attacked the APC membership data centre, hardly anything was heard about the project. Around February/March 2020, the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC placed some newspaper advertorials inviting biddings from interested service providers to assist the APC establish computerised membership data register. Although, no reference was made to the previous APC membership data centre of 2014 in the advertorial, the invitation for bidding suggested either non-availability of a computerised membership register or if it is in existence, it is inadequate.
Could this have been resolved and a standard register have been uploaded on the Cloud to support the desperation by the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to have organised the primary election for the 2020 Edo State governorship election through direct metghod? Against the background that the main focus of all political parties in Nigeria is to win elections fairly or unfairly, political practice and culture is the same across all the parties, including the APC as it is constituted today. It is all about recruiting membership based on individual aspirations for political offices.
Across all the parties, once an aspirant has strong financial capability, the party is surrendered to the aspirant. Such an aspirant would then proceed to nominate the party leaders from among his/her loyalists. Accordingly, presidential aspirants nominate party leaders at national levels and gubernatorial candidates nominate party leaders at states, local governments and wards. Candidates for elections are similarly recruited. Presidential candidates recruit gubernatorial candidates and gubernatorial candidates recruit candidates for other lower offices from the ranks of loyalists. Issues of participation and democracy are compromised, professional management of parties ignored, and disciplinary conduct of members and leaders undermined.
The consequence is the preponderance of unethical, unfair and uncivilised practices by party leaders, and public officials. Party offices are reduced to centres of control by aspiring politicians with hardly any focus on services to members. How is APC responding to these challenges? If anything, the reality is that the last activity of the party that differentiated APC from all the other parties was the December 10, 2014 National Convention that produced President Buhari as the presidential candidate of the party for the 2015 election. By every standard, that convention and the primary election that produced President Buhari as the presidential candidate for the 2015 election was adjudged to be transparent, fair and democratic even by fellow aspirants who lost the contest – Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Alh. Atiku Abubakar, Owello Rochas Okorocha and Mr. Sam Nda Isiah.
Thereafter, almost all the negative characteristics associated with the PDP and all the other parties became dominant features of APC. Most of the leadership conflict in the party, across all the 36 states bordered on issues of who control the structures of the party so much that political bullying is now assuming a major feature in the APC. Anyone who criticises or makes remarks that are not in sync with what leaders want propagated, get bullied and at the slightest opportunity such persons are pushed out of positions they occupy, especially if it is an elective position. With all these, hardly any contest takes place. All that keep emerging is conflict even when we are expected to have elections.