Being a progressive party would require that APC is able to redress this problem, especially given the commitment to ensure that the party is dynamic, action-oriented and ensuring that we are able to bring about improvement in politics, government and the conditions of life of the generality of our people. Why should a progressive party shy away from debating issues affecting the party?
Why should politicians who claimed to be progressives and committed to rendering services to citizens be threatened by fellow party members who only attempted to diagnose the problems of the party? Why should any party leader imagine that anyone who advocates for opening the party up to wider participation by citizens through membership recruitment and ensuring the establishment of credible and verifiable membership register is an agent of imagined political opponent? Why should any politician disparage opposition to political contests? Is politics not all about contestation? How can there be contestation without opposition?
A major gap created by the current orientation of political parties in Nigeria with perverted political behaviour, which confers the prerogative of membership recruitment on political leaders is the barrier that is making it almost impossible for parties, including the APC, to serve as vehicles for citizens’ participation.
Once APC continues to operate as a closed party, its progressive credentials will remain only a claim of its leaders and anyone who challenges it will be bullied. APC can only be progressive if it is able to encourage and promote competition within the party as a prelude to electoral contests. The absence of competition has reduced, predominantly, the business of the party not to focus on issues of managing governments based on capacity of party members to contribute to initiatives of governments controlled by the party especially with reference to agricultural development, jobs creation, education, health, infrastructural development, poverty eradication and rapid technological development.
Although Reuven Y. Hazen and Gideon Rahat in the book, Democracy within Parties: Candidate Selection Methods and their Political Consequences, identified that ‘selection of party candidates is basically a private affair, even if there are legal regulations’, the need to open up parties and ensure that members are able to access electoral opportunities remains a primary condition for broadening the space for citizens’ democratic participation.
Hazen and Rahat have elaborately made the point that candidate selection in political parties is ‘predominantly extralegal process by which a political party decides which of the persons legally eligible to hold an elective public office will be designated on the ballot and in election communications as its recommended and supported candidate or list of candidates.’
Being a progressive party, APC would need to take all the appropriate steps required to graduate to a situation whereby members produce leaders and not leaders producing members. Will this be possible? One of the challenges that APC leaders should be ready to confront as identified by Hazen and Rahat is that ‘recent phenomena of increased judicial involvement in politics is likely to lead to an increase in the adjudication of internal party affairs, including candidate selection.
However, such involvement is still largely limited to the question of whether parties have adhered to the rules and regulations they have decided for themselves.’ What are the measures required to compel party members and leaders to comply to internal rules? This is a big challenge especially given that complying with internal rules may result in the loss of control of party structures as a result of which leaders are not able to emerge as candidates.
The risk of losing control of the party structures on account of which leaders are not able to emerge as candidates for elections is the dilemma confronting APC leaders today. Unfortunately, the fear of the consequences of not achieving the objective of emerging as candidates or producing candidates has made the phenomena of political bullying rampant in Nigerian political parties, including APC.
Anybody who is advocating change in the orientation of how the party recruits members is adjudged to be a paid agent and deserves no right to fair hearing. Partly because those carrying out political bullying are powerful and considered to control powers of appointments in government and selection of candidates, no one wants to risk being accused of opposing their interests.
Consequently, APC is being corrupted by every passing day and therefore becoming closer to PDP and in some cases even worse than PDP. Unlike PDP, however, it needs to be recognised that in terms of accommodating dissent within the party, APC is more liberal, largely because President Buhari truly ‘belongs to everyone and belongs to no one’.
It is only because of the singular factor of President Buhari that groups of elected representatives in both the House of Representatives and the Senate could organise to produce a leadership in 2015 against the wishes of the party. While, this is certainly unacceptable, it may simply suggest either gaps in provisions of internal rules of the APC or complete absence of rules required to regulate the conducts of elected representatives of the party.
Many have criticised the liberal disposition of President Buhari when it comes to the issue of internal party management and present it as the problem of the party. This is wrong and instead, in fact, it is the democratic strength of the APC, which is making it to stand out as the only party in the country with political contests taking place.
The major issue is that instead of manifesting as political contests, we are having political conflicts. How can we ensure that what we are having in the APC is political contests and not political conflicts? This is the big task ahead of APC leaders to ensure that the party is truly a progressive party. It was the very singular liberal disposition of President Buhari that made it possible for the struggle against the arbitrary conduct of the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC to get to the level of democratically dissolving the NWC and appointing the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/ Convention Working Committee. But is that enough to guarantee that the APC will be opened up to wider participation of members?
Given that the most important mandate of the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee is to organise a National Convention where a new leadership will be elected, what are the steps required, which the Mai Mala Buni Committee should take to ensure that the members of the national leadership of the party who will emerge are not nominees of potential presidential candidates?
The best way to check whether new leaders are nominees of potential presidential candidates could be perhaps whether they emerge from electoral contests. How fair was the contest and to what extent could the issue of credible and verifiable membership register support the process of electing the new leadership of APC at the coming national convention?
A very credible process should be recommended to sprout from membership registration/verification. This should mean that immediately following the membership registration/verification, party congresses at ward, local governments and state levels hold to elect new leadership. This will have the advantage of ensuring that some levels of political negotiations are activated within the party to facilitate the emergence of new leaders.
It is possible that, the process may still tilt in favour of some of the emerging power blocs within the party. However, if managed very well, it will be almost impossible for any single power bloc in the party to comfortably dominate the structures of the party across all the 36 states of the country and FCT. This will help to humble all the potential spirants especially for the 2023 presidential election, thereby democratising power in the APC.
Because power is democratised, no one person can monopolise leadership and therefore impose himself/herself as presidential candidate of the APC. As a result, the issue of monopolising membership register such that it is the candidates that produce party members will begin to be minimised. Also, the party can bounce back and become appealing to citizens.
The other associated possibility is that the phenomenon of political bullying could be reduced since the problem of monopolising party membership is being minimised. But this will require that individual members of the party are able to assert themselves and ignore the threats of political bullies. It just means that courageous members are able to rise above the desperation of accessing political offices.
This is a hard call that could be suicidal for many party members. Beyond the courage of individual party members however, the party should consider taking all the appropriate steps to strengthen internal party rules as provided in the constitution of the party. Given all the experiences, so far, it is only logical that the Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee is able to set up a constitution review committee and present proposals for amendments to the Extraordinary National Convention.
Beyond proposals for constitutional amendment, there is the urgent need to consider developing a proposed code of conduct for elected and appointed officials of the party as bye-laws to regulate the conduct of party leaders.
This is necessary in order to prevent situations whereby officials of the party will not abuse his/her office and conduct himself/herself in a manner that could undermine the party’s commitment to the principles of public accountability or even get stretched to issues bordering on criminal conduct and the probable extension of strategies of political bullying to include the deployment of state law enforcement machinery and officials against fellow citizens and party members