Political Parties, Elections and Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria: Emerging Issues and Needed Interventions
By Attahiru M. Jega
Professor, Department of Political Science
Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria
Keynote Address Delivered at the Annual Summit of Political Parties and Stakeholders, Organized by NIPSS-PPLPDC, Transcorp-Hilton, Abuja, November 29-30, 2022.
In the liberal democratic context, political parties and elections are among the most important pillars upon which democratic consolidation is predicated. Other pillars include strong governance institutions, competent and credible leaders, a thriving democratic political culture, good democratic governance, ‘universal’ human rights, and stable political and economic development.
Democratic consolidation is necessary for, and aspired by citizens of, virtually all countries which have embarked on transition to democracy. This transition from authoritarian rule, incrementally to various gradations of democratic rule (i.e. as classified from ‘hybrid’ regimes to flawed democracy and full/mature democracies) to a large extent, depends on how well established, structured, organized and functional political parties are, and how periodically conducted elections can be said to have integrity.
In the Nigerian context, transition to democracy and aspirations for democratic consolidation have, for over two decades, been remarkably constrained, if not obstructed, by evident weaknesses and obtuse nature of these pillars upon which consolidation of democracy is established. Remarkable improvements to satisfy the aspirations of citizens for desirable consolidation of democracy would therefore require, first, the deconstruction as well as reconstruction of the current nature and character of Nigerian political parties, as well as repositioning their roles and responsibilities in candidate recruitment and selection, citizens mobilization in electioneering, and inter-party engagements in the political and governance arenas. And, secondly, sustenance and enhancement of electoral reforms to upscale the integrity of the preparations and conduct of Nigerian elections.
In what follows, I discuss how political parties and elections should ideally be conceptualised and operationalised, how they currently, actually, operate in Nigeria, obstructing/constraining democratic consolidation, and then, in summary, suggest/recommend what the emerging issues are, and needed interventions required.
Political parties are the traditional vehicles for selection and fielding of candidates for elections, especially in liberal democracy or electoral democracy. They are supposed to aggregate and represent interests, develop manifestoes and programmes of activities based on these, popularise these among the populace/electorate, select candidates and field them for elections on the basis of their acceptance of, commitment to, and advocacy for, these programmes and manifestoes, and get the elected party members to be guided by these in the discharge of their responsibilities as elected members of legislative and/or executive organs/branches of government. In this regard, political parties discharge the role of first, recruiting members, second, selection and election of candidates within them, and third, then presenting or ‘fielding’ those they have recruited, selected/elected to compete with those recruited, selected/elected by other political parties for the electorate to evaluate, rate, and elect from amongst them in local or national elections.
How a political party handles its internal membership recruitment, selection/election processes, has significant impact on the wider national electoral and democratic processes. As is often said, democracy cannot be nourished and sustained by undemocratic means. Democracy can only be sustained and consolidated by democratic ways and means. Only democrats using democratic values, beliefs and processes can ultimately help build, nurture, sustain and consolidate democratic gains. Thus, the extent to which political parties are built and operated by democratic tenets, and their candidates recruited, selected/elected by transparently democratic processes, has significant bearing on the extent to which it contributes to electoral integrity within the party and in the wider national electoral and democratic processes.
In the Nigerian context, historically and contemporarily, the nature of development of political parties, especially how they were/are established, how their structures, organizational, decision making and candidate selection processes have evolved and impacted on the wider Nigerian electoral and democratization processes, are in extensive variance with universal expectations, and considerably leave much to be desired. The prevailing internal dynamics of the political parties affect their efficacy and effectiveness as true interest aggregators and positive mobilisers for electoral politics and also essentially, negatively, impacts the Nigerian democratisation process.
Volumes of literature have documented, analysed and explained how political parties have been formed, shaped, controlled and directed by so-called ‘moneybags’ and ‘god-fathers’, with negative consequences on electoral integrity and democratic governance. What has not yet been as voluminously studied is the emergent trend, since 1999, of what can be termed as small-scale ‘political entrepreneurs’, who registered what can be termed as ‘briefcase’ and residential parlour-housed ‘political parties’; some of whom, until 2011, almost solely relied on INEC grants for personal enrichment; while most, opportunistically offered their party platforms to some candidates, who lost primary elections in other parties, to contest national elections, upon payment of agreed fees. These types of ‘parties’ populated the political and electoral arenas, until INEC, relying on provisions in the legal framework, stopped the grants, and embarked upon de-registration of political parties.
An objective review and analysis of the nature and disposition of political parties in contemporary Nigeria indicate the following:
- They are not well structured, organized and managed
- They pay little if any attention to membership recruitment and mobilization
- They lack well trained professional cadre staff and do little, if
any, serious training for skills acquisition and competency enhancement for existing staff
- They rely substantially, if not solely, for funding from a small clique of ‘moneybags’ and ‘god-fathers’
- Many, if not most, operate, quite often, in breach of existing electoral legal framework and, even, regardless of their own constitutions, regulations and guidelines
- They are operated/managed essentially undemocratically
- They are characterised by quarrelsomeness, litigation and factionalism internally, and by conflicts and violent confrontations in inter-party relations
- They engage with the electoral process with a disposition to win, not “fair and square” but using “all means necessary” (money, abuse of power and privilege, fraud, intimidation and harassment, use of court injunction and judgement, violence, etc.) Indeed, a dangerous emerging trend, with regards to the engagement of political parties with the electoral process, is the increasing shift from inducement/recruitment of election officials to perpetrate irregularities (such as allowing unregistered/non-accredited persons to vote, ballot box stuffing, alteration or change result declaration forms, etc.), which increasing use of technology has virtually eliminated, to reckless and brazen vote-buying. This has flourished, in the context of voter apathy and indifference to electoral outcome, as well as ignorance of the intrinsic value of the vote to bring about credible and responsible representation, as well as good democratic governance.
- They pay little if any attention to driving, or contributing to, electoral reforms to enhance the integrity of elections; rather, many work assiduously to undermine value-additions to the integrity of elections
It is clear that a combination of all these restricts the capacity of Nigeria’s political parties to contribute positively to democratic development and therefore, essentially undermine the scope of democratic consolidation.
Elections with Integrity
Nigeria has had elections since the colonial period. By 2023, Nigeria would mark 100 years of the history of preparations and conduct of elections. Yet the record of this history has been abysmal, with regards to the integrity of the prepared and conducted elections. It has been said by many writers and observers that the 2007 elections marked, arguably, the lowest point of the lack of integrity of Nigerian elections.
What is of little contention, is that since 2011, Nigeria has witnessed a remarkable upscaling of the integrity of its elections, through incremental positive changes, especially pertaining to reforms of the electoral legal framework, enhanced transparency of the electoral process, improved competence and professionalism of election officials and increasing use of technology. For example, amendments to the 1999 Constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act provided a substantially better legal framework compared to the ones before, which made the way for many of the acclaimed successes recorded in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 general elections. In addition, INEC introduced administrative and procedural reforms, such as, serial numbering, securitization and color coding of the ballot papers; unique numbering of ballot boxes and customization of result sheets, and transparent, video-recorded and televised result collation and announcement at the designated constituency centers. INEC also strengthened coordination for security deployment for elections, by driving the creation of the ICCESS; and improved upon planning, using five-year strategic plans, election project plans and operational plans; as well as improved and increased stakeholder engagements.
Nonetheless, still, Nigeria is certainly not out of the woods of electoral integrity. Indeed, still much leaves to be desired, which partly raises considerable anxiety leading to the 2023 general elections. While, for example, Nigerians are into the 2023 election season with the best electoral legal framework in its history, which has sought to address past challenges and empower INEC to use technology and increase transparency of, and accountability in, result transmission and collation, political parties in general, and the ‘political class’ in particular, do not seem to have learnt appropriate lessons for credible engagement with, and participation in, the electoral process. Their attitudes and dispositions have changed very little, if at all. They still exhibit remarkable authoritarian and undemocratic tendencies, which undermine the integrity of elections and constrain democratic consolidation. Crooked politicians, who use money to ‘capture’ political parties, electoral processes and governance institutions, make more money through reckless vandalization and privatization of public resources, are heedless to any calls or demands for electoral integrity and democratic consolidation.
Towards Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria
In the current Nigerian context, a great dilemma would seem to confront democrats struggling for desirable democratic development and consolidation, and it requires incurable optimism and almost superhuman resilience to sustain the struggle towards attainment of desirable goals. The reckless Nigerian ‘political class’, having captured and bastardized the dominant political parties (amongst which they freely circulate), and having captured the state and commandeered its resources; having governed so ineptly, thereby entrenching a profound crisis of economic growth and human development and security; they have now not only pauperized most of the citizenry, they have also made them disenchanted with democracy and democratization. As most citizens struggle for survival, using multiple modes of livelihood, honest and criminal, legal and illegal, they become apathetic and indifferent to demands for good democratic governance or political participation and voting in elections. Among the youth in particular, and many middleclass professionals, the preoccupation seem to be with opportunities to JAPA! Most seem to care less, if at all, with engagements to reform political parties, or ensure the integrity of elections, or elect competent and credible people to bring about good democratic governance.
The increasing trend in vote buying since 2019, illustrates how the reckless political class, are now busily embarking upon a project of total capture of citizens as voters and participants in the political and electoral processes.
Now, drawing from theoretical postulations and global practical experiences, it would seem to me that, positive changes for societal transformation occur much more easily, to contain state capture and reckless misrule, when a significant percentage of citizens are not totally ‘captured’; enabling their mobilization by organized civil society groups for participation in the struggles to address state capture and bad governance.
Given this, a major arena for struggle by active democratic civil society organizations towards the 2023 elections and beyond, has to necessarily be against vote buying. This is a task that must be done.
I have attempted in this Keynote Address to, first, albeit summarily, identify the reasons why in the liberal democratic tradition, political parties, properly established and organized, and credibly engaged with the political and electoral processes, add value to electoral integrity, good democratic governance, as well as democratic development and consolidation. Secondly, I have described how Nigerian political parties have substantially deviated from these traditions, especially how their ‘capture’ by a reckless band of political class has undermined electoral integrity, enabled state capture and bad governance, as well as constrained / obstructed desired democratic consolidation. Thirdly, I highlighted the danger posed by vote buying, which is not only enabling the reckless political class to capture citizens to compliment their state capture, but is also complicating the predicament of democrats and active and credible CSOs struggling to contain tendencies towards authoritarian reversals, and pushing the agenda for democratic consolidation.
In the final analysis, only incurable optimism about the future of democracy as a panacea for Nigeria’s economic growth and development, and resilient citizens’ enlightened struggles to contain the excesses of reckless, visionless and self-serving political class, would advance the cause of good democratic governance and democratic consolidation. It may seem a very difficult task, but it is not impossible to accomplish through incremental positive changes.