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. 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 are the drawbacks. These are dynamic challenges, which have been the focus of political enquiry for quite 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 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 extend 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 upload 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 exercise, 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 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 setup 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 was 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 preponderances 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 critise or make 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 elective position. With all these, hardly any contest take place. All that keep emerging is conflict even when we are expected to have elections.
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 advocate 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 confer prerogative of membership recruitment to 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 continue to operate as a closed party, its progressive credentials will remain only a claim of its leaders and anyone who challenged 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 remain 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 for change in the orientation of how the party recruit members is adjudged to be paid agent and deserve 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 want to risk being accused of opposing their interests.
Consequently, APC is being corrupted by every passing day and therefore becoming more and more 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 ‘belong to everyone and belong 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 criticise the liberal disposition of President Buhari when it come 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 because of 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 national leadership of the party that 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 aspirants especially for the 2023 Presidential election, thereby democratising power in the APC. Because power is democratised, no one person can monopolised 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 setup 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 proposed code of conduct for elected and appointed officials of the party as byelaws to regulate 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 manners 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.
The Mai Mala Buni Caretaker/Convention Working Committee need to be given every support within the party and by extension patriotic Nigerians sympathetic to the APC to be able to put APC on the part of progressive politics. As it is today, APC is the only party with the potential of promoting progressive politics based on ensuring that the party is able to put in place credible and verifiable membership register as basis for membership and citizens’ participation. The management of the membership must be such that it makes it easy for records to be updated and accessed. For the party to guarantee participation, processes of leadership emergence should be transparently democratic involving wider scope of members. Beyond electing leaders, the internal rules of the party should be strengthened to ensure that all party organs are made functional and the conduct of party leaders, including elected and appointed officials, are regulated to ensure that they project truly progressive conducts and credentials.
In the final analysis, being progressives should mean that APC leaders are taking all the measures required to ensure seamless political contests within the party as a result of which political conflicts are giving way to healthy political contests. This would suggest reversal in the process of decline of the party. Should this become the new reality, the APC then could begin to transform itself into a mass-oriented party with expanded membership, developing relationship with organised interest groups.
Are these going to be the issues for debate as we move towards having a national convention to elect new leaders of the APC? Or are we going to submit ourselves as party members to the antics of political bullies whose only mission is to force every party member to silence and allow structures of the party to be manipulated to produce candidates for 2023? Time will tell. The struggle to make APC a progressively democratic party must not be surrendered to forces of reaction acting as political bullies!
Salihu Moh. Lukman
Progressive Governors Forum
This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum