One struggles to find the right word to capture the chicanery that passes for internal democracy in Nigeria.
The brand of Politicians that appeared onto the political firmament with the return of democracy in 1999 with their inflated sense of importance and voracious taste for power worryingly turned the field of politics to one where anything goes riding roughshod on constitutionalism and getting away with it in many cases, save for occasional moments where an over-stretched judiciary rises up in defence of democracy as was seen in the landmark decision of the apex Court in the case of Amaechi v INEC (2009) 10 WRN 1 and even more recently the decision of the same Court in the case of Mato v Hermber (2017) LPELR-42765(SC) to name a few. In the particular case of Amaechi, eminent professor of law Itse Sagay; SAN described the judgement of the court as a “groundbreaking one, spinning of and spurring many legal off-shoots, principles and precedents in Nigerian Electoral Law and practice and ushering in a more civilized and enlightened political culture”.
The power-by-all-means syndrome that afflicts our overrated political class unfortunately have come with great cost for internal democracy in Nigeria. And when one expects the situation to get better, it has arguably gotten worse. Nothing signposts this more, than the parallel congresses that characterized many state organs of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the build up to the recently held general elections. And without a doubt, Rivers, Imo and just recently Zamfara state are currently bearing the highest lump of the prostitution of the internal processes of the party.
It is against the backdrop of this therefore that the recent decision of the Supreme Court over the political crisis that rocked the APC in Abdulaziz Yari’s Zamfara is both instructive and commendable irrespective of how harsh it may be perceived in some quarters. By holding that the ruling APC did not conduct a valid primary election in the state with crude implications for the candidates purportedly elected under its platform at the recently concluded election, the apex Court has once again drummed home the message that Nigeria is a nation under laws to which political parties and politicians alike are bound.
In an article entitled “Towards a Political Hygiene in Intra-Party Politics” published last year few days to the flag-off of party primaries by INEC, I had underscored the recurrent problem of intra-party politics in Nigeria thus:
“At the core of intra party disputes and disaffection on the part of members is the disrespect of the constitution of political parties by their hierarchy; non-compliance with laid down rules and regulations and the habitual compromise and impunity by so called godfathers with an inflated sense of their importance over the affairs of the party. One veritable feature of this ill democratic practice is the illegal substitution of persons who emerge victorious at state primaries for other persons under circumstances that leave a sour taste in the mouth. Indeed, in the numerous cases that have made their way to the court for determination by aggrieved party members, this thread is always to be seen. But while some of these aspirants get lucky by having the decision of the party reversed, many others are often not so lucky. Hence the ceaseless cross carpeting and other signs of protest that have become a feature of partisan politics in our chequered history”.
I had also admonished in that article that going into the primaries (irrespective of which method that has been adopted by the state caucuses of the individual party), the irreducible minimum conduct expected by those to spearhead the exercise irrespective of the political party in question, should be one that accords with the laid down provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 and the individual party’s constitution and INEC’S guidelines and regulations as anything short of these would not only be setting the democratic clock of the nation backward, but also a recipe for disaster in the individual party.
Apparently, these admonitions meant nothing to many politicians and their political party. To be sure, the circumstances that led to the non-holding of a valid party primaries in Zamfara state finds its root in the major albatross around the neck of party-politics in Nigeria namely, the parochial interest of one man to lord his will over others thus feeding the emotions that almost always give rise to renegade or splinter factions within the party. In Rivers State, Sen. Magnus Abe and transport minister Rotimi Amaechi represented these conflicting interests, while in Imo State, incumbent governor Rochas Okorocha and his adversary, Sen. Hope Uzodinma were very visible. In Delta, Enugu, Adamawa, Bauchi amongst other states, the ugly head of this monster was also visible with tell-tale consequences here and there.
But by no means is the ruling APC the only affected party here. Not at all. if the situation in the APC has gained more commentary in recent times, it is perhaps because it is the ruling party. Of course, the PDP era was also marked by the same crisis and until recently was lurked in a fratricidal leadership crisis until the same apex court came to the rescue.
In my referenced article above, I had written of the main opposition party thus: “At the commanding heights of the PDP rule, we saw the elevation of sharp practices in the internal affairs of a political party taken to a whole new dimension. This impunity which gained traction under the watch of former president Olusegun Obasanjo perhaps had its ugliest manifestation in Anambra, Imo and Rivers states to the utter embarrassment of the civilised world. Indeed one could say, without any fear of contradiction that intra-party corruption as we have it today, remains one of the ugliest legacies of the current opposition party PDP, who while it enjoyed its status as the ruling party within the space of 16 years, nearly institutionalized a culture of needless intra-party squabbles through sundry acts of subterfuge and injustice in deciding who gets what, when and how within the hierarchy of the party.”
Nor are the smaller political parties excepted. In the state chapter of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Imo State for example, it is the complaints of alleged hijacking of the party by some quarters that necessitated the decamping of a former governor of the state to the Accord party to contest the gubernatorial election almost at the eve of the election. And at the national level of the party its leadership was until recently mired in serious crisis arising from the non-observance of party processes until same was resolved by the apex Court rightly or wrongly mid last year.
All of these scenarios unfortunately leave an ugly picture of intra-party politics in Nigeria- which needless to say remains the foundation of representational democracy. But an undisciplined political class must be disciplined one way or another. And this is what the judgement of the Supreme Court represents in Zamfara. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. It is in many respects a necessary hemlock down the throat of the state chapter of the ruling APC in Zamfara for daring to mortgage the divergent interests of the party hierarchy in the state to the whims and caprices of one man. Through and through, the judgment must be a hurtful reminder of how not to conduct intra-party affairs and the need for conforming to the minimum requirements of the law in party affairs.
But the greatest credit in all of these must go to the judiciary- that institution that continues to live up to its billing as the last hope of the common man; for rising courageously at opportune moments to defend our cherished democracy and instill discipline where impunity has become the rule of thumb.
Raymond Nkannebe is a legal practitioner and public interest analyst.