Continued from yesterday
Of course, in relative terms, compared to the legislature, the judiciary in Nigeria fared far better during the dark days of military dictatorship. But it fared only just better. For, during the military era, the judiciary too performed its duties literally at gun-point: harassed, intimidated and generally emasculated.
Although in the past six years of the so-called democratic civilian rule in Nigeria, the judiciary has begun to reform itself with some laudable landmark decisions being returned by the courts, these basic weaknesses still pervade the judicial arm of government.
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One other constitutional check on executive misrule and abuse, which the constitution provides is the provision for periodic elections as contained in sections 76, 116, 117, 132, and 178 of the Nigeria Constitution 1999.
The experience in Nigeria so far does not bear out this assumption. Not only have Nigerian elections been massively rigged and manipulated, but in most cases the results are even predetermined in advance.
The National Assembly, which is supposed to be the main organ to check the excesses of the executive has since been cowed and rendered ineffective through bribery and subterfuge. In less than six years, Chief Obasanjo has succeeded in removing four Senate Presidents and made several failed attempts to remove the speaker of the House of Representatives.
The judiciary has also become a victim of the serial abuse of power by the executive through acts of bribery and intimidation. It is today completely subdued and now does the bidding of the Executive. A majority of the Judges uncritically and invariably hand out verdicts favourable to the government in any dispute.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella labour organisation, has fought consistently against the Government’s increases in fuel prices with some measure of success. However, Chief Obasanjo has used the police, a section of the leadership of the NLC and, in some cases, a pliant judiciary to thwart their strikes or mass action with the result that the government has been able to raise the pump price of petroleum from twenty naira per litre in 1999 to sixty naira per litre today.
But, perhaps, by far the greatest case of abuse of power by the Executive has been the misuse of the state apparatus – the Police and the Army – to massively rig the 2003 elections, killing and maiming innocent citizens in the process.
- Civil Society as the Opposition
In the face of this executive assault on the Nigerian polity, and the endemic weaknesses of the constitutional instruments for checking it, civil society has now become the last bastion of opposition in Nigeria. This civil society opposition includes groups such as organised labour, the press, professional associations, as well as the political parties. All of these groups, of course, have their own endemic limitations and weaknesses in their various roles as an opposition to the Executive’s recklessness and abuse of power.
But there is little doubt that of all these components of the civil society opposition, the one that should ordinarily bear the greatest responsibility for activism are the political parties.
Unfortunately, giving their antecedents, the circumstances of their formation, the class origins of most of their leadership and the political, legal and material constrictions within which they have been forced to operate, the parties have so far not been as effective as is expected of them in the struggle against executive autocracy and the enthronement of a truly democratic order in Nigeria. But all these have not been for lack of trying, as the formation and struggles of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) in the past few years has amply demonstrated.
The Conference of Nigerian Political parties, CNPP, came into existence as a child of circumstances. Its roots can be traced back to the 7th of May, 2002 when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) invited all political associations seeking recognition by it as political parties to attend a consultative meeting with it to consider the military government’s guidelines for the formation and registration of political parties. During those consultations, all the political associations present rejected the proposed guidelines as undemocratic, unconstitutional, unjust and, therefore, unacceptable. Thereupon, the political associations in attendance resolved to constitute themselves into a new consultative forum of political associations christened CONFERENCE OF NIGERIAN POLITICAL PARTIES, with the main objective of eliminating, through both political and legal initiatives, all objectionable and reprehensive aspects of the guidelines for the registration of political parties.
As it gradually evolved the CNPP formulated for itself the more specific tasks of
(i) protection of the interests of registered political parties, (ii) sustenance of a democratic, multi-party political system, (iii) defense of Nigeria’s national unity and (iv) promotion of good governance. Of course, these objectives are still noble and relevant. However, given the very critical and desperate realities of today, the CNPP has to go beyond these tasks.
- What is to be done
In the last resort, the responsibility for promoting and defending the democratic rights of the Nigerian people rests more heavily on the political parties than on any other sector of the society. It is precisely for this reason that the present sorry state of political parties in the country is both intolerable and a major draw-back in the opposition’s efforts to check the executive excesses of Obasanjo. In this respect, the first step in the revitalization of the party system must be a thorough-going revamping of the structure and orientations of individual political parties.
While this is ongoing, the political parties in particular, and the political elite in general, must commit themselves to the pursuit of certain basic objectives which should include at least the following:
- Promotion and Deepening of Democracy.
The parties must be at the frontline in the struggle for the promotion and defense of popular democratic institutions, practices and democratic culture in Nigeria. This task and commitment should be non-negotiable.
- Promotion and Defense of the Rule of Law.
The defense of the rule of law and the promotion of the institution of an independent and responsible judiciary is essential for genuine democracy. The parties must promote and defend these practices and institutions.
- Promotion of Popular Organisations and Civil Society..
One of the cardinal pillars of a genuine popular democracy is the existence of virile, active and responsible civil society organizations (CSOs). A central objective of the political parties and the political elite must be the promotion and development of a responsible, independent and patriotic labour movement, mass organisations and civil society as a counterweight to the deadweight of bureaucracy, official impunity and executive autocracy.
- Defense of Multi-Party System.
The CNPP itself emerged to defend the constitutional provisions for a multi- party system in the country which INEC and the Government were all hell- bent to undermine. In a plural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society such as Nigeria’s, a multi-party system is one of the best insurances and guarantees for National unity. Of recent, this multi-party system has come under threat from both President Obasanjo and the ruling PDP. The political parties must continue to regard the defense of Nigeria’s multi-party system as one of their cardinal objectives.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, if in the course of this presentation I have placed responsibility for corrective action more on the shoulders of Nigeria’s political parties and its political elite, I do not in the least mean that the task is exclusively theirs. Far from it, the task of enthroning a truly popular and genuine democratic order in Nigeria demands the contribution of all democratic forces, both at home in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world.
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you very much for your attention.
Late Balarabe Musa delivered the paper at an international conference organized by Foundation for Good Governance and Development in Nigeria held in London on June 25, 2005.