Successive elected government officials, especially presidents, governors and federal lawmakers have whittled down party supremacy in their quest to control political machineries for personal aggrandisement, Daily Trust reports.
The development has turned the country’s political parties into tools in the hands of the elected officials, especially governors, who install their cronies as party leaders and direct the affairs of the parties through them.
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Analysts say the crisis rocking the two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is as a result of the machinations of the governors.
While more than half of the recently elected members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, including Iyorchia Ayu, the national chairman-elect, got their seats following the endorsement of governors, the ruling APC which has not conducted its national convention is also in the firm grip of governors.
The APC governors, pundits say, are all out to produce the next chairman of their party come February next year and eventually determine who flies the presidential ticket of their party. The Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, has been piloting the affairs of the party since June, 2020, when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was edged out.
Party supremacy, according to analysts, means party members, including those who occupy positions at national, state and local government levels, submit and align their policies, programmes and decisions with the manifestos and programmes of their political parties. In other words, it means, the decision of the party, favourable or unfavourable, must be binding on all members, including elected officials.
This idealistic place of a political party has continuously been eroded by powerful individuals, especially since the return to democracy in 1999.
Knowledgeable persons interviewed for this story said this was not the case in the Second Republic when party leaders operated.
Some are however optimistic that if the current Electoral Act Amendment Bill is signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, it will go a long way in curtailing undue influence of the heavyweights, and strengthen political parties.
Obasanjo laid foundation for erosion of party supremacy – Sen Gumel
A former Chief Accountant of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Senator Abdullahi A. Gumel, said national chairmen of political parties were hitherto leaders of their parties before the coming of the present dispensation.
According to him, things took a dramatic turn when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar tried unsuccessfully to deny his former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a second term in office.
According to him, since then Obasanjo took over the leadership of the PDP and other presidents followed suit. This also gave the impetus for state governors to take a cue from the presidents and become leaders of parties in their states.
“In those days, parties cared for the people and the national chairmen of political parties were the real leaders of the parties. They even paid all the salaries of the state chapters from the headquarters.
“The national chairman of the party is the leader of the party and the state chairman of the party is the leader of the party in the state,” Sen Gumel said.
Sen Gumel who represented Jigawa North West in the last National Assembly, further said that because of the influence of party leaders, the then Senate Leader, the late Dr Olusola Saraki, did not relinquish his position as the chairman of the NPN in Kwara State even when he was voted as senate leader.
He, however, said things took a different turn under President Obasanjo.
“The first president in this dispensation who is not a politician, Olusegun Obasanjo, the vice president is a politician, so as far as politics is concerned, he left it to the vice president.
“So by the time the vice president showed the power that he controlled by trying to take over the second term of the president, and when it could not happen, from that time the president assumed the leadership of the party and also the governors assumed the leadership of the parties in the states.
“So, this was how these things happened; the political leadership evaporated from the ordinary people and rested on the elected people. This was how it happened,” Gumel submitted.
Why party leaders were influential during Second Republic – NPN scribe
Also recalling how party leaders were influential in the Second Republic, a former secretary of the NPN in Kwara State, Chief Tunji Arosanyin, described the present situation as regrettable.
The top lawyer told Daily Trust that parties dictated to and controlled the governors then, unlike the present situation.
“During our time, the party was supreme and was owned by its executives; not the governors. All the elected officers; from president to the councilors, were under the party. During our time, Chief Akinloye was the head of the NPN, and whatever he said was final. We held meetings in his house and not Dodan Barracks which was the seat of power; we didn’t go there. It was the party that was responsible for choosing ministers and appointees.
“Then, when people went to President Shehu Shagari to lobby, he used to send them back to me and late Dr Olusola Saraki as the leaders of the party here. And once the party decided; that was it.
“This has seriously affected the governance and our development. The governors now call the shots and have no master to report to; they are now the all-in-all and anyone who opposes them becomes a rebel. And once this is the case, the governors wield absolute powers which corrupt absolutely. Throughout the country, nobody checks a governor and so they do whatever they like and appoint whoever they want,” he said, lamenting how the collapse of party structures was affecting governance in the country.
“So I think, maybe during restructuring, if we ever get there, our eyes may be opened to that lapse. Today the words of the governors or presidents are laws. Though we also pray for God’s intervention, but we hope such will not be bloody,” he added.
Governors worst culprits – Dr Kari
Tracing the genesis of the challenge, an Associate Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Abuja, Dr Abubakar Umar Kari, said party supremacy eroded following the control of political party machineries by successive presidents and governors through their stooges.
Dr Kari, in an interview, lamented that in the Second Republic, and prior to then, the principle of party supremacy held sway, recalling that all party members, no matter how highly placed in or out of government they were, deferred to the party, respected and abided by the party’s position and decisions.
The don said, “ There was little or no place for all manners of godfathers and so-called unelected but supremely powerful party “leaders” and elders who appropriated the party machineries and pocketed the parties for personal aggrandisement as exists these days.
“Example is always given of President Shehu Shagari humbly and willingly subordinating himself to the dictates of the NPN led by Adisa Akinloye. Probably that was due to the then prevailing political culture which was rooted in and emphasised on party supremacy as a fundamental and necessary requirement for party politics.
“But it was also because at that period we had true parties – rather than mere political platforms as exist today. In addition, party organs (working and executive committees, and caucuses) were allowed to function without dictates or interference. In this dispensation they only exist in name; if at all.”
According to him, those controlling executive powers (particularly the president and governors) have been the worst culprits in the abuse of party supremacy.
“They often control the parties through stooges imposed on members. Then, we have the moneybags and persons of influence at all levels that join or complement the executive godfathers in the business of power capture and hijack of the parties,” he explained.
“Governance is adversely affected because elected leaders, particularly of the executive arm, who have hijacked the parties and call all the shots, have become so powerful and uncontrollable. Nobody can check them for fear of losing out or getting kicked out of power. The legislature invariably becomes weak, toothless or even a mere shadow of itself,” he added.
Lack of party supremacy, according to him, breeds discontent and dissent, sows the seed of conflict and provokes crises.
“And because it is often associated with or accompanied by travesty of the democratic process (like imposition of leaders, violation of laid down procedures and rules), lack of party supremacy erodes party organs of their capacity to function effectively, foist mediocre and incompetent leaderships on the parties and robs the parties of any claim to being democratic. In a nutshell, it is impossible for democracy to grow and prosper where parties are tied to the apron-string of few individuals and cabals,” he submitted.
On the way out, he said, “the solution is simple; let our political class, particularly those in control of the levers of executive powers and their collaborators, allow true parties to emerge; let them free the existing political parties that, for all intents and purposes, they are holding in bondage; and let them play the political game by the rules that they themselves set.”
However, the National Secretary of the Nigeria Political Science Association (NPSA), Dr Adebola Bakare, said the issue of party supremacy was only evident in Africa.
“In advanced countries, political parties are based on ideology and there is little anybody can do. It is either you fall in line or move out with the ideology of political parties. That is why it is very difficult for anybody to have supremacy over party.
“The situation in Nigeria and most African countries is that parties don’t have ideologies; they are just mere platforms to contest for political office, and once they don’t get it, people move to other parties.
“Now, as a result of that, we now have strong individuals and weak parties where people now manipulate party structure to their advantage and determine what happens in any political party.
“What led to the concept of party supremacy in Nigeria is the constant war between governors that emerge and those that installed them.
“The implication of all of these is that it will lead to proliferation of political parties, heightened tension in the electoral process and increase the issue of money politics and vote buying. Also, it will continue to fuel the theory of patron/client relationship which is a business venture and investment, the profit of which needs to be recouped with interest. Hence we are underdeveloped at the end of the day,” he explained.
Also, a political analyst and scholar, Professor Kamilu Sani Fage, said political parties in the first and second republics were entirely different from what the country now has.
He said, “Political parties in the first and second republics were owned by the people. All the parties had programmes and agenda which united the people. Also, the parties had internal discipline, which means any member of the party was subjected to the rules and regulations of the system. There was nobody above the laws of the party, so there was supremacy of the party.”
To address the situation, Prof Fage said political institutions must be strengthened and that politics should be made and shaped to be a service to the nation, a service to the people and not a money making venture.
Direct primary will return heydays – Lagos SSG under Gov Jakande
For the Secretary to the Lagos State Government (SSG) in the Second Republic, Chief Olorunfunmi Bashorun, the solution to the challenge is contained in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill which is awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent.
If the bill is assented to by the president, he said the glorious days of the country’s political parties would be returned.
Direct primary, he said, would return power to the various political parties and also empower ordinary party members.
Going down memory lane, he said political parties began to lose their influence after the military intervention.
“You know events come, events go and the military interregnum between the Second Republic and this particular republic we are running now lends a lot of weight to the development we now have where governors are lords of the parties.
“Even though they take part in establishing, writing the constitution of the party and a lot of things, but in most cases, they feel that if they all join together and say no to a particular thing, no other person can disturb them,” he said.
He noted that most of the governors relied majorly on the control of the resources in their various states to lord it over the party faithful and cow them to follow their whims and caprices.
Corroborating Chief Olorunfunmi’s position, Dr Wunmi Bewaji, a former House of Representatives member and Executive Director, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms, said military intervention contributed to the whittling down of the powers of political parties.
He explained that, “You know there was the military interregnum between 1963 and 1999 during which we had two sad events. The first one was Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s two parties – the NRC and SDP that were legislated. That practically destroyed the party system in Nigeria. Parties were artificially formed and that ended what you can call the party system in Nigeria.
The second sad event was the Gen Sani Abacha intervention whereby we had five political parties that were formed by his government; all for the purpose of ensuring that he would be able to transfer from a military head of state to a civilian president.
“So that was the era which Uncle Bola Ige famously described as the “five fingers of a leprous hand” because all the five political parties were actually formed by one and the same person – Gen Abacha.
“To have such experience back-to-back from Babangida to Abacha; that practically destroyed what we used to know as the party system in Nigeria. So by 1999, we had a military transition which was short because Abacha died and we didn’t have enough time for people to form political parties.
“All we had were Afenifere transforming into AD, and PDP which by and large was formed by the advocates of diarchy – people who felt they wanted a mixture of civilian and military. Those were the people that initially formed PDP and brought Obasanjo out of prison to lead them. It was this lack of natural formation of these political parties that made parties emerge in a manner that could not be said to be natural, and by the time we had the 1999 elections that we had the first set of governors, most of the governors made sure that they stole enough money. They eventually raised the bar.
“The entry bar in Nigeria for anybody aspiring for any office has been so compromised to the extent that it is no longer possible for a new person to come in. So the governors have made so much money from 1999 to 2007,” he said.
By Ismail Mudashir (Abuja), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin), Zahraddeen Yakubu Shuaibu (Kano) & Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos