The Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF) – an umbrella body of state governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) – met with President Muhammadu Buhari after the party’s much-awaited National Convention was again postponed by the Caretaker and Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) this time from February 26 to March 26, 2022. The APC has been engulfed in conflicts since 2019. The ruling party appears to be facing an existential threat for the first time since its formation less than a decade ago. And this is because most of the challenges the APC faces today – like many African political parties – have to deal with how not to run them.
Political parties are important agents of mobilization and leadership recruitments in modern democracies. They have become so important these days that it is almost impossible to imagine any democracy without their operations. This explains why renowned Professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan, Adigun Agbaje, argued (in 1998) that viable political parties are key ingredients of democratization. He said not to have strong and viable political parties in a democracy are “like trying to pass brown water as tea.” Therefore, weakening political parties by over-regulations, lack of conflict resolution mechanisms, and excessive adjudications can stunt their growth and developments which also portend danger for emerging democracies.
The history of the APC is too well-known to require a retelling here. Most people are also aware of the genesis of its current imbroglio. Things started when political actors at states like Zamfara, Rivers, and Edo couldn’t manage disagreements which are fairly normal in party politics. What looked like local party matters soon took unexpected turns at the national level. This led to the party being prevented from presenting candidates for 2019 elections in Zamfara and Rivers states. The party went ahead to lose its only real route into the South-South, Edo state, to the opposition. Things got to the climax when the Edo debacle will later consume the party’s National Chairperson, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In what looks like desperate measures, the party’s National Executive Council (NEC) dissolved its National Working Committee (NWC) in June 2020 at a meeting presided over by President Buhari. At the meeting, Buhari called for the immediate suspension of all pending litigations involving the party and its members, as well as the ratification of the party’s governorship primary election conducted in Edo state. It was at this same meeting that the party set up the CECPC led by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni, to organize a convention to usher in a new set of leaders to pilot affairs of the party in six months. What most people thought was to be a simple, once-and-for-all solution, turned out to be more problematic. The Buni-led Committee has not been able to carry out its main task two years after it was set up. Tensions have been on the rise. Some people are afraid the party may be on the road to Zamfara or Rivers again, this time on a national scale!
The party faced (and still faces) members resorting to judicial claims and counter-claims, orders and counter-orders, injunctions and counter-injunctions that are predominantly at cross-purposes. This leads to a vital point: political parties must not be over-legislated or over-adjudicated. While we can say politicians can be dubious by nature, there should be limits to government’s involvement in political parties. I say this because too much involvement from governments in the internal affairs of political parties will not make them grow. This is a fact.
Only recently did the National Assembly passed the ammended Electoral Act which made it mandatory for political parties to conduct direct primaries in selecting their candidates. One then wonders, how does anyone think it is correct to make a law dictating to political parties how they should select their candidates? Why must all political parties conduct their primaries in the same or certain way or format? Is there a perfect mode of party primaries? Irrespective of mode of party primaries adopted, there will still be people who will feel aggrieved or cheated no matter how transparent the process is. What happens next is the party’s conflict resolution mechanism to be activated. In the United Kingdom, for instance, local party chiefs (not voters or ordinary members) – and for the most part in “safe” areas - simply interview the candidates (especially the first-timers) out of which they make their selection for who flies the party’s flag in elections. Are there people who feel aggrieved? Yes, there are.
This takes me to the excessive court cases that have bedeviled APC and other parties in recent times. One of the injunctions used as the basis for dissolving the party’s NWC was an order by an Abuja High Court in March 2020. Granted that Oshiomhole could have been removed by a court order if he had failed to respect internal party disciplinary actions against him, what then is the court’s business with appointing his replacement? The argument that “most senior party official” should take over from him sounded (and still sounds) ridiculous. If the party chairperson is removed or has resigned, there are constitutional procedures in place to replace him. Section 14(2)(iii) of the Party’s constitution is clear on who to fill the role either in acting or substantive capacity. The APC has at any time: 2 Deputy National Chairpersons (North and South) and 6 National Vice Chairpersons (each representing the geo-political ones). This means there are constitutionally 8 persons in the line of succession to the post of National Chair, but somehow, the court thinks the “most senior party official” from the South-South zone to take over from Oshiomhole after his removal is a certain Assistant National Secretary. What happens to the National Vice Chairperson (South-South)? So, where are the powers of the party’s NWC or NEC to determine the next line of action after the substantive Chair was removed? Weren’t these bodies established by the party’s Constitution supposed to do? In the Supreme Court, for instance, once the Chief Justice resigns, retires, or dies, is it the oldest or the next person in line among the Judges that takes over? If that is the case, where did the argument of “most senior party official from the zone” for the APC come from?
Political parties, like every other human organisation, are prone to mistakes. They should be allowed to make their mistakes and correct them. Even the courts have had their fair shares of mistakes. We are all witnesses to how the corruption cases against a former Governor were all dismissed by our courts only to later be found guilty by foreign courts. In Osun state, one Justice Olamide Oloyede wrote a petition for a sitting Governor to be impeached. She was later retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC) after being found guilty for violating professional ethics over the said petition. All these and more happened with the Judiciary having the internal dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve the matters. Imagine the courts having to deal with too much Executive and Legislative interference every now and then.
Political parties should be allowed to develop to them perform their roles in the democratic process. They won’t grow with too many external interventions and over-legislations. The US and UK Constitutions do not have mentions of political parties or their operations. Today, the Democratic/Republican and Conservative/Labour parties are visible aspects of both countries democracies. These parties have grown through Great Revolutions, World Wars, Great Depressions, near-party collapse, (re)alignments and other upheavals. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) grew through difficult times to be what it is today. Not too many people know that UK’s two-party rivalry use to be between Conservative (Tories) and Liberal (Whigs) parties. Labour Party has relegated the Liberals since the beginning of the 20th century. Parties need to evolve. And that means they must be allowed to make their mistakes, run their affairs with little or no external interventions. If there is any aspect of political parties that should be seriously regulated or subject to litigations, is on their campaign funding or violent tendencies. Otherwise, these parties won’t grow and we will keep wondering why we are not democratizing!
The current APC crisis and needless extensions of its extra-ordinary convention could have been avoided altogether but for needless interventionism. We should start seeing political parties as significant agents in the democratic process. The important clue rests in how they are being run!
Olalekan Adigun, an Accidental Writer, sent this piece from Lagos. His Twitter handle is: @MrLekanAdigun Email address: [email protected]