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Assessing internal democracy in political parties

With general elections in the country over and a new central and states governments now focused on fulfilling their campaign promises, most Nigerians tend to pay little or no attention to the activities of political parties.
The major interest is now on the formation of cabinet at all levels, with party supporters scheming to get position.
Similarly, with the exception of one or two, most political parties have gone to sleep, and the main issue of ensuring that they continue to evolve more strategies for better elections in the future is hardly discussed.
Political parties are the centre of activities and attention in the build-up to any election and, therefore, leaders of parties exert their own influence in deciding who eventually picks the party’s flags in any contest.
In most instances, such undue pressure and influence from the parties’ leaders on aspirants, who meet the requirements laid down for a particular position, lead to internal wrangling and disagreement, especially when a level playing field is lost in the process that produces the candidates.
For instance, the various tribunals’ currently investigating elections-related cases originated from the pre-election activities of political parties, mainly in process of producing their candidates.
Political parties are traditionally blamed for overt injustice in denying other candidates the opportunity to test their strength in states, where the incumbent governor will be seeking to renew his mandate.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for instance, had said before the 2015 general elections that it only printed one form for the presidential post, meant for the then incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
Expectedly, some members of the party, who also wanted to contest the presidential election, threatened to head to court to challenge the party’s stance.
On the other hand, though the APC also tried to reward its members, especially the defecting members of the National Assembly, who, alongside their governors, crossed over from the PDP, the APC was quick in understanding that a level playing field was necessary for a healthy competition.
In the build-up to the last general elections, pundits believe that flagrant abuse of internal democracy was responsible for the dismal outing of the PDP.
In many states, members of the PDP were barred from contesting in elections to appease some people.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) repeatedly lamented how political parties breach and disrespect their constitutional provisions and mistreat their members.
INEC said most of the election-related petitions were products of the near absence of internal democracy in the parties, which largely paved the way for the myriad of litigation after the 2015 general elections.
This was evident in the House of Representatives election of Ado/Ogbadibo/Okupokwu constituency of Benue, where a PDP sole candidate was declared winner by INEC, but was later disqualified by court, soon after the inauguration of the National Assembly, and returned Rep Hassan Saleh Anthony, as the substantive member representing the constituency.
Just last week, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, the sole aspirant challenging Governor Sariake Dickson for the PDP governorship ticket in Bayelsa State, was disqualified by the party’s screening panel.
Paulker, who is a serving senator representing Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, was the only aspirant to head for a primary election with Dickson, after the withdrawal of the other aspirant, Chief Ebikintin Diongoli, the former local government chairman of Kolokuma/Opokuma in the state,  from the race.
Although reasons for his disqualification were yet to be ascertained, there are indications that the panel took the decision over alleged “inconsistent tax clearances.”
Director-Deneral of the campaign organisation of Senator Emmanuel Paulker, Ayakeme Whisky, described the decision as “unbelievable and laughable”.
Pundits believe that the APC, which started the process of the 2015 general elections with an interim leadership, was cautious in its approach to issues ahead of the elections held early this year.
According to them, the party, under the Bisi Akande interim leadership laboured to organise congresses at wards levels which produced states’ delegates.
“There were little or no reports of any disaffection,” said Mohammed Baba, a political analyst.
The APC organised two national conventions, including the one that produced the incumbent national chairman of the party, John Oyegun, who was elected at a rain-soaked convention in Abuja.
Though the outcome of the convention led to the defection of Ali Modo Sheriff, the former governor of Borno State, and Tom Ikimi, the APC quickly picked its pieces and strategised for the last general elections.
Another convention headed by Zamfara State Governor Abdul’aziz Yari in October 2014 was called by APC to amend its constitution, where it inserted a sub-section that allows new entrants to contest elections under the party’s platform.
Political watchers believe that the successes of the party within a short period may not be unconnected with spirit of team work among those at the helm of its affairs.
“The secret of the APC is teamwork,” an insider said.
“We have national, zonal and state officials and nobody feels that his arguments are sacrosanct. Whenever there is an issue, it is adequately debated by key stakeholders to ensure that the best decision is taken.”
As the governorship elections in both Kogi and Bayelsa states draw nearer, the organisational skills of the APC, which is now the ruling party, and the PDP would be put to test.
For instance, another round of intrigues had already manifested ahead of the PDP primary election in Kogi State, with the announcement of postponement of the event from September 10 to September 14, a day to the dateline set by INEC.
Two of the three aspirants for the PDP ticket had allegedly kicked against the decision by the party to postpone the event, a development that culminated in trading of blame.
It could be recalled the Kogi State PDP delegates were in June described by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party as ineligible for the conduct of the governorship primary poll in the state, calling fresh delegates election.
Eventually, Governor Idris Wada defeated his main rival, Jibrin Isa Echocho, in the election.
Though Echocho has accepted the defeat, his campaign organisation said their next line of action would be made public at a later day.
A statement from Phrank Shaibu urged the teeming supporters of Echocho to remain steadfast.
“The recently held gubernatorial primaries of the PDP in Kogi State didn’t come without some misgivings on the final outcome,” it said.
However, the APC, which had 20 aspirants, had received applause for conducting its primary election two weeks ahead of the deadline.
“The success of our party revolves around adequate planning,” said a senior official of the party.
“At our national headquarters in Abuja, we have an office that organises the party’s primaries and other activities since the inception of the party. And that is why most of our conventions and primary elections are adjudged to be credible.”
He said what transpired in Kogi recently was a good example, adding: “All the aspirants who lost out were appreciative of the process and even congratulated the winner, Abubakar Audu.
“It was a simple arithmetic for us to conduct the primary election in Kogi. We said Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i should go and do the primary because we believe in his credibility. The tendency is that nobody can bribe a governor.”
Another APC official said: “Our style is different from that of the PDP where someone will keep all the membership cards of the party in his house and distribute them to the delegates that he feels will favour him.
“For example, in the case of Kogi, we went ahead and said we are going to do accreditation of delegates by using PVC (Permanent Voters Card) or international passports or national identity cards or the national driver’s license.
“With these ID cards, the real delegates entered the stadium. We didn’t even say our own membership card because somebody can go and fabricate the card. Remember that the APC has 19 governorship aspirants in Bayelsa and I can assure that there won’t be any rancour at the end of the process.
“You see, the national chairman of our party believes in the capacity of most of the people he works with and therefore gives us the open hand to do our job.
“Our party’s organising secretary Senator Osita Izunaso said recently that international observers would be invited to monitor the primary election in Bayelsa State and this goes to show that we are really working hard to ensure that we entrench internal democracy in our party.”
Dr Ismaila Ali, a political analyst, said it is wrong for political parties to always  blame INEC for one wrong doing or the other, adding: “You cannot expect INEC to do magic when most political parties lack internal mechanism that will ensure a level playing ground for its members.”
He notes that handlers of the APC have enshrined discipline in their party.
Barrister Yunus, a legal practitioner, said: “When you look at most of the election tribunals across the country, you rarely see problem within the APC family and we believe this is due to the transparent manner candidates for various positions were produced.” 
He says that other political parties need to entrench internal democracy if they want to make impact in subsequent elections.

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