Edo, Ondo elections: Whither the opposition parties?

Elections in the country are fast becoming a two-horse race, as many other parties seem to be in a state of stupor even with the acrimonies in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the buildup to the governorship polls n Edo and Ondo states shortly, writes KUNLE ODEREMI.

 

In February this year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ‘sanitised its register by retaining only 18 political parties. A total of 74  parties were axed by the commission as empowered by extant laws. The exercise came against the complaints from many quarters on the huge number of parties in the country with the attendant unwieldiness during elections. INEC also had reasons to raise similar reservations before it eventually resolved to evoke relevant sections of the law guiding its operations. The chairman of the commission, Professor Yakubu Mommudu, justified the action the dismal performance of the parties in the 2019 general election and other forms of elections. According to him, the affected parties did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Alteration to the Constitutional Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

It is doubtful if the de-registration of those parties has impacted on the manner even the parties that passed the perceived integrity test of the commission conduct their businesses and operations. Neither has it restored sanity in terms of the principle of internal democracy and the conduct of majority of the political actors, as the INEC occasionally still threat to deal decisively against any breach of existing laws and protocols.

Out of the recognised number by the commission, only an average of nine of them usually contest elections. Others are tied to the apron strings of their founder and sole administrators, just as others merely crave for relevance at the threshold of elections soon fizzled out once the poll has been won and lost.  There are also parties regarded as constituting mere bargaining chips for de facto leaders and founders whose primary motive seems to be everything but altruistic. Such parties are used to negotiate with the ‘bigger’ parties to form coalition and create an impression of relevance in the scheme of things. Yet, they are nothing but satellites of either the PDP or the APC. In fact, experience has shown that those lesser parties are catalysts for the uncanny rivalry and bitterness in the so-called dominant parties in the struggle for power in the country.

More than a year after the 2019 general election, the main political parties: All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are still reeling from the fallout of the elections, especially over the choice of candidates. The internal conflict have manifested in many folds with the latest occasioned by preparations for the governorship elections coming up in September and October this year in Edo and Ondo states. The interplay of forces in the APC and the PDP has again thrown up Osagie Ize-Iyamu and incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki for a repeat of the 2016 contest in which the latter triumphed.

However, many observers said with their claim to existence, the remaining 16 or so other parties should have taken the advantage of the internal combustion in the bigger parties to up their game; to showcase their potential and as veritable alternatives that should be considered by the electorate. They should have pursued moved with vigour marketing of what they claim as their marked difference with the APC and the PDP on finesse in relation to internal democracy, ideologies and policies and programmes.

The list of parties that survived the sledge hammer of INEC include the African Democratic Congress (ADC); Accord; Social Democratic Party (SDP), Action Alliance (AA); Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP); Young Progressive Party (YPP), the Action Peoples Party (APP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Labour Party (LP), among others. Aside the PDP, APC and the APGA, none of the other parties could lay claim to serious electoral value in all previous elections. The promoters of fringe parties formed by a coalition of radical forces at the dawn of the last general election have lost steam, ostensibly to reawake in the buildup to the next general election in the country.  For example the leaders of one of those lesser parties that paraded most of those elements that professed progressive tendencies and principles, only make pretenses during the countdown to every major elections, as some its promoters sought partnership with the stronger parties that either easily subsume or treated them with scorn and disdain due to crass opportunism.

For the SDP, the party is yet to resolve a leadership tussle that has weakened it from having a formidable constituency. The conflict has not allowed the party to possibly alter and skew the political structure and system away from the APC and PDP narrative. The supremacy tussle is a subject of litigation with two leaders laying claim to the national chairman of the SDP.

The fickleness of the smaller parties, no doubt, compounds the challenges that confront the nation’s political environment.  In the views expressed by pundits, because they do not offer real alternatives that can deliver the goods, unprincipled gladiators in the bigger parties that offer a semblance of seriousness, take things for granted. Aggrieved members who feel shortchanged in the tussle for power within usually prefer potting in a mathematical manner of substitution by elimination. This characterisation is already playing out in the gradual buildup to the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. It has heated up the polity as the pro and anti-Oshiomhole forces are perpetually at loggerheads. The scenario is not different as such in Ondo State as the acrimony engendered by the defection of the state deputy governor, Honourable Agboola Ajayi from the APC to the PDP persists.

Some factors experts said are responsible for the seeming two-party structure despite the multiple party arrangement allowed by the constitution is the absence of shared philosophies by members of the existing parties. The aura and lucre of power rather than principle and service form the core motive of political office seekers.  Edo governor, Obaseki said there is ideological vacuum in both the PDP and the APC, accusing the latter of hypocrisy.  My experience is that having served four years as a governor, I don’t see that ideological divide; it doesn’t exist. I think the focus for me is development. Whether you are a conservative or a progressive, it is expected that the outcome should be development,” he said.

A former member of House of Representatives, Honourable Emmanuel Goar identified another factor he believed was inhibiting the relevance of political parties in the country. According to the former speaker of the Oalteau state House oof Assembly, the political class do not respect the guidelines and constitution of their parties for selfish interest.  He said the trend portended danger to democracy. He noted that: “The ruling party, the All Progressive Congress has not proved that it has what it takes to move this nation forward. In past five years, the party has not fully fulfilled a single electoral promise. The crisis rocking the party as result of governorship election is just a power tussle not how to better the lot of Edo people. All these are pointer to the fact that our politicians are not serious. I want to categorically declare that nothing destroys democracy like lack of internal democracy within political party. In as much as leadership of political parties have no respect for rule of law, it would be difficult for our democracy to grow.”

 

Funding

The constitution of the parties outline how they should generate funds for their operations. These include membership dues, donations, and selling of membership cards and forms for contesting elections. But none of these avenues are being fully utilised by the parties. Individuals with very deep pockets usually determine the fate of other stakeholders with less resources and influence. Elective and appointive positions go to the highest bidders against the grains of party constitution. With the lesser parties tied to the whims and caprices of a sole administrator, they only act as enterprise for real business deal in the political space, especially at the period of crucial national elections and post-election time.

 

Defections

A few instances, the smaller parties are treated as a breeding ground and/or launch pad for very ambitious political gladiators with an overall intention to break into the ranks of the bigger parties. Once they have succeeded in drawing attention to themselves, they would easily defect to the party of their initial choice. The predicament of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that formed the tripod of the civil administration in 1999 was partly due to the gale of defection by notable actors. The Resident Programme Director, Nigeria, Sentell Barnes, also noted the gale of defections that once threatened the existence of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Governors elected on its platform from Adamawa, Kano, Kwara, River, and Sokoto, as well as 37 representatives and 11 senators defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Many of such individuals have since returned to the PDP, as 15 senators, 37 representatives, and three state governors defected from the APC to the PDP because of perceived disaffection.

According to him, parties are important institutions for developing policies and platforms and providing critical oversight and accountability of government action. He explained that through their representatives, parties are required to implement policies that reflect the ideology of the party. “However, this is not the case in Nigeria. Moving from one political party to another is common and seen as a way of gaining an advantage over other political parties. He wrote then, “For example, Nigeria’s current president. While he was never a member of the PDP, he did move between various political parties in his quest to become the number one citizen of Nigeria. In 2003 and 2007, he contested for president as the candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). In 2011, he was the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which he founded. And we all know what happened in 2015, he won the APC presidential primary in the fall of 2014 and was elected president in the March 28, 2015 elections.” he blamed the trend of lack of constituency and principle to the fact that political parties in Nigeria  tend to lack ideologies and explicit messages that separate them from each other. He said unlike the United States, for example, parties are defined by their platforms, or manifestoes unlike in Nigeria, parties are driven by personalities, tribal, religious and geographic divide.   “So, if a Republican candidate comes knocking at your door, you have a sense of where he or she stands on the current critical issues,” he stated.  But in Nigeria, “while political parties are vessels to government and power all over the world, they are the only way to get into government in Nigeria. There is no independent candidature, so every person must contest under the logo of a political party.”

A study conducted by the IRI and the National Democratic Institute in Nigeria showed that many Nigerians expressed frustration with the existing  parties, as they are seen as personality-driven and lacking internal democracy. The research indicated that alliances are used “mostly on personalities and agreements among political leaders, and do not necessarily reflect differences in policy preference or ideology.” Therefore, parties in Nigeria, rather than being are “vessels to government and power, they are the only way to get into government in Nigeria.”  Given its primary place in democracy, parties act as checks and balances in the running of government; “providing oversight and accountability of government processes and policies.” This is where the ‘minor parties in the country should have stamped their authority and relevance by serving as the barometer for gauging the record of performance of the PDP and APC in power at different levels in the country over the years. They should have complemented the role with promoting strong ideological template that could win elections at even the smallest unit of political engagements to serve as model.

Again, Barnes offered the way forward for the country: “The citizens deserve parties that are not only generating answers to the country’s complex problems but are also engaging its citizens about the best way forward. When the citizens go to vote on February 16, 2019, they will vote for the candidate and party that has put forth the best vision for the future of this country.”

 

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