Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: Audience Amused As Obasanjo Talks Internal Democracy

Photo: James Garresen, II/Liberian Govt
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, Senate president David Mark and chairman of the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC) Attahiru Jega yesterday bemoaned lack of discipline and internal democracy in political parties.

Obasanjo, in particular, lampooned political parties for lack of ideological bent and warned that no institution will endure without discipline.

Mark on his part said intra-party squabble combined with inter-party conflicts led to the 1966 and 1983 coups that scuttled democratic experiments in Nigeria. "In the most extreme of cases, as we had in the first and second republics, intra-party squabbles combined with inter-party conflicts to scuttle the democratic experiment. Two vivid examples were the events leading to both the January 15, 1966, coup, and that of December 31, 1983," he said.

They spoke at the opening of a two-day roundtable conference on "Political Parties in Nigeria, Lobbying, the Lobbyist and the Legislature" organized by the National Institute for Legislative Studies in Abuja yesterday.

The former president, who chaired the first session of the event, said the political parties needed improvement in areas like manifesto, discipline and service. According to him, the political parties only draft manifestoes for the sole purpose of campaigning and dump same after the campaigns.

"What I have come to realize is that manifestoes are drafted for campaigns and after that it is thrown away. So we must hold political parties accountable based on what they espoused on their manifestoes," he said.

Obasanjo also decried lack of discipline in the political parties, saying what happens in the parties are in sharp contrast to what obtains in the military institutions. He criticised the parties for not showing willingness to provide service: "We really need service in party politics," he said.

President of the Senate said all political parties could hardly stand on their feet, adding that they were often assailed by internal convulsions, lack of cohesion, indiscipline and a glaring absence of internal democracy.

"We know that, in reality, most of our political parties are fledgling and hardly able to stand on their feet. Many exist mainly on paper, and were floated to attract the financial subventions which the 1999 Constitution hitherto guaranteed them, before it was amended," he said.

Even the big ones, which control various executive and legislative arms of government, are often riven by internal convulsions, lack of cohesion, indiscipline and a glaring absence of internal democracy. These problems have been the bane of party politics in Nigeria, and have been with us since the Clifford's Constitution introduced the elective principle in 1922 and Sir Herbert Macaulay formed his Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1923," he said.

Mark said lobbying is a legitimate and necessary complement of the democratic process. "It is natural for individuals and organizations to want to influence decisions that affect them, or their environment.

For Prof. Jega, the party leadership or what he called "owners" of the parties obstruct the nurturing of democracy within the political parties. In his paper, "Party Politics and Elections in Nigeria", Jega said: "While the leadership ('owners') of these parties strove to get their parties to complete in democratic elections, they denied or obstructed the nurturing of democracy within the parties. In many parties, financial and procedural accountability is deficient. Many hardly obey their own constitutions and look for shortcuts in complying with electoral laws. Many are factionalized and conflict-ridden."

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

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