Party Constitutions and Representative Democracy in Nigeria: an interim assessment

Introduction
Nigerians rarely comment on the state of the nation without alluding to the political parties’ failure to nurture internal and representative democracy. The commentators lament the helplessness of the average voter in the face of the overwhelming influence of godfathers, gangsters, and money on the political and the electoral process. The critics insist that despite the hype on free and fair elections, party members rarely participate in key decisions, including decisions as to the candidates to pick to contest elective offices at all levels. What prevails at primaries, congresses and conventions, they argue, is not the will of the People, but the dictates of the elite, and particularly, of well-heeled, powerful individuals that have maintained an iron grip on the machinery of their political parties. Variously termed “godfathers”, “party elders” and “stakeholders”, these individuals would sooner entrench themselves in positions of power than promote the cause of internal or representative democracy.

If a minority in a political party is this powerful, does that mean that they are created or driven to be domineering? Are they overbearing because it is in their nature to hanker after power and lord it over others, or are there other circumstances giving rise to autocratic or oligarchic dominance–that is, circumstances which are yet to be identified and critically examined? As a matter of fact, is it not possible to attribute the relative “powerlessness” of the party rank-and-file to the average citizen’s apathy and indifference, to the general lack of familiarity with contemporary political issues, to the citizen’s intrinsic feeling of powerlessness otherwise termed low feeling of political efficacy, to widespread poverty, or to the complexity of the structure as well as the rules governing the day-today administration of political parties?

The aforementioned factors are undoubtedly relevant to our understanding of political behaviour in Nigeria. However, of all the plausible explanations for the internal democracy mechanisms’ failure (as reflected in the “imposition” of party candidates on electors), one that has so far been overlooked is the typical party constitution. How wide, for instance, is the latitude that a party’s constitution gives the party member or elector to express his/her views without let or hindrance, or, as a matter of fact, to influence the critical decisions taken by party officials, including but not limited to, the choice of candidates to contest elective positions at all levels? In a nutshell, do the constitutions help or hinder the cause of internal and representative democracy?

To the extent that contemporary studies have so far taken the party constitutions for granted, the starting point in our enquiry must be an understanding of the key provisions of the constitution which each political party willingly adopted as its guiding principle. It is after acquainting ourselves with each party constitution’s stipulations on ‘internal democracy’ that we could safely proceed to the next logical step in our enquiry—the conduct of empirical field research with a view to gauging the attitudes and analysing the behaviour of the constitutions’ operators.

I. Factors in democratic participation: an overview
A number of factors account for party members’ limited participation in the day-to-day running of their parties. These include the failure to distribute and widely disseminate party constitutions; the very provisions of each party’s constitution on accountability and democratic control; the complexity of the party structure or party “machine” as set out in the constitution; the influence exerted at all critical stages by a combination of money, hoodlums and godfathers; tolerance and/or active and cynical encouragement of despotism and repression; and probably, as a corollary of the preceding set of circumstances, rank-and-file party members’ apathy, indifference.

Restricted access to party constitutions
As the author discovered, hard copies of the mainstream political parties’ constitutions are not easy to find, except possibly, at party headquarters in Abuja. It took approximately a week to get photocopies, yes, photocopies, of the two major political parties’ constitutions, that is, the constitutions of the All Progressives Congress/APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party/PDP.

The first question then is how any member can effectively participate in an organization that s/he knows little or nothing about? It is only those in possession of an organization’s articles of association (or constitution) that are well-placed to tutor the uninformed about the founding objectives, the scope and limit of the leaders’ authority, the followers’ obligations, and the organization’s do’s and don’ts or code of conduct. It is the same in political parties: where only the leaders have exclusive knowledge of the rules, it is they alone that can authoritatively tell the followers how to behave. In that case, the rules will always be what the leaders say they are.

In light of the foregoing, and if only as a measure of party members’ engagement with the political process, it is necessary to include in future research studies questions on the party leaders’ and the average elector’s acquaintance with the provisions of his/her party’s constitution.

The constitutions’ idea of internal democracy
The party constitution is, in any case, the starting point in an enquiry into the governance and day-to-day administration of each party. Sadly, the constitutions of the two mainstream parties have hindered rather than help the cause of internal and representative democracy. Where both should proactively reaffirm and uphold the rights of the ordinary citizen, the two constitutions firmly entrench privileged interests. The PDP constitution for one, and the party’s name notwithstanding, does not pretend to establish an internally democratic party. Chapter 3, Part I, Section 10 (1) (a) of the party’s constitution requires a party member to “belong to and take active part in the activities of his ward”. But then, the earth-shattering decisions are taken not at the ward level but high up the party hierarchy in far off places, places too distant to be reached by the ward-based members. Besides, in sub-paragraph (4) of the same Section 10, the PDP Constitution forbids any member to “bring to public attention disagreements and conflicts within the Party unless expressly authorized to do so.” It goes on in paragraph (5) to restrain members of the Party from making “critical comments about the policies of any government elected on the platform of the Party.”

In contrast to the PDP’s censorship of its members, the APC’s constitution, in outlining the party’s objectives, expressly provides in Article 7 (viii) as follows:

“To promote and uphold the practice of internal democracy at all levels of the Party’s organization”.

The (APC) Constitution further pledges [in Article 7 (ix)] to “institutionalize, maintain and foster representative democracy all levels of the Party’s organization.” Whether the structure of the APC would allow it to deliver on its promise (of internal and representative democracy at all levels) is an open question.

The size and complexity of the party “machine”
The APC’s promise (to foster representative democracy at all levels) may in fact turn out to be an empty one. As noted in a subsequent section, the party and its major rivals are organized (a) geographically (the Polling Unit, the Ward, Local Government Area, Senatorial District, State, Zonal, and National); (b) by levels of authority (Ward Executive Committee, Ward Congress, Local Government Executive Committee, Local Government Area Caucus, State Working Committee, State Executive Committee, State Congress, Zonal Executive Committee, National Working Committee, National Executive Committee, and the National Convention); (c) by hierarchy of offices (National Chairman, Deputy National Chairpersons, National Vice-Chairpersons, Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Auditor, etc) and (d) by principal stakeholders (Board of Trustees, Elders Committee, Zonal Committees, etc). The complexity of the party structure thus constitutes the first barrier to the attainment of the twin objectives of representative and internal democracy by the two major political parties, the APC and the PDP.

Godfathers, gangsters and money
The overwhelming influence of godfathers, money, and violence on the governance of political parties is yet another obstacle to internal democracy within and across Nigeria’s political parties. The combination most frequently proves decisive at the stages of candidate screening and selection, voter registration, voter mobilization, electioneering, poll observation, and results tabulation and declaration.

Citizen’s complicity in repression and misrule
The attitude of mind of the average elector largely determines the fate of democratizing efforts. To this extent, future research needs to interrogate the mindset of a class of citizens that is unique to Nigeria, that is, a class that is noted for its cynicism and its collusion with sleaze, repression and misrule. When members of this class participate in the political or electoral process, it is not to advance the cause of internal or representative democracy but to serve their own personal interests. The cynics appear in various forms—as thugs sent out to terrorize and rattle opponents, as ghost-writers and trolls commissioned to mount spirited on- and off-line defence of their corrupt masters, or as individuals planted in strategic party or government positions to safeguard the interests of their backers.

It is actually on such morally neutral citizens that “strong men” and transactional leaders rely to subvert the cause of democracy, to rationalize and defend corrupt behaviour, and to hijack the entire party apparatus as a first step towards ensuring that the transactional leaders’ will prevail at all times. The flunkies’ (or the puppets’) rewards include plum party and government appointments, immunity from prosecution (regardless of the gravity of the crimes and misdemeanours they commit), guaranteed victory in land, chieftaincy and related disputes in which they are interested, and access to choicest properties in any part of the country under their masters’ control.

Rank-and-file apathy and indifference
As earlier noted, the average elector’s state of mind is critical to an understanding of internal and representative democracy. Probably as a result of the confluence of the preceding factors or circumstances, an elector might be dissuaded from participating in the political process or from exercising their suffrage rights. In any case, while some citizens are by nature politically active and informed, others tend to be apathetic, indifferent and disinterested. Yet others are neither apathetic nor active, preferring to cast stones in place of votes, and, when provoked, to shout rather than keep mute. In other words, the third group would, as implied earlier, rather break things than use their votes to mould them. We won’t know who belongs under each heading (and why) unless and until our inquiry turns on the cognitive, affective, and evaluative orientations of respondents to properly designed and tested survey questionnaires.

II. Lost in the maze: the member and “the party machine”
Political parties have a critical role to play in the democratic deepening process. As instruments for the articulation and aggregation of interests, they afford the average citizen an opportunity to participate in the governance of their country. It is probably because of the importance attached to political parties that the Nigerian constitution recognizes them as the only means by which the citizen could vote and be voted for at elections. Chapter VI, Part III (D) of the amended constitution specifically forbids running as an independent candidate at elections. As provided for in Sections 221-222,

“No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”

Under an amendment recently adopted by the Nigeria’s upper chamber would appear to have ended the monopoly enjoyed by the registered political parties. As proposed by the senate, independent candidates can now run for various classes of offices.
The amendment notwithstanding, the challenge ahead is ensuring that the registered political parties do not abuse their undoubted advantage over the mobilization process. The average elector is after all a tiny part of a huge and complex “machine”. His bewilderment increases as he relates to a body with a cumbersome and overlapping membership, a body that is dominated largely by the local and the national elite, and a body that decides at the centre the workings and the fortunes of the periphery.

The first obstacle to popular participation in the governance and administration of political parties is the power conferred on top organs to decide for those at the bottom. As provided for in the constitutions of the mainstream parties, matters concerning each party are handled at the following levels:
(a) Ward
(b) Local Government Area (LGA)
(c) Senatorial District
(d) State
(e) Zonal, and
(f) National

Conforming to the geographic allocation of role is the ascending order of decision-making authority. It does not matter whether it is the APC or the PDP, the organs that are authorized to take various classes of decisions are:
(a) The Ward Congress;
(b) The Ward Executive Committee;
(c) The Local Government Area Executive Committee;
(d) The Local Government Area Caucus (an electoral college comprising Ward Chairpersons and selected officials);
(e) The Senatorial District Executive Committee;
(f) The Senatorial District Caucus;
(g) The State Working Committee;
(h) State Elders Committee;
(i) The State Executive Committee;
(j) The Zonal Working Committee;
(k) The Zonal Executive Committee;
(l) The National Working Committee;
(m) The National Caucus;
(n) The National Executive Committee;
(o) The Board of Trustees; and
(p) The National Convention.

The hierarchy of organs is supported with a hierarchy of offices or officials (details of which are provided in subsequent paragraphs).

III. Who governs in political parties: a constitutional guide
By and large, the constitutions of the mainstream political parties encourage rank-and file participation in the conduct of the parties’ affairs. The only restraints on participation, as far as the APC and the PDP are concerned, are perpetual default in the payment of membership dues, failure to renew and re-register lapse membership, engagement in “anti-party activities”, and renunciation of party membership and obligations.

Otherwise, and at least, in theory, democratic participation in the mainstream parties is facilitated at the various levels, especially, at the ward congress level. However, opportunity for popular participation recedes as decision-making power moves upwards from the bottom (the ward, and possibly, the local government area), through the middle (i.e., state, senatorial district, zonal) to the apex of the political ladder (national working and executive committees, and the National Convention). At any rate, the secondary level, the Local Government Area Congress, is made up, not of ordinary members, but mostly of delegates elected or nominated by members of the national and local elite.

The Ward: cradle and end of popular participation
In both the PDP and the APC, the Ward is the basic organization unit, and theoretically, the body availing each member widest opportunity to participate in the conduct of the Party’s affairs (including, but not limited to, the election of local party officials).

The two organs of the Party at the Ward level are (a) the Ward Executive Committee comprising the principal officials of the Party elected by (b) the Ward Congress which is itself made up of the registered, and paid-up members of the Party in the Ward.

The Ward Executive Committee that directs the affairs of the party at the ward level is made up mostly of officials elected by the members (that is, of members’ representatives). However, it is not as democratically constituted as the Ward Congress, the primary unit that affords each member the widest opportunity to participate directly in matters relating the affairs of the party. In addition to meeting as frequently as outlined in the party constitution, the Ward Congress’s functions are to:

(a) Receive reports of officers of the Ward;
(b) Receive auditors’ reports;
(c) Approve the budget of the Ward;
(d) Elect members of the Ward Executive Committee;
(e) Elect Ward delegates to the Party Congresses (in the case of the APC, the Ward is mandated to elect delegates to the State Party Congress only);
(f) Conduct primaries for the Ward elections;
(g) Carry out such other functions as may be in the interest of the party.

Local Government Area Congress
The Local Government Congress (or, in APC’s case, the Local Government Area Caucus) is basically a gathering of the national and the local elite, ranking party and government officials, and others euphemistically termed “Stakeholders”. The composition, as stipulated under the PDP’s, and with minor modifications, under the APC’s constitution, is as follows:

(a) The Local Government Chairman of the Party and other members of the Local Government Area Executive Committee;
(b) The National, Zonal and State Executive Committee members of the Party from the Local Government Area;
(c) Elected Local Government Council Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Councillors who are members of the Party;
(d) All members of the National and State House of Assembly from the Local Government Area who are members of the Party;
(e) Members of the (national) Board of Trustees from the Local Government Area;
(f) All Chairmen and Secretaries of the Ward Executive Committees from the Local Government Area;
(g) Three delegates from each Ward of the Local Government Area elected at the Ward Congress, at least, one of whom shall be a woman, all of whom shall cease to function at the conclusion of Congress for which they were elected ;
(h) Elected political office holders from the Local Government Area, who are members of the Party, that is:

a. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; or
b. The Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
c. The State Governor; or
d. The Deputy State Governor

(i) Former holders of the following offices elected on the platform of the Party, who are still members of the Party—
a. President or Vice-President;
b. Governor or Deputy Governor;
c. National Assembly members;
d. Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly;
e. Elected National Executive Committee members;
f. Local Government Party Chairmen and Secretaries;
g. Local Government Council Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen;
h. Leaders of Council (Speakers) elected on the platform of the Party

Interestingly, among the functions of the LGA Congress are to “elect Local Government Council Chairmanship candidates of the Party”, and “elect Local Government Area Party delegates to the National Convention”! The Local Government Caucus is, under the APC Constitution, the body assigned the task of electing delegates to the State Congress and the National Convention.

The State Congress
As provided for in the PDP Constitution, and to some extent, its APC counterpart, the State Congress is made up largely of officials, notably:
(a) The State Chairman, who shall be Chairman;
(b) The President or Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who are members of the Party from the State;
(c) The Governor and Deputy Governor of the State, if members of the Party;
(d) The Gubernatorial Candidate of the Party;
(e) The members of the Board of Trustees from the State;
(f) The members of the State Executive Committee;
(g) Members of the National and Zonal Executive Committees from the State;
(h) The members of the National Assembly from the State and the members of the State House of Assembly, who are members of the Party;
(i) All elected Local Government Council Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen who are members of the Party;
(j) All Local Government Party Secretaries and Treasurers;
(k) All Local Government Women and Youth Leaders;
(l) Three delegates per Ward elected at Ward Congresses at least one of whom shall be a woman, and all of whom shall cease to function after the conclusion of the Congress for which they were elected;
(m) Former members of the State Working Committee who are still members of the Party;
(n) Former Governors and Deputy Governors produced by the Party who are still members of the Party; and
(o) Former Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the State House of Assembly produced by the Party who are still members of the Party.

The State Congress is empowered, among other things, to “elect officers of the State Executive Committee”, and “elect governorship candidate of the party”.

Senatorial District Congress
The Senatorial District Congress comprises all delegates to the State Congress who are from the Senatorial District. Its main task is to “elect the Senatorial Candidate of the Party” in the District.

The Zonal Congress
The Zonal Congress’s composition is as follows:
(a) All members of the Zonal Working Committee;
(b) Members of the Zonal Executive Committee;
(c) Members of the State Executive Committee;
(d) All former members of the Zonal Working Committee who are still members of the Party; and
(e) All delegates to the National Convention from all States in the Zone.

The PDP’s Zonal Congress is mandated, inter alia, to approve the budget of the Party in the Zone, elect officers of the Zonal Working Committee, and receive the reports of officers of the party in the Zone.

National Working Committee
The National Working Committee, made up largely of ranking party members and officials, is a rapid response unit that is in charge of day-to-day administration of the party, including the preparation of the agenda of the National Convention, and the implementation of party decisions. It handles hot-button (including, conflict arbitration) issues while leaving policy matters to be resolved by the National Executive Committee. The APC’s National Working Committee comprises:

(a) National Chairman;
(b) Deputy National Chairman (North)
(c) Deputy National Chairman (South)
(d) National Secretary;
(e) Deputy National Secretary;
(f) 6 National Vice-Chairmen/Zonal Chairmen/Chair of Zonal Committees;
(g) National Legal Adviser;
(h) National Treasurer;
(i) National Financial Secretary;
(j) National Organizing Secretary;
(k) National Welfare Secretary;
(l) National Publicity Secretary
(m) National Auditor;
(n) National Women Leader;
(o) National Youth Leader;

National Executive Committee
The National Executive Committee is, as implied from the name, the party’s principal executive body. It summons the National Convention, and in between Conventions, performs the supreme body’s policy formulation and guidance functions. In its capacity as the proxy National Convention, its decisions are binding and final. It exercises disciplinary control over the party organs and the officials.

NEC’s membership largely overlaps with that of the NWC (National Working Committee). However, the NEC’s membership is broadened to include the following additional notable personalities:

(a) Zonal Youth Leader;
(b) Zonal Women Leader;
(c) The President and the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who are Members of the party;
(d) The Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives who are Members of the party;
(e) State Governors and their Deputies who are Members of the party;
(f) Principal Officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives who are Members of the party;
(g) Two Senators from each of the geo-political Zones who are Members of the party;
(h) Three Members of the House of Representatives from each of the geo-political Zones who are Members of the party;
(i) Six Ex-Officio members of whom one each shall be elected by the Convention from each of the Six geo-political Zones of the country (provided they are Members of the party).

Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees is designated as the “conscience” and “soul” of the party in the APC and the PDP constitutions. Largely a council of elders and party dignitaries, the BoT advises on broad policy matters and convenes the National Convention of the party. It is made up, not of ordinary party members or their duly accredited representatives, but of the party’s bigwigs, notably:
(a) Past and present Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who are Members of the Party;
(b) Past and present Senate Presidents and Deputy Senate Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who are Members of the Party;
(c) Past and present Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives who are Members of the Party;
(d) Past and present State Governors and Deputy State Governors who are Members of the Party;
(e) Past and present National Chairmen of Political Parties “who have either produced a past President, Senator(s), Members of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Governor(s) of States of the Federation and are Members of the Party;
(f) Past and present National Chairman produced by the Party;
(g) One Member nominated by each State/Federal Capital Territory Executive Committee for consideration, and subsequent recommendation by the National Working Committee to the National Executive Committee for approval;
(h) One woman from each geopolitical Zone of the country nominated by the Zonal Committee for consideration, and subsequent recommendation by the National Working Committee to the National Executive Committee for approval;
(i) Any other person(s) not exceeding six in number nominated by the National Working Committee and approved by the National Executive Committee to represent identified interests.

The National Convention
The National Convention is the “supreme and controlling authority of the Party within the limits prescribed in this Constitution”, so says the PDP Constitution, with the implied concurrence of its APC opposite number. The Convention is also supposedly “the principal representative, policy making and administering body of the Party”.

The Convention’s primary functions include:

(a) Formulating policies and programmes for the Party;
(b) Electing or removing the National Officers of the Party;
(c) Electing the Presidential candidate of the Party;
(d) Vetting legislations enacted by governments elected on the party’s platform and ensuring that the legislations are in conformity with the policies and programmes of the Party;
(e) Ensuring that as many as the number of candidates fielded by the Party at elections are returned in a manner consistent with the laws of the land;
(f) Exercising disciplinary control over all officers and members of the Party; and
(g) Reviewing and amending the Constitution of the Party, from time to time, as the need arises.

The National Convention’s elitist composition does not portray it as a representative body. The PDP’s (and to a certain extent, the APC’s) constitution lists the following key players as members of the supreme policy organ:

(a) The National Chairman of the Party, who shall be Chairman of the National Convention, and other members of the National Executive Committee;
(b) The President and Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who are members of the Party;
(c) Members of the National Assembly, who are members of the Party;
(d) State Governors and Deputy Governors, who are members of the Party;
(e) All Gubernatorial candidates of the Party, who shall be automatic delegates to the Convention;
(f) Members of the State Houses of Assembly, who are members of the Party;
(g) Members of the Board of Trustees;
(h) Members of the Zonal Working Committee and State Party Chairmen and Secretaries, including those of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;
(i) State Women and Youth Leaders, including those of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;
(j) Party Chairmen of the Local Government Areas;
(k) One National delegate from each Local Government Area to be elected at the Local Government congress for the purpose;
(l) All elected Local Government Council Chairmen who are members of the party;
(m) Former members of the National Working Committee who are still members of the Party; and
(n) Former Deputy Presidents of the Senate and former Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives who are still in the party.

IV. Internal democracy: Quick-wins, medium-term measures, and lingering issues
This study started as an enquiry into the alleged imposition of candidates for elective offices by powerful elements within political parties. As the study progressed, it became clear that the issues were not as clear-cut as the opponents of “imposition” thought. As the study reveals, the issue goes beyond the vetting and nomination of candidates. It goes to the very heart of participation—especially, participation by the average party member in the conduct of the party’s affairs.

If there are obstacles to popular participation in the governance and administration of political parties, where does the problem (or the blame) lie? Is participation restricted because some power-hungry individuals had taken it upon themselves to block all avenues of participation? Are the party members the architects of their own marginalization? What exactly does the typical party constitution even say about participation?

In the course of seeking answers to the preceding questions, the study focused on the party constitution. It did so not because the constitution tells the whole story, but because it is the natural starting point in the effort at interrogating the barriers to internal and representative democracy.

The interim review of party constitutions was not without its reward. At the very least, the focus on the provisions of the constitutions brings out what had all along been overlooked—the elitist, anti-democratic, backward-looking, change-resisting nature of the constitutions. The review exposes the party constitution’s soft under-belly—that is, the tendency to perpetuate and entrench the privilege of past and current office bearers, and to marginalize, if not completely exclude, ordinary citizens. Learning organizations almost invariably rely on the inputs of thinkers, but the party constitutions, as presently drafted, leave no room for those inclined to think out of the box or to challenge the status quo.

The elitist and reactionary bent of the constitutions comes out clearly in the composition and powers of the party organs. The ward congress is clearly the only body allowing the average member to influence the content and directions of party policy. Yet, the congress has limited powers, the power to take the bulk of the earth-shattering decisions lying elsewhere, that is, at the top and far away from the ward. The higher a matter to be resolved goes up the party hierarchy and at locations away from the ward, the less the opportunity an average member has to decide anything significant. It is even possible that the decisions which the ward congress is constitutionally mandated to take are themselves subject to the influence of party elders and godfathers. We won’t know precisely how pervasive that external influence is on ward-level decisions without carrying out empirical field studies.

Still, and for all its weaknesses, the ward congress is the primary body availing the ordinary member the widest opportunity to participate in the conduct of each political party’s affairs. It is certainly more democratically constituted and more representative than any of the higher-level organs, notably, the executive and the working committees, the congresses and caucuses, the Board of Trustees, and the National Convention. The composition of these higher-level organs not only exclude or marginalize the rank and file but also affords former officials, the so-called “stakeholders”, an opportunity to perpetuate themselves in positions of authority. It is difficult to imagine how a party that recycles former officials (and entrenches such officials in strategic positions) can constantly renew itself.
Interim measures: constitution review

The upshot of the foregoing is the necessity to undertake in the short-to medium-term a critical review of party constitutions. This is with a view to bringing them in line with Nigeria’s democratic aspirations.

The interim review undertaken in this paper exposes the Nigerian political party constitutions’ soft under-belly—that is, the tendency to perpetuate and entrench the privilege of past and current office bearers, and to marginalize, if not completely exclude and disenfranchise, ordinary citizens. Learning organizations almost invariably rely on the inputs of thinkers, but the party constitutions, as presently understood in Nigeria, leave no room for those inclined to think out of the box or to challenge the status quo.

The focus of future review should be on how to:

(a) expand the role of the average member,
(b) promote a free flow of ideas from the wider electorate to the party and conversely, and from the ward congress to higher-level decision-making organs,
(c) admit, on a regular basis, new members into decision-making positions, and bring renewed vigour and ideas into the political parties.

Provisions of the party constitution that censor freedom of expression or purport to ban dissent should be abrogated and replaced with liberal texts.

Next Steps: A Research Proposal

The party constitution tells a story, but not the whole of it. The constitution for instance provides a general picture of how a political party ought to be run. However, there is no assurance that the constitution is, or will be, the arbiter when wills collide. The constitution may even be supine or irrelevant when it comes to the attitudes and behaviour of the actors—especially, the active and the apathetic party members, the non-voting members of the wider public, the election administration agents, party elders, godfathers, and “stakeholders”.

To bridge the gap between constitutional stipulations and substantive behaviour, it is recommended that a nation-wide survey of barriers to the attainment of internal and representative democracy in the mainstream and a few regionally based parties be undertaken. The survey will interrogate not only the letter and spirit of party constitutions, but also the cognitive, affective and evaluative orientations of respondents. The results of the survey will be disaggregated by age, education, religion, ethnicity, geo-political zone, profession, income, party affiliation, and other fault lines unique to Nigeria.

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