NWANKWO: Our Political Parties Are In A Flux


Clement Nwankwo

Clement Nwankwo, Lawyer, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room told BISI ALABI WILLIAMS that politicians should match their personal ambition with a willingness to serve. 

What do the events in the NASS remind you of, regarding the Nigerian party system? CERTAINLY, our parties are in a flux. The ruling party entered into elections as a fusion of more than four different political interests and tendencies. It is thus understandable that with a few issues unsettled before the elections, the current problems we see are not unexpected.

If political parties that came about from mergers and fought for the common purpose of winning power fail to manage their victory very well, the possibility is there that their hold on power may be affected. So, I think it is in the interest of all concerned to work out a mechanism for settling differences if they want to hold together. Most Nigerians voted for a new party to be in power because they wanted to see things done differently.

Expectations are very high, challenges of living in Nigeria are immense, unemployment is incredible and insecurity remains a big problem.

The actors in the new ruling party and indeed all of Nigeria’s political parties, must pull away from their squabbles and address citizens concerns. Do you think something went wrong along the line, because we seemed to have fairly disciplined parties in the Second Republic? The political parties of the Second Republic were different.

They were led by iconic figures like Zik, Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Ibrahim Waziri, whom their members revered. Sometimes, their words were law and once they set the rules, no one dared challenge it. So much has changed since the 80’s.

Today’s Political Parties are full of “too many chiefs and too few Indians” who frustrate and subvert internal processes of their party. It also seemed that Second Republic parties had hegemonic tendencies and more ethnically affiliated than we had today. The two biggest parties today in Nigeria have membership that can be described as national in outlook and this comes along with it, different interests that cut across the diversity of the country.

The pattern we are seeing tends to suggest inherent challenges of managing huge parties, unlike regional, medium sized parties. Can we pursue that argument to mean that the challenges of today in the NASS could be better managed in a parliamentary system? Yes, it is a more difficult task managing big political parties.

Regional or mid sized-parties tend to be composed of persons with regional or ethnic identities. Larger parties are far more complicated, which is what the two major parties in Nigeria are. I don’t know whether a parliamentary system is preferable to a presidential system of government. We have practiced both.

Under the parliamentary system that Nigeria practiced, the political crisis of the country brewed and escalated into a civil war, which accounted for the change to a Presidential system in 1979.

The presidential system itself collapsed in 1983 and now we are back to a presidential system that has survived 16 years so far. Some say lack of party discipline is responsible for majority of party squabbles.

Could that be so? I must say that the physical altercation that we saw play out on live television in the National Assembly is unacceptable. As Nigerians, we are disappointed to see the squabbles going on. Citizens are desperate to see development happen. I think however, that squabbles in parties are not unusual in democracies.

When people come together to form a party, it is to pursue their own interests. Sometimes, the ability to manage several interests in an orderly and disciplined manner becomes a challenge.

Parties that have survived and prevailed over squabbles are parties that have developed a tradition of how to do this. I think that our parties are still very young and will learn from their squabbles in order to build a tradition of how to do things. The advanced democracies of the West have parties that have come through several decades of existence and evolved through experiences, practices, conventions and their constitutions.

Parties must however, provide for themselves, an internal democratic process that takes all views into account and as well, allow for mechanisms to address wrongs. Or you think inordinate ambition of politicians is to blame? Ambition must be matched with a willingness to serve the public. Where this is absent, then such ambition must be questioned.

Nigerians would like to see their politicians serve them and this has been lacking in a lot of cases. Our politicians must reorient themselves to service of the people.

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