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Battle to make parties supreme in a presidential system

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The battle to make political parties supreme in the country will persist, as the presidential system of government, which Nigeria has adopted, where the three arms of government are independent but derive their powers and authority from the constitution, does not support the concept as parliamentary system would. This puts the political parties in a bind, as members continue to challenge the parties’ hierarchies, writes Onyedika Agbedo.In spite of moves by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to rein in their members and ensure that they submit to the authority of their leaderships to decide their affairs, otherwise known as party supremacy, indications have emerged that both parties may have cut out a herculean task for themselves in that pursuit under the present system of government.

The Guardian findings show that party supremacy as advocated by both parties is not attainable under a presidential system of government.

According to sources, the only way to win the confidence of party members and enjoy their unflinching support under the system is by ensuring justice, equity and fairness in managing the affairs of the party.

Arguably, party supremacy has eluded the Nigerian political system since the restoration of democratic governance 20 years ago. There have been numerous cases where members of a political party who felt shortchanged in the scheme of things challenged the decisions of the party up to the Supreme Court and upturned such decisions.

This is more rampant during party congresses and primaries. A case in point is the ongoing case at the Supreme Court where APC is challenging the judgment of the Court of Appeal sitting in Sokoto which set aside the judgment delivered by the Zamfara High Court allowing the party to field candidates in the 2019 elections.

A member of the party and chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabiru Marafa, with 129 others, had filed the appeal through his counsel, Mr. Mike Ozekhome, where he maintained that the party did not conduct primary elections in the state.

As it stands, the fate of all candidates of the party in the state during the last general elections hangs in the balance as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has insisted on waiting for the outcome of the case before issuing Certificates of Return to the winner while it could withdraw the ones already issued to the Senate and House of Representatives members-elect should the party lose the appeal.

There had also been instances when elected members of a party in the National Assembly (NASS) defied the party by supporting candidates of their choice for the principal positions in the NASS instead of those endorsed by the party.

For instance, in 2011 Aminu Tambuwal emerged as the Speaker of the House of Representatives instead of Mulikat Akande-Adeola, who had PDP’s endorsement. Tambuwal, then a former deputy whip, scored 252 votes to Akande-Adeola’s 90 votes.

He enjoyed the overwhelming support of majority of members, who were bent on torpedoing PDP’s zoning formula, which ceded the post to the Southwest geo-political zone.

Also in 2015, Yakubu Dogara, who represents Bogoro/Tafawa Balewa Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, emerged Speaker of the 8th Assembly against the wishes of his party, APC.

He defeated Femi Gbajabiamila, who represents Surulere Federal Constituency, Lagos State, in a keenly contested election, scoring 182 votes to Gbajabiamila’s 174.

The party had conducted a mock election where Gbajabiamila emerged as the party’s official candidate but Dogara and his supporters ignored their party, saying that they preferred to be beaten on the floor of the House.

A similar scenario played out in the Senate in the same year, as Bukola Saraki was elected Senate President instead of Ahmed Lawan, the preferred choice of APC. In this case, however, Saraki entered into an alliance with PDP senators that saw him trade off the position of Deputy Senate President to the opposition party.

These go to show that party discipline has been lacking under Nigeria’s present political and governance systems. National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, attributes this to a lot of factors.

According to him, “It has to do with the kind of leadership within the political parties. Some party leaders compromise themselves in the course of primary elections so much so that they lack the moral authority to put their feet down on the issue of party discipline.

Now, when an uncompromised leadership is in the saddle and insists that the right thing must be done, it becomes an abnormality in the eyes of the ordinary person because that is not the way it was done before. There are other situations too where parties are weak and keep treating an important member as a treasured child. When such person begins to misbehave, the party will lack the authority to call him to order because they are in search of people to make the party relevant.

“Godfatherism also weakens the power of parties to discipline erring members. Some godfathers, who fund and support parties, tend to breathe down the neck of party leadership and you can see a lot of that happening in APC today.”

Nevertheless, with APC and PDP emerging as the two dominant parties in the country after the 2019 elections, both parties have been talking tough on the issue of party discipline and supremacy.

While the leadership of APC is finding it difficult to get its members to agree with its zoning arrangement and choice of principal officers of the NASS as it prepares to form the next government after its victory in the presidential and NASS elections, PDP is also concerned that the numerous cases instituted by its members against the party might erode some of the gains it recorded in the last elections.

On its part, APC, not wanting a repeat of the 2015 mistake where its choices for the Senate and House of Representatives leadership failed, is insisting that its members must abide by its decisions concerning the leadership of NASS this time.

The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, was recently quoted as saying that the party expects those gunning for some NASS principal positions but not endorsed by the party to step down before the inauguration date.

“We do not want to pre-empt any member because we still have about two months to the day they are expected to elect the new leaders of the National Assembly. It will be unhelpful if we begin to pre-empt and pass judgment two months away from that day. We understand that our members know that the country’s constitution does not recognise independent candidates. If they are elected on the platform of a particular party, it means that they are ready to abide by the position and the constitution of that party. We are confident that by the time we are ready to have new leaders in the National Assembly, the members who are doing things that appear contrary to the position of the party would have seen reasons to step down and abide by the party’s position. Party supremacy is what you get in best of democracies and we want to be one of such.”

For PDP, the party has directed all members that instituted court cases against it to withdraw them or face sanctions. The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Diran Odeyemi, had in a recent statement, noted that the party considered myriads of cases instituted against it by its members as inimical to the successes it has achieved in the last few years.

“We consider it inimical to our progress as a vibrant political party the myriad of cases instituted against PDP by members who are expected to be part of the concerted efforts towards being the ruling party in Nigeria,” he said. “We can’t continue to struggle under the yoke of needless litigations when we intend to return to power both at federal level and in other states that are out of control of PDP at the moment.”
BUT how far can the two parties go on this issue? Okorie believes they are on track, citing the First Republic, where, according to him, what obtained was “once you disagree with your party, you move.”

He explained further: “That was what happened in the First Republic in the case of the carpet crossing where some people who were elected on the platform of NCNC, for reasons that they were no longer in line with what NCNC stood for, moved across to Action Group (AG) and AG formed the government at that time. They didn’t stay in NCNC to foment trouble.

The opposite of what happened in the First Republic is what happened in this very dispensation where APC leadership of the NASS were more PDP in spirit but only APC in body.

“Internal party discipline means that a member of the party must be loyal to the directives of the leadership of the party except where such directives are contrary to the clear provisions of the party’s constitution. This is to say that party leaders must also comply with the party’s constitution, which they have subscribed to. So, when you have an issue with the party’s constitution with regards to directives given by the party, it is still within your party that you lay your complaint, not to go to court. When you take that party to court, you have taken steps to ridicule the party and there is provision for disciplinary measures against any person who has taken steps to ridicule the party or bring the party to public embarrassment.

“So, if you think the party’s leadership and its methods are not in agreement with what you believe, the option for you is to leave the party and not to bring it down, more so in a multi-party democracy where there are so many other alternative platforms.”

Former Minister of Works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, however, disagrees and his reason is that “we are not running a parliamentary system of government. We are running a presidential system of government.

“Secondly, it’s the constitutional right of anybody whose right has been infringed upon to go to court. You cannot stop them particularly when you as the leadership of the political party caused the problem. If you are honest and democratic, there will not be any need for anybody to go to court. But where you as the leadership or head caused the problem, you cannot say anybody that is injured should not go to court. It’s unconstitutional; so, they just brag for nothing. There is nothing they can do. They are rambling.

“For instance, when Ifeanyi Ararume defied the order of PDP and they expelled him, he went to court and won. So, when your right is infringed upon, the constitution guarantees that the next place to go is the court. Now, we have 760 pre-election and post-election cases in court. What about the judgments that have been delivered since all these days? So, it is your right to go to court; it’s in our constitution.”

Former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, concurs that party supremacy is impracticable in a presidential democracy. He argued that Nigeria has been combining the parliamentary and presidential systems of government, noting that it does not augur well for the country.

“You know we are mixing oil and water,” he said. “Oil and water don’t mix. The fact is that we were brought up in a parliamentary system where there is clear-cut party supremacy. In a parliamentary system, the party with the majority forms the government. But later in 1979 we moved to the presidential system. In the presidential system, you have sovereignty residing in the people; you cannot delegate sovereignty. And Section 14 is very clear that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and the government derives all its power and authority from constitution. In other words, the constitution is a documentation of delegated power. So, the power you claim you have must be in the constitution; if you cannot identify it, you don’t have it. So, if the people shared the power among three arms— the legislature, executive and judiciary, and they are independent and take charge of their internal ordering and resist imposition from outside; that means losing party supremacy.”

He further explained that in a parliamentary democracy, the lawmaking and law-executing organs reside in the same parliament.

According to him, “The party that has the majority forms the government. The prime minister is there and if, for instance, they come in the morning and pass on no confidence vote on you, you leave. So, party supremacy is not as effective in the presidential system as in the parliamentary system. We are mixing water and oil. So, that is the problem and it will continue to be.”

Momoh recalled that PDP was very profound in its control especially after 2003 when the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) that was in power in nine states was left with only three states after that year’s election. For him, what brought the issue of party supremacy to limelight was the merger that gave birth to APC, which put in place a very effective opposition.

Despite the hardline positions adopted by both parties on the issue, Ogunlewe maintained that instilling justice in the processes of the parties is the only way to secure the unalloyed loyalty of the members.

“If there is justice, you will limit the idea of going to court,” he stressed. “It is just for you to be fair. Once there is fairness and justice, you don’t need to go to court. But where there is injustice, people go to court to protect their rights. Where you perpetrate injustice and you think the people should not go to court, it’s a double jeopardy for them. They must be able to go to court; that’s what courts are meant for.”

Momoh also thinks everything boils down to the parties doing the right things and carrying their members along, not issuing threats.

“Politics is like playing chess,” he submitted. “They can sit down and play chess and whoever wins, wins. So, this not about the party blowing the trumpet and saying this is what you must do because they (lawmakers) can organise in-house to defy party supremacy.”

From the foregoing, it’s obvious that party supremacy is earned not foisted on the members in a presidential system. So, those who are talking about it now without recourse to the underlining issues the parties face either don’t understand the workings of a presidential democracy or want to hide under the concept to hoodwink unsuspecting members of the parties into subservience. APC will face a huge test on the issue in the days ahead and how it turns out will be of interest to many political observers.



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