By Laz Apir
Electoral stakeholders have variously brought marked improvements to the conduct of election in Nigeria. The Electoral Management Body, the civil society organizations, the Media and the security agencies have all had to innovate towards improving their engagement of the electoral process which is at the heart of every democracy.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for instance has proactively embraced ICTs in the organization and conduct of elections to a point that the avoidable human errors are now almost minimal. In Nigeria today, civil society groups are deploying gold standard election observation methodologies that are able to provide independent verification of the official election results as announced by INEC. The media is not left out of the innovative engagement of elections with several media groups now deploying real time interrogation and collation of election results. The security of election in Nigeria has been organized to the level that there is harmonized deployment of several security agencies with each taking up a distinct but complementary role to secure the elections.
It is however regrettable that Political Parties which are at the centre stage of democratic governance have not been credited with any viable innovations in Nigeria since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999. This is evident in the lack of internal party democracy, rigging and other forms of electoral sharp practices which have been variously exposed even from recent Supreme Court judgements that sacked a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives from the 8th National Assembly on grounds of not being the legitimate flag bearer of their political parties. Most unfortunate is the fact that out of 180 million Nigerians, fewer than five million combined are duly registered members of the current 68 political parties. What this brings to fore is the fact that the political parties have failed woefully in entrenching and deepening their institutional framework, systems and structures as such cannot effectively attract and sustain membership.
Political parties in Nigeria have operated in self-destruct manner and continue to do so even today. Yesterday’s party men are still standing trial for actively looting the national treasury and sharing spoils in the name of a presidential election. Some party men even got millions if not billions for spiritual purposes, others cannot even say with certainty why they received upwards of 100 million naira. Ahead of 2019, it is already public knowledge that a political party in power has activated a healing procedure. One wonders, are these not the folks that held hands and sang kumbaya so harmoniously that millions of Nigerians had to suffer collective amnesia and accept what they knew and always rejected?
Well, the year is 2018, a year politicians do whatever needs to be done in order to be on the ballot paper. But let me ask; is there a chance political parties can do different and be different in Nigeria? Or clearly political parties don’t matter, and we should celebrate the fact that we are encumbered by a scheming political class that knows how to get through elections with or without actual political party systems? My incurable optimism says political parties can do better even before 2019. HERE IS HOW:
Political parties can actually begin to strengthen their institutional base with a proactive policy of inclusion of young Nigerians. If anything has been audible enough for even the deaf to hear; it is the clamour for opening up the space some more for young people. #NotTooYoungToRun bill has done what many will describe as success story already. Whether it is passed or not, the message is clear, young people are aware and are asking questions. Any political party that desires to survive and attain political power, should as a matter of policy, urgently review its executive structures to include young people of between 18-25 years old. To ensure such roles are filled, political parties should incentivize membership of their party for such young persons through scholarships, foreign exchange internships as well as employment internship with their elected officers across the country. This will motivate the young people to enlist into such political parties and work hard for their victory in order for them to access more of such employment internship opportunities. In the long run, such political parties will never lack experienced leadership for their party.
The absence Information Communication Technologies in administration of political parties is yet another setback as far as attracting membership is concerned. To make political parties operations attractive to young people, political parties should adopt modern ICTs and virtual online communities. People are increasingly gathering in online communities, hence the growing need for political parties to adopt and adapt such platforms to suit their operations. With the current user statistics favouring the young people, political parties should fund and entrust handling of such platforms to the young members. This will both be fun as well as create a sense of duty in the youthful members. With such systems in operation, political parties will have greater control over their online campaigns as well as dismantle the adhoc contracts of bringing new media consultants for purposes of electioneering.
Closely related to the above is easy online registration for political party membership. As a matter of policy, all political parties should launch online registration platforms and campaign aggressively for membership, highlighting party objectives and benefits of membership. Membership through online registration with every registrant being assigned a membership number is all a party needs for identification. The online registration platform also readily supports the establishment of membership database that one can access easily online. With increasing online payment platforms, such registrants will very easily pay the little token for membership sign-on. Such registration details will be nicely coded on plastic ID cards with option of them picking up membership cards at the party office closest to the residential address as provided during registration. With proper coding, such forms will be linked to party membership database to avoid multiple registration. Such process will enable Nigerians anywhere in the world to register and join a political party.
Nigeria’s most recent population estimate and demographics put women (young and old) at about 49% of the entire countries population of over 180 million. Similarly, the population estimate for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) is placed at about 30 million. Clearly, these are not special interest groups to ignore. Therefore, as a conscious policy realizable through negotiation, political parties should concede 40% party executive position to women and PWDS. Any political party that achieves this will enjoy massive membership and support from these constituencies. This is an initial approach to get things started in the right direction, in the long term, such political parties will have entrenched membership that boosts both interest groups that aptly qualify to challenge for any and all executive positions without the need for concessions.
It is not doubt that as a requirement for registration, every political party writes out its political objectives. This is however a little less what a sound political ideology looks like. Therefore, political parties as a deliberate practice should review and update their ideology after every two general elections. They should also as a regulation, submit their reviewed ideology to INEC which in turn will compile for all political parties and send to schools’ libraries cutting across primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. Relatedly, ALL school curriculums must be reviewed to include in their relevant subjects and courses, topics on political party roles, ideology and process.
To not try is self-defeatism or perhaps, political parties simply enjoy their dysfunctional systems as it continues to benefit the men who so far have been running the establishments. They can change for the best or carry on, but they must understand that the level of political consciousness among Nigerians is increasing and soon, a third force will emerge and banish them into political oblivion.
Laz Apir is an election enthusiast with many years of experience on design and management of election observation missions.