I am changing course again this week, and this is because the issue I am about to discuss is a matter, if not well handled, has the capacity to make a mess of the rest of us and the democratic path we have chosen as our access to sustainable development. It is an issue that is central to good democratic practice, and it is very important to me because, from what I can see, the general election of 2015 holds so such for the fate of our great nation and for democratic practice itself.
That is why I decided to leave the issue of pastors (their lifestyles, message, money, contribution to national development, etc), which are also very important matters in our development quest, to give full attention to a matter I consider of urgent national importance. I am sure my dear faithful readers would understand and grant me their permission to go the other way yet again today. What is the issue? The matter has to do with the emerging trend where political parties, particularly the ruling party – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – allow some of its highly placed members and even some state chapter executives to talk down on citizens on questions of party membership and to even claim to have the right to determine who is qualified to be registered, admitted, expelled, removed or de-registered as the case may be.
This style began rearing its ugly head a long time ago and in recent weeks assumed a monstrous dimension with the rumoured intended return to PDP of former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and the negative reactions of a few but certainly very distinguished members of the Abia State chapter of PDP over the purported return saga. While President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, the nation witnessed the emergence of this phenomenon when he could out-rightly mention names of persons who should not be registered or re-registered as members of the PDP. A good example is that of former governor of Ogun State, Mr. Gbenga Daniels.
In his case, it was said his name must be removed and never to be reinserted even if in demand of his guaranteed rights he asked that it be so done. What was his offence? First, was the much trumpeted “gap” between him and a president that hailed from his state. Later, issues of lack of internal democracy that would always lead to implosion except where one party is ready to be sacrificed. The other instance we heard of this again was in the case of Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President under Obasanjo presidency.
In this case, circumstances made it difficult for Atiku to maintain a healthy working relation with Obasanjo as the president, a clash became inevitable. Since there was apparently no credible kind of internal democracy to guarantee the ventilation of Atiku’s ambition, he had to run away to find means to actualize his dream or make a point. When the tempest was over, he desired to return; some forces from Adamawa State chapter of PDP staged a protest. Later, they were overruled and Atiku’s rights were restored and he registered, to the point of contesting the last Presidential primary poll within the PDP. I remember also the Ayo Fayose case and currently the Kalu development.
All these put together raises one vital question and that is if a democracy can be restrictive or selective (in the narrow sense)? Democracy can be restrictive or selective as the case may be. Democratic practice can indeed be restricted to a few powerful individuals, who in their small contrived worldview, can falsely assume that their own aspiration represents the face of the State. This can be called elitist democracy. It is just a kind among many others. But after several trials the world has come to accept plural democracy as the best. I think I agree with that position. Like I always say in this column, there is nothing we do today that is entirely new.
Nearly everything we need has been discovered and tested, what we do is to recreate things or processes to suit the times. Restricted or selective democracy has been tried and found inadequate. It distorts processes, encourages the dreadful philosophy of might is right and the recklessness of a few. It breeds tyranny of the stupid and often unintelligent minority. This is why those who know have since thrown their weight behind participatory democracy; a kind of democracy that encourages everybody to have freedom of thought and to give it expression by way of free association and mass participation on how their society is governed.
What this means in practical terms is that all individuals have the constitutionally guaranteed right to free thinking, of association and disassociation, all within the law. What I am saying is that subject to the limits granted by the constitution, a bona-fide citizen has the right to seek out ideas and to pursue same unfettered, except where they are in conflict with stated laws of the land.
In terms of political parties and its membership requirements; while it is true that a political party may come into existence by the resolve or agreement of a few like-minds, their restrictive hold to membership ends once it is registered by the recognized official state organ and acknowledged as competent political organization approved to canvass and seek votes. It is true a political party may have its rules and regulations for maintaining order and running its affairs, for such rules to remain valid and potent, they must not come in conflict with the rights guarantee by the constitution or other superior national statutes. So, would a citizen need permission or approval to join a political party? In my view, the answer is a big NO.
The only approval he may need is his own. Once the individual takes a decision over which party suits his fancy that resolve carries an unseen stamp of finality and can only be changed by the pronouncement of a competent court of law. A political party is like a church. If their music or liturgy is fine to you, you walk in and work to meet their internal requirements. In nations where power belongs to the people, registration and admission into political parties are the simplest things to do. You can register by mere telephone call, letter, email, and through other devices in the social medium. Nobody wants to see your face; all they need are your details. Can a citizen leave a party? The answer again is a big YES. If at the moment what they have would not enhance your opinion of what should be, you can take an exit or even a contrary position.
Can a citizen return after he had left? The answer again is yes. If hindsight makes return inevitable; why not? Would such a lacuna not be a source of frequent opportunity for destabilization or opportunism? The fears are not unfounded, but democracy has inbuilt mechanism to take care of this. If the party’s internal democracy is strong and credible, party members know their capable, reliable and most cherished members; if given a good chance, they know those to entrust with power and those to play with. In a nutshell, nobody or group of persons, no matter how highly placed and what their views are, have a right to bar anybody from registering or being re-admitted into a political party he or she left at some point in time.
Even expulsion is not a ground to hinder anybody from participating for life in a political party activity. Expulsions are punishments for infringing on organizational rules. It is legitimate, but does not stand for a very long time, especially where the affected is willing to show remorse. Once regrets are expressed, a party is under obligation to listen and review positions. Even the ex-convicts right to political participation is guaranteed. If the conviction was based on a criminal issue, he may not run for public office until after ten years, but his right to political party membership is not affected. He can indeed be a member, hold views, express such views strongly and vote on election day. What I have been saying is that you can’t bar a citizen from entering a party of his choice.
The same way, nobody can dictate the timing, except expressly stated by a competent court of law. I have in time past spoken about the untidy manner we run our parties. Our parties are in the threshold of individuals. In most of the parties, it is about sole administratorship; and in PDP – the President and governors. That is why the fight over party executive positions is fierce and deadly. The result is that in the end what the nation is left with are nominated leaders against elected. We do all these and still wonder why we dance in circles.
Finally, those who oppose Orji Uzor Kalu’s return to PDP did not read the situation correctly and they did not spend quality time to properly contemplate this sensitive issue before taking to the public. Unfortunately, they have generated an outcome far from what they intended to achieve. They have magnified the political status of Orji Uzor Kalu and confirmed him a key political player not just in Abia State, but across board. I have been wandering why it should be an issue that anybody desires to enter into a political party. Anybody opposing persons from joining the PDP at this time is not doing the President any good. Why do I say so?
The President will surely present himself for re-election, that one is a sure as the sun rising the next day. It’s his right. Besides, I subscribed to the view that incumbents should have right of first refusal in matters of re-election if it is so provided in the constitution and let the electorate be the final arbiters on who receives their mandate. So, if anybody cares to know, the next battle for Aso-Rock would be a different ball-game. Every elementary analyst should have known this; so Jonathan needs “real men” who are masters in the Nigerian political game. Kalu is certainly one of the few. If a single man can push a group to take over a state, there must be something special about him. I know what it means to win election.
If the same man can push through a successor amidst the worst kind of opposition using a new political party, and moving on to win in another state, then for me, there are many things he knows about the Nigerian politics, which many of his contemporaries do not know. And it is discovery of secrets that make the difference between big failure and outstanding success. And if a man has structures across the nation, such a man, no matter his failings (after all everyone has his), should be given a place, acknowledged and even used according to observed abilities.
If I am President Jonathan and at this time I want to add value to my quest for re-election, I will certainly work for the quick return of political field marshals like Kalu; that is the truth. I don’t know what is in the President’s mind; neither do I know what Kalu wants. In between, there are issues for which the public would need clarification. One of it is, does Kalu really want to return to PDP, a party he helped to form, and secondly, is the president clear on how he wants to go about his politics in 2013 and 2014? Those are the issues. Whatever the situation, our goal should be to ensure that at all times power belongs to the people – finish.
Now, a word for our politicians; it is time to separate politics from bitter disagreements and petty quarrels arising from minor frictions, and in some cases denials of perks of public office. I recommend the Adamawa and South-West models. Adamawa opposed Atiku, but never called him good for nothing. Today, Bola Tinubu is up against a section of the Yoruba establishment; but none of the contending parties call each other derogatory names. They face the issues. These are decent examples that should be emulated.