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Did They Say Party Supremacy..?, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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…the APC got itself enmeshed in a crisis that was completely avoidable and should have been avoided.

I am glad to be returning to my column after a two-week health break. During that period, the turmoil within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the National Assembly has been on the front burner. The ruling party tried to determine the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives on the basis of the principle of party supremacy and failed woefully. As the saga continues to unfold and sink the party deeper into a crisis of governability, its important to reflect on what the principle of party supremacy actually means, especially in practice. The first point to make however is that the APC got itself enmeshed in a crisis that was completely avoidable and should have been avoided.

In my column of May 4 entitled the “Tambuwal Effect”, I drew the attention of the incoming administration to the dangers of trying to determine the leadership of the National Assembly. I recalled that in 2011, the victorious PDP administration of Goodluck Jonathan had decided to zone the speakership of the House of Representatives to the South-West and chose Honourable Mulikat Akande of Oyo State as the person to emerge as Speaker of the Seventh House of Representatives. It was a good choice because she had the qualities to be an excellent Speaker. It was however a choice weak in law, because in its wisdom the Constitution gives the powers to elect the leadership of legislatures to legislators themselves and not to their parties. Accordingly, the then members of the House of Representatives simply ignored their party’s directive and went ahead to elect Aminu Tambuwal as their Speaker. That was how PDP burnt its hands at the very beginning of the class of 2011. I therefore advised that the APC administration should avoid such mistakes. I felt, and still feel, that is was important for the new president not to start his tenure with a needless quarrel with the National Assembly.

According to the legendary party analyst, Maurice Duverger, party supremacy and party discipline work best in parties with strong ideological content and coherence, especially socialist and communist parties. Party discipline he explains is weakest in large parties with factions and fractions.

Party supremacy is one of those concepts that emerged as a wish of the leadership of virtually all political party leaders in the world. Naturally, they tend to believe that as legislatures and executives access power through the platform of their parties, they as party leaders should have a decisive say in what they do. The wish is rarely met with concrete success. There is however one notable exception. In proportional representation political systems, the opportunity of emerging as a legislator is completely dependent on the location party leaders place prospective legislators on the electoral list. In that context, the notion of party supremacy is very real because that is what produces desired electoral outcomes.

The struggle over “party supremacy” is therefore much more about the positioning of factions and fractions seeking to control the political process.

In representative democracy in general, however, the value placed on the relationship between the legislator and his/her constituency is stronger than that between the legislator and his/her party leaders. Democracy is about the people, so constituents are more important than party leaders and legislators are expected to relay, first and foremost, the wishes of their constituents rather than that of their party bosses, even though they had been elected on the basis of a party platform. According to the legendary party analyst, Maurice Duverger, party supremacy and party discipline work best in parties with strong ideological content and coherence, especially socialist and communist parties. Party discipline he explains is weakest in large parties with factions and fractions. What factions and fractions tells us, says Duverger, is a splitting process that has nothing to do with the masses supporting the party but everything to do with “subordinate leaders seeking to oust the authority of leaders of higher rank”. By definition, the APC is a party composed of factions and fractions whose origins were, until recently, in completely different political parties. The struggle over “party supremacy” is therefore much more about the positioning of factions and fractions seeking to control the political process. Those who swear by the notion of “party supremacy” are simply trying to use their strong positions within the party structure to increase their influence.

The President Muhammadu Buhari administration is coming into power in a difficult time and with an agenda to fight corruption. He can be assured that he will have a lot to fight the National Assembly about if he is to keep his word and fight all facets of corruption.

In principle, the strongest “party leader” in the ruling party is the Chairperson of the party. When you review former Chairs of the ruling PDP for example – from Solomon Lar through Barnabas Gemade and Audu Ogbeh to the others, they were subalterns rather than bosses. The Obasanjo coup of 1999 ensured that when he arrogated to himself the position of party leader, which was stronger than the position of the Chairpersons, who he removed and replaced at will. President Obasanjo diverted Nigeria away from the best presidential practice in which on being elected president, the former candidate of the party steps aside from the party and declares himself the president of all while still keeping to the electoral promise of implementing the party political programme that he had campaigned on. It is interesting that in the case of the APC, they have a party leader that is neither the chairperson nor the president. In such a situation, it is normal that such a party leader will seek to maintain his leadership by determining the placement of “his people” in strategic leadership positions. It is also normal that others who see themselves as rivals will try to outwit the party leader. Such fratricidal struggles are extremely disruptive and indeed a threat to the emergence of a coherent government. APC has only one viable option, accept the on-going power dynamics within the National Assembly and move on with governance.

The President Muhammadu Buhari administration is coming into power in a difficult time and with an agenda to fight corruption. He can be assured that he will have a lot to fight the National Assembly about if he is to keep his word and fight all facets of corruption. The mood in the country today is that the cost of governance is too high and must be reduced if resources for development are to be liberated. Today, our legislators are the highest paid in the world and our ministers are also among the top in the league table of jumbo salaries for executives. They will both fight to keep their privileges, so bigger fights are en route.

Professor Joel Barkan has already elaborated a theory that justifies why African legislators need a lot of money. He argues that legislators acting individually, rather than as members of a corporate organisation that engages in collective decision-making, perform the additional function of constituency service. In most African countries, legislators have imposed upon them two forms of constituency service – regular visits by MPs to their districts to meet constituents and assist some with their individual needs. Also, involvement in small to medium scale development projects that provide various forms of public goods – roads, water supply systems, schools and scholarship schemes, health clinics, meeting halls, etc. to their constituents. This constituency service function has always provided the subtext for raising emoluments of legislators but even more importantly, getting them to meddle in budget-making and budget-implementation.

President Buhari will discover to his shock that legislators are deeply implicated in crunching budgets with civil servants for projects that are not implemented. He would need to conserve his energy to engage in a struggle against this insidious corruption that has developed in our political system.

In Nigeria, the legislature has responded to its constituency service function at three levels. First is the introduction of constituency projects in which legislators propose specific projects for their constituents, which are implemented, not by them, but by various ministries, departments and agencies under the Millennium Development Goals Programme. So while the executive branch carries out the projects, the legislators get the credit or so the theory goes. The reality is that the legislators have worked out modalities for their direct implementation.

The second is the inclusion of zonal projects for legislators in the budgets of ministries, departments and agencies and the legislators themselves decide and implement such projects. Often, the projects are not implemented at all and the monies are simply collected up front.

Thirdly, there has been a huge increase of constituency allowances to allow legislators respond to regular appeals from constituents for financial help for weddings, burials, ill health and so on, in addition to other demands for jobs, contracts and every conceivable demand. These are issues leading to the excessive cost of governance the APC should focus on combatting. The argument for constituency services is untenable. Virtually all working Nigerians can make the justified claim that they are all participants in a demand system in which relations, friends, associates and everyone else come to people considered to be relatively more well off who then become targets of solicitation.

President Buhari will discover to his shock that legislators are deeply implicated in crunching budgets with civil servants for projects that are not implemented. He would need to conserve his energy to engage in a struggle against this insidious corruption that has developed in our political system. There must be a stop to the abuse of the powers of appropriation given to the National Assembly and the division of powers between those who make the laws, the legislators, and those who implement them, the Presidency and its ministries, departments and agencies. This clarity of roles must be restored.

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