Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has said that lack of internal democracy in the All Progressives Party (APC) and other political parties has made them purely undemocratic.
He criticised the ruling party, to which he is a member, over failure to organise statutory meetings for the organs of the party.
According to reports, the former vice-president specifically bashed the APC Deputy National Chairman (North), Shaibu Lawal, who represented the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
He was said to have told Lawal that he was referring to the governing party.
He was quoted as saying: “The issue of internal democracy in our political parties has been with us for a long time, indeed since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999. In long-established democracies those statements would seem trite. But I recognise that our democracy is young, and our parties are also rather young.
“As a result, they are still wrestling with issues of party building, party structures, internal democracy and the nature of the relationship between parties and members, parties and legislatures and parties and government as well as among parties themselves.
“We had a very long period of authoritarian rule in Nigeria, ending in 1999. The legacy of that period is still with us as can be seen in our various governance institutions. Indeed even elements of that authoritarian past still wield power and influence in our country as we try to transition from that legacy.
“Also the structure of our economy is such that the state remains the most important source of economic opportunity. This heightens the struggle for state power and helps to shape the relationship between parties and members, among parties and among the various arms of government.
“It is, therefore, a huge challenge to democratize governance and the political parties in our country. But, as the theme of this conference makes clear, internal democracy in our political parties is very important for the parties, their members and for the country.
“The absence of internal democracy in our parties is a major reason our democracy remains fragile and why the quality of leadership that we produce has not matched our expectations and the challenges facing us as a nation. It is also one of the reasons it has been very difficult to hold leaders to account. Internal party democracy is important enough that it was one of the areas addressed by the Electoral Reform Committee headed by Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais many years ago.
“But we know that power wielders hardly voluntarily enlarge the democratic space. That is why I’ve often opined that internal party democracy will only come with genuine electoral reforms in the country. Such reforms, broadly along the Justice Uwais Committee Recommendations, which will further strengthen the independence of INEC and ensure that votes count, will encourage parties to field popular candidates in elections.
“And that in turn will encourage parties to allow internal democracy so members have the freedom to choose and express their opinions. Thus the role of godfathers and executive intrusion in the affairs of parties and elections will be diminished.
“In my view, there is a close relationship between democracy within political parties and democracy within the nation. Put simply you cannot give what you don’t have. You cannot build democracy on a substructure of dictatorship and intolerance. A political party that constricts the freedom of its members cannot really offer freedom to the citizens of the nation. Democracy is not just an idea; is a cultural practice.
“For a number of years now we have had political parties, even governing ones, which hardly hold meetings of their important organs, including those meant for the democratic selection of their leadership, or even constitute institutions prescribed in their Constitution.
“In the absence of those meetings and elections, their existing leadership, often under the direction of the Executive at the state or federal level, fill the void. That’s not party building but party bullying. And it’s certainly not a way to democratise parties and aggregate their members’ opinions, interests and aspirations.
“This means that efforts to deepen Nigeria’s democracy must include efforts at democratising our political parties. The institutionalisation of democracy in our internal party processes will help us deepen democracy in Nigeria. Leaders are more likely to tolerate opposition from citizens and other parties if they tolerate it within their own party.
“The lack of internal democracy in political parties is one of the reasons for the fraught relationships among parties and their elected representatives and the legislature and the executive.
The loyalty of some in the legislature and executive lies not with the party but with a godfather who sponsored them, and the godfather may even be in a rival political party. Such anomalies will reduce if internal democracy flourishes in our political parties, and by extension the wider society.
“The selection of leaders in a democracy is a serious business because so many other things ride on it. Whenever we get it wrong the nation or a part thereof suffers. We must strive to get it right most of the time. And it is the voters who should freely make that determination. I therefore thank the IPAC for organising this conference and for inviting me to chair it”