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CDD Holds Third Edition Of The Nigerian Political Parties Discussion Series (NPPDS)

By CDD West Africa
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On the 15 May 2014, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), with support from the International Republican Institute (IRI), convened the third edition of the Nigerian Political Parties Discussion Series (NPPDS) themed: Inclusion of Women, Youth and other Marginalised groups in Political Parties' Activities, at the Protea Apartment, Apo, Abuja.

This episode brought together party leaders, civil society groups; including persons with disabilities, electoral commission and members of the general public to discuss pressing issues concerning inclusiveness of marginalised groups in party activities. The crux of this discussion series is that since political party is a bedrock of any representative democracy; especially in Nigeria where independent candidature is yet to be legally recognised, participation of these groups of persons in the broader political space predicates on opportunity offer them at the level of political parties' activities.

This edition of NPPDS featured two sessions, having independent practitioners in the first session and party leaders and an expert in the second session. The first session had Samson Itodo, Ayisha Osori, Hajia Amina Zakari, Dr. Deme Mourtada and Danlami Basharu as panelists who expressed their views on the contentious issue of exclusionary politics at the party level, which set the tone for discussion on the same topic amongst party leaders' representatives at the event. The following issues were raised:

a. That, though, the Nigeria's 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Law of 2010 (as amended) guaranteed rights of everyone in the country and enjoined INEC to create an accessible atmosphere for persons with disability respectively, little attention has been paid to addressing the problems of this category of persons.

b. That, there is a link between the problem of exclusion of women in politics and the years of historical disadvantage, cost of elections and socio-cultural values of African societies. It was advanced that this problem may persist if urgent actions are not taken to expedite the implementation of affirmative action and amendment of laws that would create enabling legal and political environment for gender equality.

c. That, the lack of viable, autonomous and institutionalised youth and women's wings in the existing political parties in Nigeria has rendered youth and women irrelevant in party activities. This problem questions the capacity of youth and women's wings to build political mentorship, transit to mainstream party structure, and coherently articulate the interests of their constituencies.

d. That, while political parties have a lot to do with regards to improving inclusiveness, the marginalised groups and other stakeholders are also obligated to engage political parties – using advocacy tools – and obtain their strong commitment from its leadership towards a creation of enabling political atmosphere for effective participation.

e. That, the constitutional age limit for contesting for presidential and national assembly (NASS) elections in Nigeria, pegged at 40 and 35 years, respectively, has had a grave impact on youth participation at the party level and the broader political space at large.

f. The need for legal backing for affirmative action was reiterated so as the inclusiveness of women as well as youth in party activities, and the political process at large, not to be based on moral suasion but legal binding.

Questions on the theme for political parties' representatives at the event resonated around structural competence of existing political parties to create opportunities for women, youth and other marginalised group participation in party activities, re-introduction or strengthening of women and youth wings and obstacles for engendering their participation as well as occupying leadership positions at party level. The panelists were Zainab Nene Abdullahi from All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Suleiman Musa from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alh. Salisu Muhammed from Labour Party (LP) and Dr. Irene Pogoson as an expert.

The following issues were raised during the discussion series by party leaders and the expert:

a. That, exclusion of youth, women and persons with disabilities in political activities is not peculiar to political parties in the country as it is largely a societal issue. It was noted that, in a systemic way, the problem is not only inherent within a political party, but also serves as barrier to full inclusion of these groups in the governance process of the country.

b. The overbearing power of the geronto-political elites in party activities was acknowledged, nevertheless, it was averred that party's belief system and agenda often precondition the extent of political space that would be opened to the marginalised groups. It was noted that, in recent times, political parties, such as PDP, have been able to bridge the gap between old and new generation. And, for the LP, though age is important in politics, the party does not discriminate and it is open to everyone from the age of 18.

c. That, there have been efforts by political parties to ensuring that equal opportunities are created for party members; irrespective of gender, age and creed, to participate in party activities. While emphasizing this, PDP has made profound efforts through advocacy, direct campaign strategy, etc. women effectively participate in the party activities. It was also noted that women are part of the national executive council of the party so as for them to bring up the issues concerning women at party level. Also, the party is putting in place necessary measures to ensure that more women and youth are brought on board. A similar story was shared by other party representatives. For example, LP representative stated that the social democratic orientation of the party has helped it to pursue, at a greater momentum, inclusion of women, youth and the persons living with disabilities in its policy making process. The party, as the representative noted, is the only political party in Nigeria that the marginalised groups occupy more than 35 percent of its executive positions. It was further emphasised that people with disabilities are encouraged to run for offices, women are allowed to and also the youth have a ground to develop.

d. The issue of empowerment of the leadership of youth, women and persons with disability at party level was emphasized and noted as being central to promoting the inclusiveness of these groups. For the expert, empowerment is very important, both within and outside the party, so that the groups will constructively articulate their interests. It was also opined that parties should go beyond having women, youth and PWD filled appointed position to having them in elective positions.

e. The issue regarding the re-introduction of youth and women's wings generated a lot of discussion amongst party representatives. LP representative posited that the constitutional provisions that outlawed the wings is awkward, hence, it is a ploy by the conservative group to demobilize a large chunk of the population from participating in politics. He believes that the wings are only democratic platforms for these groups to ventilate what they represent. He, however, noted that it should be strongly embedded or institutionalised in the party structure.

f. PDP representative argued that such development is a new innovation and idea that the party embraced to build capacity of youth and prepare them for a political career. APGA representative was silence on the essence of re-introduction of the wings. It was, however, emphasised that the party has a way of reaching out to these groups, if need be, to include them in party activities.

g. In terms of challenges confronting youth, women and persons with disability in taking up leadership positions at the party level, political parties' representatives noted the nature of politics, cultural barrier, economic inequality, illiteracy and high level of ignorance amongst women as underlining factors against inclusion of the marginalised groups in party activities.

The audience also raised critical issues about the need for a rethink, at party level, of the charity model in dealing with persons with disability (PWD) and electoral violence as a key barrier against an active involvement of women and youth in party activities. The discussion series ended with the making of non-violence pledge by party representatives.