INEC CHAIRMAN'S ADDRESS AT THE ALL-POLITICAL PARTIES SUMMIT
Many of the new democracies that emerged from authoritarian rule in the 1990s, such as Nigeria, have now moved into what is generally regarded as the consolidation phase in their democratic development. The entry point to this phase of democratic development may be fixed as the first post-transition election and particularly, the first civilian-to-civilian change of power. Indeed, existing studies of democratization in what Huntington has called the 'third wave' identify three phases of development of democracy namely, the liberalization phase, when the erstwhile authoritarian regime cedes power, the transition phase, which culminates in the holding of competitive elections and the consolidation phase, when democratic practices, particularly regular elections, become firmly rooted.
Political parties are the heart of democratic development at each of these phases. The major role of political parties is system maintenance. Although they are competitive, their major role is to ensure stability and equilibrium in the system. This they do by aggregating interests, political socialization, political education, and political recruitment, as well as constituting government. All these support system maintenance and national stability.
The implication of this is that in some countries at some points, political parties play this role well, while in some other countries and at other times parties may be profoundly dysfunctional. Over the years in Nigeria, political parties have at some times in the history of democratic development been considered to play effective system maintenance role, while at other times they have been widely considered to be dysfunctional. For instance, in the First Republic, political parties were widely held responsible for the instability that engulfed the country and finally led to the demise of the democratic system. All the parties and their affiliate organizations were accordingly banned from operating. Early observers of Nigerian political parties, such as Professor Richard Sklar, focused attention on the internal organization and social basis. Increasingly, however, attention shifted to their contributions to Nigeria's political development, particularly their role in the spate of instability experienced in the post-independence period. In fact, political parties were largely blamed for the demise of the First Republic, because of their purveyance of regional/ethnic politics and the entrenchment of regional party leaders, who acted at cross-purposes with each other. It is not surprising that as soon as the military took over power in 1966, all political parties and affiliate organizations were banned. However, it should be noted that the military seemed also concerned about having strong political competition and opposition, which political parties would have mounted, if they were allowed to exist.
In more recent times, observers have continued to interrogate the role of Nigerian political parties in democratic consolidation. The Uwais Committee (Election Reform Committee) had this to say about political parties in 2008:
One of the most crucial and yet least developed democratic institutions in the country is the political party system. There are currently 50 registered political parties in the country, most of which are an assemblage of people who share the same level of determination to use the party platform to get to power. As such, it is usually difficult to identify any party programmes or ideologies. The structure of the political parties is such that internal democracy is virtually absent. The political parties are weak and unable to effectively carry out political mobilization, political education and discipline (Uwais et al 2008, p. 4).
I think that the repeated negative experience of Nigerian political parties as stabilizing agents of democracy has been partly due to their inability to create common grounds and partner each other and other stakeholders for the growth and consolidation of democracy. I believe that through inter-party collaboration it is possible to get all political parties to function effectively as system maintenance agencies and thereby ensure national stability and democratic consolidation. This is particularly important for us here in Nigeria where democratic institutions are yet to mature.
Interparty collaboration and system stability
Excessive, immoderate and cutthroat competition among political parties is very dysfunctional. When political parties and candidates have a high propensity to invest in winning political power at all cost, the level of instability in the system rises tremendously. Interparty collaboration provides that mediating and moderating function necessary for stability. This collaboration can span the entire gamut of functions of a political party. First, in interest aggregation, a political party aggregates interests from within by listening to various groups, and uses the information to create policy alternatives and then build support for such policies. A political party also aggregates the interests of the electorate as a basis for mobilizing support for these policies. Interparty collaboration ensures that these processes of interest aggregation and mobilization are conducted in a civic manner, in which disagreements are essentially policy based, rather than couched in entrenched group cleavages such as ethnicity, religion and wealth.
Secondly, interparty collaboration ensures that in political education parties educate their members and the electorate on their role as citizens in the electoral process and their rights and obligations to participate in democratic activities in a responsible manner. They also enlighten their members and the citizens on their responsibilities to constructively engage the government and its officials.
Thirdly, in political recruitment interparty collaboration could provide a framework for educating prospective political leaders, nurturing them into moderate leaders that uphold the highest standards of democratic governance. Finally, political parties as agents of political socialization could be a veritable force for socializing the wider populace into political roles based on democratic culture. Interparty collaboration could provide a platform for defining the character of political socialization.
In essence therefore, interparty collaboration is a veritable instrument available to political parties in creating conditions that support both democratic consolidation and national stability. Where democracy remains unconsolidated and fledgling, national stability is threatened. To be sure, the characteristics of a consolidated democracy are by all means a contested terrain. Even in more established democracies, there are still arguments regarding the extent to which they conform to or deviate from what may be seen as an ideal democratic system. This gap is assumed to measure the rootedness of such a democracy. Some observers prefer to focus on the attributes of a consolidated democracy, which include the length of existence of democratic structures, resilience in the face of destabilizing forces, regular holding of free and non-violent elections, etc. There is no doubt that in whatever way we choose to look at democratic consolidation and national stability, interparty collaboration is a very powerful tool for their promotion.
Inter-Party Collaboration: the Inter-party Advisory Council (IPAC)
The principal framework for interparty collaboration in Nigeria today is the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC). The idea of IPAC was first developed in Ghana in the early 1990s. The Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) of Ghana is a loose, non-statutory and voluntary body comprising the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana and all political parties. It was established as a forum for representatives of political parties and officials of the Electoral Commission of Ghana to come together and discuss challenges to the electoral process and how they can collectively contribute to overcoming those challenges and thereby enhancing transparency and credibility in the electoral process. Prior to the establishment of the IPAC especially after the 1992 general elections, the EC was seriously criticized by opposition parties for the way it handled the elections which raised suspicion. So the EC came up with the idea of IPAC to improve communication with political parties to remove suspicion and build trust.
Although the IPAC in Ghana has had to contend with a number of challenges since its inception, it has over the years, been able to surmount most of these challenges and has been able to bring together the political parties to address some of the most pressing challenges affecting the electoral process. Under the auspices of the IPAC, a number of symposia have been organized for political parties to discuss national issues and they also consented to the organization of debates for parliamentary and presidential candidates, launched a code of conduct for political parties to regulate their conduct in the political arena not only for the elections but for every year of the political calendar. A mechanism for implementing the code of conduct was also established to resolve cases where parties are unable to reach mutually acceptable agreements. This has no doubt engendered a sense of unity and purpose among the membership of the parties and the general citizenry and has also enhanced confidence and trust between the EC, the political parties and the electorates .
In Nigeria, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) was a collaborative venture between INEC and political parties, designed to be a common platform for all political parties to periodically meet, dialogue and make inputs into diverse aspects of election management. Through the IPAC, the Commission hoped to promote inter-party dialogue and provide a viable alternative platform for settling disagreements or grievances between political parties or their supporters if or when they occur.
There are significant differences between the Ghana and Nigerian models of IPAC. Perhaps, the most important of these is that unlike in Ghana where IPAC is only a loose, ad hoc body convened at the pleasure of the EC for advise, the Nigerian IPAC has evolved a more or less permanent structure, with officials and operational committees. Over the past seven years, the political parties have collaborated with INEC to create a Political Parties Code of Conduct, which they accept as the 'establishing authority of IPAC'. According to the code of conduct, IPAC consists of a general body, a technical working committee, and a secretariat. IPAC is constituted by 'one representative per political party who shall be either a member of their party's National Working Committees (NWC) or Board of Trustees (BOT), and a representative of INEC'. It is clear that IPAC in Nigeria is intended to be a permanent body of high-ranking officials of political parties.
When this Commission came in 2010, it noticed a number of challenges that militate against its intended role in stabilizing the political system and consolidating democracy. First, there is the challenge of big party - small party dichotomy. The so-called big parties tend not to participate enthusiastically in the activities, leaving the turf to the 'smaller parties'. Often the former saw IPAC as a trade union of small parties against the big parties, while the small parties perceived the big parties as bad team players, whose activities threatened the democratic system. Second, there was the issue of whether the Ghanaian advisor model is not to be preferred to the executive model of Nigeria. Third, there was the question of whether the ad hoc model is not to be preferred to the permanent model. Fourthly, observers also pointed to the internal squabbles within IPAC, especially regarding the election and changes to the executive body. Fifthly, there was the lingering problem of difficult relations between IPAC and INEC. Finally, IPAC experienced inadequate funds generally.
Although some of these challenges remain, I am glad that in the past four years INEC has worked very closely with IPAC to address many of these challenges. Relations between IPAC and INEC have improved tremendously and regular meetings are held between INEC and the chairmen and secretaries of political parties. In addition, the issue of selecting the leadership of IPAC has been resolved and the bigger parties are more involved now, as shown in the overall commitment to the signing of the last edition of the Code of Conduct. I must also commend IPAC for the role it has played in establishing the Political Parties Institute at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru in collaboration with the DGD Project of the UNDP. We hope that the Institute will develop into an international centre of excellence for not only the study of political parties and democratization, but also the training of high level party cadres for policy making and membership mobilization.
The role of INEC
One central function of INEC could be said to be the regulation of political parties. The 1999 Constitution (As Amended) is the principal legal framework from which INEC derives its powers to regulate political parties. Sections 221 through 228 establish both the regulatory powers of INEC and the grounds for regulation. These are then elaborated in the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended), particularly in Part V. These powers of the Commission are further given effect by its powers to make guidelines and regulations under the Electoral Act. Consequently, the Commission issues guidelines to regulate the activities of political parties, which usually cover areas such as registration of parties, nomination of candidates, campaign finance and role of party agents.
In Nigeria, regulation of political parties has principally tried to achieve three related purposes. In the first place, it has aimed to achieve certain national political objectives, particularly national integration and stability. Second, it has had the purpose of strengthening internal party democracy. And third, it has sought to moderate electoral behaviour. Two recent instruments/mechanism are worth noting in this regard namely, the Political Parties Code of Conduct (2013) and Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties (2013).
Political Parties Code of Conduct, 2013
This code of conduct is a collaborative effort between INEC and IPAC with the support of development partners. The 2013 edition was signed on 1th July, 2013 by all the twenty-five registered political parties at the time. The code of conduct is anchored on, among other things, issues of respect for the rule of law, internal party democracy, compliance with regulations on party finance, campaign, and Election Day as well as post-election issues. It emphasizes the need for adhering to the rules of the game in political competition, focus on issues rather than personalities, especially in candidate and party campaigns and the need to promote and strengthen inter and intra-party dialogue as key elements in our collective effort to build more secure and credible electoral process and stable nation. The Code of Conduct also changed IPAC from a Committee to a Council and strengthens the mechanisms of implementation, monitoring and enforcement of the code. The present code expanded the executive committee and restructured the Council, including the creation of a standing strategy committee.
Indeed, the code represents a significant step in creating a mutually agreed framework for the conduct of political competition devoid of rancor, while at the same time emphasizing the values of tolerance, sound conduct, a spirit of accommodation and teamwork in planning and organizing political competition. All these are desiderata for national stability and democratic consolidation. The continuing challenge facing INEC and IPAC is the full implementation and monitoring of the Code of Conduct.
Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties, 2013
These Guidelines and Regulations were issued in collaboration with political parties. It aims at streamlining, standardizing and simplifying many processes such as registration of parties, party and candidate finance, nomination of candidates, party agents and monitoring of political parties.
What this Commission continues to do is to improve the framework for the functioning of political parties to ensure that they continue to play a positive role in national stability and democratic consolidation. I am glad that we are carrying the political parties along and there has been tremendous progress in the relations of INEC and the parties. Granted that from time to time there are difficulties in relations between INEC and individual political parties and also among the parties themselves, overall there has been a high level of maturity on all sides in dealing with these difficulties. Surely, this can only augur well for the future of democracy in Nigeria.
Challenges of inter-party collaboration and cooperation in Nigeria
In spite of the positive strides in interparty collaboration of the past three years, many challenges persist. I will just outline some of them, which are well known and need no major exposition:
First, we need to continue to improve the functioning of IPAC to ensure full commitment of all parties to the Council and the Code of Conduct. We also need to improve the funding profile of IPAC to enable it continue to play its role in growing our democracy and national stability. Second, we need to continue to improve the organization of political parties, with a view to modernizing them and making them core institutions of democratic development in Nigeria. Third, the thorny issue of deregistration of political parties remain. INEC has submitted a proposal of the amendment of the Electoral Act to review the provision empowering the Commission to deregister political parties, such that the Commission is empowered to determine the criteria for parties to get on the ballot. We believe that this will afford political parties the space to continue to play their cardinal roles in political development, without the challenges posed to election management by the unwieldiness of countless ineffective political parties. Fourthly, there remains the issue of rampant change of political parties by politicians. Some observers have described this as 'political nomadism'. While we must respect the right of citizens to choose at will what parties to belong to, as part of their freedom of association, the negative effects of hemorrhage of party members and the rancor it generates cannot be underestimated.
I cannot end my discussion of challenges of interparty collaboration without mentioning the issues of moderation and internal party democracy because of their profound implications for national stability and democratic consolidation. You would agree with me that in recent times there seems to be a widespread absence of moderation among our politicians. We are concerned about this because even if the management of elections meets the highest standards, insofar as the contestants are unwilling to play by the rules there will be grave problems. The Commission remains deeply concerned about rising conflicts within parties and between contestants. The use of language is in most cases indecorous, which leads supporters to follow suit with more intemperate language, which ultimately may end up in violence. Parties even find it difficult to select candidates, creating a situation in which practically every party nomination process in Nigeria ends in a court case. In most cases, the Commission gets either directly or indirectly dragged into these conflicts and court cases, which becomes diversionary. Indeed, some of the pre-election court cases have threatened in the past to derail preparations for elections. Of particular note is the spate of ex parte injunctions that have been issued against the Commission. Yet, one would expect that parties should have clear rules and procedures for selecting candidates and resolving issues there from, to the satisfaction of all their members. It seems to me therefore that a primary source of problem here is lack of internal party democracy resulting from lack of commitment to party rules.
In conclusion, interparty collaboration is a veritable instrument for achieving a stable and consolidated democracy. It is the central function of political parties to pursue these ends. As an election management body, INEC has worked closely with political parties in the past four years in pursuit of national stability and democratic consolidation, particularly through the Interparty Advisory Council (IPAC) and regular meetings with Chairmen and Secretaries of all registered political parties. To be sure, there is always a paradox in interparty collaboration, namely, the fact that political parties, which are essentially competitive, must collaborate in order to preserve the system. Yet there is no alternative to interparty collaboration in achieving political stability and democratic consolidation.
Clearly, INEC and the political parties have made giant strides in pursuit of stability and democratic consolidation. However, several challenges persist. I hope that as we move into the final lap of preparations for the 2015 general elections, we can continue to work together to address these residual challenges. We have little option than to continue to work at using interparty collaboration to achieve democratic stability and consolidation. It is in the enlightened self-interest of political parties to do so because, at the end of the day, the democratic system and political parties are like the proverbial head and ear. If the ear is spoken to and it fails to listen, when the head is severed, the ear goes with it.
I thank you for listening.