By Obike Ukoh, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Party supremacy was the order of the day during the First and Second Republics.
Records have it that Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, preferred to remain the leader of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Premier of Northern Region, instead of becoming the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Under the parliamentary system of government, then practised by Nigeria during the First Republic, the Sardauna automatically ought to have become the prime minister, as his party won the majority seats in the parliament.
Rather than occupying the position, Bello conceded it to Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, deputy leader of the party.
During the Second Republic, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was both the leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the party’s presidential candidate in the 1979 general elections.
Awolowo justify such arrangement, saying that while he was the party chairman, he was “just an applicant’’ for the presidency.
The two frontline politicians stuck to party positions because at that time, no one dared challenge party directives, while the parties dictated the momentum of political processes.
There was no struggle for supremacy between elected political office holders and party leaders because the lines of duty were clearly defined and religiously followed.
However, Chief Onyeso Nwachukwu, the Chief Whip of the defunct Eastern House of Assembly, lamented that the situation had charged dramatically under the current political dispensation.
“Elected political office holders now call the shots,’’ he said.
The 89-year-old statesman, who attributed the crises rocking in most of the parties to the development, called for a return to the era of party supremacy and politics of ideology.
He underscored the need to return to party supremacy, saying that it would aid the efforts of those in authority to deliver the dividends of democracy to the citizens.
Nwachukwu also bemoaned the high level of corruption and the absence of issue-based politics in the country.
“During our time, we practised issue-based politics and we were in a hurry to develop our different regions; everybody was the monitor of himself and everything was sweet.
“In fact, nobody knew the language of corruption; it was unheard of and there was no way one could get corrupt.
“Nowadays, everything has gone haywire and no one cares about what the other person does.
“The way of life is `grab everything at all cost’; it is the survival of the fittest,’’ Nwachukwu said.
Prof. Okey Okoh, a professor of law, in a publication entitled “Legislators and the Challenge of Party Supremacy’’, also underscored the importance of party supremacy.
He stressed that party leaders and elected officers were equal partners who should work together for the success of their party at the polls.
“The main duties of party leaders are to broaden the party’s support base and lead the party to victory at the polls.
“Also, the rights of party members and the dictates of democracy must be paramount in all their dealings.
“Party leaders must create conditions for the party’s success and viability by observing democratic values, steering the party away from trouble and making members to feel vested in the party.
“Ultimately, the tensions and conflicts inherent in the relationship between party leaders and elected officials which lead to party switching cannot be minimised without attitudinal adjustments by both sides.
“The vicious circle of mutual distrust that deforms the relationship between elected officials and their party leaders cannot be dislodged by legislation,’’ Okoh stated.
Analysts, however, blame the rancourous relationships in the political parties on the pattern of party formation.
They note that unlike in the First and Second Republics, parties are now “owned’’ by the big financiers, making them to be bigger than the parties.
Commenting on the eclipse of party supremacy in the country, political scientists insist that politicians now disregard their parties’ constitutions impulsively due to the absence of corporate ownership of the parties.
They say that party supremacy as a concept implies that every member of a political party is subject to the rules and regulations of the party and should not hold contrary political ideology.
An intertwined concept of party supremacy is party discipline which suggests that political party executives can sanction members for misconduct or acts which violate the party norms.
Prof. Sat Obiyan, the Head of Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said that since 1999, more political parties were formed by few individuals, compared to the situation under the earlier political dispensations.
He said that it would be foolhardy for any political party anywhere to punish any person who was its main source of funding for its official registration and operations.
He said that it was easy for an individual to claim ownership and overwhelm a political party if he or she was the only source of finance for the party’s activities.
“However, our parties will begin to assume greater strength overtime as they become more popular, while the broad-based participation of people, especially those at the grassroots, is encouraged.
“When more people get involved in a party, certain dynamics will change and one aspect will be in the way few individuals can sway decisions.
“There are about two or three political parties in Nigeria that were creation of a few people but have now become less subjective to their dictates,’’ Obiyan said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Adewale Yagboyaju, a Senior Lecturer in Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, said that politicians who funded political parties typically played domineering roles in the running of the parties.
“It will be difficult for a party to discipline a member who only last week donated 90 per cent of the money with the party used to fund a project,’’ he noted.
Yagboyaju said that party supremacy was more pronounced in the Second Republic because most of the political parties were funded through subscriptions, contributions and donations from party members.
“Politicians during the Second Republic contributed money, even though in small measure, to their party’s operations and so one individual could not lay claim to the party’s ownership,’’ he said.
Yagboyaju advocated the strengthening of state institutions and political parties to enable them to become bigger than individuals.
However, Dr Kayode Esuola, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, said that absence of a dominant class in Nigeria was the primary reason why some individuals appeared more powerful than state organs.
He noted that personalisation of political power and authority was prevalent in the country because public institutions were not independent.
“We, as a people, have to revisit the essence of our union. We have to take seriously the Federal Government’s national conference initiative.
“Nigerians want a country whereby a few persons will not dictate their destinies and this possibility will depend on the sincerity with which our political leaders hold the proposed national conference.
“We hope the conference will address the nationality question and our crisis of formation, it should aim at giving every Nigerian a sense of belonging in the affairs of state,’’ he said.
Esuola said that a nation, whose leaders still engaged in primitive accumulation of wealth for personal economic security, would inevitably experience large dose of personal rule and privatisation of power.
“As at today, only politicians with political power, and not the masses, are the stakeholders in the transformation of our country. And this is not good for our democracy,’’ he said.
Political historians note that the need to eschew “personalisation’’ of political parties, perhaps, compelled the regime of military President Ibrahim Babangida to decree National Republic Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) into existence.
They recall that Babangida dissolved all the political associations jostling for registration and created NRC and SDP to foster a situation where everybody will be equal members of the parties.
Analysts, however, opine that the dynamics of change will restore party supremacy in the country, as democracy cannot thrive without party supremacy.
All the same, they add that party supremacy would be difficult to attain if over 50 per cent of the politicians are into politics just because they have no other job to do.