Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nigerian Political Parties of the 1999 Constitution and Mr. President Electoral Reforms (1)

The 1999 Constitution, patterned at least in its Chapter Two after the 1979 Constitution, provides for a powerful National Assembly vested with all authority to establish and or to reform existing institutions of government. The problem is that this Constitution has made no provisions for the actualization of the electorates that would produce the type of Assembly stipulated by the Constitution. The result is that statecraft issues essentially organizational and institutionalist are transformed into moral, legalistic and idealist intentions in Nigeria`s reform discourse.

The National Assembly in the Constitution has the power to provide for the establishment of the Armed Forces. It is given the power of the purse through which government functions and is sustained. It has the oversight authority over how the President commands the Armed Forces and over the career prospects in the Armed Forces. It is by the act of the National Assembly that the Nigeria Police Force is to be organized and administered (see Sections 214 regarding the police,. Section 217 on the Armed Forces; Section 218 (4) with respect to laws for the regulation of the powers exercisable by the President as Commander-in-Chief and the appointment, promotion and disciplinary control of members of the. Armed forces of the Federation.

Sections 80 and 81 specify powers regarding control of all revenues or other moneys payable under the Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly). These are powers that establish the Legislative Branch as the fulcrum of Government and ensure the rule of law, since this authority of government are exercise of powers of Acts of the National Assembly. The Assembly effectively administering the powers vested in it by the Constitution is strong enough to keep in check the Executive and maintain its integrity in its relationship to the Judiciary.

The reality of Nigerian politics under the Military and the two terms of the Obasanjo’s regime have however been one of caesaristic Executives, and of a legislature disbanded during Military Rule and quite easily subordinated by President Obasanjo. The 1999 Constitution however provides the National Assembly with the authority to do something about the Armed Forces’ penchant for unconstitutional seizure of power and to check civilian Executive autocracy. The problem however is that the Constitution provides no guidelines nor prescribes what must be done to establish the National Assembly that would make its provisions relevant and supreme.

Thus we have provisions of power for the National Assembly and none for the emergence of the Assembly that is capable of exercising its constitutional powers.

Indeed the dismay is that we have a national assembly that does not seem to recognise that it has powers that the constitution confers on it.

The answer to this onundrum is not to be found in the waking up a sleeping National Assembly. The problem is resident in the political system implied by the Constitution. Namely an electoral political system regulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Sections 221 to 229 deal with Political Parties and it is these that show what is prescribed for the implementation of the Constitution through the National Assembly. These sections prescribe the format for the establishment and operations of political parties; they emphasize forms or characteristics of the political parties, their operations and administration; forms are emphasized because a type of political system and process are assumed, namely an electoral political system.

The makers of the Constitution have not asked what are or should be the prerequisites or antecedents political relations amongst “party politicians” (that is, politicians associating to form parties to advance their interest in power) for these to subscribe to an electoral political process for the resolution of their political conflicts and rivalries. The makers of the Constitution have prescribed a politics and have made it mandatory that this and only this type of politics must be the game in town. Hence in the Constitution terms of politics are emphasized because the context and content of politics have been prescribed. The enumerated provisions of the Constitution will he seen as essentially prescriptive. On political parties Section 221 states:

“No association, other than a political party shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”

Section 229 provides the interpretation of what the Constitution names as association and as a political party. “Association” means any body of persons corporate or unincorporated who agree to act together for a common purpose and includes an association termed for any ethnic social, cultural, occupational or religious purpose; and “political party” includes any association whose activities include canvassing for votes in support of a candidate for election to the office of President, Vice-President, Governor. Deputy Governor or membership of a legislative house or of a local government council.”

Section 229, shows that a political party is a type of. association and that what the Constitution names as a political party is an association defined by one of its purposes for it states that a political party includes any association whose activities include canvassing for votes in support of a candidate for election to any of the offices named. Any association may therefore have as one of its purposes the canvassing for candidates for elections; the Constitution has not said that a political party must have only one purpose. The canvassing for votes in support of candidates seeking. elected offices.

A political party is an association and can be multipurpose. It can be an association consisting of bodies of persons corporate or unincorporated who agree to act together for any common purpose. These include associations formed for any ethnic, social, cultural, occupational or religious purposes. The distinction that the framers of the Constitution want to make is that between a “uni-purpose” association for elections and a “uni-purpose association for the promotion of ethnic, social, cultural, occupational or religious purpose. This introduces conceptual confusion into the discourse.

All associations are inherently multi-purpose and cannot be differentiated from each other in terms of purpose, which by definition is always “inherent”. Purpose “Inheres” in the agreements to act together”. Situations may make it economical for the association to articulate an interest in elections or in any other common good. A church, or mosque, a shrine or a student association may articulate interest in elections and seek candidates or sponsor candidates to run for office to promote their association`s goals.

Section 221 inspite of the conceptual confusion involved in the arbitrary distinction between political parties and any other association it is stipulating that only such associations formed with the purpose of canvassing for votes shall he called a political party. We shall see from this flows every attempt to exclude “non-political party associations,” that is.

associations formed for multi purpose ends, from electoral politics. This legalistic formulation of what a party is however fraught with sociological difficulties that stem from how people actually are in societies. They are firstly ethnic, social, cultural, occupational or religious entities and persons are in such entities. Decisions for promotion of common interests are taken within these identities and contexts. What may therefore be intended by the framers of the Constitution in their definition of a political party is the promotion of political associations that cut across ethnic, social, cultural, occupational or religious barriers

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