Cat and mouse: Parliament and political parties


Though political parties provide a platform for the emergence of parliamentarians, the relationship between the parties and their political products have not often been healthy. The House of Representatives Committee on Inter Party Affairs supported by the United Nations Development Programme,UNDP, recently gathered experts to ponder the issues

GIVEN that it was his  rebellion against the  feudal class that cost him his job as governor of the old Kaduna State, it was not surprising that Alhaji Balarabe Musa would rebuff suggestions that the House of Representatives should regulate the functions of his party, the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP.

Seated on the podium in the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotel on the opening day of the two day workshop on “Strengthening Capacities for Political Parties Leadership and Parliamentary Relationship” the rebel in the former governor easily erupted.

Affirming that there is no constitutional basis for such interference, Musa who is also chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP said “not even INEC has the powers to manage political parties.”

His opposition was against the background of the failed move by the immediate past House of Representatives to force parliamentarians into the national executive committee of their parties.

He was, however, to be reassured by other political stakeholders at the summit including a onetime fellow comrade in the “struggle”, Senator Ben Obi. Obi who recently took up appointment as Special Adviser to the President on Inter Party Affairs was to inform Musa and others gathered that day that the parley was to bring understanding in all facets of party management.

The workshop which took place between 19th and 20th December, 2011 had representations from the legislature, political parties, the executive and civil society including representatives of international CSOs foremost of whom was IDEAS International and was sponsored by the UNDP through the House Committee on Inter Party Relations.

In his welcome address, the Chairman House Committee on Inter/Intra_Party Relations, Rep. Fort I. Dike represented by his Deputy, Hon Amiru Tukur Idris, while thanking the UNDP and partners for facilitating the workshop, said the aim of the workshop was to ensure that the right environment was created along with other relevant stakeholders for the effective development of political party system in Nigeria.

Senate Chamber

According to him such a system would not only be democratic and accountable in its processes, but would as well provide the platform for service delivery in governance.

Following him, the UNDP Country Director represented by Mr. Ian Thomas said that the workshop was in line with the UNDP programme on Democratic Governance for Development project.

Noting that political parties hold the key in defending democracy, he said that they are a force in building a viral democratic institution because they provide the structures for participation and control over the institutions of government. According to him political parties must as such be assisted to overcome structural and procedural challenges especially as it relates to inter-party relationships.

Goodwill messages were then received from Alhaji Musa of the CNPP, Senator Obi who represented President Goodluck Jonathan and other stakeholders.

Even as he expressed his reservation about legislative interference on the affairs of political parties, Musa said he accepted the idea of the workshop if it was to foster cordial relationship between the legislature and political parties in particular and others involved in the nations “aspiring” democracy.

Senator Obi, arguably one of the foremost organisers of political parties in the country who started his ply with the rat chasing defunct National Advance Party, NAP in the second republic, was to lament a situation of unhealthy competition among political parties.

Obi averred that the ultimate goal of political parties is not opposition but good governance saying that opposition must not be an end in itself.

Senator Obi added that his office was in the process of articulating a bill that would promote the culture of dialogue in resolving political disputes among parties.

Following the remarks, the lot fell on the majority leader of the House of Representatives Mrs. Mulikat Akande who stood in for Speaker Aminu Tambuwal to formally declare the workshop open.

Following the opening ceremonies, the workshop dovetailed into plenary sessions during which experts on electoral processes and political party dialogue from home and abroad gave papers that were subsequently discussed. Among the foreign experts were Mr. Dr. Abdul Karim, IDEA Consultant, Accra Ghana and Mr. Theophilus Dowetin, director of the West Africa regional office of IDEA.

Dowetin who has had experience in election management in Ghana was to captivate his audience on the issue of integrity in the conduct of elections. He spoke on institutional integrity, referring to the insulation of electoral institutions from reproach and also on individual integrity which would entail electoral personnel being in right standing.

Dr. Jerry Ugwoke, former member of the House of Representatives and Nigeria’s former ambassador to Australia also presented a paper at the plenary session.

Ugwoke who spoke on the role of parliament in managing the affairs of political parties said that there remained an ambiguity on the role of parliament in managing the affairs of political parties. Noting that while parliament would be expected to play a role in a parliamentary system, he said intervention in a presidential system would become a controversy as the constitution had given associations the scope to regulate themselves.

In his own presentation, ‘Interparty Dialogue and Electoral Integrity in Nigeria’, Dr. Karim, an IDEA Consultant, who is from the Republic of Ghana, cited his country where he said efforts were being made to forge synergy among stakeholders including civil society groups, the media, religious bodies, traditional rulers among others to facilitate cooperation and collaboration for managing the electoral process.

Mr. Osita Okechukwu, the national publicity secretary of the CNPP and : Mallam Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafinjani) Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Action (CISLAC) also made presentations.

Mr. Okechukwu in his presentation noted the emergence of what Nigerians call party leader across the various tiers as one of the major problems of the political cordiality. According to him the leaders are the president at the national level and governors at the state level have transformed themselves into the party where their words are law.

Following the sessions a communique on the workshop was adopted in which participants observed:
*The positive and encouraging initiative of the House of Representatives Committee on inter and intra Party relations, the National Assembly and the donor agencies by facilitating the sensitization workshop

* The huge responsibility on the shoulders of the House Committee charged with amongst other things; monitoring the programmes, activities, operations and performance of political parties as well as ensure harmonious relations among political parties.

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Cat and mouse: Parliament and political parties