How can political parties curb violent contests?
We have violent contests because our system permits it. It is not only about the political parties. People see political office as an avenue for political patronage rather than an avenue for service. And this attitude of winner-takes-it-all equally does not help matters. Some people see public office as an opportunity to enjoy all those perquisites of office which for most people are often beyond what they have ever imagined. This situation paves the way for serious, sometimes, violent contests to get a chance to occupy public offices at whatever level. They consider the contest for public office as a do-or-die affair; it is even such that sometimes it is not the aspirant or candidate — it is his/her godfather.
The godfather, because of his business or other pecuniary interests, is ready to deploy everything, including the use of violence, to get what they want.
The way to curb these sad episodes is for the proper things to be done. We can start by reducing the perks of some of these offices. For example, let us have part-time legislators at all levels. They should be given a reasonable sitting allowance instead of this unbelievable amounts of money we hear they take home every month. This will go a long way in ensuring that people do not consider the race for such offices as a do-or-die affair. With the system we are currently running, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate violent contests for those wishing to occupy such offices. So, we can’t completely blame political parties for the situation. People who are truly interested in public service; they will not force themselves on the people through violent means. That is why democracy is a form of government preferred by most countries of the world.
People who want to serve will not spill the blood of the very people they want to serve in order to get into office.
When you make the legislature a part-time thing, nobody will fight or kill for it. There will be no constituency project funds to fight over; the fat allowances will not be there to encourage those who want to sell their property to go into office with the aim of making a profit in return. The executive arm of government, under the kind of system we currently practice, is equally very glamorous and financially attractive.
To change things for the better, the system itself needs to be overhauled completely. In essence, political offices, whether at the executive or legislative arm of government, should be made less attractive. Once that is done, you will see that everything will fall in place.
The first problem that generates violence in our political parties is a lack of ideology or value system. A party that is built and driven by values, ideology and ideals will fight its contests with wits and ideas rather than with weapons and muscles.
But you have a situation where the parties have no clear vision or ideals to which members subscribe. Members, therefore, are not bound by ethics and all they want to do is to use every means to achieve their political goals even when the goals are for insignificant positions. Tempers flare up easily; nobody can say “No, this is not conducive to the value of our party,” because the party has no value to start with. So, the first cause of violence is absence of value.
The second cause is the failure of the parties to adhere to the rule of law. A party is a product of law because the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes provisions for political parties. It provides that people can only contest for public offices on the platform of parties. The party itself has a constitution. But leaders sometimes, out of expediency or just sheer mischief and recklessness, violate the constitution of the party and even the rules they made themselves.
During elections, there are guidelines provided by the parties in addition to the constitution, which are often set aside for expediency. Any organisation that does not adhere to the rule of law is heading towards anarchy.
Lastly, the nation itself must create an environment where there is zero tolerance for violence. But in this nation today, there is violence everywhere. The government is using excessive violence to control citizens. Criminals are using excessive violence to intimidate citizens. There is violence in many places; so a culture of violence is developing. Experience shows that it could affect contests by parties.
We can only curb violence in political contests through ideas, values, ethics and adherence to the rule of law. And of course, the nation itself must begin to put in place a system that abhors violence
The simple thing to do is to get rid of impunity. Whether it is in a political party or in government, when people know that they can do wrong and nothing will happen, they will continue to act in ways that will portray us as a lawless people. Another thing is we must tinker with our political system; we must make our executive offices less attractive, especially at the centre. It is because of the juicy nature of some of these offices that some politicians fight and even kill to occupy them. The truth is this, we cannot continue this way; something must give. If one is genuinely interested in serving the people which the platform of the political party provides, one must not kill or maim people simply to get into office.
Everything currently happening — especially in the ruling All Progressives Congress — boils down to internal politics. For as long as politicians and political parties refuse to play by the rules which they set for themselves, you will continue to have these kinds of conflicts.
Most political parties have guidelines and most times, these guidelines are either not observed at all or observed in the breach. For example, let us look at the APC; I made reference to the party because it is currently the party in power. The party’s refusal to conduct its affairs in line with its constitution gave birth to the harvest of conflicts it is having today. The mere suggestion that the constitution should be suspended to allow for tenure elongation is responsible for its crisis.
Those who are occupying offices don’t want to leave and those who are outside want to get in. When the playing field is not level, you are bound to have conflicts which sometimes turn violent. Violence also occurs and continues to occur when those caught in the act are not punished.
All politicians and political parties should know that there are consequences for bending the rules. Those found to have engaged in, or supported violence should be made to face the music. It doesn’t matter whether they are members of the ruling party or not. Unless we ensure that nobody is above the law, we will continue to witness violence.
It is not a difficult thing to do if we have the political will. The way to go is to ensure justice and fairness. When we abide by the provisions of our various constitutions as political parties and ensure fairness and internal democracy, I don’t see how this will not come to an end. The other thing that we must do is to bring the full weight of the law on those people who engage in acts of violence; this will go a long way to reduce such cases. As human beings, people react to situations differently because sometimes these disputes begin with verbal disagreements before degenerating into physical conflict. But we can control some of these conflicts by ensuring justice and fairness to all members, or at least a majority of party members