By Raymond Eyo
“I have never witnessed open registration into any Nigerian political party but in my life time I saw APC make history. Thumbs up!”
– Kayode Ogundamisi
Since the official formation of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) on July 31, 2013, as arguably Nigeria’s largest opposition party ever, but more importantly so in the current democratic dispensation, many Nigerians have sought for signs that the party will live up to its progressive change mantra by conducting itself in different ways from the notoriety of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in particular.
Speaking at an event to celebrate the APC’s approval by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last year, the party’s National Leader, Bola Tinubu said, “Finally with the registration of APC, the momentum for change has gained in acceleration as this merger is ready to set Nigeria on an irreversible course of change and people-oriented development. Congratulations Nigerians! The struggle has just begun, because democratic victory is certain.”
As a first step towards its efforts to keep to that promise, the APC began its much-touted open membership registration, the first of its kind, nationwide, on February 5, 2014. It should thus be clear especially to the APC’s cynics and naysayers that, at least on this important foundational note, the party is a pacesetter.
Indeed, one major difference between the APC and the PDP is that the latter has never seen or treated membership registration as serious business! The PDP acts with reckless impunity partly because its membership mostly comprises the vested interests in the system. The PDP quickly lost touch with Nigeria’s masses because the latter were never involved, as active members, in the years soon after its creation in 1998. If the APC’s serious commitment to membership registration, which went underway on February 5, 2014, is anything to go by, it is safe to say that the APC presents Nigerians with a good chance to correct that fundamental first mistake made by the PDP.
That the APC has been talking and doing a lot about open mass membership registration suggests to me it is a party Nigerians must take seriously. Surely, the APC’s aggressive membership registration drive is capable of, if not already, prodding the PDP and other political parties to begin treating mass membership earnestly and that is a positive thing for Nigerian politics and democracy.
This is what journalist, Mercy Abang, meant when she tweeted on February 5, that “I noticed the Labour Party’s advert on Channels TV asking Nigerians to register and join in. Let’s say the APC started the competition.”
More importantly, if Nigerian masses take advantage of its open membership registration to become active APC members, they will be able to significantly shape the party’s internal democracy, especially as pertains to the emergence of the party’s candidates for the various elections.
Early last year, an external audit, at INEC’s behest, was undertaken to assess political parties’ compliance to laid-down accounting procedures in their operations in 2011, the last general elections year. Whilst the PDP, the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA), the Labour Party (LP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) were indicted as having fallen short of the standards, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was the only major party reported to have complied with the said procedures. Indeed, the audit found that the ACN “has an internal audited report and account for the year under review. Conventional books of accounts were maintained. Budget and budgetary control were in place and the party’s well-defined fixed assets register and membership register were fully in place.”
As the biggest party in the equation that has now become the APC, it is not unthinkable that the ACN’s commendable diligence on the issue of membership registration has had a significant bearing on the APC’s commitment to the same. However, with what is clearly a larger scale from the ACN’s days, the APC will certainly need greater efficiency to be able to keep its new records and register in order.
Party membership is the backbone of representative democracy because it is what guarantees effective direct participation in the political process by all and sundry. For instance, speaking prior to the commencement of the APC’s membership registration, the party’s Interim National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, said “If you are not registered, you will not participate in the congresses… The delegates will be the ones that will elect the presidential candidate at the congress.” Indeed, corroborating this assertion, in a more general sense, Ghali Na’aba, the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2000 to 2003 once said, “Without more participation, the quality of representation won’t be effective.”
Similarly, political analyst and commentator, Babatunde Rosanwo, advises that, “Beyond casting your vote every four years when INEC places a ballot box before you, to influence the political process, join a party. Joining a political party is an opportunity to engage outside your bubble, shape policies and engage across the polity. Some people join political parties to contest elections while others join to influence the process. Only party members can be delegates at conventions, stand for elections and be voted for.”
Getting people to register as party members is the first step towards empowering them to influence the party’s internal structures and therefore the larger political process.
The second and more important step is to ensure that they pay their party dues and regularly attend party functions. On October 9, 2013, Henry Ajomale, the Chairman of the APC’s Lagos State Chapter said anyone who desires to be registered as a member of the party will have to abide by its obligations such as the payment of party dues, attendance at meetings and assisting during electioneering. Party dues are to a party what taxes are to a government. Notwithstanding its other sources of finance, no serious-minded political party ever toys with party dues. Party members should pay their dues and leverage that to demand accountability within their parties.
Although Article 10 of the PDP’s membership rules states that “Members shall pay their monthly subscription fees at the ward level… and where a member consistently fails to pay his [or her] subscription fees for six months, such membership will be deemed to have lapsed,” the party has never taken this policy seriously. Rather, to fund its projects and campaigns, the PDP continues to depend almost exclusively on contributions by its public office holders (often misappropriated from public funds) and its elites who see that as a bargaining chip to constantly exert overbearing influence on the all-important choice of candidates for public office (otherwise known as ‘god-fatherism’).
For the APC to make the most of its membership drive, it must forestall the foregoing elitist tendencies and take the second step to substantially empower its rank and file by enforcing the payment of their membership dues and mobilising them to attend party functions. When this is done, the party will both have a large pool of resources to fund projects and members will become more alert to how such resources are expended and thus get more involved in the party’s activities.
By its epochal membership registration, the APC has brought about a new dawn in Nigerian politics and democracy. That is certainly something to cheer for and build on!