THIS IS going to be a short intervention, hopefully brief, concise, but also straight to the point. Overall, my intention is to clarify, and to also try to set the tone for an agenda different from that which plunges us into the warm embrace and bosom of the competing, but self-serving narratives of the ruling class, that is of Nigeria’s ruling class, across all of its different factions and fractions.
Situating the Context:
Of recent, since the aftermath of the 2023 general elections, and in the face of the unfolding processes around judicial pronouncements on election related cases brought before the judiciary; there has been this growing cacophonous railing against the current ruling party (the All People’s Congress – APC), alleging that it is leading a charge to co-opt, suppress and hijack the other branches of government (the legislature and the Judiciary).
These allegations have been accompanied by flagrant verbal abuses and threats to, as well as derogatory remarks against the entire judiciary; accusing the judiciary of being captured by the executive, and of assisting the party that controls the executive and has a governing majority in the national assembly, to suppress opposition political parties, and turn the country into a one party state.
What is a One-Party State?
These allegations and observations are weighty enough to warrant serious consideration. So, what is a one-party state? How does a one-party state emerge? And how is such a regime consolidated?
A one (or single) party state is a polity where only one party (or coalition of parties) exists, is politically viable or dominant, and or is legally permitted.
Following this description, it is possible to have a dejure or a de facto one-party state. In the first instance, only one party is constitutionally and legally permitted; while in the second instance, although the legal frameworks allow for a multiplicity of political parties, one party in fact controls the entire political system and exclusively dominates the processes. This kind of situation emerges where through various processes and mechanisms – contrived and or contingent -, including the use of coercion and deployment of other apparatuses of the state, one-party emerges as the pre-eminent dominant party, and the only viable party in the polity.
Such a context can also emerge in a situation where one party, because of its historical evolution and relationship with the people – as in the case of liberation movements, anti – authoritarian/anti – military dictatorship movements etc – emerges as the overwhelmingly dominant party, retains this dominant position in successive elections, and uses its control of the state to dispense patronage, sustain and oil its institutional and organic relationship with overwhelming majority of the citizens and their organisations, and as well to incentivise support and loyalty to the dominant party and its domination of the political processes and the country.
Political Parties in Democracies
At this point, it is important that we pause to examine political parties in democracies. Every political party in a democracy strives to win elections in order to emerge as the governing party. Every political party, as such also strives to win as much contested political positions as possible, and with as wide a margin as possible, in order to be able to lay claim to the support of the majority of citizens, and as well to be able to lay claim to the mandate to govern.
In this context therefore, the more the number of seats won (across board), the wider the margin of victory (equally across the board), the more solid the claim to support and loyalty of the citizens, and the mandate given by citizens in the election.
Thus, every political party in a democracy aims at political dominance, including the ultimate aim of rendering opposition political parties redundant and irrelevant in the governance process. This is why political parties strive for and celebrate landslide victories, and revel at the near total electoral annihilation of the opposition.
What Can We Make of Self-serving Allegations Against the Judiciary?
Election litigation has more or less become an integral, but also growing component of the electoral process in Nigeria.
For instance, in the 2023 general elections, about 320 of the 360 seats of the House of Representatives contested were challenged at the National Assembly Tribunals sitting across the country; while all of the 28 governorship seats contested were equally challenged at the Governorship Election Tribunals across the country.
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In fact, according to INEC, of the 1,196 petitions filed, 712 were dismissed and 179 withdrawn.
The implication of this is that the tribunals found no merit in 891 (74.4%) petitions and affirmed the result of the elections conducted by INEC.
Furthermore, according to INEC, 94% of the results of the election were challenged, but the courts found in favour of the election outcome as declared by INEC in over 74% of such instances.
If we include the instances such as in Zamfara and Plateau states where the election results were overturned because the winning parties did not legally, in the eyes of the law, field candidates in the election, then the correlation between the results affirmed by the courts and those upturned would be different, and in favour of the results as declared.
It is important to note that in nearly all of the instances of judicial challenge, technicalities were prominent grounds for challenging the outcome of the various elections.
It follows that if you bring grounds of technicality before the judiciary, the judiciary will have to rule on those technicalities, and interpret the law accordingly. What this implies is that it is not the courts that introduced technicalities into the disputes, but the litigants – and predominantly the petitioners; with the respondents merely responding with their own technical grounds, alongside arguing against the litigation value of the technicalities introduced by the petitioners.
As such the challenge and the problem is not so much with the judiciary, as it is with the politicians and the political class, their impunity, and knack for disregarding and undermining the law, due process and the rule of law. This is in the main is the primary driver of their knack for undermining the electoral process starting from the party primaries all the way through to the actual elections into political offices in which the parties are fielding candidates.
All of the major parties undermined internal democracy within their parties as much as possible. Some did not even conduct primaries. Some fielded candidates who were not party members (and were aspirants who had already paid for aspirant forms and had commenced the primary process with other parties), until a few days to their primaries. And in virtually all of the parties, not only were processes for producing delegates to the party primaries hijacked by party leaders, such eventual party primary delegates were also very heavily monetarily induced.
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This is why the biggest threat to our democracy is the political class, the politicians, and the nature and character of the cash and carry, and stockholder ownership structure of the political parties that they run. Political parties, for this political class, are simply stock-exchanges, and special purpose vehicles for investment and for the repatriation of profits and higher returns with respect to deriving material gains from control of public treasury and the commonwealth. It is the reason why corruption and abuse of office is so pervasive within the system, it is the driver of the tendency towards institutional (not just state) capture by major stroke brokers, and stockholders within the polity.
A Single Party State?
Now we turn to the question of the emergence of a single party state. To be clear, the propensity to state capture is prevalent and endemic among the political class across board. And it is even more pervasive and tangible at the subnational level than it is at the national (federal level).
For instance all political parties who control the executive at the subnational (state government) level, even in instances where opposition parties are represented in the state legislatures, all routinely either operate a system of appointed caretaker committees at the local government level, in blatant violation of the constitution, and with those caretaker committees filled with party members and loyalists of the governor; and or routinely conduct local government elections where the ruling party at the state level ‘win’ all the local government chairmanship and counsellorship positions contested for. There can be no clearer manifestation of a single party state phenomenon than this.
Even at the present moment, the opposition parties accusing the ruling party of tendency towards single party state, have conducted local government elections in states under their control where all contested positions have been won by their party candidates; or have dissolved previously ‘elected’ local government councils (by previous administrations), and replaced them with caretaker committees composed exclusively of members of their own party, and loyalists of the sitting governors.
To conclude, it is clear that this ruling class across the board is imbued with the tendency to incline towards complete state and institutional capture, and as such towards the total or near total dominance of the polity by their respective political parties, depending on the degree and level of access to, and control over state institutions within their particular spheres of influence.
Furthermore, for this political class, politics and the political and governance processes are a means to realise individual material interests, and as such their individual and collective approach is transactional in nature, and in character.
It is also clear, that inherent to every democracy, is the tendency towards complete institutional dominance, and total hold on and control of political power, and the state, by political parties operating within the polity. In this sense, in every democracy, there is potentially the possibility of an outcome of complete institutional dominance and control of the state by a single party, or coalition of parties. What tends to place a barrier on the path of this tendency, is the existence of rule based, and time tested institutional and constitutional mechanisms that constitutes restraints, and encourages existence of vibrant opposition, nurtured by existence of vibrant civil society and active citizenship.
Thus, we can say very emphatically, that the emergence and consolidation of a single (or one) party state is contingent, not only on the manifest desire of the ruling and or dominant party to dominate, and dominate completely; but also, on the nature, character, and capacity of the opposition political parties; and more importantly on the vigilance, nature, character of political awareness and consciousness of the citizens; that is of the degree of potency and vibrancy of the organised active citizenship of citizens.
For the average citizen, and the ordinary working people and toiling masses therefore, the task is to organise and mobilise popular resistance to anti people ruling class policies of the ruling class, across its various fractions and factions, across all levels of government and public administration; and to acquire the autonomous capacity to act politically in their own interests, including the necessity to organize to win political power, take control of the state, gain dominant influence within the institutions of society, and lead the process of social transformation of the polity and society.
It is for this reason that we must politically enlighten ourselves, to guide against being unwittingly drawn in the fray of, and recruited to fight the internecine and fratricidal intra-class and internal battles of the various fractions and factions of the ruling class.