2023 Elections, Intra-Party Schisms and Electoral Prospects
Political parties are critical to the functioning of democratic regimes and elaborate attention democracy scholars pay to their (parties’) operations and structures underscores their importance in all democratic contexts.
As Nigeria inches towards the 2023 general elections, uncertainties and anxieties pervade the polity. Growing insecurity, sustained armed attacks on INEC facilities and personnel as well as election-based violence are some of the issues that have heightened trepidation in the land ahead of the seventh post-transition elections in Africa’s largest electoral democracy. The party platforms that are fielding candidates for the elections are not spared of the uncertainty and anxiety. The major parties in the elections are increasingly being exposed to electoral uncertainty due to a spate of intra-party conflicts troubling the parties.
Indeed, the depth and intensity of schisms that are witnessed today in the major parties are unarguably unprecedented in the history of the current republic. It is gratifying that the parties are not pretending that all is well within their party organizations. The leadership of each of these conflict-infested parties fully recognizes the fact that intra-party discontents undermine the strength of the party to fight election and earn electoral victory.
Schism, operationalized here as the presence of instability, hostility and animosity within the party organization, is a normal phenomenon in party politicking. In the literature on party politics, it is established that a political party must be electorally significant and win impressive number of national votes to be considered a successful political party. Political parties that have earned the status of ‘successful parties’ are those that survive or creatively manage schisms.
In spite of the long-held assumption in party scholarship that political parties compose of “persons of like-minds’, in practical terms, political parties whether they are found in the advanced democracies of the global North, or in the emergent democracies of the South, house individuals with varying interests, tendencies and vision. This heterogeneity presents a formidable challenge to the party organizations when they are to take collective decisions on contentious issues such as candidate selection, electoral alliance and models of decision making. Where not creatively managed, these issues precipitate conflicts within political parties. The natural consequence of conflicts within a political party is factionalisation which negatively impacts the vitality and efficiency of political parties as core institutions of democracy.
Ideological/policy disagreement does not in any way constitute a serious threat to a political party. Rather, extensive deliberations, policy debates and even dissent have the capacity to refine and sharpen the policy choices of political parties. In other words, conflict of interest may not be necessarily injurious to the organizational stability and electoral fortunes of political parties, it is the failure of party leadership to design effective coping or containment strategies to manage the conflicts that is the greater challenge.
The kind of schisms that characterizes political parties in consolidated democracies is that which relates to intra-party policy or issue pluralism which in most cases hardly results in disaffected party members exiting the party. In the build-up to the 2023 polls, three political parties have emerged as top contenders for the presidential office. These are the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Labour Party (LP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). All these three party labels were/are seized by internal schisms ahead of the elections, albeit in varying degrees and intensity.
The crisis in the APC is multi-dimensional deriving from factors such as post-presidential primary election grievances, crisis of trust/confidence among various tendencies within the party, and discontent in the Tinubu political camp. While the conduct of the presidential primary of the party was seen in many quarters as being free, fair and credible, post-primary events show that the outcome of the primary threw up some grievances. One major indicator of grievances was the suit filed by former Minister of State for Education, Honourable Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba seeking the disqualification of Senator Bola Tinubu who won the presidential primary. Nwajiuba contested the presidential primary of the APC. The former Minister is believed to be acting the script of certain elements within the party that are opposed to the Tinubu candidacy. These elements include the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige. The outcome of the presidential primary of the APC however threw up other factional groups within the party. These include Osinbajo/Dapo Abiodun group, Babachir Lawal/Yakubu Dogara group, Senate President Ahmed Lawan group and many factional groups across the state chapters of the party. One of such states is Osun state where a faction of the party in the state loyal to the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola worked against the interest of the party in the Osun state governorship election of July 2022. The recent allegation of ambition sabotage made by Senator Tinubu is a clear indication of deep-seated conflicts/contradictions within the ruling party. That the party’s presidential standard bearer is levying such an allegation on the eve of election could worsen the electoral challenge/uncertainty the party is currently confronted with and could in a way enhance the electoral chances of its challengers.
Like the APC, the genesis of the protracted crisis troubling the PDP is the outcome of the presidential primary of the party. Certain elements within the party who were aggrieved by the outcome of the primary election have remained opposed to the candidacy of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku who won the party’s presidential ticket. The governors of Abia, Benue, Enugu, Oyo and Rivers states, popularly called ‘G5 Governors’ are the arrow heads of opposition to Atiku’s candidacy and have vowed to work against his election during the February 25 poll. Apart from the potent challenge of the ‘G5 Governors’ that the PDP is battling with, there are pockets of unresolved grievances over governorship and legislative primaries in some states including Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti states.
The Labour Party is the most peaceful of the three leading contenders in the forthcoming elections. Save for the crisis over competing claims to the national chairmanship of the party which was eventually resolved in favour of Barrister Julius Abure; and the anxiety created within the party by the conviction of former Director General of the Presidential Campaign Council of the party, Dr. Doyin Okupe for money laundering, the party has enjoyed internal peace and stability. In addition to the relative internal peace advantage, the presidential candidate of the party, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, has received endorsement from many notable Nigerians including former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Leader of Ijaw ethnic nationality, Chief Edwin Clark. If you add this to the support the LP candidate enjoys on social media, then you will say Mr. Peter Obi has a strong political capital.
At another level however, whatever internal peace advantage Labour Party enjoys is vitiated by the nascent character of the party. Since its emergence into Nigeria’s electoral market in the year 2002, the party has remained a fringe party platform. Labour Party has earned the image of being the last resort of aggrieved or disaffected politicians frustrated out of their primary political parties. It was former Governor Olusegun Mimiko who shot the Labour Party into national political limelight when he contested and won Ondo governorship election in 2007 as the standard bearer of the Labour Party. Dr. Mimiko had left the PDP before the 2007 polls following the insistence of the incumbent Governor Olusegun Agagu to seek re-election. Mimiko however returned to the PDP after his constitutionally-sanctioned two terms as governor of Ondo state under the banner of Labour Pary. Labour Party suffered similar fate in Osun state during the 2022 gubernatorial election. Rt. Honourable Lasun Sulaimon Yusuff, former Deputy Speaker of the lower chamber of Nigeria’s national parliament, contested the governorship primary election of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He lost the governorship ticket to the incumbent governor, Adegboyega Oyetola. Dissatisfied with the outcome of the governorship primary, Honourable Yusuff defected to the Labour Party and was ‘donated’ the governorship ticket of the party. It was a disastrous electoral outing for Lasun Yusuff and Labour party as the party was only able to garner a paltry 2,729 votes at the election. Like Mimiko, Lasun Yusuff defected to the PDP few months after the 2022 Osun governorship election.
It will be interesting to see how Labour Party, a party label without members in any state house of assembly and just 3 members in the National Assembly (HoR 2; Senate 1) will leverage on its relative internal stability to coast home to victory in the presidential election later this month. Although, Mr. Obi has repeatedly downplayed the value of political structures in electoral competition, there is no denying the fact that without sufficient presence of active party members, sympathizers and supporters across the length and breadth of the country, the LP may end up being a rising party platform with remarkably dim electoral prospects.
With repeated assurances from INEC of its readiness to organize a freer, fairer and more credible 2023 polls, Nigerians are encouraged to approach the elections with renewed hope of a greater and more prosperous nation. We should also enjoin democracy stakeholders including media, civil society, security services, election observers and of course voters to support INEC in its quest to deepen democratization in Nigeria through the 2023 general elections.
Adekunle Animashaun, Department of Political Science & Public Administration, Fountain University, Osogbo, Nigeria.