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FEATURED : Re-engineering Support Groups to Strengthen democracy and Good Governance 



By Mohammed Funsho Abdullahi

I assume that we are here today because we all have deep regard for the work and activities of political support groups. Therefore, as someone whose path into politics was through political associations, I will use my personal experience as the baseline for my address on the theme of this conference.

While the conventional route into politics for most people is through the political party, the fact that the formal political structure, which the party represents, offers limited opportunity for people to influence decisions even if they participate; it makes a lot of sense that most aspiring politicians of today prefer to partake in the political process through one political group or the other, considering that group politics confer shared advantage that may not ordinarily be available to politicians with preference for individual political efforts. I believe this advantage of political associations, which support groups offer, is what Arthur Bentley had in mind when he said “group is the single most important factor in political process.”

For the purpose of this very conversation, and without prejudice to what might have been your understanding of what political support group means, I will say that support group, for me, is any organized body of individuals who share common values and organize activities mainly for the purpose of influencing the political process and decision-making in the way and manner they desire.

This will lead me to why people join or form support groups, the uses or importance of support groups, my personal experience with support groups, and finally my suggestions on how I think support groups can effectively be re–engineered to strengthen democracy, particularly in Kwara State.

Support groups are important political elements in political decision making, particularly in plural and democratic society. They influence political decision making through variety of ways, including electoral activities such as voter education and sensitization, vote canvassing, campaigning etc. Through these activities, support groups contribute greatly to strengthening democracy and democratic process by setting political agenda, encouraging political participation, enlightening citizens on political and governance issues; and providing a platform for collective action.

Why, then, do people join or form support groups? Basically, as Pluralists suggest, the existence of a common need and a sense of group identity and consciousness create a sufficient condition for the formation of any effective political support group. This means that formation of new political groups arises in response to the needs in the society. This view was strengthened by the work of a brilliant American Academic, David Truman, who observed that group formation “tends to occur in waves” and is greater in some periods than others. Of course, you all already know that the formation of support groups occur in droves every time we approach major elections.

Like I said earlier, formation of groups is often in response to a specific need. When we converged in Kano in March, 2013 for the ‘40 Under 40 Forum’, we were responding to the growing youth agitation for political participation and recognition as we approached the 2015 elections at the time. That Kano gathering birthed the GENERATIONAL VOICES, an internationally recognized mass movement of politically active young Nigerians calling for the birth of a new political culture and the mobilization of the numerical strength of our large youth population to influence political outcomes.

Generational Voices was a great movement which received the endorsements of prominent individuals and international bodies, including the United Nations, but it could not deliver on its grand ideals due to lack of consistency. However, as 4 opposition parties at the time began the process of merging together to form a single political entity that would be strong enough to confront the then ruling party, PDP; some of us who had participated in the ‘40 Under 40 Forum,’ and the activities of the Generational Voices it birthed, saw the need to establish a platform to bring together young progressives from across the merging political parties in order for us to join the then emerging new party, which later became the APC of today, as a block. The process was driven by Barr. Ismaeel Ahmed, a former presidential aide and national youth leader of APC, and we officially launched what we named the All Progressives Youth Forum (APYF) in Sheraton Hotel on the 4th of May, 2013, a clear three months before the birth of APC, which INEC officially registered in July, 2013 as the product of the merger of then 4 opposition political parties. So, APYF has existed even before its mother party, the APC.

I will still come back to reference APYF and some other support groups that I have been a part of as I discuss some ideas for re–engineering political party support groups to strengthen democracy. However, I will leave the aspect of how support groups can influence governance to my brother, the Chief Press Secretary to our amiable Governor, who I’m sure will give us some exciting perspective on that.

For me, to re-engineer support groups in order to play any significant role in strengthening democracy, a number of things must happen:

1. Political party stakeholders need to have a better understanding of the role and importance of support groups. Support groups must be treated as a significant component of the political party structure, rather than as mere assemblage of ordinary political or campaign volunteers.

2. Support groups themselves must have the maturity to band together and work together in order to enhance their strengths and importance. In the last election, a whole committee, which incidentally was chaired by our own Akeweje, Chief Raheem Adedoyin, had to be set up as part of the Presidential Campaign Council to register all credible support groups and bring them together under one single platform. Why was this necessary? It was because support groups themselves lack coordination and the will to cooperate for a greater purpose.

3.Support groups must have a strong founding vision and work to earn a good reputation. This will greatly determine the influence such support groups can bring to bear, both within the party and in the political process as a whole. When we set up the APYF, our vision was to bring together young people from across the 4 political parties that were about to merge at the time under a single platform. And when we did, every single member keyed into the group’s principle of self regard, and it is an unwritten rule that APYF members at any level must not go around begging political actors for money. Our goal was already captured in our slogan: TAKE PART TO TAKE CHARGE. Our objective is to take part in the political process in order to have a chance to take charge of our lives, it is never about chasing money.

4. Again, considering that support groups enjoy the laxity that party executives do not have, they must be willing to serve as the conscience of the party and protect the core ideals of democracy. As Chairman or leader of a support group, for instance, I can fault the party when I feel it’s going wrong, Comrade Duduyemi as an incumbent State Youth Leader of the party on the other hand cannot do that, unless of course he wants to be looking for another address other than the party secretariat by the next day. Therefore, support groups must learn to use their near freedom from political pressure and control to strengthen democracy by defending and protecting its core ideals. I will give an example here.

When the Mai Mala Buni led Caretaker and Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) was instituted following the removal of Comrade Adam Oshiomole as party national chairman, the idea was for the Buni Committee to stabilize the party and hold convention within 6 months. Inaugurated in June, 2020, the Buni Committee failed to release any program of activities for the convention, which was its major assignment, by December of that year when its mandate expired. The committee sought and got an extension of time for another 6 months, but instead of using the time to organize the convention it was asked to do, they started foot dragging and the committee was still in place by October, 2021, almost a year and half; for a committee that was meant to stay for just 6 months.

But overstaying was not the only problem with the Buni Committee. Preparatory to the national convention, the Committee held Ward and Local Government Congresses across the country which were marred with complaints over undemocratic method of imposition of candidates, forcing leaders on party members at the grassroots in the name of consensus. Yes, our party constitution makes provision for consensus, but it must not be a coercive one in which members are forced to accept a premeditated outcome as a mutually agreed option. A forced outcome cannot be a consensus, because any procedure that does not uphold the freedom of choice of individuals is an aberration to democracy.

Hence, when we saw what was going on, which clearly deviated from APC’s ideals as a progressive party, coupled with the widely held belief at the time that the Buni-led Committee was playing out a script; we set up the APC Rebirth Movement to protect the sanctity of the party and compel Buni to do the right thing. Ismael Ahmed was the Youth Representative on the CECPCP, but that did not stop us from doing what we did. This again speaks to the question of where the loyalty of support groups should be directed: Is it to political leaders or to the party?

There are indeed support groups that, even from their names, you know the founding principle is to support a particular candidate or politician . But unless your group is named MOHAMMED ABDULLAHI SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT, then your loyalty should be to the party which is long lasting than the entire political career of any single politician. Which reminds me, whenever I worried about APYF members in Kwara not getting due recognition from the government of our party in the state, I heard stories that it was because the group belongs to so and so person. I’m using this opportunity to restate that the APYF does not belong to any single person . It’s a group that has existed for over 11 years, with verifiable history. We rotate the leadership of the group: Jide Nurudeen from Offa was the pioneer Chairman, I was the second, then Tunde Salau and now Bala Daba. We all have individual politicians we admire and are close to, but none of us has the influence to single-handedly deliver the group to anyone.

Back to my recommendations on how support groups can strengthen democracy, I believe it is important for members of support groups to be devoted enough to put their money where their mouths are. When we did APC Rebirth Movement, it was within ourselves that we mobilized the money needed to fund all our press conferences and other media engagements, with each member giving according to his financial strength. Clearly, a support group that goes around soliciting money from political actors or party functionaries already forfeited its independence, which is needed to fight in defense of party values and democratic principles when occasion required.

Then, the issue of leadership of support groups is also key. The biggest cause of instability within many support groups, which is hindering their capacity to adequately contribute to strengthening democracy, is the issue of leadership, especially for youth-based support groups. For many of us, young people, we hardly want to follow our peers, which is the reason we have so many emergency support groups everywhere, some with only about 10 to 20 members. Everyone just want to be a king in his corner. But in this game of politics, you must be deliberate and sincere to yourself. Instead of leading a group that leads you nowhere, it’s wise to identify and defer to one single, competent and transparent individual that can lead your group to make impact in the political process.

Another issue is party recognition. You can’t contribute to strengthening democracy when the political party your group claimed to be affiliated to is not even aware of your existence. You can’t claim to be my child if I don’t recognize you as such. Therefore, the idea of claiming to be a support group of a political party, when in fact the party and its leadership are not aware of your existence look to me like self deception. For your participation in the political process to make any sense, the party and all those who matter within it must be aware of your existence, value and contributions.

8. Finally, adhering to the culture of collective ownership is key for support groups. As a group , you can’t be seen to be violating the principle of popular participation , which is the hallmark of democracy, and then you claim you want to strengthen democracy. In fact, those who condemned the value and significance of support groups in our political system based their argument on this point. They reasoned that instead of fostering democracy, support groups stunt democracy; because, according to them, the interest of most support groups is usually a representative of the interest of the active few within the group. Therefore, for a support group to attain the strength necessary to take significant part in strengthening democracy, it must ensure that it gives all its members the due regard necessary to elicit their full participation in the activities of the group. In other words, the principle of collective action is important for a group seeking the influence necessary to strengthen democracy.

TO CONCLUDE, I must emphasize that in politics, as in many endeavors of life, direction is more important than speed. Instead of hurrying to form support groups, we should ask ourselves what value we intend to add to the democratic process with the formation of such a group; and whether it would serve a greater goal for democracy if we create a new group rather than energizing and bolstering existing ones. For me, it’s not the number that counts, it’s the impact. So, Long live to the impactful support groups, and long live the APC.


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