As a student studying law, I was always very fascinated with the legal maxims which were used to show established principles or propositions. I liked maxims because I saw them as an instrument for positively applying the requirements of integrity and utmost good faith.

The essence of maxims such as, ‘equity looks to the intent rather than the form’, ‘equity looks on that as done which ought to be done,’ ‘equity delights to do justice and not by halves,’ ‘Equity follows the law,’ ‘equity does not aid a party at fault’ and so many others, is to serve as a flexible principle aimed at achieving justice for both sides in every case. But my favorite maxim by far has got to be, ‘he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.’

What makes this particular maxim so interesting to me is that it bestows on a party a voluntary dictum that blocks the court of equity to one that has been soiled with bad faith in regards to the matter in which one seeks relief. In other words, equity will not permit one party to profit by their own wrong; therefore one must behave and engage others in the same manner that one expects to be engaged by others. This guiding doctrine can be applied in any situation in life to further the cause of justice and fair play. Once applied, one can hardly go wrong.

A perfect scenario to benefit from the equitable duty imposed by this principle is the opposition politics that is currently playing out in Nigeria. As the main opposition party embarks on putting its substantive foundation in place, the code of fairness and equity in its internal conduct and the way it responds to its members must be embraced. The one complaint that every opposition party in Nigeria has always had against the PDP during elections is the ruling party’s lack of internal and external democracy. Apparently, by allegedly selecting candidates during its primary election process and rigging them into office and imposing them on Nigerians during the general elections, it is widely believed that the PDP should not be entitled to continue operating with this kind of impunity because the party should not be able to profit from the transgressions it commits. But if that principle and standard is what the opposition parties expect from the PDP in the 2015 elections, then the opposition itself has got to be seen to observe and uphold the very same tenet and standard.

Even with the existence of several opposition parties in Nigeria, up until the ACN, ANPP, CPC, a section of APGA and, subsequently, the New PDP merged to form the APC last year, none of the parties had been able to gain much traction with the electorate and electoral commission to the extent where they were declared the winners at the presidential level. Granted, each of the parties had its strength within certain regional zones, culminating in their individual victories and control at the state level and federal legislature, capturing power at the center remained elusive.

Last year when the hopes and efforts of the vast majority of Nigerians, who were desperate for a viable alternative to the PDP, crystalized into the APC, it provided the best conduit for the change that people were so desperate for. Apart from the less than satisfactory performance over the last 15 years, another factor that disenfranchised a good number of the electorate against the PDP was the vehement way that the ruling party was thought to bulldoze its way into power at every general election. It seemed as if, with wanton abandon, every four years the candidates of the PDP, validly or invalidly, would be hoisted upon us. No matter how much the opposition campaigned or the enthusiasm of its supporters, PDP always managed to be declared winners with seemingly little effort. Bottom line was whatever choice the PDP presented to us was what Nigerians got and we had no choice but to like or lump it.

And right up until the recent formation of the APC, there has always been the understanding that the opposition parties were always the underdogs with the herculean task of succeeding in taking power at the center. APC’s formation laid that main fear to rest and precipitously galvanized all those who feared that the political landscape of Nigeria had morphed into a one-party state. As one watches the party grow, one can see that the APC brings to the table an essentially distinctive and, in every respect, most potent challenge to the ruling party we have seen yet. With the general elections less than a year away, the APC is, in theory, well-positioned to become the most important political force over the coming year.

The greatest challenge of the APC is moving closer! One main factor that has the potential of colossally acting as a detriment to its success in 2015 is now upon it. The importance of the manner in which APC conducts its affairs internally cannot be over emphasized here. If APC builds and reinforces its nation-wide party structure around democratic norms, then the APC may surely become the definite favorites at all levels going into the general elections next year.  But if the party does not practice internal democracy, then it will be on the same collision course as all the other prior opposition parties when they went up against the PDP in the general elections. And if, during the 2015 elections, the PDP uses its might and incumbency to employ iniquitous tactics to retain power, APC will not be morally entitled to the benefit of accusing PDP of subterfuge in elections, when it conducted itself in the same way during its own internal formation.  See, hence the maxim, “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands!”

As the APC embarks on its congress this weekend (13th-14th June 2014), and begins the journey that will determine its future, one can bet that all eyes will be on its internal conduct. The party will be acutely scrutinized to see whether it upholds its internal democratic tendencies and principles. Will it provide a level playing ground to its members and consolidate its strength in order to be well-positioned to give the political shove capable of uprooting 16 years of PDP domination?

Any potential triumph for the APC will essentially rest on the combination of electoral candidates it eventually presents, the strategies it adopts in gaining the trust of the electorate and, most importantly, in being internally democratic. There has got to be internal democracy in the APC! The process of honestly and impartially electing candidates in this present APC Convention taking place and in the upcoming primary election of the party has got to be the basis of which the party will present its candidates. Nothing short of this should be accepted.

Another major hurdle of political parties in Nigeria, of which PDP, APC and all the former legacy parties have fallen victim to, are party leaders who suffer from a syndrome which makes it very difficult for them to rein in their individual ambitions. Leaders who have recycled their aspirations; election after election, year after year and those that have been in power since the creation of man continue failing to recognize that their constant and inordinate ambition has been the greatest factor in creating an obstruction for the opposition. Such leaders and those who double as rulers and go all-out in the art of imposition of candidates have got to be discouraged. It is imperative that the APC unmistakably and loudly disassociates itself from this ugly culture where leaders behave as if contesting for elections and ruling Nigeria is their own personal birthright and individual inheritance. There is not one person in this country that has the greater right, above and beyond everyone else, to be the uncontested, sole aspirant to present themselves as the only candidate in the presidential election or any other position for that matter. Of this, the APC must take notice very seriously!

If the APC makes the dire mistake of imposing candidates at every level, especially at the presidential level, it will be in grave danger of losing its credibility and diminishing any advantage it may presently have. Furthermore, the majority of its members, especially the true progressives, have already began clamoring and protesting against the whimsical declaration of predetermined winners of the APC primaries. Let’s make no mistake, the necessary sacrifices of foregoing certain ambitions of specific polarizing party members has got to be made, albeit in a democratic manner. The focus must be on the overall success of the party as a whole and the preservation of democratic norms, rather than on mere individual ambition. Ultimately, venal and un-strategic individual ambitions have got to be fairly and reasonably checked.

At this point, 21st century Nigerians are craving for the credible elections of capable, individuals into political offices at all levels. They want to see that their votes are counted and the populist candidates are chosen by the people via a free and fair process, not candidates who are imposed on them by “kingmakers”. As this rule applies to the PDP, it also applies to the APC and every other party. All the strong personalities and egos within the positions of authority in APC must ensure that their actions and decisions in this convention and beyond are transparent and do not sacrifice long-term gains for the mere impression, in the short-term, of accountability.

APC must take all its members along. But already, cracks have already started forming in the party’s relationship with members who do not feel that they have been carried along. In order to reflect our National character, from its formation, APC was expected to apply a zoning formula to its executive structure. In anticipation of the blueprint, party members, with the aspiration of contesting for the party executive positions, braced themselves for the impending zonal announcement. For months, no official statement was given by the party as to which zones had been allotted to which positions. With no official word, interested parties and aspirants began preparing for the elections. The much anticipated zoning formula was not announced until literally 72 hours before the National Convention. This single lapse greatly disenfranchised many dedicated and loyal party members who had automatically been excluded by virtue of the delayed announcement of the zoning plan.

While the need for such a formula was understood and welcome by the vast majority of party members, its overdue announcement completely destabilized valuable members and eliminated suitable candidates who had put in a lot of time and effort in campaigning for the positions in the past several months.

Since the APC had agreed to apply the zoning formula, it had a duty to notify party members in good time in order to save those aspirants from expending their time, resources and effort in an exercise that was eventually deemed to be ‘void-ab-initio.’ Being that the party hadn’t come up with the formula and informed its party members in good time, in the interest of equity, it may have been wise to allow members of the party interested in running for elections to contest till the best man won. With 72 hours to go before the National Convention was held, the party should have considered allowing any party member to exercise their right to contest. Now that slight damage has been done, the leaders of the party should absolutely do all it takes to acknowledge and accommodate genuine and dedicated party members who were unfortunate to miss out on an opportunity to be of service to APC because of the delayed announcement of the zoning formula.

Leaders should also ensure that its National Convention is not a replica of what happened in some states during the party’s ward congresses. In several states, the congresses were fraught with irregularities and imposition of candidates. That ‘do-or-die’ behemoth that has always corroded the integrity of our political aspirations in Nigeria took possession of a good number of stakeholders nationwide. Chaos and mayhem reigned, especially in the states where there was no incumbent governor. In some states the exercise became a feast of money, with most of the victors of the congresses emerging on the basis of who had access to more money and who could pay the voting delegates the higher sum. As a result, in some places, the ward congress elections became a caricature of what proper democratic elections look like.

They say that, in order to do better, one has got to expect more. Therefore, if the APC wants to do better, we must be candid and we must expect more from our internal structures. And this duty begins with this National Convention.
The immediate task ahead for APC is to unite behind the party with the intention to do right by it. Much will depend on what happens in the next two days and the party’s ability to manage a frantic, passionate, almost desperate and yet potentially unwieldy collection of members and aspirants. Victory and success of the APC during next year’s general election largely depends on the conduct of this very National Convention.

For APC, when the story of its outing in the 2015 election is eventually told, five vital elements will likely stand out: the combination of nationally acceptable candidates to carry the presidential and vice presidential tickets, the strategy and intelligence, bar sentiment, used to employ the presidential and vice presidential candidates, the validity of the process exercised to produce those candidates, the impartial platform provided for the emergence of other candidates at every level and the extent that the party is prepared to go in order to ensure that there is internal democracy in its entire conduct. It will be upon these five scenarios that APC will make it or break it come 2015.
Will APC do the incredible and displace PDP at all levels in the next election? It’s anyone’s guess. But as our history continues to be written, much will depend on the party’s ability to turn tub-thumping into constructive engagement, prejudice into objectivity, sentiment into reality, and inequity into justice in this National Convention and all the way through to its primary elections.

The coming months will be crucial for APC to prove to Nigerians that the party really is a viable alternative to PDP. As long as the party lives, eats and breaths justice; As long as party decisions aren’t made in the interest of unfairly erecting structures of patronage around preselected candidates; As long as the party can exhibit practice of internal democracy at the highest level, then it has a real fighting chance of success come 2015. However, anything short of that, any conduct that compromises the integrity of internal democracy will perhaps be the cause for the formidable forming wall of the APC to come tumbling down. And it certainly may just be the prompt for those of us who, for over a decade, have toiled tirelessly to ensure a higher standard in our political landscape and who sincerely believe in APC, to begin a journey of disbelief.

As a Barrister practicing law, I am always very fascinated with legal maxims. I see them, essentially, as the benevolent and fair face of the law. Of all the equitable maxims, my favorite is one that I see as far more than a mere banality; “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.” It is a principle that I apply in my own life and one that I expect my party, APC, to apply in its internal conduct. If the APC fails to do so and is confronted with a PDP and INEC that challenge it with their own usual brand of soiled hands in 2015, then we have no right to complain or protest by virtue to natural reason…; Fact will be, we cannot go to equity if we don’t go with clean hands!

Written By Hannatu Musawa
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