By Jibrin Ibrahim
Four years ago, I started my column on political party primaries as follows: “Yes we are in the season of anomie as party primaries are conducted in blatant violation of the Electoral Act, INEC Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties and the Political Parties’ Code of Conduct. The process of lawlessness started with the election of delegates in which strong godfathers simply imposed their clients, their houseboys and servants as delegates. The so-called delegates are then instructed to choose a designated aspirant as the candidate for the party. The list of “genuine” delegates, meaning imposed delegates, is kept hidden from other aspirants seeking to contest in the nomination process. The idea here is to stop them from campaigning, i.e. bribing the delegates. Sometimes, the delegates are taken out of town and locked up in a hotel until the time of the primaries. Sadly, this is actually the best-case scenario. Sometimes, no primaries are held at all and the godfather just writes a report stating that the primaries took place and a candidate has won it.”
This year, the story is even worse and what was supposed to be the solution – direct primaries for all party members to choose their candidates, thereby bypassing godfathers and their delegates – has produced even greater farce. I watched various video recordings on how the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries for President Buhari went. I got curious when it was announced that he had won 2.9 million votes in Kano alone and that everything had been counted and tabulated by the evening of the same day. The counting was abracadabra 1, 2, 3, 79, 419, 35,000, 750,000… and so it went. Clearly, the Kano State governor, who defined himself as the returning officer for the primaries, was simply trying to ingratiate himself with the president by keeping to his earlier promise of “delivering” the highest number of votes for Buhari. The reality was that he ended up embarrassing himself and the president. President Buhari was the sole aspirant, so there was no stake in the primaries meant to affirm him. How could almost three million people in Kano have come out to vote in a primary without any stake? Governor Ganduje also kept to his promise of getting less votes than his beloved president, so he gave himself only 2.7 million votes. Still in Kano, Rabiu Kwankwaso organised the primaries for the governorship position in his own house and gave the ticket to his son-in-law, Abba Yusuf. It was the same person he gave the candidacy to in 2014, while contesting for the presidential primaries and after losing to Buhari, before coming back to retreive it from Yusuf.
The Lagos APC gubernatorial primaries were not less farcical. After three postponements, the Lagos APC declared that the godson chosen by godfather Tinubu, the owner of Lagos politics, had won the primaries. Shortly after the announcement, Clement Ebri, the head of the National Working Committee (NWC) team sent to conduct the primaries, said all the materials for the elections were still with him and that the process had not even started. He announced postponement of the election, so that he could prepare for a credible primary election. A couple of hours later, Abuja announced that they recognised the result of the primary election that their own team said did not take place. Abuja then made Clement Ebri recant and he turned around shamelessly announcing that a credible bona fide primary election did take place in Lagos.
As the primaries continue to unfold, I am particularly struck by the terrible type of transactional politics that the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole has introduced into the process. In Imo State, for example, the State congress had successfully wrestled the control of the party machine from Governor Okorocha, who is determined to impose his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu as the next governor. Adams disbanded the elected executive and handed the party machine back to the governor. In Adamawa and Katsina States, in-laws to President Buhari are currently seeking to use “Aso Power” to impose themselves as gubernatorial candidates. As I write these, there are reports that many people are being killed in Zamfara, as Governor Yari insists on single-handedly determining all candidates in the State and the people are resisting. In Kaduna State, Governor El Rufai is fuming and threatening hell fire as Comrade Adams disqualified all the contestants for the senatorial seat for Kaduna Central constituency, so as to declare Senator Shehu Sani the only candidate, as compensation for denying his State an excellent loan negotiated from the World Bank. I have been asking questions and no one seems to understand the type of transactional politics Adams Oshiomhole is playing with the APC. The only thing clear is that he is determined to wreck the party.
As we await the PDP presidential primary election, what is clear is that this season of primaries has shown the fragility of our democracy. Once again, it has become clear to all that Nigerian democracy has a great weakness because of the lack of respect for internal party democracy and the consequent recurrent disrespect for party rules, particularly in the nomination of candidates for elections. This is happening across all the political parties. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has powers for the regulation of political party activities based on the principles of the rule of law. The regulation is spelt out in Article 2.1 of the Political Parties’ Code of Conduct: “All political parties, their leaders, members, supporters, and candidates shall adhere to all existing laws, and regulations pertaining to elections, and the conduct of political parties, especially the election guidelines established by INEC through the authority of the Electoral Act 2010, (as amended), the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as amended, and shall do nothing whatsoever, individually or collectively to undermine, flout, disrespect or circumvent them.”
Nigeria has one of the most detailed legislations in the world for controlling party primaries. There is a three-stage process for the nomination of party candidates in primaries: The parties inform INEC of their desire to hold congresses or conventions on a specific date, time and location; INEC responds and sends monitors to verify that the process corresponds to the laid down rules from the aforementioned sources; and finally INEC officially receives the names of successful candidates from the parties. The problem is that the elaborate system simply does not work. In general, parties have failed to inform INEC properly of the date, time and venue of meetings. When they do inform it, they sometimes change the dates and time without notice. All the parties develop detailed guidelines to govern procedures for the primaries but they simply do not follow them most of the time. For example, some parties provide that voting shall be by secret ballot, but they end up doing open ballot or imposing “consensus candidates”. No one, INEC included, has been able to monitor and enforce the laws and rules for party primaries.
The irony is that political parties have a lot to gain from conducting fair and honest primaries. If the primaries are conducted according to the rules, party members and candidates are likely to regard the primaries as credible, free and fair and the likelihood of legal challenge to the announced results will be severely minimised, if not eliminated entirely. Party members are likely to become more committed to the party and support their candidates during the elections and political nomadism would reduce considerably, as aspirants who feel cheated in the primaries walk out en masse seeking alternative platforms.
The law is clear that party primaries must uphold the democratic principle. Specifically, the Act stipulates that: “The aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of voting shall be declared the winner of the primaries of the party and the aspirant’s name shall be forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the candidate of the party.” The Nigerian Constitution assigns the responsibility of monitoring political parties and ensuring that they adhere to their rules and procedures to INEC. The Electoral Act, Section 86, empowers INEC to monitor political parties and keep records of their activities. The Electoral Act, Section 87 provides a choice between two procedures for the nomination of candidates by parties – direct or indirect elections. In direct elections, all members of a party can vote for their candidate. Indirect elections involve the election of delegates to primaries, where the delegates will elect candidates from a set of registered aspirants. Initially, godfathers were afraid of direct primaries and resisted it. It was President Buhari who worked hard to impose it. Today godfathers are smiling and saying they love direct primaries because with the first attempt, they have been able to transform it into a scam. They need to be told that they cannot continue to scam the people all the time.
RESISTANCE IS NECESSARY.
PARTY MEMBERS, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT THE CHAINS YOUR GODFATHERS HAVE TIED YOU WITH.
RECLAIMING THE PEOPLE’S MANDATE STARTS AT THE PARTY LEVEL.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development.