By Ikechukwu Okaforadi
Former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has canvassed early and staggered primary elections as panacea for highly contentious nomination process in Nigeria’s electoral system.
Ekweremadu spoke on Wednesday during a webinar on “Electoral Reforms: National Assembly and the People’s Expectations”, which was organised by the Centre for Liberty, Abuja, in conjunction with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, (OSIWA).
He observed that the very close proximity of primary elections to main elections had always increased desperation on the part of the political actors and compounded litigations and logistical problems for both the political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“In the United States of America (USA), presidential primaries begin about twelve months to the election, climaxing in the convention, where an already known candidate is affirmed.
“In Ghana, there is no stipulated timeframe for the nomination of candidates in the country’s electoral laws. Therefore, article 11 (2)(b) of the National Peoples Party, NPP, Constitution, for instance, stipulates that parliamentary candidates shall be elected at least 12 months before the National General Election, while Article 12 provides that the party’s primary election for the nomination of the presidential candidate shall be held not later than 24 months from the date of the national elections.
“The advantage is that we will not likely see court orders flying all over the place as is the case in Nigeria today because every litigation or contentious issue arising from the primary election would have been settled before the main election.
“The election management body and the political parties will also have enough time to prepare for the election, while the electorate will have enough time to interrogate the manifestos of the political parties and suitability of every individual candidate”, he said.
Ekweremadu also explained that direct and staggered primary elections would compel aspirants to campaign at the grassroots for the support of every party member.
“Importantly, aspirants will weigh their individual popularity as the primary election train moves from state to state in the case of presidential primary or from local government to local government in the governorship primary election.
“Those doing poorly will advise themselves appropriately and naturally withdraw from the race for the ticket, while the leading aspirants will continue. This will make the process less prone to the extreme contentions and litigations we see today”.
The Senator, while expressing his disappointment over the denial of presidential assent to critical electoral reforms by the National Assembly, was also displeased that many of the successful reforms were continually observed in the breach.
“It is one thing to reform the electoral system, but it is also another to ensure that the reformed laws are operational.
“For instance, Section 76 (2) of the 1999 Constitution earlier provided that where a vacancy exists in the National Assembly, for whatever reason, such vacancy shall be filled within one month. The essence is to ensure that every part of the country is properly represented in parliament at every point in time. We amended the Section to read 30 days, for clarity.
“Yet both INEC and the courts have ignored that provision. The courts order conduct of fresh elections within 90 days, while INEC conducts such elections within or even outside the 90 days. Current examples of such breach are Imo, Bayelsa, Cross River, and Plateau States where the constitutionally stipulated time to conduct fresh elections to fill vacant senatorial seats has since elapsed.
“The reality is that any election conducted after 30 days from the day the vacancy occurred is unconstitutional and therefore null and void”, he added.