By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had, as far back as when Professor Attahiru Jega was in the saddle as national chairman, formulated a body of rules or regulations that would guide and ensure the credibility of the conduct of primary elections by political parties.
Titled “Regulation for the Conduct of Political Party Primaries”, the ten-page document, which was signed by Jega on October 24, 2014, provided both the legal framework and administrative policy that would regulate the nomination of candidates by the parties.
The essence of the commission’s regulatory exertion was to ensure the enhancement of the democratic environment and the establishment of a more transparent electoral system. This is a good legacy bequeathed to the Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led electoral body.
Yakubu is expected to bring the force of his leadership and intellectual fecundity to bear on the enforcement of compliance with the guidelines by the various parties. The electoral body, as a regulatory and monitoring agency of the parties, has apprised the political parties of the timelines of activities preparatory to the 2019 general election.
The expectation, therefore, is that the commission would ensure that parties do not violate the rules of the game; and, that where they do; appropriate regulatory sanctions may be considered. Parties and stakeholders who crave the institutionalisation of an enduring legacy of vibrant political system and democratic growth must be consciously reined in.
Despite the extant policy that should have effectively guided the parties, the mode of conduct of primary elections had remained an elephant in the room since 1999 until a few weeks ago when the All Progressives Congress, APC, in line with his change agenda that has ramified other aspects of governance, decided to adopt the direct primary election for the choice of its presidential candidate and other elective offices.
Some stakeholders in the APC are splitting hair on the issue because the mode threatens their political future and electoral fortunes. It is obvious that they feel safer with the adoption of the indirect or delegate system. Whereas, the national leadership of the APC, under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has settled for the direct primary election, the lingering furore instigated by some governors, has brought to the fore the imperativeness to interrogate the body of INEC regulations, advert attention of stakeholders to the essence of the policy and ensure fidelity to it.
Recall that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which controlled power at the centre, until 2015, had consistently adopted the indirect or delegate system with all its foibles and there was never a time that stakeholders expressed preference for direct primary election.
The APC, as a ruling party, has, therefore, blazed the trail. It has advanced good reasons for the adoption of the direct primary election: to ensure that all registered members, as opposed to only statutory and elected delegates, participate in the process of electing candidates who would be their standard-bearers for elections into the various offices. It is all about putting the power of choice of candidates in the hands of party members and not in the hands political godfathers.
The people make up the party and they must be allowed and encouraged to decide who their candidates are in a majoritarian democracy. That is how to ensure all-inclusiveness or non-exclusiveness. The direct involvement of the people in the selection reinforces the integrity of the process. It becomes easier for the people to own, defend and sell their party’s candidates whom they have directly elected to represent them.
But to be sure, the INEC does not have preference for either of direct or indirect primary election. Both enjoy the endorsement of the electoral body. It has recommended that parties could adopt any of the two modes. According to the Commission, “All political parties must comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) that requires that primaries be held by direct or indirect primaries, in addition to complying with all regulations, guidelines and directives of the Commission.”
As part of the rules, a party is mandated to submit by written communication to the Headquarters of the Commission and not later than 21 days to the date of its primaries, which of the two methods–direct or indirect primaries, it intends to use in conducting its primaries.
This is why it becomes imperative for the purpose of administrative convenience and clarity of communications to the INEC that the APC harmonizes, unifies and agrees on a mode of primary election and not a combination of it as some state governors would appear to be throwing the magnitude of their weight in an unnecessary bid to choose in spite of the position of the national leadership.
Indeed, what is of the essence, overall, is the readiness by the INEC to ensure that the parties follow the rules issued by it on the conduct of political parties’ primary elections pursuant to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), particularly paragraph 15, part 1 of the Third Schedule and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
Significantly, the conduct of primary elections is condition precedent for any party that wants to participate in any election organised by the INEC. The commission said, “All eligible members of the party must be given equal opportunity to participate in the primaries of the party for the purpose of selecting candidates for elective positions.”
The APC has, for instance, taken steps to extend the meaning and ramification of membership eligibility such that all registered members are able to find accommodation in it. That step approximates direct primary election and promotes democracy. But it is sad that some state governors are determined to spurn that liberal democratic gesture in furtherance of their selfish political interest.
It is, however, remarkable that some state governors have aligned with the decision of the national leadership to adopt direct primary election. That reduces the number of erring states that risk some forms of sanction or cold shoulder by the national working committee. The powers of communicating the decisions of the party to the INEC in respect of the primary election are vested in the national chairman and the national secretary.
The national leadership of the APC has expressed its commitment to pull through the registration of members, where it is deficient, in a record time through the mediation of Information Communication Technology, ICT, aided by online registration. Such members, as reasoned, should also be able to pay a token as membership due that qualifies him or her as an equal stakeholder in the party.
The APC leadership has hinted of its capacity to fulfill the INEC rule that a political party that intends to organise its primaries by direct method must ensure that it maintains a proper and duly certified membership register, which must be available for inspection by the Commission, the aspirants and any party member that requests to inspect it.
Ordinarily, it would appear that the indirect primary election is easier in the face of the seemingly difficult requirement of a proper and duly certified register to actuate the direct primary mode. But a simple and seamless administrative process of technological mediation and remediation would have long produced a template of membership registration that would have simply made continuous update easy.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes voa firstname.lastname@example.org
But judging by the attitude and disposition of the Oshiomhole leadership, that hurdle is surmountable. The motivation is to engender in the philosophy of the party a pro-people consciousness which direct primary would better reinforce. A vast majority of the remaining ninety parties, if not all, have chosen to run with the indirect or delegate system.
Regardless, both modes are strictly circumscribed by the INEC guidelines. APC, which is in the vanguard of direct primary elections is, stricto sensu, required to document party register for that purpose while parties seeking to use the indirect primary elections are required to submit to the commission, not later than seven days to the date of the primaries, the list of electors that would form the delegates for every elective position. In the adoption of both modes, and given the capacity of Nigerian politicians for mischief, it is hoped the membership register and choice of delegates would not be deliberately compromised. Parties should take cognizance of the body of regulations ahead of their nomination of candidates for proper guidance.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes voa email@example.com