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Published On: Sun, Dec 14th, 2014

Party primaries and internal democracy

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APC-PDPBoth the ruling PDP and the lead opposition party, the APC, have held congresses to elect their Presidential candidates. The PDP congress held in Abuja could be described as a mere coronation exercise for President Goodluck Jonathan since for whatever reason, he had no other party man or woman to contest against him. The APC on the other hand, conducted a well organized and transparent primary election in Lagos where five candidates vied to be president. At the end of the day, General Muhammadu Buhari emerged winner and his four contestants graciously bowed out of the ring promising their support. This was a fine day for democracy in Nigeria.

A little down the ladder, primaries for other political offices both at the state and  federal levels which are supposed to be held in the various states are proving something of a nightmare. In Adamawa State, members of a committee raised by the PDP national secretariat to conduct House of Assembly primaries were “kidnapped.”  A petition signed by the Chairman and Secretary of the committee, Ambassador Tim Ihemadu and Mrs. Victoria Nyam-Isha respectively, pointedly accused the Governor Bala James Ngilari, Chief Joel Madaki and Mr A. T. Shehu all chieftains of the party in the state, the Police Commissioner and Director of State Security Services in the state and some unnamed party thugs of the crime. Based on this petition, the PDP has decided to hold all primary elections of the state in Abuja – far away from Adamawa. This decision is fast becoming the fashion for the PDP. Yobe has followed and so has Taraba.

This development is rather strange for the federal system of government we pretend to be operating. In this system, the federating units are entitled to some measure of autonomy. By moving party primaries to the headquarters of the central government, we are giving signals to the central government that the states have succumbed even the peripheral autonomy they currently enjoy. A perfect example that some operators of the system have sold their birthrights could be gleaned from a statement made by former Minister of National Planning Sanusi Daggash who came out of a meeting with President Jonathan to announce gleefully to the media that he came to give the President the name of the consensus candidate arrived at to run for the governorship contest in Borno on the PDP ticket.

To the minister, the issue of primaries was irrelevant. What matters is consensus, even when he did not tell us how the consensus was arrived at. The second thing that mattered is that the President, who is not the state or national chairman of the party should bless the name. It is very tragic that Daggash who parades himself as a former minister could display such profound ignorance on how our system should work. Secondly, primary elections are meant to create a sense of participation and education to the citizenry at the grassroots. By moving everything to Abuja, we are now saying the people who form the bedrock of our democratic foundation no longer count.

It is our considered opinion that a house built on a shaky foundation cannot stand. The PDP and all other parties must take the issue of internal democracy and primary elections more seriously. A democracy that denies the people a voice is no democracy at all.

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