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Packaged Democracy: The Fierce Battle For Presidential Tickets

*Why delegates may not have a say
*Real Reasons why Electoral Act amendment was shot down

This report takes a critical look at the high stakes, intra party power play between presidential contenders across the political divide and concludes that what delegates may be presented with may just be a fiat accompli.  It also reveals the real reasons why senators shot down the amendment proposal for Electoral Act, 2010. The question: How would a choreographed political party convention further the cause of democracy, or the one man, one vote mantra?

It was their own way of fighting back and they succeeded. The Senators   took the executive by surprise. They even surprised some of their colleagues who did not know what the game was all about. When, penultimate Wednesday, Senator Kabir Gaya took the presentation of Senator Teslim Folarin to the cleaners on the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, 2010, it was the result of an earlier choreography.  The Senators had expected that any proposal from the executive would enjoy the benefit of collaboration with them – that is, accommodate the desires of the Senators. Sunday Vanguard learnt that the Senators had pushed for an amendment which would have also seen them have a say in the delegates’ composition for the party primaries.

A Senator disclosed to Sunday Vanguard that “we had expected the amendment to incorporate what some of us desired.

“Since some of us are having problems with our governors back home, amending Section 87 of the Act would have completely handed the process to the executive”. What Section 87 sought was a situation whereby the leadership of a political party would determine the mode of selecting or electing candidates for election.  In fact, party caucuses would have been approved as the organ to select candidates for election.

Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Ibrahim Babangida.

Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that the angst of the legislators – and these included members of the House of Representatives – was that there was a proposal on the table from the legislative arm. That proposal which was supposed to have been a compromise, Sunday Vanguard was told, was to ensure that Senators’ aides would be incorporated into the delegates’ composition of the political parties if the executive were to have its way with the proposal on allowing ministers, special advisers and senior special assistants to become automatic delegates.

In the case of Senators, each wanted at least three aides while the House of Representatives members would be entitled to two aides as automatic delegates. This was not incorporated. The twist in this proposal was that members of the legislature who are not members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were a bit indifferent. In addition, the fierce battle to clinch the PDP ticket, especially in relation to the presidential candidacy, is the focal point of all the intrigues and power play.

Therefore, when former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, held separate meetings with legislators to thwart the proposed amendment, it was with a view to protecting their flanks – being presidential contenders on the platform of the PDP, apart from President Goodluck Jonathan, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.

But as in all matters PDP, the President and Commander-in-Chief is still the President and Commander-in-Chief.

Yet consider:  On Wednesday, July 28, 2010, a meeting held inside Aso Rock Presidential villa, the Federal capital Territory, FCT, Abuja.  The meeting would have had in attendance President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan.  But it didn’t.  That was the week President Jonathan’s aircraft developed some faults on his way back from Uganda.  But the meeting held, nonetheless.

At a meeting which involved the principal handlers of the Jonathan-For-President Project, Chief Mike Ogiadomhe, Chief of Staff to the President, was alleged to “have insisted that the only way for a ticket-in-the-bag presidential aspiration for President Jonathan would be to first reduce the powers of state governors”, Sunday Vanguard was told.

The latest version of the PDP Constitution vests in state governors, enormous delegate muscle.  It is this seeming gubernatorial pre-eminence that Ogiadomhe sought to thwart. This move is understandable; and Ogiadomhe may have been right. But that meeting was before the amendment to the 2006 Electoral Act.  The Act was amended, giving bith to the Electoral Act 2010. The Electoral Act 2010 which would have been re-amended penultimate week would have been so amended for just one reason:  To determine how delegates for the party primaries would be composed.

President Jonathan during his declaration for 2011 Presidential race.

The serial attempts to amend the Electoral Act may pack along with them seeming altruistic reasons but the real reason behind the attempts can be rolled into one:  The delegates’ count. Therefore, when the executive continually push for legislation that would affect the template of delegate structure, it is purely political.

But those in the federal executive are not alone. And the fierceness of the contention is not limited to the PDP alone. In the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the battle is becoming a three-way race between Dr. Usman Bugaje, the party’s national secretary, and Nuhu Ribadu, former executive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on the one hand, and the possibility of former head of state, Mohammadu Buhari, should the on-going alliance talks with him yield possible results. Should the talks fail, then Buhari is as good as going to the polls on the platform of his Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. There is also the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, which has as its front runner, Kano State governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, and Bashir Tofa, as possible presidential contenders.

At the end of the day, when all the talks and negotiations are done with, the unofficial candidates of the political parties would have emerged – except, of course, the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, flank of the PDP sheaths its sword.

If it doesn’t, then it would be a direct contest between President Jonathan and whoever emerges from the NPLF at the PDP presidential primaries.

The critical question then is:  What role(s) would the delegates play? The answer is simple: NONE. This is because, without prejudice to the make up of the delegates, decisions would have been made for them even before they get to the convention ground – see box.

And whereas Okwesilieze Nwodo, national chairman of the PDP has reassured his party members that there would be a level playing field, his re-assurances may have fallen on deaf ears. According to Nwodo, through a statement by his media assistant, Ike Abonyi, “PDP Governors and indeed any other aspirant should have nothing to fear because under my watch nobody who meets the constitutional requirements, follows the guidelines of the Party and emerges at the primaries, would be edged out by anybody. Dr. Nwodo said that he is aware of some deliberate attempts by some persons through the media to sow seeds of discord in the Party especially among governors who are regarded as the “Jewels of the Party” but said that even this will also fail. He urged PDP Governors to disregard any such speculations and remain focused with the electorate”.
PRESIDENTIAL CONVENTIONS AT A GLANCE

1999
In 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, national convention which was held in Jos, Plateau State, came closest to a free and fair convention.  Chaired by late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Olusegun Obasanjo defeated Second Republic Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, among others.  And although each aspirant presented his manifesto, late Abubakar Rimi almost disrupted the event with his insistence that zoning the office of the President and excluding northerners was not fair.  He was accommodated via a compromise.

For the Alliance for Democracy, AD, it chose, via a caucus made up of some old men and governors’ elect on the platform of the party.  The then All Peoples Party, APP, chose Ogbonaya Onu.  But in a working alliance which was not made clear, the APP subjugated its aspiration and allowed the AD candidate, Olu Falae run on the alliance ticket while Umaru Shinkafi stood as his running mate – the delegates had no say.

2003
Obasanjo’s quest for a second term had to be supported by the leadership of the party after he succeeded in muscling his way through.  And although Ekwueme made another attempt, that convention at Eagle Square which saw Tom Ikimi chairing the convention of that January was won by Obasanjo.  The delegates were packaged to vote en masse for Obasanjo after his deputy, Atiku Abubakar had stepped down, refusing to contest against Obasanjo at the last minute. AD had atrophied and the APP had become All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP.

The latter’s convention at Eagle Square saw Muhammadu Buhari emerge in a charade of a convention where other aspirants were both shut out and gagged. There was the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, which simply sent the name of Odumegwu Ojukwu to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as its candidate.

2007
After Obasanjo’s failure to get his Third Term, he decided on who would succeed him. Breaking limbs and cutting down aspirations, Obasanjo invested so much in stopping so many presidential aspirants.  The most instructive was Peter Odili, then governor of Rivers State, who had gone round Nigeria to mobilize delegates.  Had that convention held under a free and fair atmosphere, signs were that Odili would have carried the day.  He was not allowed to.  Even a running mate slot that was reserved for him had to be stopped at the last minute on the convention ground.  Late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua emerged through that flawed, Obasanjo-primed convention.  The same Obasanjo single-handedly nominated Goodluck Jonathan as Yar’Adua’s running mate. As for the multitude of political parties, they simply forwarded names of the sponsors of the party to INEC as presidential candidates.

Then Action Congress, AC, fulfilled all righteousness by organizing a presidential convention, arranged though, with Atiku Abubakar emerging as the presidential candidate.  Even the ANPP represented Buhari while APGA represented Ojukwu.


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