By Omeiza Ajayi
After days of political engagements, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) last Thursday, finally arrived at at a “consensus” on the mode of election during its forthcoming congresses and presidential primary ahead of the 2019 general elections.
It would appear that the meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, on that day, was able to address all misgivings and suspicions about whether to use direct or indirect elections in picking its candidates.
Thus, after days of dilly-dallying, the party decided that only its presidential primary would see the use of direct election while congresses in the state, would be either through direct or indirect primaries depending on the “peculiarities”.
Briefing journalists at the end of the NEC meeting, held in Abuja, Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, alongside Gov. Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, said that when the matter came up for discussion, at the meeting most of the states opted to use indirect primary. Consequently, they said, it was agreed that any state wishing to adopt the direct method would have to write the national leadership of the party for approval.
“The Constitution of the party provides for direct, indirect or consensus but for the presidential election we all agreed that we will adopt direct primary. Also a recommendation was made by the NWC that states should adopt the indirect mode but there may be situations that this might be difficult looking at their peculiarities. So, if there are such difficulties, they can apply, following the process”, Lalong had said.
Back and forth
The following morning, the party issued a statement to reaffirm what the two governors had said, but, on Friday evening, it made a swift about-turn, saying the position of NEC on the issue had been subjected to “misleading interpretations”.
It now said primary elections into all elective offices shall be by direct primary, adding that NEC resolved to adopt direct primary for the nomination of the presidential candidate and all other candidates.
“The party’s Constitution though provides for indirect election and consensus; however, the use of indirect primary is conditional and dependent on logistic impediments; peculiarities and need of a given state that makes it unable to use direct primary; it said in an “ updated” statement by its acting National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yekini Nabena.
At the NEC meeting, majority of the states had reportedly opted for indirect primary, a development that was confirmed by Lalong. With the sudden change by the party, all may not have been heard about the voting procedure to be deployed in the APC state congresses.
How it all began
In its primary election preparatory to the governorship election in Osun State, the APC had jettisoned its long-standing mode of picking its candidate through the delegate process or indirect primary.
The National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, instead announced that the NWC had “decided that, in order to ensure popular participation, and to deepen democracy in Osun State, in line with the provisions of the APC Constitution which allows for either direct or indirect primary’, the governorship election primary in Osun State will be conducted on the basis of direct primary”.
Oshiomhole had added, “What that means is that every card-carrying member of our party will participate in the process of nominating the flag bearer of the party.”
There were dissenting opinions, especially among most state governors who, it was gathered, feared that the process could turn against them, as controlling every card-carrying member of the party during primaries could prove Herculean. It could also be a pay back time for them by the voters.
But the party Chairman, allaying such fear, said direct primary is the most democratic way to conduct elections. On Osun, he said, it was in line with what APC critical stakeholders from that part of the country want and for which the party was quite happy to oblige.
“The whole idea of that is that the more we allow our party members to participate in the process of nominating candidates, we will remove the issue of corruption or monetising the processes of nominating aging candidates, in addition to the fact that party members will have a sense of ownership of the outcome of the exercise”.
The battle for and against direct primary
When the party held its national caucus meeting Tuesday night, positions were strongly canvassed for and against direct election. Due to the interception of text messages allegedly sent by a ranking lawmaker from the South West to some stakeholders canvassing support for direct primary, other stalwarts, especially from the North, became suspicious of the motive of the advocates of the voting procedure.
A member of the NEC of the party, who was present at the national caucus meeting told Sunday Vanguard: “We were at the caucus meeting on Tuesday night when we discovered that some legislators from the South-West were sending text messages to members and canvassing for the adoption of direct mode of primary. Of course, you do not need anyone to tell you who is behind that. The truth is that if there is no sinister motive, we believe that everyone should be allowed to make his point when we meet at the NEC. Those who are mouthing direct primary refused to use the method in the recent Bauchi, Katsina, Kogi and Cross River bye-elections, having used the method in Osun. Why was it so? We must stick to one method and not shift the goal posts at will”.
Circumstances could dictate voting procedures -Buba Marwa
Also speaking, a member of the APC national caucus and a former military administrator of Lagos State, Gen. Buba Marwa, said though the caucus was briefed on the matter, only the NEC could take a decision on it. He, however, said the Constitution favours both direct and indirect primaries as circumstances may demand.
Marwa said the peculiarities of each state should determine what procedure to adopt.
He said, “We met at the national caucus. The discussion centered mostly on primary election, whether it will be direct or indirect. It was a very important discussion and well argued. And the President listened carefully. We discussed extensively at the meeting and we were of the belief that there are circumstances that could favour the use of direct primary in some places and in some other places, indirect primary, and this is why we have it like that in the party’s Constitution. As I said, there will be guidelines on when to apply direct or indirect and that will be specified by the NEC to the satisfaction of every one”.
Direct primary frees Buhari from apron strings
At the end of the NEC meeting on Thursday, the party resolved that direct primary would be used in deciding its presidential candidate for the 2019 polls. Essentially, this means that President Muhammadu Buhari is free from the apron strings of governors. What happened in Lagos in 2014 during the presidential primary of the APC where then-aspirant Buhari and chief strategist, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had to make concessions to some governors to get them to direct their delegates to vote for Buhari, is not likely to play out this time around.
With direct primary, the governors cannot claim to have control over the hundreds or tens of thousands of APC members in their various states. Ministers, federal lawmakers and other appointees of government, with a substantial number of followers in the states, would have a great role to play in determining the number of votes the President gets at the primary.
Although there are at least four other presidential aspirants in the ruling party, besides Buhari, its leadership had recently hinted at the sole candidacy of the President. The presidential primary is, nonetheless, important to APC as it wants to play up its outcome as an affirmation of the President’s second term bid. If he is able to garner at least 15 million votes during the primary, APC strategists would then cry foul should he score anything less in the 2019 general elections.
We won’t accept ‘regional imperialism’, says NWC member
Reacting to the development, National Vice Chairman, North-East of the APC, Comrade Mustapha Salihu, said the party would not succumb to regional imperialism, saying any region that wants the method should advance its reasons and not seek to impose it on others.
In this interview, he speaks on how the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) lost several parliamentary seats at the election tribunals due to its use of direct primary then.
Why is the issue of voting method during your primaries causing ripples?
There are arguments for and against direct and indirect primaries. Both modes of primary are basically the same, the difference is not much in terms of outcome, but where the difference lies is the process and the level of logistics and resources required.
I want to make this assertion: Advanced democracies moved from Option A4 to direct primary, then to indirect primary then electronic voting. So, direct primary is not a new mode of primary, it is something that we have been practicing before but, with the advancement of electoral college, we then decided to go indirect. If you remember, one of the parties that formed the merger was the CPC. In the CPC in 2011, we adopted direct primary and we didn’t find it funny because there were some prerequisites we didn’t meet before we embarked on that mode of election. If you go down to memory lane, we couldn’t field candidates in Katsina, Kaduna, Kano and Bauchi states because of the time and resources required, thereby making the process very porous. Many candidates emerged and there were so many court orders flying, restraining us from sending names to INEC. In the end, we now sold a dummy, that is how we entered into the election without clear candidates and you remember a lot of House of Representatives seats that we won were later annulled by the courts because of faults in the process of the primary. This is not to say that direct primary is not possible; it is possible but we need a lot of preparation and a lot of work, it is not something that you just stand up one day and think about and, especially, it is something that you have to be prepared for because of the people involved, in the states particularly.
It is different when you are conducting an election for ward Chairman and councillor where it is a homogenous society and maybe the contestants are related either through marriage or blood. In that circumstance, you will find out that the rancour will be very easy to manage but when you want to do direct primary at the levels of the governorship, senatorial and House of Representatives or the House of Assembly, the stake is beyond that of the ward. So, a lot of supervision is required, otherwise, even people from another ward can come and create trouble.
There were reports that the national caucus adopted direct primary but we all know that the caucus is not a decision-making body. If you check our Constitution, the caucus is just an organ, it is an advisory body. It is just a transitory organ where memos from the National Working Committee, NWC, pass through, it now goes to the National Executive Committee, NEC, for decision.
I am aware that some members of the House of Representatives from certain parts of the country are circulating text messages to their colleagues that a decision had been reached as to the nature of the primary to be used by the party. How could a decision have been reached ahead of the NEC?
Is it that the NWC did not unanimously agree on the matter?
NWC deliberated on the matter. The reason I am doing this is that some people are trying to mislead members of the public claiming that some decision came from the party or an organ of the party. Any decision that will come from the party will be disseminated officially by the spokesperson of the party or any member of NEC so delegated and that is what happened on Thursday.
I cannot say that the NWC was divided, because division is a big word for us to use in a family issue. Actually, there may be divergent views, and all these divergent views have been trashed out at the NEC.
Do you suspect that there was a hidden agenda by some party leaders in the South-West clamouring for direct primary?
Before now, I don’t have any feelings that there was possibility of conspiracy, but when I see people planting stories, I now began to suspect a foul play. If one region feels that direct primary is what is best for them, I think they can canvass that at the regional level and they now give us reasons they need that. I want to believe that in a democracy, the majority have their way and the minority have their say. So, they have the right to wish and if we decide to make it flexible, definitely what they want will be given to them in their own various states, but one thing I want to assure you is that we will not succumb to regional imperialism so long as we are acting within the confines of the Constitution.
I want to assure you that the basic prerequisites for direct primary is voters’ register and membership card which can be verified; until and when we have that, it will be difficult to toe the line of direct primary. But these things should be in place before the presidential primary.