By Omeiza Ajayi
In the prelude to its primary election in Osun state, the All Progressives Congress APC had jettisoned its long-standing mode of picking its candidates through the delegate process or indirect primaries.
National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole instead, announced that the NWC “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”, they ‘’have resolved that the governorship election primary in Osun State will be conducted on the basis of direct primary”.
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 Oshiomhole, in allaying such fears said direct primary was 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 wanted 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 Primaries
When the party held its caucus Tuesday night, positions were strongly canvassed for and against direct elections. Due to the interception of text messages allegedly sent by a ranking lawmaker from the south west to some stakeholders canvassing support for direct primaries, other stalwarts especially from the north became suspicious of the intents of the advocates of the voting procedure.
A top source and member of the National Executive Committee NEC of the party who was also at the caucus said; “We were at the caucus on Tuesday night when we discovered that some legislators from the southwest were sending text messages to members and canvassing for the adoption of the direct mode of primaries. 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 primaries, 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”, he said.
Circumstances could dictate Voting Procedures -Buba Marwa
Also speaking, a member of the APC national caucus and former military administrator of Lagos state, Gen. Buba Marwa said though the caucus was briefed on the matter, only the NEC can 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 they would adopt.
He said; “We met at the national caucus. The discussions centered mostly on primaries – 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 of the national caucus and we were of the belief that there are circumstances that could favour the use of direct primaries in some places and in some other places, indirect primaries and this was why we have it so 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”, he stated.
Buhari, greatest beneficiary of Direct Primaries
At the end of the NEC meeting on Thursday, the party resolved that direct primaries would be used in deciding its presidential candidate. Essentially, this means that President Muhammadu Buhari is free from the apron strings of the governors. What happened in Lagos in 2014 during the presidential primaries of the APC where the then Aspirant Buhari and his 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 the direct primaries, 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 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 primaries.
Although, there are at least four other presidential aspirants within the ruling party, its leadership had recently hinted at the sole candidacy of the incumbent president. The presidential primaries is nonetheless important to APC which 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 primaries, 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 primaries then.
Why is the issue of voting method during your primaries causing ripples?
There are talks and arguments for and against direct and indirect primary. Both modes of primary are basically the same, the difference is not much in terms of outcome, but where the difference lies is in the processes, and the level of logistics and resources required to undergo this primaries.
I want to make this assertion; advanced democracies moved from Option A4 to direct primaries, then to indirect primaries then to electronic voting. So, the 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 , part of the parties that formed the merger was CPC. In CPC in 2011, we went through direct primaries and we didn’t find it funny because there were some prerequisites we didn’t meet before we embarked on that primaries. If you go back to memory lane, we couldn’t fill candidates in Kastina, Kaduna, Kano and Bauchi states because of the time and resources required thereby making the processes 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 sent 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 that were later annulled by the courts because of faults in the processes of the primaries.
This is not to say that direct primaries 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 just think about it and especially, it is something that you have to be prepared for because of the people involved, in the states most especially.
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 through blood, you will find out that the rancour will be very easy to manage at the community level without much supervision but when you want to do direct primary at the governorship level, senatorial seat and House of Representatives or the House of Assembly, the stake is beyond that of the ward the primaries is taking place. So, a lot of supervision is required, otherwise, even people from another ward can come and create trouble.
There were reports within the week that the national caucus adopted direct primaries 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 has 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 why 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 was 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 any 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 begin to suspect a foul play. If one region feels that direct primaries is what is best for them, I think they can canvass that at the regional level and they now give us reasons why 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 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 tow the line of direct primary. But assuredly, these things should be in place before the Presidential primaries.