BY SOLA EBISENI
As predicted, President MuhammaduBuhari withheld his assent to the Electoral Act 2010(Amendment) Bill 2021 as presented by the respective heads of the two arms of the National Assembly, last Tuesday, December 21.
In refusing his endorsement of the Bill as required by the Constitution, the President claimed to “have received informed advice from relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government, and have also carefully reviewed the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the federal republic of Nigeria in the circumstances”.
Of course, by virtue of his office, the President has vast and almost unlimited access to varied opinions, but how informed such opinions are is his own determination. However, the consequences of the President’s acting based on such opinions are certainly beyond him. Thus, the need to interrogate both the information and the actions based thereon.
Waxing on the consequences of the dictates of direct primary for the selection of candidates of political parties which was the only apparent reason for the refusal of his assent, the President argued that “the conduct of direct primaries across 8,809 wards across the length and breadth of the country will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties as well as an increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC who has to deploy monitors across these wards each time a party is to conduct direct primaries for the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative posts”.
This is as Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State felt the reason was actually to stifle the act in the light of the provision allowing electronic transmission of election results.
The President is right of course and from experience, what the President did not say is that it is the aspirants for the particular election that fund the primaries. It is made worse if the party is not in power as the aspirants are expected to know from the day they signify their intentions to run that the burdens of the party become theirs. The situation is the same whether it is direct or indirect primary as political parties, unlike before, are no longer funded by members through membership subscriptions.
The President is also right that “the amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy which is characterised by freedom of choice. Political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of association. However, the main point here which the President merely alluded to in his closing remarks is that “political parties should be allowed to freely exercise the right of choice in deciding which of direct or indirect primary to adopt in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities may permit”.
This conclusion is far preferable to the justification of Indirect above direct primary as the former has any better virtue than the latter being two sides of the same coin. The problem with most commentaries on the withdrawal of the President’s assent is either a mindset which equates his position on this matter with his delivery on several national issues, not the least of which is the security of the nation or our penchant for romanticising every new concept.
Direct and indirect primary are two sides of the same coin. The mandatory preference of either by legislation, apart from being most undemocratic, is to give the wrong impression of a superior advantage of one over the other. In practical terms, direct primary by Nigerian political parties is the foundation upon which indirect primary is built. The starting point is the ward congress where ward executive committee members and delegates to the local government are elected in an assembly of all card-carrying members in the ward.
The delegates thus elected by this direct primary congress from all the constituent wards and the elected principal ward executive members later convene at the local government headquarters to put the local government executive in place and elect delegates to the state and on by the same process to the national level.
It was introduced uniformly across the two government-created Social Democratic Party, SDP, and the National Republican Convention, NRC, during the President Ibrahim BabangidaTransition Programme of 1988-1993. It was known as Option A, straddling the four strata of our political structure from the ward to the Federal. I was a participant in the process in which I was elected Chairman of the defunct Ilaje/Ese Odo Local Government of Ondo State. It is noteworthy that all political parties in Nigeria have since mutatis mutandis adopted this procedure which, in structural substance, makes them all look the same.
It is amazing that most commentators, including very notable champions of civil society, do not see that the ongoing imbroglio over the choice of the process for producing party candidates is of no benefit to the masses or for the advancement of democracy.
It is a pawn game between the governors on one hand and prominent members of the National Assembly and Federal Executive Council many of whom are former governors.
In this game, if the NASS and FEC members cannot control the party structures in their respective states through delegates who are perceived to be loyal to the governors, the reason that they should be able to buy their ways in their restrictive constituencies for a return to parliament. This exactly is the reason voting on the direct primaries recognises no party partisanship.
It is the reason for rancorous parallel congresses in APC andmenumo (shut up) consensus congresses of the PDP which can ill-afford the internal war or its prohibitive costs.
In fairness to him, Buhari has never participated in any primary. He was the proprietor and Lord of the Manor of his Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, on which platform he contested abortively for the presidency without internal competition. When the Caapun(apology to Governor Akeredolu) needed his much-vaunted 12 million votes, as written by Baba Akande in his rancorous memoirs, “it was apparent from the start that Buhari would be our choice for the President. That was one of the bases for the merger”.
Thus, all the actions at the APC inaugural presidential primary at the Teslim Balogun Stadium on December 10, 2014, involving AbubakarAtiku, RabiuKwankwaso and RochasOkorocha were mere political witchcraft. The point being made is that Buhari has neither been a victim nor will he ever personally be a beneficiary of the primary election. Therefore, the argument that he had been a victim of election malpractices is utter ad-hominem with respect to primaries.
As canvassed by the President: “Indirect primaries or collegiate elections are part of internationally accepted electoral practices”. In the American democracy, which presidential system in a multi-party democracy we adopt, there is no electoral law compelling political parties to adopt a single or uniform system of primaries. The collegiate election is not even limited to primaries.
In Nigeria presently, there are three main political parties: The PDP and APC which are absolutely predominant, the APGA which ambition appears restricted only to ruling Anambra State (which is legitimate) and others on the INEC register which are adopted, at a price, by aspirants who are either scared of the cost of the platforms of the two dominant parties or feel short-changed in their primaries.
By this amendment, such parties are supposed to conduct some nationwide direct primaries which would be monitored by the INEC and our security agencies which are so stretched that my son in the NYSC camp is now being taunted to go fight Boko Haram.
There are so many issues plaguing our electoral system which should be of more concern to us and our elected representatives. I may not know what the bill eventually came up within the provision for spending, the last time I checked, the presidential candidate was increased from N5 billion to N15 billion; governorship from N1 billion to N5 billion; senatorial from N100 million to N1.5 billion and House of Representatives from N70 million to N500 million.
There is no doubt that direct primary is more extensive and ipso facto more expensive than indirect primary. The clear message by insisting on direct primary is that election is a venture strictly restricted to the new political comprador being produced, particularly in the National Assembly.
Rather than seek solidarity from the hapless masses and the unsuspecting members of the civil society, let the NASS members and their cohorts in the Executive arm brace up to the games enacted by them. In any case, those who control the party structures will continue to be in charge of whichever internal procedures may be adopted.
Those in doubt should go ask Ambode the result of the direct primary that cost him his second term as Lagos State governor. Or was it not the same direct primary in which Andy Uba had more votes in the APC primary than the whole votes recorded in the Anambra general election. Aseyin, aseyinbo(in the final analysis), the court has just ruled the primary a ruse, thus voiding Uba’s candidature in the election he woefully failed. Abami Eda, FelaAnikulapo called it double wahala.
Let the National Assembly pick the electoral bill as returned by the President, expunge the game of mandatory direct primary so that parties will be allowed to choose their candidates by whatever means that give them an edge in the competition for power which is the very essence of a political party. Nigerians will be more impressed the day electronic voters registration, register, voting (not just transmission only) are mandatory, thereby making our democracy more real. The noise over the primary election is a storm in a teacup, distractive inanity.
Nigeria, we hail thee.