By Nick Dazang

Coming hot on the heels of the issuance of the Notice of Election on Monday, February 28, 2022, which in turn followed the issuance of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the conduct of the 2023 general elections on Saturday, February 26, 2022, it was expected that the conduct of party primaries, initially scheduled to hold between April 4, 2022 and  June 3, 2022, would add hoopla and excitement to our political arena.

As we have seen in the past two weeks, especially with the colourful and testy convention of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the jostling and jockeying for power by the motley of presidential aspirants in the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, and the sundry primaries and conventions of the so-called small political parties, the political firmament has simply been agog with activity.

The salient issues to note in this election cycle are that before the commencement of the primaries, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, did the needful by engaging robustly with critical stakeholders in the process, namely: the political parties, civil society, security agencies and the media.

The political parties, which are the pre-eminent stakeholder in the process, were charged by the Commission to carry themselves with civility and in strict observance of extant laws. INEC deployed its senior staff, armed with a comprehensive checklist, to monitor the conduct of these primaries and to file their reports accordingly.

Reports, which trended in the media, suggest clearly that the election of delegates at the ward and local government levels were largely peaceful and seamless. Matters acquired a different coloration when the stakes went a notch higher. The conduct of the senatorial and governorship primaries were a mixed grill.

While others were a paragon of electoral transparency and reflected utmost deference to the majesty of the democratic process by winners and losers, others were shambolic shell games and travesties. Not a few incumbent members of the National Assembly were defeated. And not a few of them gallantly accepted defeat and congratulated those who vanquished them.

The high water mark of this category is the unprecedented victory of Senator Aishatu Dahiru Binani who trounced a former governor, a former presidential candidate and an influential member of the House of Representatives to clinch the governorship ticket of Adamawa State under the auspices of the APC.

On the flip side were the several parallel primaries that took place, in spite of INEC’s warning that it would not recognise any primary election(s) not monitored by its staff; the alleged cases of intimidation of delegates by some governors in favour of their anointed candidates; the warehousing and quarantining of delegates until the last minute thereby denying other contestants access to them; and the willful and deliberate shutting of some aspirants out of the process.

The primaries also showcased attempts by scions of prominent families to secure tickets and to forge what appears to be inchoate dynasties. In Bauchi, for instance, two of the sons of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, were said to have secured tickets for the Senate and House of Representatives from the APC and PDP respectively.

In Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, his son and daughter were said to have secured the tickets for Senate, Governor and House of Representatives under the PDP. Mohammed, the son of former Head of State, Sani Abacha, was reported to have secured one of the Senatorial seats under the PDP in Kano.

If there were attempts to enthrone and forge political dynasties, there was widespread use of money to influence the outcome of the primaries. Of course, the tone for the bizarre and absurd deployment of money had earlier been set by the humongous amounts charged by the APC and PDP for nomination forms.

But in the instance of the presidential primaries, the PDP stands out like a sore thump in the massive use of money. So brazen and so offensive was the use of money in the process by deep pockets, leading up to its special convention at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja, that one of its prominent aspirants, Mohammed Hayatu-deen, withdrew from the contest. He alleged that the primaries were “obscenely monetised”.

Perhaps in a deliberate attempt to avoid the odium and revulsion which the monetisation of the PDP convention aroused, the APC seems likely to tread a more noble trajectory. Rather than allow delegates, who can easily be lured by deep pockets to vote, the APC appears poised to opt for a consensus arrangement.

This is underscored by the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier pleaded with APC governors to grant him the privilege of picking his successor in a meeting at the presidential villa. Said President Buhari: ”In keeping with established internal policies of the party and as we approach the convention in a few days, therefore, I wish to solicit the reciprocity and support of the governors and other stakeholders in picking my successor who would fly the flag of our party for election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023.”

The two approaches, by the PDP and APC, constrict and narrow the political space and leadership recruitment process. In the instance of the PDP, merit, capacity and capability are sacrificed on the altar of lucre. Some would insist, filthy lucre. In the case of the APC, the candidate who emerges would have been foisted at the whim of a Leviathan. The two approaches do not bode well for our democracy. The PDP approach institutes plutocracy while the APC approach paves the way for the likely enthronement of a marionette.

Apart from the fact that these unhealthy developments, arising from the primaries, constrict the democratic space, the Election Management Body, EMB, namely, INEC, will do well to learn lessons from its adjustment of the primaries.

Even though the adjustment took place within the ambit of its advertised timelines and it does not visit any violence to the timetable of the elections, and even though the adjustment was canvassed by ALL the political parties under the auspices of the Interparty Advisory Council, IPAC, it nonetheless tended to create misgivings about its avowed independence.

Henceforth, the Commission should resist such adjustments because the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 General Elections, which are informed by the law, were issued four months ago, long enough for all the political parties to put their houses in order and to get their acts together.

Besides, such adjustments send the wrong signal about INEC’s integrity and its resolve to be guided always by its core and cardinal principles of neutrality, impartiality and providing a level playing field for all contestants. Additionally, once the Commission succumbs to pressure, there will be no end to such needless pressures which, if care is not taken, will distract it from its course.

*Dazang, a former director in INEC, wrote via: nickdazang@gmail.com

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