Political parties the world are opening up the system for mass participation, in order to strengthen internal democracy. But here in Nigeria, the power-brokers, behaving like some African presidents, who arrange bogus referendums to extend their tenure in office, are doing everything to limit the space for the ordinary members to own the parties.
For instance, in the United States of America, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has voted to limit the powers of the “super delegates” – lawmakers, former presidents and other party dignitaries – that can vote for a preferred candidate different from their state’s choice, and thus mostly determine who emerges as the Democratic Party presidential candidate.
The case for the reform was the nominating process that threw up former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic presidential candidate in the November 2016 election. Hundreds of the super delegates, also known as “unpledged delegates,” gave their support to Mrs. Clinton, to push her over the required number of delegates at the party convention.
This was despite the popularity of, and the late surge at the primaries by Clinton’s main co-contestant, Senator Bernie Sanders, who, along with his supporters, argued that the super delegate system “had given party elites the power to snuff out the will of Democratic primary voters.”
Due to the fissure thus created in the Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 election, the new DNC Chairman, Tom Perez, campaigned to limit the powers of the super delegates. Notwithstanding a pocket of opposition, the votes sailed through at the committee’s August 25, 2018, meeting in Chicago.
As Perez told the CBS News, “Our North Star is very simple: We want to grow the party, we want to make sure that people embrace the Democratic Party and we want to make sure people trust the Democratic Party.”
But here in Nigeria, what do we have? The very opposite of what happened in the Democratic Party in the United States, from where we copied the prevailing presidential system of government.
A minority but powerful group of serving or former state governors in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has succeeded in “halting” the direct primaries proposed by the new leadership of the National Working Committee (NWC) headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
At its meeting in Abuja late August, the APC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted the proposal (direct primaries) as the process of choosing the party’s candidates for the 2019 elections.
President Muhammadu Buhari, the lead aspirant on the APC platform for the elections, and who chaired the NEC meeting, reportedly supported and pushed for adoption of the process for all elective positions.
However, Governors Simon Lalong (Plateau) and Yahaya Bello (Kogi) sold a dummy to members of the public on the primaries. They told reporters that the NEC adopted direct primaries for the presidential nomination, while other levels were free to choose consensus, indirect or direct primaries.
Until the national secretariat countermanded the governors’ assertion, to the effect that state chapters should adopt direct primaries, and where not practicable, all APC stakeholders should agree on an alternative process; the news media ran with this “distorted” version of what the NEC decided.
And it generated instant reactions, the most critical by aggrieved members of the APC, particularly elective aspirants, who had long canvassed open primaries by which they stand the only chance to pick tickets to contest in the 2019 polls.
Employing direct primaries presupposes that bonafide members of the APC will gather at the wards in the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and “vote” to pick candidates for the House of Assembly, National Assembly, Governorship and Presidential elections. The APC adopted the method for the Osun governorship election holding on September 22.
Although consensus, indirect and direct primaries are contained in the constitution of the APC, as the processes for nomination of candidates, consensus and indirect primaries (also called “congress”) not only shut out majority of members of political parties, but are also fraught with manipulation of delegates, to the exclusion of those the governors or controlling powers in the states do not want to secure tickets of the parties.
In a tweet last week, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central), one of the aspirants that may suffer the effect of indirect primaries adopted by the Kaduna chapter of the APC, said “indirect primaries is direct corruption,” and a “direct antithesis to the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to fight corruption at all levels.”
The aggrieved “aspirants and stakeholders” later submitted a letter of protest to the party leadership in Abuja, highlighting the pros of direct primaries as “the most assured means at throwing up the most popular candidates that will deliver Kaduna State for the APC come 2019.”
For now, Senator Sani and his dissatisfied colleagues in Kaduna, and stakeholders in Lagos, Ebonyi and a faction in Delta, are the lone voices crying for direct primaries in the APC. As at the weekend, majority of the remaining states had opted for indirect or consensus arrangement.
They gave varying reasons of lack of a comprehensive data of membership; financial constraints and inadequate logistics to ferry personnel and voting materials, and conduct the polls; fear of disruption of the process by political thugs; and above all insecurity, especially in the northern parts of the country.
Yet, no matter the genuineness of these excuses, the states’ blanket choice of consensus/indirect primaries is turning on its head the axiom, “The majority will have their way, but the minority will have their say.” In the matter at hand, it’s the minority (governors) that have both their say and their way!
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