Mr. Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) is the Chairman of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room. In this interview monitored on African Independent Television (AIT), he speaks on the primaries of the various political parties, and the 2019 general elections, among other issues. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
Do you think the recently concluded party primaries conducted by the various political parties adhered to the dictates of the Electoral Act?
Political parties have the right to choose their candidates through direct and indirect primaries; not through consensus. Consensus means that people still have to vote and agree that whoever has been chosen was chosen in accordance with the Electoral Act. With the reports we got on the field across the country, we did see several cases of abuse of the process, indeed across all of the parties, especially the major parties; we did see huge breaches of the Electoral Act provisions and that was why we described the primaries as a sham.
Can you share some of these breaches?
First of all, you have the direct primary election, which means that every member of a political party in the constituency that the position covers is expected to come out and vote. The big issue is that most of the political parties don’t have membership registers that are credible. The initial intention of the National Assembly was that parties should deposit copies of their registers with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) prior to the primaries. INEC should have verified copies of the membership registers, but when you look at what happened, there was no way to verify that the numbers that political parties are putting forward as persons that voted are correct. So, what we saw was numbers, some very bogus numbers, being produced by parties and these were done across the different political parties using different processes. We did see the major parties adopt methods that are not anticipated under the Electoral Act.
How do you see the allegations that the APC turned in an incredible number of members that voted for their presidential candidate while during the PDP primaries, there were reports that money in hard currency exchanged hands?
Well, part of our report of observation was that there was a lot of vote-buying especially at the different levels of elections. The observation we had in the PDP was that a lot of money was spent at the presidential primary by several of the aspirants leading of course to allegations of vote-buying in the statement that we issued regarding the primary election.
So, it became a matter of who will out pay each other?
That is always the problem as it then becomes a competition. It’s just not only the presidential nomination, but also to the governorship, National Assembly and even state assembly nomination. It has becomes a major problem of our politics that people who prepare and aspire for political offices also have to make a budget to pay those called delegates. Sometimes, the money you pay to the delegates is so incredible that you know clearly that this already begins to violate the spirit of the electoral law. In respect to the direct primaries observed, one of the other major political parties put out figures that are incredible. We are worried about these figures not because we are interested in the internal affairs of these parties or who emerges at the election. What we don’t want are figures that confuse the electorate ahead of the election.
If you look at the results from the 2015 general elections, you will see that some of the figures being put out as those that voted for a presidential aspirant are even more than the votes garnered during the main election. And this is supposed to be a number within the party. We don’t believe that those figures are credible and this was accentuated by video evidence. From the videos, when people line up to vote you will see those conducting the primaries and counting the numbers would jump numbers. This is an abuse of the process and it is of concern because it confuses the electorate.
Do you think that INEC should be unbundled for the effectiveness of processes of this nature?
I don’t think we need to shift this task, it is an INEC responsibility but part of the problem is that this country has not found a way of defining who should be on the ballot. As we head towards the 2019 general elections, it will be a major confusion and problem for the electorate. We have 91 political parties and as we speak INEC says it has about 48 political parties who submitted presidential candidates for the election. If you are going to have 48 candidates, then it will be unprecedented.
There are reports that the presidential candidates on the ballot will be 76 at some point…
That is also possible; I don’t have the exact figure right now. But that number on the ballot is unprecedented and it means that on the day of the election citizens are going to have a hard time deciding where to find the names of their candidates on the ballot paper. The question is: Is it ballot paper or ballot papers. So, the citizenry requires a lot of education to be able to find the symbols and names of a party because it is going to be a problem. We need to come back, perhaps at the end of the election to decide what qualifies a political beyond acquiring a name from being on the ballot for an election. We cannot and it is unsustainable to have this number of political parties being on the ballot for elections; it undermines democracy because it doesn’t allow for people to understand the choices that needed to be made.
Party primaries are an essential part of the electoral process. What is the effect of the negative tendencies of these primaries on the overall outcome of the general elections and democracy at large?
What the primaries have done is that it has given limited choices for citizens. The internal processes and freedom of parties to select candidates have been abridged by the quality of the primaries which was simply abysmal. It means that citizens are left with poor choices. Beyond the primaries, we have seen party officials and governors basically dictate who emerges as a candidate; we have seen vote-buying and intimidation dictate who emerges. Women have been complaining as we speak; we don’t have any woman in any of the major parties as presidential or governorship candidates. It seems to me that citizens’ choices at the poll have been abridged by the quality of the political parties’ primaries.
There is apprehension over the 2019 general elections. What is your take on the chances of the election coming out better than what we saw in 2015?
First of all, citizens have been shortchanged by the quality of the primaries that have not allowed for a lot of choices to emerge in the parties. But beyond that, we urge the citizens to look beyond established parties, there are parties that have credible candidates but they may not have the infrastructure and that includes the structure at the grassroots level to elect very qualified candidates that may have been put forward. But we are urging citizens to open their eyes and try to make a study on who the candidates are. We are also asking the parties themselves especially those serious with their presence on the ballot to be prepared to deploy resources into the different constituencies that they are contesting elections; people have to measure their capacities as well. Parties need to work and create followership. Part of what we are advocating is that if parties do not make any impact of at least getting one person elected, then they shouldn’t clog the ballot.
Going forward, this country has to place a tab, a limit, to the numbers of the political parties that will be on the ballot for elections. INEC is registering these political parties because of the present legal situation, but I think going into post-2019, we have to have some legislative creativity for the parties to be registered but for the numbers to be on the ballot to be limited by some achievements of on the part of those who are already registered.
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