Opinion: Lessons from parties’ nomination process – By EZE ONYEKPERE
Political parties constitute the engine of democracy as they are the only entities permitted by law to present candidates for elections in Nigeria. In other democracies, the law permits independent candidature which currently is unknown to our laws. The selection of candidates to represent political parties for different elective offices in the 2019 elections has come and gone. In some political parties, the tension and acrimony generated by the selection or election process have yet to abate and a number of pre-election litigation has arisen. This crisis is not new to Nigeria’s political landscape as it seems the political parties have not learnt anything from previous nomination processes.
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) anticipated democratic norms as guiding principles in the process leading to political parties presenting their candidates. The law expects that there will be many persons aspiring to represent the political party and at the end of the day, through a democratic process, the number will be pruned to just one person who transforms from an aspirant to a candidate. Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) states as follows on the nomination of candidates by political parties: Political parties seeking to present candidates are mandated to hold primaries which could be direct or indirect. This discourse will partly use the presidential nomination process of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, as a case study.
But before the primaries, there is a serious challenge to the electoral process. This is the challenge of high cost of expression of interest and nomination forms. The emerging pattern is that the more promising a party considers itself, the more fees it charges from aspirants. At the presidential level, the ruling APC and the PDP present an interesting scenario. While the APC charged a total of N45m, the PDP charged the sum of N12m. For a political party which prides itself as progressive, with a President who claims to have no large amounts of money of his own, to charge such high fees is nothing but a scandal. The fees for expression of interest and nomination forms are extra-constitutional demands made by the party which stricto sensu may be unconstitutional, particularly considering the fact that they are very high. It is the policy of the law that no one adds or subtracts from the clear provisions of the Constitution, especially where such additions and subtractions place undue hurdles to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
In a direct primary, all members of the political party whose name appear on its roll of members are entitled through direct suffrage to vote for the aspirant of their choice who will fly the flag of the party. This comes with the assumption that the political party has a credible list of members which can be used for the purpose of the primary. Of course, this roll of members provides the opportunity for the political party to collect appropriate levies and dues from members to support its activities. However, the nomination process of virtually all the political parties did not throw up evidence that they had credible membership registers. Rather, some of the parties, especially the ruling APC threw up incredible figures as persons who voted in direct primaries in their presidential nomination. Again, a direct primary should be seen as a competitive process rather than a coronation or affirmation of only one aspirant. This was not the case with the APC.
In an indirect primary, Section 87 of the Electoral Act requires political parties to hold special conventions in each of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at the designated centres in each state capital on specified dates. Thereafter, a National Convention shall be held for the ratification of the aspirant with the highest number of votes. The aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of voting in the 36 States of the Federation and Federal Capital Territory shall be declared the winner of the presidential primary of the political party and the candidate’s name shall be forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the candidate of the party after ratification by the national convention. For the PDP, that held an indirect primary, it slightly deviated from the form. While the PDP Guidelines require a Special National Convention to elect the candidate, the Electoral Act demands that voting for the aspirants be done at the special conventions in each of the 36 states and the FCT while the Special National Convention is for the purpose of ratification of the candidate by the party. However, this is more of a procedural difference considering that the substance, which is about allowing all delegates to vote, has been respected. The disturbing aspect of the indirect – delegates primary of the PDP is the media reports of inducement of delegates. This should not be the case; this points in the direction that extra-legal factors may have played a role in the emergence of the candidate.
At some state level governorship primaries, the party leaders simply refused to hold either a direct or indirect primary. This is the case of APGA in Imo State. The party leaders collected the expression of interest and nomination fees of the aspirants, allowed them to do the heavy lifting of going round the state –in all local governments, canvassing support from their members, spending their money, etc. But at the end of the day, in a very crude and heartless manner, devoid of all pretences of a democratic contest, the party leaders announced a candidate without any contest. There are allegations that the leaders of party were financially induced by the aspirant who was eventually declared winner.
In some other states, the political parties were divided down the line and parallel primaries were held by different factions of the party and it was up to the national leadership of the party to select the factional result which it deemed credible. In the Lagos chapter of the APC, the leader of party simply declared that the incumbent governor could not go for a second term because he was not “a good party man” – whatever that means. His word became law and we all clapped for such a wonderful process of democratic consolidation.
In conclusion, the primaries show the need for all political parties to maintain a credible membership register which can be validated by independent assessors. The Electoral Act should regulate fees chargeable for expression of interest and nomination forms. Also, direct primary should be the norm so as to allow all party members the opportunity to elect their candidates. This will also reduce the influence of money considering that whoever wants to buy millions of voters will have an uphill task. Clear cases of scandal as happened in the APGA Imo State governorship selection process should be expressly outlawed. In the final analysis, the idea of a democracy without democrats questions the essence of democracy and whether Nigerians are ready for a democracy which leads to development. Punch