Opinion: Party primaries of tears, blood and sorrow – By JIDE OJO
Instead of a free and fair democratic ritual, the exercise became an ominous sign-post as thuggery, gunshots, snatching of electoral materials, parallel contests and vote-buying took centre stage.”
—The PUNCH editorial, Tuesday, October 9, 2018
The credibility of next year’s general election has been flawed ab initio. For those of us working in the election sub-sector of Democracy and Good Governance, we have often emphasised that election is not an event but a process. There are three phases in the electoral cycle. They are the pre-election, Election Day and the post-election. Among the pre-election activities are party registration, voter registration, strengthening of the legal framework, voter education, procurement of election materials, recruitment and training of election officials, nomination of candidates and campaigns. The Election Day activities include deployment of election personnel and materials, setting up of Polling Units, Accreditation, Voting, Sorting, Counting, Announcement of Results and Declaration of Winners. The post-election phase consists of reverse logistics, storage and archival of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials, inauguration of winners, election dispute resolutions, post-election audit and strategic planning.
Right now, we are in the pre-election phase for the 2019 general election and many activities have been carried out and are still being conducted by various stakeholders like the Election Management Body (herein referred to as the Independent National Electoral Commission), political parties, the legislative assembly, civil society organisations, the media and the security agencies. The just concluded political party primaries held between Saturday, August 18 and Sunday, October 7, 2018 were legally the responsibility of the different political parties to carry out. However, under the supervision of the INEC. Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended makes it mandatory for political parties organising congresses, convention and nomination of candidates to give 21 days’ notice to INEC to enable the commission observe the process. Unfortunately, even though INEC is mandated to deploy observers to monitor the party nomination process, by virtue of Section 31 (1), the commission has no say in the choice of candidates, no matter how flawed the candidature may be. According to that section of the law, political parties shall submit the “…list of the candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the election, provided that the commission shall not reject or disqualify candidate(s) for any reason whatsoever”.
While the political parties are quick to condemn INEC for not doing enough in the planning and conduct of elections, it is obvious that the political parties themselves are worse off in terms of electoral democracy. Most of the political parties lack credible membership register. Hence, when the time comes to use the register for purposes of intra-party election, be it for elective congresses, convention or primaries, there is always hot contention by different interest groups in the party to question the membership list or delegates list.
The Electoral Act 2010 in Section 87 (subsections 1-10) prescribes two basic modes of conducting party primaries. They are direct and indirect primaries. Many political parties prefer indirect primary because it is akin to an electoral college comprising of a handful of delegates who have been previously (s)elected to in turn elect party torchbearers for different political offices. The logistics of conducting an indirect primary are not too Herculean. However, though preferred by many political parties for its simple procedures, the delegate system is highly prone to corruption. Allegations of delegate inducement and vote-buying almost always trail indirect primary. That is not all, it is also easy to manipulate, while complaints of intimidation and harassments are also rife.
Direct primary on the other hand involves all registered and active members of the party. It is deemed to be more inclusive, participatory and democratic. However, direct primary is not totally devoid of vote trading. Just as it happens in general elections, desperate aspirants can use their agents to induce party members to vote for their contestants. There is also a lot of logistical nightmare associated with direct primary. This is because it is a ‘general election’ of the parties and should they opt for secret ballot system, the party adopting this system of voting will have to provide ballot papers and boxes, voting cubicles, result sheets and membership registers just like INEC will when conducting elections.
The truth is that whatever voting method that is adopted does not preclude the party from losing members to other political parties after party primaries. For instance, the Osun State All Progressives Congress adopted the direct primary for the selection of its governorship candidate in the September 22, 2018 governorship election in the state. Despite that, many of the party chieftains including the Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti, defected from the party to opposition political parties. Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party that adopted indirect primary to choose its candidate in the state suffered a similar fate.
How did Nigerian political parties fare in the just ended party primaries? Badly! While many of the candidates of supposedly small political parties emerged unopposed, largely because they do not have the members and as such the few members they have can afford to share all the elective positions among themselves without rancour, the big two political parties, the APC and the PDP, however were poor representations of democratic ideals in the way and manner they conducted their party primaries.
The New Telegraph newspaper of Friday, October 5, 2018 has this to say about the APC primaries in a report entitled: “APC governors at war with Oshiomhole over primaries.” Among the riders to that banner headline were: “Five victims buried in Zamfara”, “Two die, scores injured in Ebonyi NASS primaries”, “One killed in Lagos as hoodlums chase away voters with guns”. All these deaths because people supposedly want to serve the country or their state?
The PUNCH newspaper in its editorial of Monday, a part of which was cited in the opening of this column, has this to about the 2018 party primaries: “The ignominy was ingrained overwhelmingly in many of the parties. Reports in the media mentioned pockets of deaths from the primaries, while scores were maimed. The APC had parallel primaries in Bauchi, Taraba, Cross River, Rivers, Imo, Delta and Ondo states; this led to protests and cancellation of some of the controversial results. The Peoples Democratic Party, the main opposition, was not innocent either. In Benue State, gunshots ruined the first attempt to hold senatorial primaries at the Aper Aku Stadium. Ten persons were injured, while 20 cars were smashed. An earlier congress in Otukpo could not hold due to alleged falsification of delegates list.” What a shame!
The question on my mind is, can candidates who emerge through the highlighted blighted nomination process deliver good governance? If we have started to record casualties in an intra-party election, what will happen when campaigns begin and when INEC eventually conducts the general election next year? How come our security agents could not prevent the breakdown of law and order at many of the venues of party primaries? Isn’t it high time political parties started to disqualify any aspirant who sponsors violence during party primaries?
I enjoin all contestants who were shortchanged by their political parties in the last party primaries to exercise their right to seek redress in court as guaranteed by Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. Punch
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