2019: The Promise of Direct Primaries and the Need for Reform

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The ruling APC in Nigeria is not the first to promise its aspirants the adoption of direct nominations (ƴartinƙe or ƙato-bayan-ƙato) in winning its tickets. It is the bona fide provision that the SDP enshrined in its constitution, for example. This promise, according to my personal experience and the corrupt nature of Nigerian politics will be difficult to keep unless sanctioned by law. In the end, the parties are most likely to retain the indirect method of delegates to the disadvantage of whoever is not in the good books of his state governor.

But first, let me give you a glimpse of my personal experience with the promise of direct primaries in the SDP.

My Story

When I decided to aspire for the Bauchi South Senatorial seat in the bye-election that held early this month, SDP was the final party I chose based on two promises it made to me at its National Headquarters, Abuja. One, it promised to be as keen as I would be in winning the elections and, two, it will not favour me or any candidate in its primaries. On the latter, it convinced me that its constitution specifically prescribes direct primaries. So its ticket is for any candidate that has the highest votes among the card carrying members of the party. I said, “deal”.

Believing that I have found an egalitarian party, I returned to Bauchi South and started canvassing membership of the party and selling myself as a possible senate candidate of the party. After three months of intense activity I was glad that INEC finally set a date for the bye-elections, 11 August, 2018. The ticket was looking assured as up till then I was the only aspirant in the party for the seat. I was mistaken. The National Secretariat had something up its sleeve.

On Friday, five days to the day set by INEC for primaries, I received a call from the National Secretary of the party, my brother for that matter, requesting me to purchase the nomination form at the headquarters in Abuja. “Okay,” I said. Then came the surprise as I was preparing to drop the phone:

“Sorry to tell you that there will be primaries”, he said.
“How could there be one since I am the only candidate?” I retorted.
“Yeah, A lady is joining the party and she wants to contest for the seat”, he replied.

I told him that I have no qualms on anyone joining the party at any moment, but it needs possibly a magician to join the party just ten days to the elections and win. When will he or she do all the work that I did in the past three months? Well, I told him that allowing this means the party is not really serious on winning the seat, contrary to the deal I had with it initially. Unknown to me, he was about to drop another bombshell.

“And you know,” he added,“ because of the limited time, we cannot hold direct primaries at the ward level. So I am preparing a list of delegates who will nominate the candidate”.
“But this is contrary to your second promise and also to the provisions of the party’s constitution”, I argued for the second time.

It dragged on for a while, with the Secretary sticking to his gun but assuring me that things will turn out in my favour. At last, I told him that I cannot assure him that I will participate in the primaries should the party insist on indirect election at the nomination. He said, “well, that is the decision.”

Over the weekend, the Secretary mopped some 3 names from each of the 74 wards, names of people he intends to use as delegates. I was not privileged to know any of them except one person from my ward. So I was expected to spend N3.5million to sit for an exam in which I will be given a blank question paper.

I met the state chairman of the party and complained that this will lead the party to a disaster – and he concurred. So along with the national administrative secretary of the party and the other aspirant, we worked out a process acceptable to both of us: that there will be direct primaries involving all working committee members from the seven local governments in the district, where each of them will queue up before a candidate of his or her choice. This idea, the State Chairman told me, was however jettisoned by the National Secretary who insisted on indirect elections by the list of delegates he gathered.

I concluded that something was amiss and either of us was up for a sharp cut. I reasoned that the party needs to learn the hard way such that it will behave more responsibly when the general elections come up in few months. So on Monday, I and a team of my supporters decided not to participate in the primaries. Instead of the gamble, I preferred to use N2.1 million of the nomination fees to run skills acquisition workshops and buy delivery kits to pregnant women in my local government.

The ticket was given to the latest aspirant and the election took place as scheduled. How much votes did the party get in the bye-election? 1.48%. What a hard lesson!

After the elections, the SDP candidate constituted a committee of inquiry into how officials pocketed the election funds she provided. All the officials I have spoken to have told me that they have now learnt their lesson. I am not sure if they did. I need to wait until the next primaries and see if they can they can think with their brains and not by their pockets. Ai wayo ma ya san naƙi.

APC and Direct Primaries

Faced with the prospect of mass defection when he came in as the National Chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomole, used the promise of direct primaries as a bargaining chip to retain the defectors from his party. The promise, they hope, will free them from the entrapment of governors who in the last party congresses have acquired complete monopoly of the party structure in their respective states as a guarantee for their own tickets and those of the legislative candidates they sponsor.

As a litmus test, the party promised its aspirants direct primaries in the last Bauchi South senatorial bye-election. I told my friends that it cannot afford it. It was just a deceit. Citing my experience, I said the moral deficit among our politicians is so huge that they cannot afford to submit themselves to any transparent process. The Dogara faction thought it would hold. So its candidate, Alhaji Muhammad Aminu Tukur, bought the nomination forms and enlisted for the contest. It was indirect, by delegates of whom none was loyal to him. He got 0 votes. He got the ticket of Action Peoples Party. His managers and party officials swindled his millions on election day. Double jeopardy.

In the same vein, I still hold that the APC cannot afford direct primaries for 2019 elections, in spite of the good intentions of its Chairman. I have my reasons.

Reasons

There are two things that make it impossible for governors to allow direct primaries.

The first is the susceptibility of our masses to propaganda and false promise of aspirants. The governors, more than anyone, know how susceptible our population is to blackmail from politicians opposed to the incumbent given that our degree of ignorance, poverty, unemployment and other social problems prevents us from any rational evaluation of the performance of any governor. Many of the challengers are keen only in looting the treasury worse than incumbent governors, but because men are more carried away by hope than by experience, we the electorate easily succumb to their deceptive promises instead of subjecting them to scrutiny or appreciating the effort of any incumbent. The degree of hate that a governor gathers by the time he is three years into his first tenure is so frightening in our poverty ridden states that he cannot afford to be blind to the fatal consequences of direct primaries. Ka ji ɗaya.

Two, our politics is still based on expending very huge sums which only government can provide. In the states, all ruling parties depend on the governors to bankroll their activities. That is why, as did the PDP, the APC also made the governors the chief superintendents of the parties in their states. The simple dictum of who pays the piper applies here. They cannot bankroll the party and be expected to lose its ticket to an opponent from ordinary members.

And coming to elections, the politics of ruling parties is characterised by too many contenders who want a free ride on government resources to win elections. The election process, except for very popular candidate – like me and my Oga at the top – requires large sums of money to buy delegates at nominations and general elections, bribe INEC officials, security agents, etc. Who will provide this other than governors? And how would the parties adopt any measure that carries the possibility of defeating the governors and/or their candidates at the primaries?

With treasury cash at their disposal, all governors – may be except the late Abubakar Rimi during the Second Republic – have bought the control of their parties at the first primaries after their election. Subsequent governors learned from Rimi’s mistake. This is what happened in the APC. I have no doubt that in any battle between the national headquarters of any party and its gang of governors, the latter is going to win. Oshiomhole should swallow this hard fact which he knows very well being once a governor. Biyu ta cika!

NASS Members

It is a pity that our national assembly members are not smart enough to learn from our past. Loyalty to governors is the biggest assurance for their re-election. However, they consistently make the mistake of confrontation with their governors. As a result, 70% of members of the national assembly consistently lose their bid for a second term. This has always happened in all parties in the old past. It cannot be different now in APC, being itself an embodiment of that past.

They should rather always focus on their parliamentary duty which in many cases they need to the cooperation of their governors to succeed. If any of them feels strongly inclined to re-contest his seat and he is no sure of his governor’s support, for now, he should look for a different platform where he will test his popularity rather than submit himself to a battle he cannot win.

Suggestions

It is a pity that post-2015, we are still battling with the old monsters of incumbency and money in our politics. I doubt if there will ever be an end to this obstacle if we continue on this path. To end this, I have some suggestions.

Oshiomole and people like me who would like to see the excesses in parties curbed, should direct their attention at INEC instead. The electoral body should in the next amendment of the Electoral Act include reforms on party primaries, specifying a standard operating procedure that all parties must conform to. It can, for example, prescribe direct primaries.

The present impunity in the parties is emboldened by the decision of INEC to accept just any party nominee regardless of what happened at the primaries, simply because it does not want to become stuck in the mud of intra-party controversies. The very idea of INEC witnessing every primary election as enshrined in the law suggests that it has some powers over the process at that stage, which it is presently neglecting at the peril of justice. If some rulings might have encouraged that, the legislature is there, reviewing the law at every round of elections. A categorical and enforceable provision in the law will reduce the lacuna for arbitrariness that is presently employed by party officials and governors.

Is it too late? No. The electoral law has not been signed by the President. Let the National Assembly recall it and add the provision for direct primaries in it. The 20 or so APC senators at the risk of losing their seats can fight for this and we can all benefit from it.

The role of money also has to be looked into. That amounts continue to rise with every election. The cost of running the parties and that of elections on the side of the candidate has made public office in the present system a commodity for sale to the highest bidder. Even a clean candidate, as we have seen in 2015, has to look the other way when governors were stealing from public coffers to pay for his campaign and elections. Now, this has compromised his bid to fight corruption; with 2019 in sight, it is taking its toll at our treasury again.

Buying votes is also skyrocketing by each election. At the last Ekiti gubernatorial elections, as much as N8,000 was reported per head in some instances, not to mention the dollars spent on each delegate during the APC primaries of 2015 presidential elections. We just cannot afford to shut our eyes in the face of these problems, difficult to contain as they may seem, simply because they serve our purpose. Sermons alone cannot stop them. Neither would the lamentations of INEC. Only the law and its enforcement can.

In the area of enforcement, special courts for elections have become necessary, as we have for FIRS and industrial disputes. We cannot continue to shy away from this necessity. INEC has documented thousands of electoral violations in 2015 but prosecuting them in normal courts is proving impossible. This gap must be bridged. The electoral courts can be part of our 2019 budget if it is too late to accommodate them in our present N242 billion election budget bill. And since the NASS is notorious for padding, it can add a provisional sum for the electoral courts – a miserable N10billion for a start. We will all hail them for it. Good padding.

Strict regulation of primaries and the use of money is a necessity in the electoral process of even the advanced democracies. As Nigerians, we have no alternative to the law, difficult as it may be.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
30 August 2018

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