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Democracy Deepens as NASS legislate on Party Primaries

By Joseph Onajevwe,

 

The furore generated by the controversial clause in the recently passed Electoral Act on the possibility of electronic transmission of election results from units to a central point for ease of collation and transparent management of the electoral process is understandable. Elections in Nigeria had been fraught with an unimaginable degree of malpractices paving way for results generated at the unit level to wear larger than life garments by the time they get to collation centres. Crude Rigging, ballot snatching, all manners of violence and unethical conduct of voters and electoral officials had always compromised the integrity of elections in Nigeria. Therefore, any step taken to strengthen the electoral process to invest transparency in the conduct of elections in Nigeria is a welcome development.

For the 20 years of our democracy, very many inexplicable results had been delivered by INEC. In the days of Prof Maurice Iwu, election results were handed over to the highest bidders ahead of the polls to be filled at the whims of the buyers and announced irrespective of the real results from the fields. In 2007, it was observed that while the INEC official for Delta State was explaining on Channels Television on Sunday after the gubernatorial elections in Delta State that collation of results were still ongoing, the Maurice Iwu gang announced a fictitious result from Abuja declaring Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan as winners. The programme was cut short abruptly and that was how Uduaghan became governor. He was kicked out later but the man eventually completed his two terms of 4 years each.

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Elections in Nigeria had been poorly managed in the most despicable manners. Not too long ago, the Supreme Court awarded victory to a man who came fourth in an election in a most bizarre manner. Till date, no sane human being could explain how Gov Hope Uzodima was declared Governor attracting a weird sobriquet of a Supreme Court Governor. In 2007, Rotimi Amaechi, who did not participate in a general election was declared the winner on account of alleged discrepancy in the outcome of the PDP primaries in Rivers State, sacking Chief Celestine Omehia who was on the ballot and winner of the election. Till date, Omehia has not been able to rise again.

The point being emphasized here is that a little over 20 years of our democracy in Nigeria has thrown up a series of challenges which the law has placed on the National Assembly to correct through legislative provisions to deepen our democracy. Our democracy is seemingly modelled after what is obtained in the United States of America but the truth remains that ours is a far cry from the over 200 years old American democracy which has undergone series of modifications and reorganization over time to assume the brilliance and sparkling example today. Nigeria is still learning and the disposition of the practitioners, many of whom do not want to let go is one of the fundamental challenges rocking the stability of our democratic practice.

One of the salient provisions which the House of Representatives addressed in the new Electoral Act is the regulation of the conduct of party primaries for the selection of candidates for the general election. The practice that is common particularly within the Peoples Democratic Party is that of the Electoral College which vests the responsibility of electing party candidates in party officials and delegates. The practice disenfranchises the majority of party members from the sidelines while the insignificant number of delegates decide the party flag-bearer. The practice is fraught with all manners of malpractices leaving the game for the money bags with a deep war chest to buy the delegates as the highest bidder, more often than not carrying the day. In most cases, unpopular aspirants within the party but with enough money to throw around win the party ticket resulting sometimes in apathy or total indifference among the rank and file of the party.

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The Direct primaries on the other hand give all card-carrying members of a political party the right to participate in the selection process of party candidates. One beautiful thing about the Direct primaries is that the aspirants with better appeal among the party members stand the chance of being nominated as compromising the members with cash is more difficult with this process. The implication is that if properly managed, the majority of party members may have invested confidence in the winner to give voice to the majority in the selection process.

One beautiful thing about this provision is eliminating the acrimony, infighting and avoidable struggles amongst party members to delegate ahead of party primaries. With Direct Primaries, the idea of automatic delegates, super delegates and ad-hoc delegates would be eliminated. The process would be open to all card-carrying members of all political parties. Those who kill to be councillors because they want to be automatic delegates may have wasted their time and resources for something that would be available to all like the air we breathe in. While the APC have test-run the process in previous elections, the idea of direct primaries is alien to the PDP. They will have to learn to adjust because, the way and manner the APC is driving the Electoral Act, the party is determined to have their way. And once passed by the National Assembly, President Buhari may not hesitate to sign it into law and that is what would guide INEC and all political parties in preparation for 2023. Democracy is taking shape. Changes are unfolding. Those opposed to the changes may be left behind. Those party officials and leaders, already threatening aspirants about their automatic delegate status may have lost it once this Act eventually becomes law. Hate them or love them, APC is bringing critical changes to the table and one of such changes is the process of electing party candidates through the Direct Primaries.

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Joseph Onajevwe writes from Ginuwa Road, Warri, Delta State.     

 

 

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