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Let’s do away with party primaries

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PHOTO: Philip Ojisua

Let me begin this with the obvious. President Ibrahim Babangida, intent on remaking our political system and our party politics, introduced the party primaries during his transition to civil rule programme. His objective was to broaden our participatory democracy by placing on party members the grave responsibility for choosing who should represent them in all elective offices.

To his credit, we have retained the party primaries, warts and all, since then. What the general was running away from was his petty hate: the moneybags hijacking and manipulating and thus narrowing our participatory democracy through overt corruption and godfatherism. Well, the money bags are still with us, as indeed they should be. Because politics is a capital intensive game, if game it indeed is. Only those with deep pockets, theirs or those of their godfathers, can actually be serious players. Grammar is a weak currency in the power struggle. Because, let’s face it, no be grammar or ideology we go chop.

I had hoped that when the generals kindly returned the country to civil rule in 1999, the party primaries would begin the slow but steady process of broadening our participatory democracy. I wish to report that this has not been the case. I do so with a heavy heart. The party primary has become a drag on our forward participatory democratic movement. It is corrupt. It is divisive. It is rancorous. It is unfair. It is unjust. It is destructive of party unity and cohesion. And it has consolidated the power of the party godfathers, thus denying the ordinary party members the right to be recognised as significant players in our participatory democracy.

The fall outs from the recent primaries of the two big political parties – APC and PDP – are making our democracy feel like a ride in bolekaja down the road that has since yielded the right of way to port holes. The politicians are still at one another’s throat; which is not a bad thing, seeing that their throats have been fattened by their cornering our common wealth to the detriment of our common weal. Except that when these elephants fight, they trample on our collective ambition to manicure the lawns of our democracy. When they fight, as they are currently doing, they heat up the polity. And that is not good, not good at all.

What the rancour does to our political system is to make it unstable. No politician is committed to any particular political party. Such a commitment is, admittedly, impossible when there are no party ideologies. A politician’s choice of a political party, and I say it for the nth time, is dictated essentially by opportunism and personal interest. The party that gives him the chance to put his name on the ballot box is the right party at that particular point in time. When the chance it once gave him is narrowed such that he finds himself outside the power loop, he decamps to another political party. This detestable behaviour on the part of our politicians has evolved into a political culture no Nigerian who takes pride in the peace and development of his country should be proud of.

This was what happened to PDP in 2014/2015. The conduct of its primaries was so rancorous that it led to its losing the once leading lights in its fold. It went into the 2015 general elections with a visible limp and lost to the new party, APC, that raised hopes of playing by the rules. That hope does not seem to have been realised, hence the mass decamping back to PDP. I have repeatedly pointed out in this column that this would happen to APC unless its owners learned from the PDP mistake that sunk it and amended their high-handed ways. My advice was not taken. No, I am not complaining because I can see the chickens roosting back home. No, I am not laughing, just savouring the triumph of the voice crying in the wilderness.

Democracy has a difficult time thriving in an unstable political system. A party haemorrhages when it loses its ability to guarantee a fair, just and level playing field. The rest of the world tends to hold its breath in our election seasons, wondering rather loudly, if we would pull through each time. They judge us by the conduct/misconduct of our politicians. It seems to me that the political parties cannot manage their primaries in a manner that would guarantee some stability in our political system. I do not see this current pattern changing soon. Instead, I see the party moguls digging in. It set me wondering. Do we really need the party primaries?

I believe it is an important question. The party primaries were introduced to solve a major problem – the non-democratic nature of our democracy. It makes eminent sense to argue that if a solution to a problem becomes a problem in itself, it is folly to stick to it. There is a stubborn unwillingness on the part of the politicians to play by the simple rules of party primaries. They have turned them into a selective process in the hands of party delegates, all of whom understand the game and all of whom are wise enough to go for the highest bidder and not necessarily those who have the qualifications and the temperament to do well and bring honour to the parties. This is the height of corruption in the political parties. This is a criminal deviation from Babangida’s ideas.

We have Nigerianised the party primaries and made them increasingly difficult to build a stable political system. It was never envisaged that the party primaries should be the business of delegates selected through a corrupt and opaque process supervised by the state governors. I think Adams Oshiomhole, national chairman of APC, truly understands this. His decision to conduct open primaries in his party was right. But the state governors scuttled it because it would take away their right to play God. You can see the harvest the party is reaping from the refusal of its godfathers to play by the rules.

The party primary is still alien to our political culture – whatever that, indeed, is. We need a system that would help us grow a stable democracy in which political parties are driven by ideologies of focused national development. The party primaries do not now make for a healthy and stable political system.

I suggest we return to what obtained in the Second Republic. We should not be ashamed of this because, in any case, our forward movement is characterised by such toing and froing. I am aware that the electoral act permits political parties to choose between open and close primaries. That is mealy-mouthed. It should not be the choice of parties but rather what is good for a political system that needs much more than mere tweaking. We either have open primaries or we ditch the system and go back to a process that would be less divisive, less rancorous, less corrupt but fairer and more just to help stabilise our democracy tossed in the choppy waters of intolerance and impunity.


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APCIbrahim BabangidaPDP
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