Why I welcome APC’s direct primaries
I was intrigued to see that Adams Oshiomhole, national chairman of APC, committed himself to direct primaries of his party for the 2019 general elections. He pushed it through the eye of the needle in his party. His combativeness has a rhyme to it, I tell you. Both the national working committee and the national executive committee of the party have since placed the imprimatur of a firm decision on it.
This is a refreshing development in our party politics. We should all welcome it for what it promises in the management of our party politics and more importantly, the free and fair conduct of our elections where it matters most – the party level where the electoral process resides and suffers most.
I am neither surprised nor disappointed that the state chairmen of APC in cahoots with the state governors are kicking against it. The current order favours the governors. It is not a sin or an act of foolishness for a man to rely on a system that has brought him this far with the possibility of taking him even further if it is sustained. If so, my friend would say, sorryness.
I took instant interest in this development in the APC for two reasons. One, what the party leaders have done is to recover the party from the hands of the party moguls and give it back to all its card-carrying members. It will thus end the obnoxious reign of imposition of candidates on the party by those who believe they own it. Not a furlong hope, surely. Two, it would possibly and eventually create a level playing field so that the poor man with his brains and his head in the right place has a chance to let the card-carrying members of the party, rather than the corrupt party potentates, decide his fate. This is no mean development in our party politics. If the party conducts the forthcoming direct primaries fairly and justly, the other political parties cannot but take steps to do the same. We would all be the gainers.
The party primaries were introduced by General Ibrahim Babangida during his transition to civil rule programme. It was not a mere attempt by him to imitate the United States where this system of nominating candidates for elective offices in the executive and the legislative branches of government has been honed to perfection. Always the thinker and experimenter, his objective was to bring a welcome and transparent innovation to how we conduct the important business of our party politics – a complicated problem at the best of times. This is today his most cherished legacy in our political party system. It was part of his bigger package to make ordinary Nigerians the collective godfathers of our political system. The other two components were his ambition to keep out the money bags and make our politics a game accessible to the rich and the poor. His two-party system underlines the fact that we were all founders and joiners. None was more important than the others.
Sadly, the party primaries have been progressively and systematically bastardized since 1999 to the detriment of our crooked electoral process. The party leaders simply high-jacked the system and assumed the right to conduct party primaries by not conducting them. The list of candidates emerges each election season from their bed rooms. The card-carrying members of the parties could not disagree with this egregious abuse of the system by the party land lords.
This, of course, is a travesty of the principle of party primaries. The fundamental objective of the party primaries is to give all the card-carrying members of the parties the right to decide who should represent their parties in all elective offices. The aspirants market themselves to their party members in particular and the public in general through the party primaries.
The conduct or rather the misconduct of party primaries is at the root of the instability in our political parties. It is here that injustice, unfairness and impunity are given free reign by the party leaders. If you plug this, things might begin to change and perhaps, just perhaps, the ordinary people would own the parties and have the right to fully exercise their right to choose. We are tired of unknown men and women imposed on us. Sadly, we are helpless about this. And that is why it is so easy to induce the voters to do what is patently wrong with cash.
I wonder if I am rhapsodising what might not actually make much difference in our electoral process. I believe it may not necessarily move the political mountain but it would still be a giant step in a political system with too many intellectual Lilliputians. The trouble with our electoral process is located squarely in the political parties. Once the party godfathers lose the right to impose their anointed sons and daughters on the parties through direct primaries, there would be, to borrow from former President Goodluck Jonathan, a fresh breath of air in our political system. And then, perhaps this sickening haemorrhage in the political parties might be stanched.
I know the 2010 electoral act is an obstacle to the full flowering of the party primaries. It does not allow the aspirants to market themselves to the party members and the public generally because it seems to recognise candidates rather than aspirants. Under that law, candidates for elective offices have only 60 days to market themselves to the Nigerian public. Theoretically, 60 days would be considered a long time but in the practical realm of politics, it is inconveniently short. And almost useless where serious competitions matter more than the easy and corrupt sale and purchase of votes.
I have often wondered why the electioneering campaigns in our country are limited to 60 days. I see no reason why someone who aspires to replace President Buhari in Aso Rock in May next year should not have been allowed to market himself to the entire country from the day the president took office on May 29, 2015. If the thought behind the 60-day limit is to save the candidates the cost of prolonged campaigns, then it is both a wasted sympathy and a crippling of the electoral process. Party primaries that do not aim at allowing the aspirants to market themselves to the people has the disagreeable smell of a sham. The next US presidential election is in 2020. President Trump is already oiling his own guns for the contest. That is what an open system means to the country, the people and the electoral process.
Here a thousand and one men have declared for the presidential election. We do not know who they are and what they intend to do for us as a nation and as a people; or why they think they are the better options to Buhari. Were the system open, we would see them now, hear them now and learn what is in their bags now.
Well, in the next few weeks, we would know if the APC leaders are committed to a political party system that truly respects the people as the true custodians of political power. I do not expect it to be satisfactory in all cases. I expect a bit of honesty, a bit of fairness and a bit of justice in the conduct of the direct primaries. Oshiomhole might be honest about his intentions but I know the party would still have to contend with the current system of godfatherism and the imposition of candidates. Habits do have a funny way of dying hard. Still, I am prepared to accept that APC has taken the step in the right direction. If its leaders adhere to it in all honesty, we should expect a process that would be progressively improved from one election circle to another. Sigh.
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