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APC is not afraid of democracy, says Osita Okechukwu

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Osita Okechukwu

Mr. Osita Okechukwu, the Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON) and chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), enumerates the constraints to direct primary, saying that the party was not divided.

The issue of direct primary is dividing the APC, is the party afraid of democracy?
Let me start by correcting one wrong impression being bandied about, that we are afraid of democracy or election. We are democrats, don’t believe the propaganda of other sister political parties. One even said that President Buhari, an apostle of card reader is against card reader. Fake news, as in all the submissions and anomalies he pointed, there’s no objection to card reader.

On the whole, our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is not divided, but differs especially on the issue of mode of primary. That we are divided is far from the truth; one because what we have is normal contestation for advantage, over mode of primary, which is clearly spelt out in the APCs Constitution. Two, all the factions are all behind our presumptive consensus presidential candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari.

One can imagine that APC could have been said to be divided if there was horizontal rift bordering on who is to fly the party’s presidential flag. Our luck was when top gladiators like His Excellences Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, Tambuwal and others ported.

You mean there is no division when all over the country APC is on tenterhooks?
Please, let’s set the records straight, direct, indirect or consensus methods are all options clearly spelt out in our constitution, upon which each state can nominate candidates for election. You need to read the letter from the APC headquarters to all the chapters on September 4, 2018, mandating the State Working Committees to meet with stakeholders and choose which mode is peculiar to them. It recognised the huge logistic challenges and local peculiarities. This is the contestation not division, especially by those who lost the last congresses.

From Southwest to Northwest, Southeast to Northeast, the contestation is going on horizontally and not vertically and most importantly none of the contesting tendencies is against the candidature of the president. For instance, Governors Ibikunle Amosu of Ogun State and Obaseki of Edo State favour consensus, while el Rufai of Kaduna and Okorocha of Imo favour indirect primary and all contesting tendencies support President Buhari. Therefore there is no division per se, but struggle for space, which is normal in a liberal democracy.

What are the constraints to direct primary?
Without being immodest, there are two or three major dangerous constraints in adopting direct primary mode of electing our candidates. One is the truism that we have no valid database for credible party primary. And there is no time to package one now. It is pertinent to cast our mind back to 2013/14, when our national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu initiated the biometric data register for APC.
The project was aborted by the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime that used the Department of State Services (DSS) to raid the Data Centre in Lagos. They raised dust and accused Asiwaju of all manner of criminality short of treason and shut down the facility. If not for that misadventure, one could have supported direct primary, as we the founders of the party could have been ranked.

What has ranking to do with the primary?
I will come back to ranking as those who came newly to the party and have little or no regard for those of us who erected the platform on which they want to display their wares. Before then, let me state my second reason for opposing direct primary. It is very exorbitant and cumbersome.

Take Enugu State for instance, we have 260 wards and to conduct direct primary for gubernatorial election, you need minimum of three electoral officials per ward, two for the collation centres, you need ballot boxes and what they call sensitive materials and then security.

When you add transportation, accommodation and training of the electoral officials, you end up causing more confusion. Do you know that Enugu State APC has no one branded or rickety bus and staffers had not been paid for more than nine months and some elements because they lost congress elections and the appeals hitherto adopted the proverbial King Solomon approach by splitting the child into two?

What about the third hurdle?
It is not a hurdle or constraint per se, but my worry is the possibility of the emergence of the theatre of the absurd from the direct primary already adopted for the presidential primary, being promoted by some of our leaders.

It would be seamless and hitch-free, for as stated above we have a presumptive consensus presidential candidate, whom sincerely we want to continue the solid foundation he is laying in critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure that is unprecedented and cut across all geopolitical zones, indeed the most massive and ambitious since 1914.

This scenario will play out only if no other aspirant joined the president before the close of nomination. But if it is only President Buhari, then Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 will apply. The section says where there is only one aspirant in a political party for any elective position; the party shall convene a special convention.

But what are your fears?
My forty years’ experience in partisan politics tells me that each state chapter will attempt to out-score the others with votes, by allocating millions of votes to President Buhari during the direct primary. He may end up scoring more than 30 million votes to emerge. I don’t blame them, because today, Buhari is the precious brand.

Then the paradox or theatre of the absurd comes during the main thing, the presidential election, where he may score half of the votes padded by the party members during the primary.

We should avoid this sordid scenario with caution, for the global trend of voting points at general apathy worldwide. In fact out of the over 80 million INEC registered voters, actual voters may be less than 40 per cent.

Did APC leaders take those restraints into consideration before going to town with it?
In liberal democracy, there are always unintended consequences; all I know is that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is devoted, committed and passionate about his assignment. I am proud of him, though he should be a team player and be careful not to behave as if his brother, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, the former chairman has no records worth preserving.

The impression is that some party stalwarts are challenging the decisions of the leadership, including the President…
To me, the president is a stickler to rule-based system. So, if you convince him on the validity of an issue he goes with you. The mistake a lot of senior government officials make about President Buhari is that after briefing him, especially with half truths and policies that are diametrically opposed to public interest, the official goes to town clutching the half truth and implementing the policy with gusto under the canopy of the president, not minding the damage to public interest. Whenever President Buhari is in the know that the policy is against public interest, which he defended over the years he calls the person to order. That’s why a lot mistake him as prevaricating.


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