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Edo Guber: Confronting challenges of virtual primaries

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Osagie Ize-Iyamu


• Ize-Iyamu´s Controversial Consensus

The buildup to the September 19, 2020 gubernatorial poll in Edo State has continued to throw up interesting developments, which shows that the exercise would expose motley of novelties.
   
Part of the surprises on the way is that already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has hinted at the possibilities of virtual primaries and electronic balloting in subsequent elections in the country.
   
INEC´s position seems to have been predicated by the devastating effects of the highly dreaded coronavirus, also known as, COVID-19 pandemic. A crucial part of the containment measures against the pandemic is social distancing. This development therefore hits at the core of elections, which happen to be a crowd event.
   
So new solutions have to be found to marry electoral credibility with public safety. And this is one area where the challenges of conducting the forthcoming governorship poll in Edo State would witness a variety of approaches that could end up as template for other elections.

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Against the background of all that had happened in the All Progressives Congress and its main challenger, the PDP, it could be deduced that the journey to this year´s governorship election in the Big Heart state would come as a further test of the resilience of the people against some curious dynamics of fluctuating fortunes.
     
The fact of Oshiomhole´s graduation from the position of an underdog in 2008 to the superman of 2020, as well as, the trails of COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, represents the two giant prisms from which the September 19 gubernatorial poll will manifest its unique features.

Validating Virtual Primaries
IN its bold efforts to confront the challenges thrown up by the containment measures against the pandemic, INEC´s stance on virtual primaries contrasts with the dictates of the governing political party in Edo State.
 
While a faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) loyal to the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, insists on direct primary, the other faction led by the state chairman, Anselm Ojezua, has denied that the national leadership of the party has power to decree such a candidate selection model on the state.
   
There is no doubt that electronic voting, which is the central operating system of virtual primaries, supports direct primary, the myriad challenges posed by COVD-19, show that indirect option would be less expansive and entail a manageable crowd. Most APC faithful believe that Oshiomhole´s resolve to use some pranks against the incumbent fueled the direct primary option prescribed by the National Working Committee (NWC).
   
Dr. Kayode Ajulo, a lawyer and former National Secretary of Labour Party (LP), one of the parties that supported Oshiomhole in his 2007 governorship contest, said he supports and approves of virtual voting for primary election in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Ajulo however observed: “This can validly be achieved by adopting a direct primary, which do not expressly mandate or restrict procedures to a certain way…

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“The workability of this proposal is largely predicated on the assumption that the party has a reliable/credible members register. This register is what would be used in creating a database for the virtual voting with each member entitled to only one vote.”He contended that since political parties are empowered to issue guidelines for conducts of primaries, “it is recommended that the party adopts a direct primary procedure,” which also entails adopting guidelines prescribing the use of virtual voting.
   
According to Ajulo, “one of the merits attached to this procedure would be that if well-coordinated and implemented, it can serve as a prototype or model for INEC to adopt in the future in his quest to migrate to e-voting. This would have successfully made APC a pathfinder and a pacesetter.”
 
However he noted that since also “the issue of cybersecurity is a major challenge with this method, we must ensure that this is put under check in order to achieve a credible poll.”
   
Given the fractionalization of the APC in Edo State, the issue of credible membership register vitiates whatever positive points that could be reckoned in favour of direct primary, especially given the likelihood of infiltration by non-members of the party as well as illiteracy.
 
There is also the challenges posed by the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, particularly section 87, which provides for the three ways of nominating candidates for an election including, direct, indirect and consensus or affirmation primaries.
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In his response, Ajulo stated: “Permit me to at this point express my preference for direct primaries in an attempt to introduce virtual voting for primaries. I am not unaware of the likely challenges that this might face. I will try as much as possible to give more clarity as we proceed.
   
“For better understanding, Section 87(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provides that a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party.
   
“For me, the operative clause in the above section is the provision of equal opportunity to all the aspirants. What this means is that one aspirant should not be favoured above another. Put differently, all aspirants in a primary election must be put on the same pedestal.
   
“In opting for the adoption of direct primaries, the sole requirement that political parties are enjoined to fulfill is to ensure that aspirants are given equal opportunity. If this is the case, virtual voting at primaries does not seem to offend the provisions of Electoral Act. What is important is to ensure that this procedure of voting doesn’t favour one aspirant at the detriment of others.”
   
It is obvious that the direct primary aligns largely with the protocols on COVID-19, particularly physical distancing, avoidance of large gatherings, so far as it delivers a credible primary election by the party.
 
Ajulo stated: “This method becomes desirable where compared to the complexities associated with indirect primaries at this peculiar time. For instance, indirect primary election to sponsor a gubernatorial candidate would require a special congress in the state capital with delegates voting for each of the aspirants at the congress to be held on a specified date appointed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party.
   
“It is important to note that the above section specifically call for a congress that must be held at a physical space to be determined by NEC of the party. Going on with this mode of primary would most likely offend the principle of social distancing and further expose members of the party to Covid-19 infection. To be categorical, the party cannot achieve virtual voting via an indirect primary.”
   
It could be safely concluded that by prescribing indirect primary, the APC faction supported by the national chairman seems to be swimming against the tide of COVID-19 and credible selection process.

Cloudy Consensus Mirror
THE initial recriminations that attended the purported selection of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as the consensus candidate of the Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), favoured by Oshiomhole, as well as the reservation of some notable aspirants that were said to have stepped down for the candidate in Abuja, shows that indirect primary is dead on arrival.
 
Recalling the events that trailed the 2007 governorship election, the Edo State chairman of APC, Ojezua, said experience has shown that Edo people have zero tolerance to civilian dictatorship and impunity.

He said the attempt to introduce the indirect primary method through the backdoor would not fly for a number reasons, stressing that there is no way the national chairman should sit in judgment on his matter, despite his suspension.

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Ojezua maintained that the failure by the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to respond to his suspension from his local government chapter within the seven days stipulated by the party’s constitution has done violence to his continued performance of the functions of the office.
 
Speaking to The Guardian in a telephone conversation over the status of the APC crisis in the state, especially the waiver granted to a governorship aspirant, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, Ojezua said the process reminded him of the story of the elephant and three blind mice. He disclosed that not minding that Ize-Iyamu’s membership of the party remains doubtful, the waiver granted him did not conform to Article 31.2 of the APC constitution.
   
Article 31.2 of APC Constitution stipulates thus: “Subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, the National Working Committee may in special circumstances grant a waiver to a person not otherwise qualified under Article 31 (1) of this constitution if, in its opinion, such a waiver is in the best interest of the party.”
   
Given the existence of factions in Edo APC, it is doubtful that Ize-Iyamu applied for waiver in writing to the NWC national working committee of the party through his appropriate ward, local government area, state or zonal committee as stipulated by the APC constitution, which constitute conditions for the issuance of waiver.

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A member of the defunct merger committee that midwifed APC, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, expressed doubts that Ize-Iyamu fulfilled the conditions precedent in the process leading to the granting of waiver.
   
Okechukwu stated:  “To start with, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is my personal friend, but going by Article 31 (2) of our great party, the APC Constitution, to the best of my knowledge the National Executive Committee neither held even virtual nor real meeting, which granted approval for waiver to the National Working Committee.     
 
“Methinks as well that the waiver is not even in the best interest of members of Edo People’s Movement, parading eminent personalities like Chris Ogienwonyi, His Excellency Pius Odubu among others, or the entire membership of Edo State APC. In the absence of approval from the National Executive Committee what reverberated is nothing, but Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s culture of impunity and narcissism.”
 
In the light of the foregoing, it appears Ize-Iyamu is being used as a pawn in game of intrigues by the national chairman against Obaseki´s determined effort to clinch his second term ticket against his dictates.Speaking when he obtained his nomination form to contest the primary election, Ize-Iyamu said he was committed to delivering good governance in the state.

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