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Party Primaries and Candidate Selection: A Review of APC Innovation | ‘Gbade Ojo


Undoubtedly political parties in all regions and climes of the world are important components of liberal democracy and electoral processes. Political parties’ produce the candidates, set the parameters of issues and agenda within which elections are to be ‘fought’ and are further expected to perform these duties from one election to another.

The growth of modern democratic practice revolves around political parties, which stand out as organized platforms for the articulation of aspirations and canvassing for electoral votes. While the idea of independent candidacy is practiced in some democracies, it remains an exception to the rule of political organization or the machinery through which government is formed and power is acquired.

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Under the 1999 constitution (as amended), only duly registered political parties licensed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), can take part and present candidates for election into all the offices in the federation. In other words, any Nigerian seeking elective office must be a card-carrying member of such a party. Put differently, political parties are sine qua non in Nigeria’s nascent party politics. Expectedly, they are supposed to play a critical role in promoting democratic thinking and democratizing political systems. They are instruments linking the rulers to the ruled. Parties are thus basic organizational means by which people compete in elections for the rights to formulate and implement their policy objectives through the political systems. 

Indeed, according to leading scholars of party politics, democracy is a function of competing and conflicting parties and there is a structural link between mass mobilizing parties and political participation as it is the case in Europe and America.

The snag, however, is that there is a missing link in the Nigerian politics. What is more, the Nigerian political parties do not perform the aforementioned functions in a democratic manner. Virtually all existing political parties are not well organized for them to be catalyst for democratic sustenance and consolidation. They also do not compete over the issues they will purse if elected into public office. Parties have failed to offer policy alternatives as expected of them. 

Elections are hardly fought on issues. It is not surprising that result of elections does not mostly reflect what people prefer at that particular time in question. This is going by the spontaneous reactions to most contested results either in law courts of street fights. Thus, political parties do fail to have elected officials bound by their campaign pledges. Hence, a wide gap between what is promised and what is delivered.

The aforementioned scenario is not unconnected with the faulty primaries or what is generally known as shadow elections. When wrong candidates are selected for whatever reason(s) they can never deliver when they attain public office. Three menaces are usually associated with party primaries. First, candidates are usually imposed by their god-fathers who usually discountenance with democratic ethos and canons for their whims and caprices. The second associated menace is that of vote buying. 

In many instances, party primaries become great ‘bazaar’ with aspirants influencing even electoral officers with huge sums of money to sway victory in their favour. Where a candidate expended large sums of money bribing party members and stakeholders, it makes sense to reasonably surmise that a candidate that actually purchased party ticket may not eventually do the biddings of the party.  The debilitating influence of money in body politic is so profound in contemporary Nigeria that the system is beleaguered for now. Thirdly electoral violence where electorates are forced using the instrumentality of brute force and violence to go for a choice that may negate their will; the three highlighted facts combined together seem to have enormously corrupted the polity.

In an attempt to perhaps mitigate the effect of the highlighted electoral evils, the ruling party All Progressives Congress (APC), is gradually opting for direct rather than indirect primaries. The last primary election in the state of Osun was experimentation with direct primary because of the deadly fear of vote buying which may eventually give victory to the highest bidder. Thus, it is important to consider the pros and cons of both choices – direct and indirect primaries – vis-à-vis candidate selections.

Going by the provisions of the APC constitution, Article 20(iii) stipulated that nomination of candidates for virtually all positions shall be through direct or indirect primary election to be conducted at the appropriate level and designated centres. From the look of things, the party seems to be in love with direct primary which was adopted recently in Osun state but while it worked in case of Osun governorship shadow election, it may be difficult in some other places.

The beauty of indirect election is that delegates who must have been elected by party members in congresses are eligible to participate in  candidate selection for public elections. Delegates are minimal in number in comparison with the total number of party members. The assumption is that delegates are expected to know better in terms of making reasonable choices for the party which must have necessitated their elections ab initio. But alas! It is indeed a calamity sort-of that the so-called delegates are now being put into abeyance simply because they could compromise themselves. The ruling party needs to give the issue a very serious thought. This will no doubt make party congresses absolutely counter-productive. Perhaps the usefulness of the delegates for now will be party administration alone at all levels without their involvement in primary elections.

Meanwhile, the direct primary modality which the party constitution provided for too may not be pragmatic in all cases after all. To start-with, it may reduce the influence of money in the sense that it may be practically impossible to induce all voters with money at the polling units. 

With the on-going membership registration and revalidation, at the end of the day millions of people may register as members of the ruling party in a single state. This makes it impossible to reach all voters in all polling units with money. While in a state, total number of delegates may not be as many as three thousand but total number of party members may be well over a million. Technically, it is easier to manage delegates than mass of the party members. For choice of presidential candidate it means all registered members of the party all over the country would be asked to go all out to vote in all the wards across the country. Rather than delegates converging on a designated centre to vote on behalf of the party members at large the idea of bringing every dick and harry for a direct primary is no doubt strange in this clime.

Be that as it may, what direct primary promises in terms of militating against money bags’ influences is however truncated in giving the polity what we know as ‘mobocracy’ rather than democracy. Calling out all members of the party to vote in shadow election will be counter-productive. Such mob action is not good for a nascent democracy. What the party should have done is to ensure that delegates are sufficiently educated politically so that they may have the interest of their party at hearth. Not only that, the concept of party discipline which is lacking in virtually all the extant political parties may be a matter of concern. Party leaders are supposed to provide guiding light to members and delegates. Where no one is in charge for selfish reasons our democracy cannot be nurtured. Fear of delegates going hey-wire shows that party discipline is lacking and love for money seem to have injured our societal norms and values. It is imperative that we imbue in our people democratic instinct rather than money for vote at the expense of our collective kismet. Money bags may not necessarily be the best. The argument of this piece is that whatever may be the advantages of direct primaries, it is not the best. Calling out all members for all elections from Local government, State elections – House of assembly and Governorship primaries – to National elections such as the House of representatives and Senate with the Presidential Election possibly every week before the general elections, no doubt, people becomes election weary thereby exacerbating the problem of apathy.

In the final analysis, it is better to educate and enlighten party members and stakeholders as well too that corrosive impact of money in politics is not the best rather than smartly jettisoning indirect election for the fear of lack of firm grip on party members at large. The success of the new innovation will be very fascinating to watch while at the same time suggesting that for direct primary not to achieve unintended goal, the party will require a kind of flamboyant administrative cum technological prowess to be able to cope with the demand of coping with millions of members nation-wide in regular elections.

Dr. Ojo sent in this piece via eojo12000@yahoo.com

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