November 29, 2021

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2023: Knocks, kudos trail N/Assembly’s adoption of direct primary for parties

Following the outcry that trailed the amendment to the act, the senate on Tuesday reversed itself and empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the procedure for the transmission of results during elections. 

The upper chamber also approved direct primary election for aspirants to all elective positions in all the political parties. 

However, while the lawmakers were applauded for rescinding their resolution on the e-transmission of results, mixed reactions have been trailing the adoption of the direct primary.

With the re-committal of the bill and realignment of the two grey areas, the clauses in the versions passed by both the senate and the House of Representatives have been reconciled.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the task of the conference committees of both chambers constituted two weeks ago to harmonise the versions has been eased.

Direct primary mode of election enables all members of a political party to participate in the selection of candidates of the party through poll. On the other hand, the indirect primary allows party members to elect delegates who in turn elect the party’s candidates for main election.

While the All Progressives Congress (APC) has thrown its weight behind the lawmakers, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) have kicked against it, describing it as a retrogressive provision that seeks to wipe off all the gains achieved in the electoral process since 1999.

 It’ll take us to the Promised Land – Dons

Weighing in on the issue, a political scientist from the University of Ilorin, Dr Muhammed Alada, described the issue as plus for the country’s democracy, but raised a caveat.

Dr Alada said, “The adoption of direct primary is a plus for the country’s democracy, but that is not the only issue that can enhance democratic practice in Nigeria. It depends on how we are able to manage it to determine whether it will serve the purpose or not.

“While I will say the purpose of its adoption may be to circumvent rigging and ensure emergence of rightful candidates, there are other problems surrounding such process. For instance, the process of the emergence or coming up of a candidate must have followed some discussion or compromise among party members/stakeholders.

“In this regard, it is who they want to show interest that will eventually come out at the end of the day. The party foot soldiers may then be choosing a particular candidate who they didn’t contribute to his/her coming up.”

He further said the country should be mindful of the fact that “we had problems on the issue of direct primary during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida which led to a situation where some people developed animosity for one another because of the pattern of voting.

The question now is, he asked, “How prepared are we to manage some of these challenges?” adding that, “These concerns should be factored into the ongoing deliberations to achieve its purpose.”

Also, the Sub Dean, School of General Studies, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Muyideen Bammeke, said the action of the lawmakers was a welcome development that would remove the electoral system from the whims and caprices of political money bags.

Bammeke said, “Politics generally is about governance and building up the people for them to have dividends of democracy. Now, with the action of the National Assembly, what it means is that the people will be able to dictate who will represent them.

“Now, people just climb up without having recourse to the people who voted them in from their constituencies. If it is approved and it truly becomes a law, we are getting to the promised land gradually because the populace will now have direct impact on who represents them.”

Mr Bammeke recalled the Option A4 of 1993 when, “MKO Abiola won the primary of his party because he was with the people, and most of the other candidates stepped down for him.

“But in the North, many of the bigwigs, including former heads of state, lost their primaries despite being at the top level before because it was all about the people.”

Why it’ll not work – CSOs

The Executive Director of Adopt a Goal for Development Initiative, Mr Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said it was an unfair democratic practice for the National Assembly to impose a single mode of primary on all political parties ahead of major elections without considering the electoral implications in intra-party activities.

He said the history of direct primary as practiced by the APC was fraught with irregularities, rigging and was capable of unsettling the democratic process.

He said, “For example, how do you explain a process that gave Andy Ubah (Anambra APC governorship candidate) over 204,000 votes without anyone voting?

“So far, it is the indirect primary practiced by the PDP and other parties since 1999 that has been better organised, but it is also a ‘cash and carry’ system and has its shortcomings. The direct primary will be opened to considerable manipulations; where membership of the party is fluid and could be altered at will, and this is the situation today in Nigeria.”

On her part, the Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Ms Cynthia Mbamalu, said the adoption of direct primary as the only mode had direct impact on the quality of party primaries in Nigeria.

According to her, the adoption of direct primary responds to the need for a more decentralised and inclusive decision making in party candidate’s nomination process that empowers the party members and reduces the influence of godfathers and money bags. 

She said, “This proposed amendment has the potential to promote democratic primaries if conducted in strict compliance with the guidelines for direct primary.” 

Mbamalu further said this included the presence of a credible and updated register of party members at all venues of the party primaries and a process of accrediting the members before they voted to reduce the tendency of “crowd renting”.

She said, “To ensure that the adoption of direct primary serves the purpose of promoting democratic, transparent and inclusive primaries, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will need to design an official guideline for the conduct of the primaries and parties must commit to strictly adhere to these guidelines.”

Also, the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said it would be a difficult process to manage; a major problem being that none of the parties had a credible register.

Hassan said, “On what basis will the primaries be conducted? You may recollect that the just concluded ward congresses were fraught with challenges; with different factions laying claim to authenticity. Important also, this will be a logistics nightmare.

“We also seem to have forgotten that COVID-19 is still here with us; with fewer than three per cent of Nigerians vaccinated.

“Adopting direct primary does not necessarily correlate to less money in politics or stronger internal party democracy. Instead, the senators should avert their minds to how rowdy the 2019 direct primaries were and the Lagos governorship primary and find a different approach.”

Reacting to the development, a former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, urged PDP to seek legal redress, saying, “Set up all the necessary machinery to challenge this piece of legislation in court.”

Lamido wrote on his Facebook wall: “I understand that the APC-dominated Nigerian senate has legislated that political parties must conduct direct primary in choosing their candidates for elective offices.

 “While the Nigerian constitution guarantees the safeguard of our plural democracy, the same constitution inherently guarantees the parties to regulate the conduct of their affairs and mandates INEC to oversee compliance of their (parties) constitutions; copies of which are deposited with the electoral body. 

“Now, for the APC Nigerian senate to turn itself into a sole administrator of political parties is tantamount to political self-help of its dwindling political fortune.”

By: Ismail Mudashir, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Mumini Abdulkareem, Ilorin