The recent Edo State governorship primaries by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have revived debates on the suitability of the direct and indirect methods of selecting would-be leaders.
It would be recalled that the suspended National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, introduced the idea of direct primary for choosing the party’s candidates for major elections shortly after he was elected in 2018.
Oshiomhole explained that the direct primary, which was first applied in Osun State, was intended to deepen internal democracy and ward off corrupt influence of moneybags during elections.
But some Osun politicians, including the former Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yussuf Lasun, opposed direct primary saying that the method provides room for mischief and manipulation by godfathers and party officials. On its part, the major opposition PDP has continued its 20-year long tradition of using the delegate system of indirect primary to select its candidates for elections.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) and governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu yesterday led four other governors to Aso Rock Presidential Villa to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for decisively resolving the crisis that rocked the APC.
Governor Bagudu was accompanied by the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi; the newly inaugurated Chairman of the APC Caretaker and Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee and governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Mai Mala Buni; the governor of Niger State, Alhaji Sani Bello; and the Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
Recall that the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party, at a meeting headed by President Buhari, had on Thursday called for the dissolution of the National Working Committee (NWC).
Addressing State House Correspondents after the meeting, Bagudu described President Buhari’s resolution of the APC crisis as “visionary and momentous.” He also described the reported legal threat by some members of the dissolved APC National Working Committee (NWC) as “another media creation.”
The use of direct and indirect approaches of candidates-selection has stoked arguments, particularly after APC and PDP concluded their primaries in Edo State.
Edo State APC chairman, Anselm Ojezua, said the idea of adopting direct or indirect primary in a state where the party has an incumbent could only be for mischief purposes.
Ojezua disclosed that he was one of those advocating for right of first refusal for incumbent governors, especially for Edo and Ondo States before Governor Godwin Obaseki left for the PDP.
He stressed that state governors that had received the mandates of the people should be allowed to face the people for re-election or rejection according to their performance in office.
He noted that the decision by the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) to apply the direct primary methodology was with devious motives to edge out the incumbent governor, with whom he was at loggerheads.
Also, Democracy and Environmental Rights Activist, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, said in developed democracies what political parties with incumbents do is to sit down at the level of the caucuses to assesses his/her performance.
Okonkwo, who is also the National Chairman of Movers for the Voice of Democracy (MOVERS), said political parties are careful about how best to win elections, adding that an incumbent’s qualification for a fresh term should depend on performance.
However, a member of Edo Peoples Movement (EPM), Chief Francis Inegbeki, told The Guardian that the direct governorship primary was the best thing that happened to Edo APC.
Inegbeki said the nomination of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu through a direct primary proved to all and sundry that the majority of Edo people are still with the party despite Obaseki’s defection to PDP.
“With the help of direct primary,” he stated, “I can authoritatively say that Esan people voted overwhelmingly with over 80 percent votes cast for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.”
“I must also thank the APC NWC for adopting the direct mode of primary for Edo State governorship primaries. Direct primary offer the people the opportunity to partake in choosing who governs them.
“So, this for me is what I call democracy. I will like to advice the NWC that in subsequent elections in other states, direct mode of primary should be adopted to give the people at the grassroots the sense of belonging that they actually voted for the candidate, who eventually became their governor,” he added.
Frontline governorship aspirant in Ondo State, Isaac Kekemeke, also endorsed direct primary, saying that the uniqueness of the system is that it helped to solve the challenges of intra-party disputes in state chapters.
Kekemeke, who is also the pioneer state APC chairman in Ondo State, explained that he welcomes direct primaries for Ondo based on a number of reasons, noting, “we are not united and the only way to solve that problem and remove possible controversy, is to ask all party members to go and participate.”
According to the governorship hopeful, other reason that makes direct primary more suitable include its capacity to mobilise party members for an eventual inter-party selection, provide level playing ground for all aspirants and promote fairness, equity and justice.
“Direct primary reduces the influence of money in the process and it eliminates cash-and-carry and kidnaps syndrome of delegates. It gives party members a sense of obligation to deliver the candidate they have chosen. They have a moral responsibility to work for the party because they are involved in the process. They are not aloof.
“It portrays our national leadership as consistent and predictable, just as it is COVID-19 protocol-friendly, which entails that there should be scores of people in their various wards rather than bringing them together,” he added.
While re-election makes the electoral process equivalent to referendum on the performance of incumbents in office in preceding term, direct primary could prove a salutary process of engendering greater participation of party faithful in the leadership selection process.
Former National Commissioner of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Lai Olurode, said the issue should not be about which is more salutary between direct and indirect primary, but about the ability of political parties to practice internal democracy.
Olurode, who is also a Professor of Sociology and Anthropology in the University of Lagos, regretted that political parties in Nigeria, particularly the major platforms do not respect the spirit and letters of their constitutions.
He said the approach to primary elections should depend on the constitution of the party, pointing out that in their days in INEC, it was a very herculean challenge to get political parties to stick to their rules.
“Right now, it is the bane of our democracy; we have very weak political parties with godfathers, who with audacity and very strong arm tactics, do as they wish. They have no respect for the rights of the members to decide whom their leaders should be.
“If there is no internal democracy, how can you get democracy? Any party that cannot practice internal democracy cannot confer at all any sort of constitutionalism on the larger society.
“For me, I think the APC has taken a good decision to say good bye to bad rubbish and that enough is enough. It should get the poor people to reflect their decision with their votes; nobody should get democracy more than them. We have been breaching the democratic process with a lot of money,” he stated.
Prof. Olurode noted that there is so much provocative arbitrariness, whether it is direct or indirect primaries, stressing that direct primaries to pick governorship candidates had been conducted on occasions without any party register.
He added: “Indeed, consistent aberrations in the extreme. Substantive democratization is a tall agenda in Africa though none can deny that progress is being made. We must remain focused and rugged.
“No one should shed tears for Oshiomhole and his entourage, riding on the back of remortgaging internal party democracy.”In his response to a question on threats by dissatisfied members of the NWC to go to court over the NEC decision, Governor Bagudu said it was the media talking, but that President Buhari was within the provisions of the party’s constitution when he advised the party to dissolve the NWC.
“Media says a lot of things, but Mr President is very clear that he received due legal advice and remember, before the 2019 primaries, Mr President demonstrated to everyone in this country that he will never sacrifice due process for expediency.
“Even when it was convenient to extend tenure of the then executive so that we don’t have a convention and primary at the same time, Mr President said no, no matter how tough it is, we are going to do the correct legal thing. So, Mr President will never do anything which the constitutional provisions of party, talk less of the country, does not allow him to do”, he said.
Speaking further, he described the decision to dissolve the party’s NWC in preference for a caretaker arrangement as one less distraction to governance for President Buhari, adding that he is currently preoccupied with solving Nigeria’s various challenges.
“He is happy that at last, we have one less distraction because Mr President is conscious of the mandate given to him by Nigerians and even though he bothers a lot about his party, what dominates his daily actions are the economy, security, transparency and the progress of Nigeria. So he’s very happy”, he said.