By Babafemi Ojudu
Much has been made of the recent insistence of our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), on direct primaries as the preferred format for electing flag bearers for the upcoming State and national elections slated for 2019.
While a lot has been said in the sphere of the preference of individual stakeholders, not much reference has been made to the groundbreaking and earth shattering reforms to our politics that this signals from our leadership to the generality of our party members and Nigerians.
First, it must be clarified that our party’s constitution accords the National Working Committee the right to freely determine which method to utilise in electing our party’s flag bearers.
Based on our constitution, this can be direct (by all party members), indirect (by delegates chosen by party members and including statutory delegates based on prior political office(s) held) and by consensus.
Hence, the preference for the direct primary as stated by our president and supported by the National Caucus, as well as the National Working Committee, is not only constitutional but also just.
Second, the All Progressives Congress is toeing the path of internal party democracy and empowering its members as the majority party to make their voices heard in who represents them at the polls. There is no doubt that given prior experiences, especially in the past three years when fair-weather friends of our party hijacked our structures, and knowing fully well that the party is popular with the people, it is high time the party reformed and insists on choosing only loyal members to bear its flag in 2019.
Third, directly electing representatives ensures the party can run shadow elections and determine who is truly popular among the people. It ensures only truly popular and/or hardworking candidates, who value the people they seek to represent – and such value is reciprocated with votes – are able to emerge.
The case for direct primaries is that it is generally less prone to manipulation by godfathers and sitting governors (especially) – this is true and everyone including our governors must celebrate this.
It is good for the governors, because they won’t be governors forever and it pays to be loved and cherished by your people. This must not be feared but embraced. The fact that a popular governor gets to exercise an oversized influence in choosing his successor is good for succession planning, and not the reverse. This case has already been proven in Osun State, where our party is now coasting to victory against the disgruntled opposition!
An emerging argument by the advocates of indirect primaries is that the logistics of organising one, especially the fact that reliable party registers do not exist, is a curious one. After all, congresses that elect party delegates for their stated preferred method of indirect primaries also have party members participating, how reliable then is the outcome? Rather than complain about the anomaly of temporary party cards, we can digitise our register and conduct ourselves in manners worthy of democrats. From my vantage position, I can assure that digitised party registers, and membership cards, will be ready early enough before the primaries kick off.
Registering our party members and putting the power to elect their flag bearers in their hands naturally can become a recruitment tool for our party, especially as we welcome defectors and prepare to welcome even more as the knife fight among contending interests with the opposition begins to materialise.
Speaking about democracy, there is no doubt that a party that cannot exhibit internal democracy is bound to die. This was what killed the opposition which gloried in fixed elections, godfatherism and “turn-by-turnism” and unity lists, which were products of smoke filled backroom deals, even at their last convention, among others; all processes that disenfranchise the unconnected, women and the youth.
APC should lead by example, and is already doing so thanks to the president, vice president, our party chairman, and other leaders who sacrificed so much to build the party. Primaries will become fairer, less expensive, less contentious and more accessible to all, if we pursue the direct primaries option, while they ensure that the hope of Nigerians in our democracy is restored.
I should know as I have gone through it myself. A situation where hard work, popularity, passion and commitment do not count; a situation where only what counts is the use of money, security forces, and some evil and devilish oath-taking, which is employed to compel some party fat cats to vote against their conscience. These do not augur well for our democracy.
A situation where a governor and his appointed executive in the State decide who is able to get a nomination form and who it should not be sold to, is no democracy. A situation where a governor is instructing the headquarters of the party not to sell the nomination form to a sitting senator to return to the Senate cannot in any way be described as a democracy.
This is no fiction. Our temporary wielders of power are making this and other ridiculous anti-democratic moves. Members who did not support particular governors at previous primary elections are being told they cannot contest and therefore nomination forms should not be sold to them. Stories are being told of governors and their wives putting forward their relatives and maids as consensus candidates for our party, thereby depriving loyal and committed party members tickets to represent us at the general elections.
But thank God, unlike in the past, our present chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is resisting the anti-democratic forces and has the backing of our president and vice president, both of who have insisted they want all party members to vote in their primary elections. Some governors are also toeing this path of honour. The governor of Kano needed no convincing when immediately the decision was made, he consulted the party hierarchy and announced Kano will go with the people and the party.
Our governors should demonstrate leadership in the quest to strengthen our democracy. No one is elected for life. The governors of today will be become the ex-governors of tomorrow. Those who are Alphas and Omegas and deciders of our fate today should ask the governors of yesterday how they are fairing in the hands of their anointed godsons of today. Many of them can no longer visit their states without scores of security personnel; afraid not of the people per se but of the man they forced into power against the wishes of the people.
If a just system is not put in place, the governors of today will become victims of an unjust system tomorrow.
If for four or eight years you have presided in your State, appointed people as commissioners, board members, dished out favours and ruled over the airwaves and your voice has been the loudest in the entire State, why for God sake will you be afraid of subjecting yourself or your anointed to a popularity test among members of your party who will, in any case, still be called upon to come and vote at the general election?
Why must party members be good only to be herded to rally venues to chant your praise songs, dance and break the head of opposition members when there are fights and yet their votes are not good enough to nominate you or your favourites to bear the party flag at general elections?
We must be embarrassed when party leaders argue against registering new party members. What manner of a democrat will not want to recruit more members into his party?
If general elections were meant to determine the person who can best serve a constituency, then a direct primary, in my opinion, will elect the best person who will be most capable of winning a popular vote. This will save the winner the embarrassment of having to be looking for billions of naira to bribe voters including our party members as we have recently witnessed.
Thank God our leaders, President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Aremo Olusegun Osoba and Chief Bisi Akande among others have publicly expressed their belief and commitment towards empowering our teeming party members by getting them involved directly in electing our party flag bearers. Their thoughts and mandate are being executed by the unflinching commitment to the same ideas by Chairman Oshiomhole. This will be an unmistakable legacy.
As a matter of fact and of history, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Aremo Segun Osoba would not have ever come close to being governors if election by delegates were used at their primaries in 1999. Most of the leaders of the party had then railed and worked against their candidacies. It is an irony that the same leaders who were bent on making God’s work impossible later benefited immensely from their regimes. It was the ordinary voters who could see into the future who saved them from themselves.
Go on the streets, attend party meetings: Our members are wise and knowledgeable. They know who is popular with the people. They know who is accessible. They know who can win. They know who is marketing a workable manifesto to bring them out of perpetual poverty. They know who will not snub them after winning. They know those not given to privatising their commonwealth after assuming power.
It is only because we play God and deprive the people of the opportunity to decide that we come up with unpopular candidates. These candidates in turn become too hard to sell on election day and we would then have to recourse to undemocratic practices.
Moreover, “delegates” who are party officials at ward, local government, state and national levels, already have their hands full organising for the party at the grassroots; they should not be further burdened and turned to democratic beggars in the name of electioneering every four years.
The thankless job of being delegates will be democratised in the new regime, and every party member will share the burden and relieve party officials of the catcalls and name calling that characterise the aftermath of delegate primaries in our states.
Just look back at 2014. Imagine, for once, the majority of party leaders across the country had not decided on President Muhammadu Buhari as APC candidate, the man who bears dollars would have torpedoed his victory. Where would that have led us today? Party delegates were running from one hotel to the other in Lagos chasing dollars. Buhari had no kobo to give. If our leaders had not seen the danger this portend and appealed to the delegates not to vote for dollars but character, today would have been tragic for our party and our nation. We dodged the bullet then, but there is no guarantee we will dodge the bullet again.
Our party is undergoing groundbreaking reforms. Yesterday we rejected elongation, and today we are saying our party big wigs must transform from being autocrats in this democracy. And it is just a first step.
It is our joy that the current leadership is taking this further by ensuring the party register becomes more reliable by getting digitised and ensuring party members pay dues, thereby providing an alternative path for party funding, away from hijackers that have today imperiled our national stability due to actions recently witnessed at the National Assembly.
I am a democrat and I therefore vote for the empowerment of our party members. I vote to give them a voice. I vote for democracy at all levels. This is the only way we can deepen our democracy. This is change away from the way the previous ruling party operated. This is the progressive change we can believe in!
Babafemi Ojudu, the special adviser on political matters to the president, writes from Abuja.