By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The mode of primary election to select candidates for the 2019 general poll is currently, and largely unwarrantedly, threatening internal peace and cohesion in the All Progressives Congress, APC. Rising from its leadership meeting last week in Abuja, the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Executive Committee, NEC, announced that the mode of choosing the party’s candidates, top of them all, the presidential candidate, would be through the direct primary election.
APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole
The decision was not in any way ambiguous. President Muhammadu Buhari did not kick against it. He is very much at home with the mode because of its all-inclusive nature. All registered members of the party would have the opportunity of participating in the process of determining who their presidential standard bearer would be. This essentially explicates the archetypical democratic mode.
It is a way of making the party members, both the subjects and objects of the entire political and democratic process by putting the power to determine the spirit that drives the structures of the party and government in their hands. The reasoning behind the APC leadership’s gambit and the voice that gave expression to it resonated well with the common mantra of people power: the populist driving force to decide the fates of leaders who are either seeking elective positions or jostling for re-election.
Whether it is viewed from the construction of the Latin phrase-”Vox Populi, Vox Dei” (meaning the voice of the people is the voice of God) or from the conception of Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”, the centrality of the people is writ large; which, overall, diminishes or whittles down whatever arguments by state governors of the party who are proponents of the indirect mode of primary election.
To be sure, indirect mode is the use of delegates whose numbers are quite small, manageable even if easily programmable, manipulable and pigeonholeable for the purpose of achieving predetermined electoral ends. It is, therefore, quite understandable why the governors are at home with the indirect mode of primary election. To be fair to them, their preference is not illegitimate because the party constitution provides for it as an alternative to the direct primary election.
However, in opting for the indirect primary election after the NEC of the party had adopted the direct primary election, the governors are compelled by the party constitution to observe strictly some procedures that are largely stringent. Any state chapter of the party that wants to adopt the indirect mode of primary election would have to write to the National Working Committee (NWC) conveying the unanimous resolution of the state executive committee (SEC) in that regard.
The membership of SEC is apparently huge. It comprises, among others, state working committee of the party; members of the state house of assembly, both serving and former; members of national assembly both serving and former from the state; local government chairmen, secretaries, councilors including former occupants of those offices; former governors and deputy governors. To get and validate the unanimity of the SEC is tantamount to passing through the eye of a needle.
The stringency of the procedure quite easily exposes the ruse that has taken place in some APC-controlled states where a few office holders gathered in some places to announce the adoption of the indirect primary election mode. If the so-called adoption of the indirect mode by the various states which do not want the direct mode is scrutinized by the national leadership of the party in Abuja in line with the strict provisions of the party constitution, will the process be deemed to have undergone the due diligence constitutionally prescribed and imposed?
State chairmen of the party who are working in cahoots with their governors have cited some limitations such as security, unavailability of up-to-date registers of card-carrying and fee-paying party members and other peculiarities. While the security reason adduced is dubious, the issue of register is also quite easily surmountable in the age in which technology can be deployed to mediate voidness, discrepancies and mitigate other contending problems. Besides the presidential primary election will not hold in the moon.
I watched governor of Plateau state, Mr. Simon Lalong, last week, brief journalists at the end of the meeting where the decision on the mode of primary election was taken. He was eloquent enough to announce the manner by which the fate of the president would be decided at the presidential election primary; but, he was, however, somewhat incoherent when he announced that a different mode of selection, to wit: indirect primary election would be adopted for all other offices including governorship, federal and state legislative seats.
From all indications subsequent to that briefing, one can safely surmise that state governors on the party platform are obviously the ones insisting on the use of indirect primary election for their nomination and the reason is very clear. Many of them are detached from their party members who would not be restrained to express their displeasure by voting against them. In such situations, there could be some embarrassing outcomes of the primary elections nationwide.
In fact, it is clear that many of the state governors have not performed and cannot, therefore, be surefooted in their quest for return tickets. The fear of direct primary election was one of the veritable bugaboos that caused Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state to exit the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. That the governors have developed cold feet and are vehemently opposing the direct primary election speak volumes about their stewardships in the last three years or thereabout and the level of their fidelity to the mandate invested in them by the people.
Besides, the governors’ seeming desperation confirms the claim that has all this while been made by some leaders of the APC, including Comrade Oshiomhole, to the effect that many of the governors and legislators won their elections on the crest of the countrywide approbation of Buhari’s presidential candidature of the APC in 2015. Indeed, Buhari’s popularity had rubbed off positively on the party platform such that a vast majority of APC candidates in the northern part of the country benefitted from the bandwagon effects of the Buhari phenomenon.
Put succinctly, without attachment to the Buhari persona, many of the current elective office holders in the northern region could not have won their elections. This explains the reason the governors, acting in concert with the state executive committee of the party in their respective states, are opposing the use of direct primary election for selection of candidates for elective positions in the state. For Buhari, the presidential primary using the direct mode represents his mock presidential election and that is beautiful.
The votes he polls nationwide from the primary could be used to measure how well-poised he is for the February 16, 2019 presidential election. Juxtaposed with his 15 million plus votes in 2015, the APC and Buhari’s strategists would be able to guesstimate the number of votes that the president would be able to poll in the forthcoming presidential election. It is believed that Buhari’s rabid multi-million supporters are waiting to revalidate his presidential mandate.
If the governors succeed to sidestep the direct primary election mode, through their chicanery and timid brinksmanship, they would have failed to prove their individual electoral mettle and merit; otherwise, they would have the opportunity to shatter the myth that many of them could not have won election in 2015 without being tied to the “apron string” of President Buhari candidature and countrywide popularity. Subjecting themselves to the direct mode will purify, beautify and reinforce their candidatures.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes firstname.lastname@example.org
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