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As APC Explores Direct Primaries



GABRIEL EMAMEH, writes on the adoption of the direct primary election system by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in electing it’s governorship candidate in Osun State.

The fallout of the recent states congresses and national convention of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) has continued to hunt the governing party in the last few months. Some of its dissatisfied members have already dumped the party to align with the major opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other political parties in a coalition arrangement ahead of the 2019 general elections.
While the convention that ushered in the Adams Oshiomole’s led-National Working Committee is still under contention with the breakaway faction of the party led by a former BoT member, Buba Galadima, over its legitimacy, the party resorted to tinker with a different model of electing its flag bearers in its subsequent primary elections to encourage full participation of all its card carrying members.
The idea is not only meant to deepen the internal democracy of the party but also to eliminate, if possible, the penchant for trading votes for money and the imposition of candidates on the party.

Expectedly, APC had acknowledged the cracks resulting from the outcome of its recent congresses and national convention and currently working against time to resolve them before 2019. Its newly elected national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had last week before the party’s governorship primary election in Osun State declared that, in line with the provision of the party’s constitution, the APC would adopt the direct primary to pick its flag bearer for the Osun State governorship election. A direct primary, which is now used in some form in all U.S. states, functions as a preliminary election whereby voters decide their party’s candidates. In an indirect primary, voters elect delegates who choose the party’s candidates at a nominating convention.
The decision by APC has been described by analysts as a strategy designed to calm nerves in a charged atmosphere given the shaky structure the new NWC inherited.

Oshiomole had noted that the leadership of the APC ‘’decided that in order to ensure popular participation, and to deepen democracy in Osun State, in line with the provisions of’’ the APC ‘’constitution which allow for either direct or indirect primary’’, they ‘’have resolved that the governorship election primary in Osun State will be conducted on the basis of direct primary.
‘’What that means is that every card-carrying member of our party will participate in the process of nominating the flag bearer of the party. This for us, is the most democratic way to conduct elections and is in line with what our critical stakeholders from that part of the country want and we are quite happy to oblige.
“The whole idea of that is that the more we allow our party members to participate in the process of nominating candidates, we will remove the issue of corruption or monetising the processes of nominating aging candidates, in addition to the fact that party members will have a sense of ownership of the outcome of the exercise”, assured the former Edo State Governor.
With this declaration, it implies that, hence forth, every registered member of the APC may not just be bench members but a participant and delegate who will not just be involved in general elections but also in all primary elections, to choose their prospective elective representatives.
The development has given a sigh of relief to most party faithfuls and their would-be aspirants against the backdrop of the pitfalls of the delegate system which has over the years been subjected to severe criticism for its easy-to-manipulate nature.
To them, the direct primary is more acceptable by most party members and the method will give members the sense of belonging since they would be allowed to be directly involved in choosing the most preferred candidate for the ticket. It is less prone to corruption as it eradicates the phenomenon of bribing delegates, they argued.
While the decision has received wider commendation from party faithfuls who believe in the process, others see it as another dangerous adventure that could undermine the internal democratic principles of the party and even further open avenues for deep pocket politicking.
The contention here also is that, while there is yet to be a comprehensive and acceptable party register, the process, they said, is also prone to manipulation to suit particular interests. Emphasis on the cost of running a direct primary was also raised considering the fact that logistic to conduct a state-wide direct primary would be almost twice that of the delegate system.
However, Oshiomole had barely made the declaration of direct primaries than some members of the APC in Osun State rose in protest against it, with high profile members of the party openly taking positions against the decision of the party leaders.
Eleven out of 16 members of the State Working Committee (SWC) opposed the use of the direct primary method and protested against the chairman and secretary of the party. Majority of the chairmen of the local government chapters of the party joined the rebellion.
The Osun West APC chapter condemned the decision of direct primary adopted by the national leadership of the party, insisting on the delegate system as the best option while at the same time calling for zoning arrangements.
The Chairman of the party in the zone, Akintola Amobi, during a press conference insisted that the delegate system of the primary was the best option for the party to win the state governorship election, giving reasons that open primary would lead to chaos and crisis which might linger till the 2019 general election.
“The only way to win Osun come 2018 governorship election is to zone the governorship ticket to Osun West Senatorial District based on the principle of justice, equity and fairness. That delegate system mode of governorship primary should be adopted in the conduct of party primary slated for July 19”, he said.
A governorship aspirant on the platform of the party in Osun State, Mr Kunle Adegoke, also faulted the leadership of the party for opting for direct primary election without proper planning, saying they were being ambushed even when the party has no reliable membership register in the state.
Adegoke who had also alleged that the direct primary was orchestrated to technically beat other aspirants out of the race for a particular aspirant, said, ‘’no party goes into an election without a voters’ register. It is only in Osun that some leaders of the party are practising this electoral ‘abracadabra’. None of the 17 aspirants cleared by the screening committee of the party had been shown any membership registers”, he complained.
“How can you probe rigging”, a chieftain of the APC from the north who was a returning officer of the party in the last national convention, asked.
The party chieftain who does not want his name in print said he totally disagrees with the idea, adding “even if I think it is a good one but for now we don’t have a comprehensive register to ascertain the true numbers of registered party members. That will represent another problem when we already have others to contend with.
‘’I have been involved in primary elections right from my days in university. You remember the PDP did direct primaries those days. What happened was that when people were asked to line up behind their candidate and assuming candidate A has 100 supporters and B has 40, what happens after the election is that the result for candidate A can be easily swap for candidate B because there is no evidence of ballot to prove the difference.
‘’That brings to question the credibility of the individuals or officials of the party to supervise the process. They can write anything for anybody. How then do you probe or challenge a rigging in a situation like what I have just narrated? he asked.
‘’It is a very long and expensive process. It will take time to know the number of people that vote. If you are going to produce ballot papers for members to vote during primaries, it is quite expensive. You know Nigerians do not take our time to study things; we only look at them from the surface.
‘’The challenge for the party now is to begin to build a data bank for its members. We must manage the capacity we have and continue to build on it to create a system that will take over from it’’, he advised.
But on the contrary, Olajide Abiola, a public commentator and staunch supporter of the ruling APC, described the adoption of direct primaries as a step forward in building internal democracy to encourage popular participation.
“It is actually a welcome development that will deepen internal democracy at the party levels as it engenders broad participation by all members in the elective process in choosing representatives of the party at all levels. This in effect also minimises financial expenditure.
“It will be impossible for any candidate to use money to buy the support of all card carrying members of such party. Mind you, the reason so many people stay away from politicking at the grassroots level is the disenfranchising nature of the delegate system”, said Olajide who noted that “direct primaries distributes power evenly amongst all card carrying members”.
A member of the 2018 APC National Convention Screening Sub Committee and Abia State House of Rep aspirant, Mr. Elton Onyebuchi Onwu, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that though there is no perfect system devoid of manipulation, the advantages of the direct primary system outweighs its challenges.
He said it is welcome development that will by every means increase the confidence of party members and give them a sense of belonging as part of the entire system while eliminating sharp practices.
Onwu who said the party used the Osun State case as a litmus test to take note of its “shortfalls to plug similar challenges in subsequent primaries,” however disagreed with the argument of none comprehensive party membership’s register.
“Of course the APC maintains a register of members from the ward levels to the national. All political participation starts from the ward level and with enough time to prepare for the next primaries, definitely these membership registers will be updated as more people join the party”.
On his part, the Chairman of the Edo State chapter of the APC, Aslem Izuagbe, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the direct primary in Osun State appeared to be welcomed by Nigerians, but that in Edo State it may not follow suit since there is no internal crises in the party there, thus consensus building will be the more appropriate for them.
He said the Osun experience would be subjected to further discussion and that would guide the party on the next action.
‘’So far, the process was very peaceful in Osun State and it appears to be welcomed by the country. It is an ongoing process. You know it is always better when everybody votes than when some people will have to vote for others but there are other considerations that can be put in place.
‘’Here in Edo State, whether you call it direct or indirect, we seem to have found something in our constitution that works for us and that is consensus, said Mr. Aslem who noted that Edo State may not be engaging in the direct primary as consensus is already working for the state.
‘’We used it for our local government, it worked. We used it to elect our party executives in the congresses, it worked. And you can see the party also used it in the election of the national chairman, and it worked.
‘’Every other position at the national level was contested and that subjected us to all kinds of ordeals. Yes we got results, but it was not as good as that of Oshiomole as the national chairman. We would have been better off if we had worked around consensus. Consensus building is the best approach particularly when you are going into contest with another party.
‘’You cannot afford to have a divided house. Division is one thing that breeds problem within any group. In Osun State for instance, the PDP candidate won with just seven votes in an election where you have 3000 delegates.
‘’I believe that if people seat down, reason among themselves and arrive at a common approach, there will be the tendency for all of them to work together to win the election.”
The Osun primary has since produced it’s candidate, Gboyega Oyetola, the chief of staff to the incumbent governor, Rauf Aregbesola. Although there were slight hitches , like late arrival of ballot papers , Oyetola polled 127 , 017 votes to emerge winner in the exercise held in 332 wards of the state.
In keeping to his protest, Adewole, one of the aspirants during the primary, filed an appeal last Sunday before the chairman of the appeals committee, faulting the procedure for the election.
He pointed out that the direct primary system adopted for the exercise was not in compliance with the relevant provisions of the APC constitution and raised the concern of the lack of a credible register of all eligible members of the party as required for an acceptable direct primaries.
He said “In the first instance, by the Constitution of All Progressives Congress, 2014 (as amended), the National Executive Committee (NEC) is the only body that can approve guidelines for conducting primary elections for purposes of nominating candidates of the party, and the extant decision of the National Executive Committee on the issue is the use of indirect primaries.
“This, to the best of my knowledge, has not been revisited. Yet, the leadership of our party adopted the faulty procedure of direct primaries without a NEC meeting or appropriate guidelines as required.”
While the appeal committee is yet to come up with a position, the primary was however devoid of violence and rancour as was experienced in recent governorship primaries.
The move to adopt direct primary received huge endorsement from the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, who lauded Oshiomole over direct primary, saying the involvement of all APC members in nominations will ensure that the party chooses the candidate of the people.
Tinubu added: “It will also serve to galvanise the party membership for the general election that lies ahead. Moreover, direct primaries will serve as a future deterrent to those who might have tried to corrupt the delegate system of obtaining nominations. With that system, the temptation to ‘ buy ’ delegates was an ever – present weakness . ”
Senator representing Kano South, Kabiru Gaya, who was a beneficiary of the direct primary , also seen as option A 4 , hailed the initiative , saying it was in line with the provision of the Electoral Act.
The senator said “You know we passed the Electoral Act in the last senate with some few amendments to it . We had heated debate in the National Assembly on which way is better. But , the court says the party has the right to choose whether direct or indirect primaries.
“So it is left for the party to decide. Initially we wanted to make it a law that it should be direct primary because most of us are supporting it. I went through direct primaries in 1991 when I emerged governor of Kano State.”
However, the APC national publicity secretary, Bolaji Abdullahi, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday on telephone, explained that the party is still taking its time to look at the outcome of the direct primary as adopted in Osun State and that it would best guide them on whether to fully adopt it for future primary polls or not.
“We are waiting for the report from Osun and after that we will now review and decide on the way forward and whether it would be acceptable to other states or not,” he said.
Asked if the case of Osun was a test run for direct primary, he said, ‘’I will not want to use the expression ‘test run,’ for now we cannot say anything about the direct primary but I will only say that we have options and we have the latitude within our constitution and we decided that in the case of Osun, this is the best approach.”