Anchored on the need to cut cost and effective selection of electoral candidates, the delegate system, otherwise known as indirect primaries, is cavernously becoming an albatross that is robbing Nigerians of quality representation. Copied from the American party system, the use of the indirect primaries has become fraudulent and only those with financial muscle survive the intrinsic intrigues that are perpetrated by party fat cats.
As clearly provided for in the Electoral Act in Section 87(2), political parties are only allowed to choose candidates in two ways: direct or indirect primaries. Direct primaries involve, the use of the entire membership of the party to elect candidates, while the indirect option involves the use of delegates.
According to the ‘Regulation for the Conduct of Political Primaries’, as signed on October 27, 2014 by the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, “All political parties must comply with the provision of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, that requires primaries to be held by direct or indirect primaries, in addition to complying with all regulating guidelines and directives of the Commission.”
Since the reinstatement of democracy in 1999 in the country, the use of indirect primaries has always been manipulated by wealthy and highly-placed politicians to exercise control over who eventually gets the party ticket. Unlike the American system where analysts easily predict winners in primaries, in Nigeria, the eventual winner is dependent on who the political godfathers have chosen.
The commercialisation of democracy begins with the corruption of delegates whose palms are expected to be greased. With sacks of money by politicians who hold the levers of power, the poor delegate becomes a pawn in the power game by surrendering his fate to those who care less about what tomorrow holds for him.
Most delegates live in the backwaters of society. The village delegate knows he is not loved by those seeking support in the game of politics, and wastes no time in getting the best of the bargains. Accepting the realities that delegates are now wiser, those who seek tickets for political power have evolved all sorts of tricks to control them. While some of the politicians herd them into hotels few days to the primaries in an attempt to shield them from temptation of political opponents, others sometimes hire voodoo priests to administer oaths on them in a bid to retain their loyalty till the end of the exercise.
The delegate system amounts to a hijack of the party by a wealthy cabal to control the process of who emerge as candidates. Apart from emasculating the mass of the people who should take control of the party, the manipulators of the delegate system are highly placed at the top levels of power to frustrate any attempt at changing the rules of the game. Members of this cabal include, but not exclusive, to state executives, members of parliament and party executives at ward, local government, state and federal levels. It is not also strange to have top businessmen and women donating huge sums of money to party bigwigs to influence the outcome of primaries.
Who are these delegates and how do they emerge? In Nigeria, their membership is at the behest of those who control party politics. Not many are conversant with the process governing the emergence of these power brokers. Many of them reside in rustic communities. Some of them may be unschooled, but they have come to be conscious of their relevance in politics and are not willing to be trampled upon by power seekers without getting their own bite of the cake.
There are party guidelines that are expected to be followed in the selection of delegates. Most of them are products of local politics found at the ward level. The number of delegates differs from party to party. Officials of the party at the ward level, including chairmen and secretaries may be chosen as delegates. One or two officials of the party officials may join the league of delegates, just as ad-hoc members may be elected to boost the number of delegates for a party. Members of State and National Assembly, National Working Committee (NWC) and sometimes commissioners and top aides of governors are also park of the mix.
It is necessary to state here that not all delegates end up at the national convention to elect the presidential candidate. Most of them at the ward level, if not all, are only restricted to electing candidates for State, National Assembly and governorship candidates. Those who finally make it to be national delegates include party chairmen and secretaries of all local government areas, members of the State and National Assembly, former and present members of the NWC of the party, commissioner and top aides of governor, among others. The simple logic here is, where a party is in government, it is expected to have more delegates. Little wonder that the party in power is often more enmeshed in rancour.
Therefore, without any iota of doubt, the delegate option of conducting primaries is virtually a contest for the control of party apparatus among powerful interest groups. Due to the overriding powers of elected officials, they can obscene wealth to ensure victory in primaries. Considering the enormous wealth and power of these governors, ministers, members of parliament and other party bigwigs, the indirect system is easily corrupted and the door shut against new entrants who may not be supported by the power cabal.
Arising from the inability of the system to democratise the rights of party men and women to participate in the electoral process of determining choices of candidates, the resort to direct primaries is gaining ground. The discordant tunes in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over indirect primaries is causing ripples in the party, as many aspirants are alleging that governors are rooting for the indirect primaries to truncate the aspiration of opponents. In some states, stakeholders have come out to condemn the decision by governors to adopt indirect primaries. In states like Bauchi, Kaduna, Zamfara and many other states, those who have refused to bow to the demands of the governors are not ready to let down their cries.
Considering the scam involved in conducting indirect primaries, the system has become too monetised to deliver on a balance of transparency. Against the backdrop of the weaknesses of the delegate system and its susceptibility to self-seeking ends, there is urgent need to reject this option and adopt direct primaries. As long as indirect primaries are allowed, so long will the parties remain powerless under powerful men and women who seek to promote personal power and destroy the collective will of the people to decide their fates within a political platform.
If democracy must continue to thrive and hold any ray of hope for the future, then the people who own parties should be allowed to manage the affairs of the parties. The present unhealthy management of parties as parastatal does not serve the interest of a democratic society where the interest of the people supersedes that of the personal ambition of the high and mighty.