Sunday, November 14, 2021 1:00 pm
By Saliu Moh. Lukman
On Tuesday, November 9, 2021, the expanded APC Tripartite Consultative Committee meeting chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Members of the APC Tripartite Consultative Committee include the Chairman of the APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), HE Mai Mala Buni, Senate President, HE Ahmed Lawan, Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, HE Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, HE Kayode Fayemi, Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Idris Wase, Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami and Secretary of the APC CECPC, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe.
The expanded meeting of Tuesday, November 9, in addition to these appointed members, was attended by Progressive Governors and all elected APC representatives in the two APC chambers of the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives). The agenda of the expanded meeting was the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, which specifically require all political parties in the country to adopt direct primary for the nomination of party candidates for election. The decision to hold the expanded meeting was taken at previous meeting of the APC Tripartite Committee with the aim of facilitating synergy between members of the National Assembly, Governors, and the party on the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act.
APC: Direct Vs Indirect Primary
The desirability for using direct primary to nominate party candidates is popular given that indirect method, which require only delegates from among elected party executives at Wards, Local Governments, States and National levels is considered very corrupt and anybody who has money can buy his/her way to emerge as candidate. The belief is that delegates used during party primaries, who are few, relative to the size of party membership are loyal to Governors and therefore end up doing the bidding of Governors by electing only aspirants chosen by Governors. In addition, the delegates are alleged to also be very corrupt, which makes party primary to be very expensive because aspirants must virtually purchase the vote of every delegate. Nigerians, especially members of political parties detest the indirect method, partly because it is believed that it is the cause of almost all the leadership challenges facing the country whereby wrong people emerge into leadership positions simply because they can buy the ticket to contest elections.
APC emerged in 2013 with the commitment to bring about political change in the country. One of the changes envisioned by the founding leaders of the party was the adoption of the direct method, which is to broaden the participation of members, not just few delegates, in the process of electing party candidates at all levels. Between 2013 and 2015, there were internal debates in the APC to develop the necessary infrastructural platforms that should allow all members of the party to elect both leaders and candidates of the party. Under the Chief Bisi Akande Interim Management leadership, substantial investment was undertaken towards establishing computerised membership Data Centre for the whole country, located at No. 10 Bola Ajibola Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. Sadly, PDP government, under former President Jonathan Goodluck, vandalised the Data Centre on November 22, 2014 based on the claims that the Department of State Security (DSS), which carry out the attack, acted on a petition, which alleged that the Data Centre was being set up to ‘clone INEC Permanent Voters Card with the intention of hacking into INEC database, corrupting it and replacing them with their own data’ (Premium Times, November 23, 2014).
As highlighted in Chapter II – Party Funding and Scope for Internal Democracy, in the publication Power of Possibility & Politics of Change in Nigeria, published in July 2019, ‘the internal dynamics that pushed for the establishment of the Data Centre included challenges during the conduct of the party’s Congresses and Convention between April and June 2014. One of the projections before the Congresses was to expand the process of electing party leadership at all levels beyond the scope of a limited number of party delegates, which should cover all members of the party. Partly, on account of experiences during the conduct of Ward Congresses in April 2014, which exposed the problem of conducting all-members’ inclusive elections for party offices without authenticated membership records, the Chief Bisi Akande Interim Leadership initiated the establishment of the Data Centre.’
Issues of maintaining verifiable membership register is a condition precedent for any new framework, which can allow credible election to be conducted within any political party based on the direct method. This is mainly because it is the membership register that is expected to be used to accredit members of the party during the election. This issue has been a major point of internal debate in APC since 2014. Ahead of every election, it always comes up. Since the time of the Interim Leadership of Chief Bisi Akande, the decision has been to use expanded delegates, involving majority members of the leadership beyond the few that are designated as delegates as provided in the APC constitution.
It is believed that through direct method, involving all party members, problems of imposition of leaders and candidates, vote buying, rigging, manipulation, associated with indirect methods of the delegates system will be reduced. The expectation is that direct primary will bring political party leaders closer to members, and consequently citizens closer to elected representatives. Inability of APC to institutionalise the direct method as the preferred option for electing leaders and selecting candidates of the party for election is a major source of disappointment for many party members and leaders especially given the way all the problems associated with the indirect method has also manifested in the APC.
The campaign therefore to get the APC return to its founding vision should be welcome by every committed party member, which may have been responsible for why President Muhammadu Buhari continued to insist that APC must be controlled by the people, on account of which he continued to push the party to adopt direct primary. Recall that, ahead of the 2019 election, President Buhari chose direct primary method to confirm his emergence as the candidate of the APC Presidential candidate for the 2019 election. The party’s National Convention would have been sufficient to confirm his nomination through majority votes. Instead of limiting his emergence to only delegates at the National Convention, he requested that members of the party should also be allowed to participate in the process of endorsing his candidature as the Presidential Candidate of the APC for a second tenure.
Although, many may argue that such a decision was academic exercise, it however influenced the decision of the National Executive Committee (NEC) in terms of the methods to be used to produce candidates of the party for the 2019 elections at all levels. This is because the decisions of NEC of August 30, 2018, inspired by the position of President Buhari was that stakeholders of the party in every state should decide the method – direct, indirect or consensus – that will be used for the nomination of candidates in the states. Lagos, Kano and Niger States opted for the direct primary. Except for few states such as Zamfara, in virtually all the other states, the indirect method was chosen. Zamfara opted for consensus, which was partly responsible for all the acrimony against the choices of candidates’ that resulted in the electoral disaster that rob the party of all the hard-earned electoral victories of 2019.
Expanded APC Tripartite Consultative Committee and Proposed Amendments
Noting that both the two chambers of the National Assembly have passed the proposed Electoral Act amendment bill on October 12, 2021, which among others require all political parties in the country to adopt the direct method of conducting party primary for the nomination of candidates and a conference committee involving representatives of the two chambers (Senate and House of Representatives) was working to harmonise the amendment, the expanded APC Tripartite Consultative Committee meeting of November 9 would have been expected to influence the final amendment to guide the work of the conference committee. Notice for the meeting was issued by the party, dated 4th November, 2021, signed by the CECPC Secretary, Sen. Akpanuduedehe. Certainly, all members of the APC Tripartite Consultative Committee, including the APC leadership in the National Assembly should have been aware of such expectation.
Interestingly, before the meeting, which was scheduled to hold, 5.00 pm Tuesday, November 9, on that very day, the plenaries of both the Senate and the House of Representatives considered the report of the conference committee on the Electoral Act amendment and adopted the report and passed the new Electoral Act amendment bill. With such development, the expanded Tripartite Consultative Committee was confronted with a fait accompli. The passed Electoral Act amendment Bill by both the Senate and House of Representatives contained the provision requiring that all political parties in the country should adopt direct method of conducting party primary for the selection of candidates. Section 87(1) of the bill provided that ‘A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Commission.’
In addition, new Sub Sections 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 were inserted in the Electoral Act, which made the following provisions:
· Sub Section 3: The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions by direct primaries shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party and given opportunity to have agents for the purpose of monitoring the primaries.
· Sub Section 4: The procedure adopted for the direct primaries shall be spelt out in a guideline to be issued by the political party and filed with the Commission at least 14 days before the primary election.
· Sub Section 5: A political party shall maintain register of its members and provide in the guideline for the conduct of the primaries that the register of its members shall be used for accreditation for the primaries.
· Sub Section 6: The Commission shall deploy personnel to monitor the primaries in all the centres where the direct primaries are held.
· Sub Section 7: Every aspirant cleared by the party to contest at the primary not later than fourteen days to the primary shall be entitled to a copy of the guideline for the conduct of the primaries in which he or she is participating.
With these provisions, once assented to by the President, it will be mandatory for every party in Nigeria to use direct method, involving every member of the party, to nominate candidates for elections. If the objective of compelling political parties to adopt the direct method is to ensure credible process of nominating party candidates, additional provisions covering issues of how membership records of political parties should be kept, and processes and procedure required under the Act to satisfy admissibility of members of the party during direct elections should be well outlined. For instance, in the case of national elections, Part III of the Electoral Act dealing with National Register of Voters and Voters’ Registration made comprehensive provisions specifying details of National Register of Voters and Voters’ Registration, Continuous Registration, Qualification for Registration, Transfer of Registered Voters, Powers to Print and issue Voters Register, Powers to Print and issue Voters’ Card, Custody of Voters’ Register, Display of the Copies of Voters’ List, among many other provisions.
The amendment being proposed take many of these issues for granted. It is possible that these are matters for internal decisions of political parties, which may be why the new Sub Section 4 being proposed expect parties to adopt procedure, which ‘shall be spelt out in a guideline to be issued by the political party and filed with the Commission at least 14 days before the primary election.’ However, any commitment to affirm the right of political party members to participate in the process of electing party leaders and candidates for elections must be unambiguous. When for instance the only thing that exist as means of identification of party members is ordinary piece of paper and records of members exist only in hardcopies available perhaps to only Ward officials and National Secretariat of the party, it leaves much room for manipulation and extraneous practices.
Beyond the sentiments in favour of direct primary therefore, there is the need to properly outline a clear administrative framework under the law, which will guide the process and guarantee that all the bad practices associated with the indirect method are eliminated. Understandably, part of the sentiment informing the actions of members of the National Assembly is that Nigerians have little or zero confidence on the disposition of party leaders, who are alleged to be under the direct control of Governors. Largely because of this perception there is ongoing media campaign blackmailing Governors that they are the ones perpetrating all the bad practices associated with the indirect methods and therefore the reason why they are against the adoption of direct primary.
The truth however is that with the state of things in APC whereby in virtually all states with serving Governors, they (Governors) are in charge. The proposed amended law with all its ambiguities would instead strengthen the capacity of Governors or any leader who is in control of structures of the party to manipulate the process of nominating candidates. In states such as Delta, Sokoto and Taraba, for instance, where there are no APC Governors, leading members of the party in the National Assembly are the people in charge. There are other states such as Adamawa, Rivers and Bayelsa and at least eight other states where Governors are not responsible for the possible undemocratic practices taking place.
Besides, the issue of using the indirect method as a means of imposing candidates through corrupt practices, almost all elected representatives in the National Assembly are as guilty as Governors. From the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives to all the APC and House Representatives members, they must have all paid for every vote they got during internal party primary leading to their election. At that time, they must have been very good loyal partners of Governors.
By the way, there are at least twelve former Governors currently serving as APC Senators. While negotiating to emerge as Senators, they must have also been working to ensure the emergence of their preferred choices who are currently serving as Governors through the dreaded indirect method. Could these former Governors who are currently serving as Senators claim to be innocent of all the undemocratic practices associated with the indirect method? Could the current serving Governors be the only promoters of the bad undemocratic practices of imposition, vote buying, etc. through the indirect method?
Part of the underlying problems of Nigerian democracy is the problem of poor relation between members of executive and legislative branches. There is always a constant fight between Governors and members of the National Assembly of almost all states. Poor relationship between Governors and members of the National Assembly from states is partly responsible for high turnover rates of elected Senators and House of Representatives members. The turnover rate is estimated to be as high as 80%. Other factors that must be responsible for the high turnover rates would also include personal lifestyles of many elected representatives, which alienate them from their constituents. The relationship between most elected representatives and their constituents is largely transactional, which produce envy and, in many respects, undermined their electoral viability. On both the two issues of poor relationship between Governors and elected representatives, on the one hand, and relationship with constituents, how can the adoption of direct primary address the problem of high turnover rates?
As things are, based on proposed new Section 87 of the amended Electoral Act, which leave many open spaces for manipulation in the law, problems of internal democracy within parties may only get worse. Resolution of all the challenges of internal democracy within political parties require high measure of honesty from political leaders at all levels. It will be highly insincere for members of the National Assembly to attempt to play the ostrich by pushing the blame of lack of internal democracy within parties to only Governors. Once that is the case, instead of party leaders working as a united body to ensure that the adoption of direct method of electing party leaders and candidates for elections produce a truly new democratic framework, which eliminate problems of vote buying, imposition and all the vices associated with the indirect method, it can only potentially be another source of pains and disappointment for party members and Nigerians.
Direct Primary as a Cover
In several respects, the issue of compelling parties to use direct method for internal party elections as part of the Electoral Act is also popular perhaps because increasingly many political party members and leaders have lost confidence that parties can on their own adopt internal rules that can truly allow for direct primary. Otherwise, ordinarily the choice of direct primary should be decided internally within parties. To a large extent, it is also a matter that should define the ideological orientation of parties. There are political parties that operate as closed shops, implying that the process of decision-making is limited to some few interests. Under such a situation, parties would outline processes of qualification to be part of the decision-making process. Once the electoral law limits the choices of parties, it may undermine the provisions of the constitution with respect to freedom and political liberties. Lawyers and human right activists may want to cross-check all these.
It is worrisome that APC members in the National Assembly are the ones pushing for this amendment. Rather than leaders of the party negotiating among themselves on what needs to be done to produce internal agreement to resolve all challenges facing the party, increasingly structures of the party are being abandoned and other structures outside the statutory organs of the party are being used to attempt to address perceived problems. This creates problems of confidence in the capacity of structures of the party to address challenges facing the party. The whole scheming pushing party leaders to use structures outside the statutory organs of the party may not be even about addressing challenges facing the party but perhaps about realising political aspirations of some party leaders and power blocs.
The whole debate about adopting direct method as part of the Electoral Act is mainly an APC agenda. There may be a calculated attempt by a section of APC leadership whose interest is to hoodwink APC members and Nigerians with the direct primary dummy. If the truth is to be told, direct method of selecting candidates within the APC began to be corrupted under the dissolved National Working Committee led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. There were instances during 2019 elections, when the process of nominating APC candidates for election was manipulated using the direct primary, largely because no credible membership register existed since the November 22, 2014 vandalisation of the APC Membership Data Centre by the DSS. There was very little effort to re-organise and rebuild the APC membership record. It was only around February/March 2020 that the Comrade Oshiomhole-led NWC placed some newspaper advertorials inviting biddings from interested service providers to assist the APC to establish computerised membership data register.
Although no reference was made to the previous APC membership data centre of 2014 in the advertorial, the invitation for bidding suggested non-availability of a computerised membership register. There was of course occasional reference by Comrade Oshiomhole that the membership register of APC has been uploaded on the Cloud. The question of access to such membership register has remained an unresolved puzzle, which was why the APC Caretaker Committee under the leadership of HE Mai Mala Buni had to undertake membership registration and revalidation exercise. The major challenge of the new APC membership register is that it is manually stored. Interestingly, some of the promoters of the current amendment to the Electoral Act campaigning to include the direct primary of conducting party primary in the Electoral Act were against the decision of the APC Caretaker Committee to undertake membership registration and revalidation exercise.
It is quite suspect that isolated aggressive campaign to include the issue of compelling parties to adopt direct primary to nominate candidates for election is being promoted by respected APC leaders without corresponding commitment of ensuring that the process of producing a verifiable membership register for the APC is finalised. Once direct primary is adopted without clearly unambiguously defined political party membership management framework, incidences of manipulation and crude practices leading to worse forms of imposition of candidates by leaders of political parties, will be the new order. In the piece Internal Party Democracy and Prospects for New Nigeria, some of the inflated results of direct primary in APC during the 2019 elections were highlighted.
The vulnerability of direct primary to manipulative intrigues of political leaders was further confirmed in the just concluded Anambra Governorship election. The APC candidate in the election, Sen. Andy Ubah, during the APC primary election was said to have emerged with 230,201 votes. But he only got 43,285 votes during the election. Some measure of honesty is required from all leaders to address problems of internal democracy with political parties in Nigeria. No doubt, Nigerian democracy need to be deepened to broaden the participation of party members in the process of selecting party candidates. But given the way some APC leaders are desperately and aggressively campaigning for the adoption of the amended Electoral Act as passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly, with all its ambiguities, makes it suspect.
The Way Forward
The whole insertion of the provisions requiring political parties to adopt the direct method in the Electoral Act would appear to be an afterthought. This is because, the original bill, which was subjected to joint public hearing by both the Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, at the National Assembly complex in Abuja didn’t contain the insertion of Section 87 Sub Sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. There was only the insertion of Section 87(1 and 2), which provides that:
It was during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after the public hearing in July 2021 that the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila moved motion for the amendment to allow direct primaries to be part of the amendment.
In the case of Senate, after passing an amendment bill, which did not include the requirement to compel parties to adopt direct method for election of candidates, following a ‘motion for Re- Committal of some Clauses of the Electoral Act No.6 2010 (Repeal and Re- enactment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 122) to the Committee of the Whole as sponsored by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, All Progress Congress, APC, Kebbi North’ on October 12, 2021, Sections 87 (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) were inserted and passed.
It will be important therefore to appeal to both the Senate President, HE Ahmed Lawal and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and all the leaders of the National to provide the needed leadership for the country to have the right legal framework, which can guarantee the administration of direct primary by political parties in the country as a means of entrenching internal democracy during the process of nominating party candidates for elections. The proposal passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly on November 9, 2021 is highly inadequate and leaves more room for manipulation, which may produce more disaster for the country beyond what the nation is going through under the indirect method.
Accordingly, it is strongly recommended that given that the whole controversy about the proposed Electoral Act amendment is limited to the new insertions in Section 87, the National Assembly should consider reworking issues under Section 87 to make it unambiguous. The reworked new provisions should go through all the legislative processes including public hearing to enable Nigerians also contribute to making the law. This is a very sensitive issue, which no Standing Order of the National Assembly should be used to block the democratic rights of Nigerians in contributing to the law.
While the reworked Section 87 is being processed as recommended, the National Assembly may wish to adopt all the other amendments and transmit them to the President for assent. Unless leaders of the National Assembly are interested in blocking the possibility of amending the Electoral Act and want to shift the blame on President Buhari, it would be very inappropriate politically to expect the President to assent to the Electoral Act amendment with the provisions in Section 87 and all its ambiguities. The leadership of the National Assembly should take responsibility and not pass the buck.
Finally, all APC leaders must be appealed to, so that they are able to understand and appreciate that the challenges facing both the party and the nation require strong unity, especially among leaders. No leader should have the illusion than old methods of imposition of candidates by any means – direct or indirect – can guarantee electoral victory. As much as APC members and Nigerians want the internal process of nominating candidates for elections to be broadened to engender wider participation of party members, no political leader should attempt to introduce loose arrangements so that figures can be produced in the name of results for party primary. APC has worked hard in 2015 and 2019 to earn the confidence of Nigerians. No APC leader should take that for granted.
*Salihu Moh. Lukman, Progressive Governors Forum. Abuja. This position does not represent the view of any APC Governor or the Progressive Governors Forum