Regardless of the noticeable shortfalls that bedevilled the application of direct primaries in the All Progressives Congress’selection of candidates for next year’s election, there is no doubt that this remains the best option in choosing candidates that will fly the party’s flag in the ensuing election. Yes, there were hiccups that attended the party’s adoption of that option but it still towers over and above other options adopted by other parties for the same election. Most of the problems that were noted in the application of APC’s direct primaries option had their roots deeply embedded in the logistic requirements to make the process work. These logistic problems had their own roots in the short time the option was adopted and implemented and there is no doubt that given more time, the process will be much more transparent and less stressing as it was. Another factor is the mindset of Nigerian politicians that remains permanently fixated on obtaining a victory by all means possible. This makes it so difficult to adhere to the rules in politics. But then, direct primary still remains the best option to go for a party in democratically choosing who represents it in an election.
The APC direct primaries were riddled with complaints of logistics shortfalls in terms of inadequate supervisory personnel to oversee the primaries at various levels, the lack of a transparent register to ensure that only registered and accredited members voted in the primaries, the haphazard nature of the conduct of the primaries and of course, the desperation of aspirants to manipulate the process to favour them. Sure these are weighty imperfections that marred the process but then even in these imperfections, it towers above either the consensus and indirect primary options that had little rooms for checks and are tools at the hands of few devious powerful party men to impose their wills on the rest of the party members. Again, no matter its shortfalls, the direct primaries offers the best representative modal for the rank and file of the party to decide who they throw up for elective positions and opens the field far wider than any other option for members of a party to assert their democratic rights.
Most importantly, the direct primaries greatly shred the role of money in perverting the choice of candidates and throws the field open for members to express a greater stake in ownership and control of the party. Even in its noticeable flaws, the direct primaries sent the fear of God on those that hitherto felt the party is theirs to control; dispense and withhold favours as it pleases them. The scenario of many governors and other incumbent political office holders, who hitherto, deign themselves as the lord of the manor in parties, now sweating and exerting so much energy to push through their choices in the various elections can only be an added beauty and tremendous impetus to democracy. There is no doubt that many governors and high ranking leaders of APC will shed their arrogance and haughtiness in dealing with other members of the party before the 2023 election just because direct primaries stand to wrestle the control of the party from their hands and hand such control to the people. We saw the withering of the power of money and other inducements in deciding who flags the party’s flag in various elective positions. This was so because the direct primary option opened the doors wide enough for members to ventilate their rights and powers in the party through their votes. It was no more a pliable game where governors and other ranking party members will manipulate the delegates list through various vile means and eventually launder state resources to buy the few delegates to approve of their wishes. How many party members can one buy if one is to deploy money to manipulate direct primaries as in other primary options?
As I have admitted earlier, there were so many pitfalls that riddled APC’s primaries but then, these are issues that can be improved on if there is much time to work on them. However the pitfalls may be, the process is far better and much more reflective of democratic norms than the other old, dawdy, easily-manipulable options that put the party at the mercy of money bags and other influences that eat away at the power and beauty of democracy. The issues that worked against the direct primaries as adopted by the APC were exacerbated by the short time frame under which this option was implemented. The time was way too short for the party to develop a credible voters’ register that should guide the implementation. In the absence of a transparent voters’ register, it was easy to steal in several nuances that watered down the credibility of the ultimate choices that emerged from the primaries. This also opened the door for those charged with conduct and control of the primaries to input several extraneous tendencies that rubbed off negatively on the credibility of the process. But these are improvable shortfalls that do not reduce the huge advantages direct primaries enjoy over other selection options.In fact, no one could have done better given the short time frame. It behoves the hierarchs of APC to work on these problems and ensure that an immutable membership register is developed before the 2023 general elections.
The post-primary altercations that hit the APC and other parties after the primaries do not vitiate the suitability or credibility of direct primaries. First, the crises, though more pronounced in APC because of the higher stakes involved, were not peculiar to APC alone. They remain natural reactions of Nigerians angling for elective offices and the party needs to deploy its internal conflict resolution mechanisms to deal with them. Secondly, the crises were not due to the primary modal adopted, as they would have been likely higher with a less transparent primary option. So from every angle, the direct primaries remain the best possible option to level the field amongst aspirants and leave the control of the party and its fates in the hands of members of the party and not few select leaders that have often misused this tremendous power for ulterior ends.
With all these in view then, while it is imperative for APC leaders to work and smoothen up the direct primary process for future elections, other parties must see the need to adopt it as the surest means of making really democratic the practices and conducts of their parties. All parties must work towards giving the people a greater voice in issues relating to picking candidates for elections by making sure that every member exercises his preference of who should fly his or her flag in each election. This is the primary focus of direct party primaries and remains the reason why it is much better than any other alternative. APC should iron out the imperfections noticed in its application of direct primaries and position it as a way to go for parties to ingrain the real tenets of democracy in the conduct of its internal politics.
Peter Claver Oparah
E-mail: [email protected]