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ONYEKAKEYAH: AUTOMATIC TICKET IN DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS?

By NBF News
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THE much publicised plan by the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to grant automatic ticket to its incumbent state governors and perhaps lawmakers in the national and state assemblies to contest in the forthcoming April 2011 general elections unchallenged is an open invitation to chaos, acrimony and rancour, which every right thinking Nigerian is trying to avoid this time around. The repeated refrain of a free, fair and credible election would have no meaning if from the outset some aspirants were edged out on one reason or the other. This election should be free, fair and democratic.

Nigerians are tired of having unfit individuals imposed to govern them against their wish. That explains why the entire country is in a pitiable state. As each election presents fresh opportunity to elect new leaders that are expected to change the ignoble state of affairs in the country, parties (if they're patriotic) should learn from the past mistakes and desist from imposing candidates on the electorate. The people, and only the people know which governor is performing well or not. It is not the party secretariat that would say. It is not constitutional that every governor must serve for two terms. Only those who merited it by virtue of their performance should do another term, and that is by peoples' wish.

Denying fresh aspirants the opportunity to contest for whatever reason is the first step to making the elections contentious, as those denied would most likely head to court to seek redress. If the elections are going to be free, fair and credible as the singsong is being refrained, the best thing to do is to allow every interested party to try his or her luck at the polls. That is where the people decide who governs them. Otherwise, the elections could as well be regarded as having been rigged from the outset - since some people could be allowed to contest while others are disallowed. Where is the fairness if that is the case? That would put the country into serious political turmoil, which nobody is bargaining for.

Though, the PDP helmsmen have continued to deny of any plan to grant governors automatic ticket but they can't deny that at one time or the other, their leaders made such utterances at different public forums. For example, last August or thereabout, the National Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo was reported to have said through his spokesman, Ike Abonyi that performing state governors of the party are assured of the party's support and backing ahead of the 2011 general elections. The statement was made at the fund-raising and foundation laying ceremony of the Katsina PDP State Secretariat in Katsina. He said, 'performing governors were the type the party needed to win elections because of their popularity with the people'. New brooms sweep better. New governors may do better.

But in a swift reaction to Nwodo's statement, the PDP national leadership, of which Nwodo is part, said that the party did not reserve automatic tickets for all aspirants at the ward and national levels. On that basis, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufa'i Alkali advised party aspirants to 'disregard statements on the automatic ticket and concentrate their efforts in the primaries without fear or intimidation'. Surprisingly, Dr. Nwodo joined in refuting the automatic ticket reports, calling it 'insinuations'. Dr. Nwodo, had reportedly made express rebuttal by saying, that he, 'on behalf of the NWC, wishes to state categorically that such insinuations are false and unfounded as they have no basis in the Constitution of our great party'.

But despites these rebuttals, President Jonathan, who is also the leader of the party, appeared to have made the clearest statement on the issue at Enugu. The President had during last weekend while commissioning the upgraded Enugu International Airport stated clearly that, 'all PDP governors who are eligible to seek re-election will automatically fly the party in the 2011 polls'. The President reportedly said, 'Changing governors every four years does not encourage development…you need a responsibly length of time to develop an area'. The President's statement is clear and unambiguous. There is no other way to understand the message being conveyed.

But just as the governors and their acolytes were about to roll out drums for jubilation, the rebuttal came quickly again from the PDP secretariat advising governorship aspirants 'to disregard such statements', meaning that they can't just get unmerited automatic ticket. And to give force to its position, the party immediately announced members of the various state panels, which would screen all governorship aspirants across the country. The PDP National Publicity Secretary, in a press statement 'urged all its members who have obtained governorship election forms to get ready for the primaries'.

Going by the contradictions that have trailed the issue of automatic ticket for PDP governors, it is not clear what exactly the party intends to do at its primaries. Is it going to conduct a thorough screening of the governors and reject or re-nominate them based on concrete, clear and undisputed achievements or it is it going to award them automatic tickets as it has been widely announced? Are the various state screening panels there to do a patriotic job or are they there just for formality to rubber-stamp the governors' nomination?

There is nothing wrong in a governor who has done well being re-nominated for a second term to enable him complete outstanding projects. But every thing is wrong if parties would just anoint governors simply to achieve selfish ends. For instance, reports say, 'the presidents endorsement of the governors is believed to be a reciprocation of the governors' open declaration to support Jonathan…' If that is the case, it amounts to trading with Nigeria without considering the public interest.

I strongly believe that it is in the interest of the PDP and indeed any other party to field candidates that have peoples' support. If the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner, such candidates would certainly win. If, as it seems, President Jonathan is the peoples' choice but out of selfish considerations the PDP governors and their state delegates field the wrong candidate, then the likely thing is that PDP would lose, except if the election is rigged. At the national level, therefore, the people know whom they want and they would go ahead to vote for him. The vote of the governors matters mainly at the primaries and it is in their own interest to vote a popular winning candidate in the interest of their party and Nigeria.

But coming down to the state level, it is true that some governors have done appreciably well within the four years. At the same time, some have been there just warming their seat and busy with all manners of litigation while governance is neglected.

Perhaps, this dispensation has witnessed the greatest number of strikes across the federation, with the affected governors not being able to resolve them. Strikes are manifestations of peoples' discontent with the system. What do we say about state governments that owe workers months of unpaid salaries? Are they going to continue? What about the decadent schools, roads, hospitals and even potable water?

Everything Nigeria needs to transform is available. What is lacking is the human element. Getting the right human element will do the magic. Great strides could be accomplished in a period of four years. You don't need 10 years before there can be visible achievement. As a matter of fact, the morning shows the day. A governor who failed to perform in the first four years can hardly make it in the second term. The first term is the time to demonstrate superlative performance as a prelude to seeking for a second term. There are visible examples of positive action in this regard in Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, among a few other states.

A governor who failed in the first term would most likely be worse off if given a second chance because he would be on a hit and run drive. At the end, it is the people that are short-changed since no ex-governor has been put behind bars for failure to perform. The PDP and indeed all the other political parties should show patriotism in selecting who to foist on the people, for that exactly is what it would turn out to be given the series of legal battles we have witnessed that have booted some of those earlier foisted on the people out.