NIGERIA 2011 PARTY PRIMARIES IN RETROSPECT
Finally, the wheat has been separated from the chaff, the men from the boys, the contenders from the pretenders. It was battle royale, a nerve wracking game of intrigues, eventually by fair or foul means the 63 registered political parties have nominated their flag-bearers and by close of business on Monday, January 31, 2011, only 44 or thereabout of the lot were able to beat the deadline for submission of the names of their candidates for the April 2011 General Elections.
It is yet unknown if the 19 political parties who did not submit list of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as at when due decided of their own volition not to field candidates for the April polls or they were negligent with time, thinking that it will be business as usual when INEC's time-table could be treated with disdain.
An evaluation of the party congresses, conventions and primaries held between INEC stipulated time of November 26, 2010 and January 15, 2011 shows that Nigeria's political class have refused to learn any positive lessons from the past. The candidates nomination process in many of the parties were at variance with letters and spirit of Nigeria's legal framework for elections, be it the 1999 Constitution as amended, the 2010 Electoral Act as amended, Constitutions of the various political parties themselves, and INEC as well as respective political parties' electoral guidelines. Some of the party primaries were not only very rancorous; they were undemocratic, prejudiced and unscrupulous. Any wonder the dust stirred by controversies surrounding some of the party nomination exercises is yet to settle several weeks after the conclusion of the party primaries? That is to be expected as all manner of tricks were used by the party executive to deliver the party tickets to their favoured aspirants. This has led to arson, assassinations, mass decampments and litigations.
As it happened in the lead up to 2007 elections, there is hullabaloo about some candidates who won the party primaries being substituted in the final list of nominees submitted to INEC. In its trademark policy, Peoples Democratic Party decided to annul primaries conducted into the gubernatorial positions in Kogi and Kano states as well as 10 senatorial seats. The party thereafter ordered a re-run into those seats well after the timeline set by INEC which was January 15. Confusion has trailed the ordered re-run as INEC officially communicated PDP of the breach its action will constitute on the electoral timetable if it goes ahead with the re-run. PDP dared INEC by conducting fresh primaries in some of the constituencies, leaving out the others. INEC on its part has said it will not accept the names of the candidates that emerged after the deadline. Some of the candidates whose victories were annulled have either approached the court to restore their mandate or resort to lobbying the members of the National Working Committee of PDP whose responsibility it was to compile the names of the party candidates.
Still on PDP, in states like Ogun, Enugu, Delta, Anambra there were reported cases of conduct of parallel primaries for some of the elective offices. This has put the party leadership at the national level as well as the electoral commission in a quandary. This is because injunctions were being dished out to some of the aggrieved people by the court. On daily basis there are 'ex-parte applications' 'interlocutory injunctions' and 'restraining orders' from a State or Federal High Courts compelling INEC to accept one set of nominations against another. This is the scenario with the PDP in Oyo, Ogun, Yobe, Bayelsa, Enugu and Kogi states. This ugly phenomenon has raised fear about the negative impact the litany of litigations will likely have on the preparation and conduct of the April polls which is barely two months away.
PDP is not the only political party that has acted in breach of legal provisions backing the 2011 elections. Another major culprit is the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) who has added another word to the political lexicon of Nigeria. The new word is 'baba-sope' politics. Baba-sope literally means 'Father has declared'. Contextually speaking, however, it can be taken as euphemism for anointed candidacy. It is the process of imposing the choice of party elders, willy- nilly, on party members. It is so unfortunate that a party that funded the establishment of Coalition of Democrats on Electoral Reform (CODER) and organised several 'one-man: one-vote' crusades will shamelessly be saying that it chose consensus arrangement over and above having elected delegates vote for candidates of their choice.
Chief Bisi Akande in a recent press interview had this to say on why ACN opted for consensus arrangement instead of conducting party primaries: 'If election within our party is what you are trying to describe as internal democracy, then we reject such idea. Can we impose when we are contesting against PDP? But we can do something within our party if the leadership of the party feels that that is the best thing. This is because it is the leadership of the party that understands the manifestoes of the party and knows what the people really want. This is not a matter of individual but the party. Nobody should accuse ACN of imposition because that is our style. Anyone that is not comfortable with that should go and contest in another political party.' It is in ACN that aspirants are made to fill out and sign withdrawal form ahead of purported party primaries. This is quite unfortunate. When ACN knows that it was going to handpick its candidates, why did the party sell nomination forms to the aspirants?
What the former Osun State governor does not know or chose to ignore is that the candidate nomination process arrangement of his party is against the prescriptions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which had stipulated in section 87 subsections 1 - 10 the procedures for conduct of the nomination process. According to the section of the Act, parties are supposed to conduct primaries where elected delegates will vote for the candidates of their choice. The example of UK, Canada and India candidates' nomination process cited by ACN Chairman is untenable as those countries operate parliamentary system of government while Nigeria operates presidential system modelled after that of the United States of America.
As controversies continue to trail the nominations of some candidates for the April general elections, my unsolicited advice to INEC is to refrain from using candidates' name and pictures for the ballot in April. The Commission should just feature the names and logos of all the registered political parties on the ballot papers and allow the electorate to vote for the party of their choice. If INEC heeds this advice, it will save itself a lot of stress and resources that may be incurred if the court ruled late into the preparation for the polls that it is not the candidate whose picture and name appear on the ballot that is the rightful flag-bearer.
Jide Ojo is an Abuja based Public Affairs Analyst.