I read the president’s reply to the national assembly (NA), on his refusal to sign the electoral amendment bill as proposed, especially the part where the NA felt that political parties should conduct direct primaries. By direct primaries is meant that in choosing flagbearers of political parties, all party members should be involved, as against the current scenario – especially in the two large parties – where the selection process is often mired in secrecy and hijacked by a small coterie of powerful principalities and powers who sit on the necks of these political parties at every level of society. It could be inferred, that the result of the internal governance of those parties, including the cultures which have overtaken them – especially the secrecy in adopting candidates – is what has translated into the bigger wreckage that Nigeria is today, 22 years after our hopeful return to democracy. Indeed, it is a fact that a political party can only translate its culture into the leadership of a country if it gets the chance to lead. Therefore, the PDP, being a party that led mostly in years of boom, became used to ‘sharing’ the booty, so corruption thrived. The APC, being a special purpose vehicle of strange bedfellows, has also unleashed the dysfunctionality in the party structure on the whole of Nigeria.
The president’s reply was saddening, for its skullduggery. The presidency would want us to believe, that the expenditure on parties would be too much if they were required to conduct direct primaries. Also, that the INEC would spend too much on supervising primaries. The president also believes that it will be against democracy to dictate to political parties how to select their flagbearers. Further, he mentioned the security situation of the country (a shameful excuse indeed given that the security buck stops at his desk). This security excuse is at the same level as those folks (especially governors), who tried to whip up COVID as an excuse to continue with the status quo as if we shall live with the fear of covid for the rest of our lives.
The part that tips me over is that party where he wrote that small parties cannot afford direct primaries. Small parties? Since when did General Buhari care about small parties? Since when did anyone in PDP or APC care about small parties? Did they not gang together to smother small parties in their cots just last year — 2020? Did they care that by the action they pressurised INEC to take ultra vires the constitution of the federal republic and in obvious impunity by which INEC says to those parties “go to court if you don’t like it” – in mockery of our judicial system – they unleashed the innocent energies of young people who were trying to make their own ways politically, culminating in #EndSARS, and IPOB, and Igboho? Now, they wish to use the ghosts of small parties as a crutch to escape what is essentially a call for transparency? And indeed, let me inform them, that some of us who formed small parties saw this far and beyond, way back five years ago or more and so we instituted direct primaries as part of our constitution – even the election of party officials using Option A4 (open ballot where people queue behind their candidate). We could afford it. It was not a big deal and we had no complaints. It was all about organizing ourselves, and the core principle which we strove to institute, was transparency. For transparency, we believed that any cost was well worth it. Why? When you start to do things in secret you open the door wide open for speculations, accusations, bribery and corruption, fractionalisation, backbiting, cultism, and what have you. The non-embrace of transparency by these older folks is the reason we are here today. In our ‘small’ parties, we hoped that our transparent culture will permeate the entire system. The old folks saw that we may change the status quo over time, and so caused INEC to wield the sledgehammer. The old folks in APC and PDP want Nigeria to be exactly how it is, never better. And this is a message to Nigerians at large.
They say that the best disinfectant in the world is the sun. Yes; this same sun that we take for granted on a daily basis. It took the coming of covid-19 for some of our big men to realise that they’ve been killing themselves by sitting inside airconditioning all day all night and depriving themselves of vital vitamin D. But the Sun is there for good reason – in excess, and free for us here in Nigeria as others in the world rue their fates in winter. The Sun is also there, to illuminate, to simplify, to demystify, to make plain. There is indeed another saying that is apt for this purpose. It goes ‘an age was called Dark, not because the sun refused to shine, but because people REFUSED to see it’. It is therefore most unfortunate, that our Mai Gaskiya (the truth-teller) has consistently lined up behind darkness since he became president in 2015, and the results are there to see. Analysts say Buhari has always, will always step down any Bill that pushes for electoral reforms. But with the darkness that we have embraced in this country, comes crime, and decay, and terrorism, and the looting dry of a society. And indeed, these evils drag along other evils, leaving the people in so much pain, misery, and confusion. One would have hoped, that anything that promotes transparency, even at great cost, will be supported by the man who says he is holy and clean.
As regards whether the idea of instituting direct primaries for all parties is democratic, of course, it is. Our democracy is based on laws. We have chosen some and rejected others from the options that we present ourselves in a democracy. Some of what we have codified into laws could as well be called undemocratic. Our people just like to rabble rouse when it suits them. Is the banning of small parties after one incomplete round of elections not undemocratic? Did CSOs not join forces with the government and even the main opposition which is not an opposition, PDP, to enact that injustice? Why not just allow anyone form any political party even without going through INEC after all, the constitution guarantees freedom of association? In Ghana here, they have members of parliament like a parliamentary system of government, but they still vote for a popular president like a presidential system of government. Ditto in Kenya, France, and many other countries around the world. They did not come here for validation. They did not have to read it from some O’level textbook on Government. And those countries are plodding ahead. Perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is why are we so twisted as a people? When did we become like this; that nothing works straight and any ideas that may afford us some level of progress, through transparency and doing things properly in spite of ourselves, is summarily shot down?
Choosing direct primaries is therefore just one of the choices we may take, and is indeed necessary given how we have turned out as a people. It has nothing to do with the fundamentals of democracy, after all, it is even more about the right of the PEOPLE to choose their own leaders from the ground up. The idea also promotes the involvement of the people in political parties, not this current situation where most people are disinterested except when to collect chicken change while the few ‘stakeholders’ who own the parties – and by extension the soul of this country – do anything they like. Part of what they do is to impose absolute ne’er-do-wells, touts, thugs, criminals, and to summarily substitute the names of anyone who falls out of their favour. If Nigerians are serious about democracy, this direct primary issue should be pursued to a logical conclusion, alongside the electronic voting proposal. Direct primaries will not be perfect at all. It can be manipulated, but we will see a few wins here and there, and then it gets better. Electronic voting too can be summarily hijacked by the tweaking of a few algorithms from the back-end. But for a corruption-ridden system like ours, these innovations are worthwhile.
The question now becomes; how do we make any progress in this country? Politically and otherwise. Of course, we needn’t be reminded just how intricately woven the politics of a society is, to its economy. In the president’s reply, when he cited the cost, he is just chasing pennies and hemorrhaging pounds. We shouldn’t be sparing expense in fixing our politics, so that our economy may take flight. My thinking is that direct primaries are the only way by which truly popular candidates may sometimes emerge even if they are disfavored by those moneybags who have constituted themselves into principalities and idols to be worshipped. Direct primaries are the only way to begin a gradual cleansing – sorry exorcising – of our politics from the many demons that have held it down. Rather than lodge ‘delegates’ in hotels and commence the process of dollar competition, let whoever wishes to bribe start looking for all party members wherever they may live. They will get tired, and hopefully, the politics will regain some sense of objectivity. And if they can indeed give dollars to all party members, perhaps that could be written down as a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor – income redistribution.
Overall, this is power to the people. Let the people take centre stage in our politics, please. And still talking about rules, when Nigeria adopted Option A4 for the 1993 elections, we saw the results. It was out there in the sun. And it was very democratic. The National Assembly has the right to tweak the constitution, by a majority vote, and to override the president, even in electoral matters. We are refusing to grow. We sometimes talk of ‘true federalism’ and all that jazz, which equates to copying what America is doing verbatim. But do we know, that in the same USA, when their democracy started and for several decades after, the first runner up in a presidential election became the vice president irrespective of the political party he belongs to? Is that ‘democratic’ enough for us? Did they come here to ask us for approval? Or are we saying we are truly inferior beings? In the interest of our own future, let us invite the Sun. For according to the holy books, that was perhaps the first thing created by God himself. Let there be light. Direct Primaries and electronic voting please, thank you.
Merry Christmas to all our readers