A decision by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC to clarify the position of the party leadership on the method to be adopted for the selection of party candidates has set off a flurry of activities which some observers say is threatening the party’s cohesion and pitch the party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole against governors and state chairmen.
An announcement by the acting National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, that the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), which is its second highest decision-making body, opted for direct primaries for all elections was all that was needed to set off a chain of events, which the party is still grappling to control.
While listing the benefits of the direct primary method, Nabena said, among others that “It will eliminate the possibility of corruption, gives all party members a say on the choice of candidates and helps deepen democracy.”
Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, had, in company with his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, told reporters that it was agreed at the NEC meeting that the direct primary option should be adopted for the presidential nomination only and that states were allowed to choose any other option allowed by the party’s constitution that best suited their peculiarities. The APC Constitution (October 2014 as amended), makes provisions for three options of selecting candidates for the elective offices.
The first is the consensus method, which entails candidates agreeing among themselves to field one from within their ranks for the position they are seeking to occupy.
Where this fails, the constitution provides for the option of an election, which could either be through the direct or indirect method.
An Enugu State stalwart of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said, “President Buhari has, since joining politics, identified with the people, who, by the way, have always been his major source of strength.
“The decision of the party’s NEC to opt for direct primary, which is designed to return power to the people, has always received Mr. President’s blessing because if any aspirant is popular, he or she should not be afraid of going to party members to first seek their endorsement to contest. This will also give the party an idea into its membership base and strength; it is also like a mock election.”
The APC’s National Vice-Chairman (North-East), Salihu Mustapha, however, sees things differently. He explained that while the direct primary method was desirable, there were conditions which ought to be met before it could be adopted in states.
He said, “States have their peculiarities. While it would be easy to adopt direct primary for local elections in the wards, and maybe, local government, it would be a different ball game when it involved the election of members of the National Assembly or for the position of governor because of the logistics required.
An Abuja-based public affairs commentator, Jude Nwadibia, observed that in Nigerian politics, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.
According to him, as in the 16 years during which the Peoples Democratic Party governed, very little, if anything, has changed in the way political parties deal with issues of who calls the shots within the party.
Nwadibia said, “The battle for the ticket of the PDP at any level back then was fiercer than the election proper. I don’t see anything happening differently from this in the APC, largely because the PDP and the APC are two sides of the same coin.
“If you remember, after 1999, PDP primaries were more acrimonious than the elections which followed subsequently. The reason was simple. Party members aspiring for elective offices felt once you secured the party’s ticket, the party leadership at all levels would do the rest and you were almost always certain to win because the party’s rigging machine was available to ensure all ticket holders got into office.”
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwual Musa, who agreed with this postulation, said, “State governors, who have become accustomed to controlling the system of distributing patronage at the state level, have perfected the art of taking the control to a new level by ensuring that only their loyalists were given control of the party structure at least in their states.”
He also expressed the opinion that it would have been business as usual within the APC if not for the crisis the party was currently involved with against its members at the National Assembly.
He pointed out that the fight over re-election and control of the party structure at the state level, which pitted state governors against federal legislators, was largely responsible for the upsurge in inter-party disputes currently raging within the APC.
Musa added, “The party leadership has been caught in the middle. It has to decide between bowing to pressure from the party’s powerful governors and satisfying the agitation of their members, especially those at the National Assembly, who are demanding a level playing field to contest in the 2019 elections.”
A member of the House of Representatives during the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, on his part, dismissed the rancour over the APC’s mode of primaries, describing it as simply “much ado about nothing.”
He stated, “We all know why the governors would prefer the indirect method for the primary; for the simple reason that they control the party, therefore they dictate who should be the delegates and, of course, they wouldn’t want people who have a free mind to do what their minds tell them.
It is easier for them to not only choose the delegates, they have the resources to camp these delegates in choice hotels and compromise them to do their bidding.
“Every democrat knows that a direct primary is better than an indirect one for the simple reason that a greater percentage of party members not only have a say but have their way in deciding which party member becomes the party’s standard bearer in the general elections.”
Mohammed also added, “Is it not a paradox that even within the APC, those who are the most vociferous in calling for direct primaries, especially for legislative tickets, are at the same time demanding automatic tickets?
“Their argument that because they have been loyal to the party, they should be exempted from going through the protest of political contest stands logic on its head.”
The Chairman of the Ondo State chapter of the party, Ade Adetimehin, while explaining reasons for backing indirect primaries, said, “The problem is that there is no correct data across the country for the APC members. If we leave it open, many people will just show up at the primary venue and claim to be members.
“At the moment, getting the correct record of our registered members is difficult. We have been using indirect primary since APC was formed and it has been working.
“The indirect primary is a product of the direct primary because all the registered members of the party at the ward level would assemble to elect the officers who would represent them to elect state delegates while the state delegates would elect the national officers.”
The National Chairman of one of the opposition parties, Chief Chekwas Okorie, however, noted that much as the direct primary mode was desirable and appeared to be the ideal, it was not without its own challenges.
Okorie said, “The indirect primary is easier to manage because the direct primary in an environment where party members are not paying subscriptions to become members gives room for every Tom, Dick and Harry, who is of age, who may not even be a member of the particular political party, to just go and put their names on the ward register of the party. The direct primary means all members of the party voting in the election. That can be chaotic; it can be difficult to manage.
“As populist as it may look that everybody may be given an opportunity to participate, what you will discover will happen is that the committees that will be sent to go and conduct those direct primaries at that level will simply return to their national headquarters with prepared lists of candidates and this will create more problems than it set out to solve.”
According to him, the sheer logistics it will require to ensure things are done properly is something that ought to have been prepared for long before.
He pointed out that there was no system that could not be compromised but that chances could be reduced to the minimum when managers of the process demonstrated sincerity of purpose.
The party chairman had a grim prediction on what would become of most of the leading political parties which chose the direct primary option.
He said, “Be assured that the rancour that will follow this chaotic system will consume some of these parties.”