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Issues in party primaries – The Nation Nigeria

Posted by Olokede in Metro News, News, Photo Stories, Politics on November 10, 2018

Given the vehement outcries in several quarters as regards the outcome of the just concluded primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was the party right to have gone ahead with the contentious intra-party polls rather than allow the continuation of the erstwhile Chief Odigie Oyegun-led somnolent status quo as desired by some stakeholders? Viewed superficially, the boisterousness and seeming descent into disorder in some states following the APC primaries is far less preferable than the peace of the graveyard that hitherto prevailed before comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s emergence as national chairman of the ruling party.

Yet, the truth is that it would have been infinitely more dangerous for the APC to have gone into next year’s elections in the complacent and utterly delusionary belief that all was well in the party when deep seated grievances and frustrations were simmering ominously beneath the deceptively placid surface. Though often rancorous, chaotic and sometimes even temporarily destabilizing, inter and intra- party contests allow contending ideas and interests to compete openly thereby bringing disagreements, disaffections and misgivings into the public space and allowing a significant degree of healing to take place within parties or in the polity as a whole.

Open and free intra-party contestations also enable the identification of individuals and tendencies that cannot reconcile their particular aspirations with the group interest of their political parties thus making it easier for such disaffected persons or groups to seek accommodation elsewhere. In apparent affirmation of the fact that most politics is ultimately local, the post primaries crises that have engulfed the APC in a number of states do not appear to have had any significant negative effect on President Muhammadu Buhari’s support base within the party.

It is instructive that no aspirant was confident enough to challenge Buhari for the APC’s presidential ticket thus his overwhelming victory at the September 25th  direct presidential primaries, an exercise in which he garnered 14, 842, 072 votes nationwide. No less significant is the fact that those who left the APC to contest for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Governor Aminu Tambuwal – were unable to clinch the opposition party’s ticket, which was emphatically won by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

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Quite apart from the alleged role of money in the outcome of the PDP presidential primaries, there is no doubt that the party’s key stakeholders were convinced that only Atiku had the requisite stature to offer a formidable challenge to Buhari and the APC at next year’s polls.

At the very onset of his presidency, Buhari had given an indication that the kind of debilitating dwarfing and marginalization of the ruling party by the presidency witnessed under the PDP would no longer be the case during his tenure. He thus commendably kept the presidency at a respectable arms length from the internal affairs of the APC to the extent of not interfering with the process of electing the party’s inaugural leadership at the National Assembly. True, the efficacy of the PMB administration has been considerably hobbled by the emergence of a National Assembly leadership that not only was at variance with the party’s preference but actively nurtured the legislature into an effective opposition to the executive.

But it is not PMB’s perceived antipathy to politics that is to blame for the dysfunctional relationship between the legislature and the executive under the current leadership of the National Assembly. Rather, the fault lies squarely with the complacent, indolent and lethargic Chief John Odigie- Oyegun led National Working Committee (NWC) that was pathetically unable to enforce discipline among the party’s ranks in the legislature as well as foster harmonious legislative-executive relations predicated on a common party platform.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, the APC governors naturally moved in to seize the sovereignty within the party especially given PMB’s unwillingness to act the part of authoritarian imperial president as was the case with President Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan under the PDP. As major financiers of the party within the context of the widespread poverty that incapacitates millions of party members from being effective financial members, the governors were well placed to assert authority over the party within their states and by combination to steer the party nationally in the direction of their choice. All they had to do was to ensure that their interests did not collide with that of an essentially apolitical but still very powerful and influential presidential incumbent.

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Against this background, it is misleading to label only one or two governors fiercely contesting the outcome of the primaries in their states, which they find disagreeable, as emperors. The truth of the matter is that by virtue of the positions they occupy and the ingrained political culture that had subsisted until now, all governors irrespective of their party platforms are veritable emperors in their states to varying degrees. If governors had largely imposed their candidates for various offices on their parties in the past, it is certainly not illegitimate for current occupants of the office to wonder why things should change in their own time.

Yes, Oshiomhole deserves commendation for his courageous attempt to change the extant system favourable to governors, which he also benefitted from in the past as a former state chief executive. A far easier and possibly more beneficial path in pecuniary terms would have been for the national chairman to dance to the tune of the governors who are after all his erstwhile colleagues. The dominance of the club of governors in the APC would thus have been consolidated under Oshiomhole watch. The diminutive ex trade unionist leader’s preferred option of direct primaries is a revolutionary initiative to foster greater popular control of the parties by rank and file party members. It may indeed be one of the most epochal developments of this political dispensation if Oshiomhole summons the courage to remain steadfast.

To paraphrase the late Professor Harold Laski, an increasingly obsolete and dysfunctional era in the management of the affairs of political parties in Nigeria, specifically the APC in this case, is dying. A new, more inclusive, transparent and democratic intra-party dispensation is struggling to be born. It is the Oshiomhole-led APC NWC’s historic role to be the midwife of the emergent, more just, equitable era, which will be hopefully less prone to financial manipulation. There can certainly be no new birth without the kind of labour pangs currently being witnessed by the APC.

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But as national chairman, Oshiomhole should be the chief unifier of the party. He should be able to stand firmly by the principles of transparent and credible intra-party electoral processes within the APC without engaging in avoidable public insults and brickbats with aggrieved members of the party understandably opposed to the change he champions.

In my view, PMB emerges as the undisputed hero of the APC’s inevitably fractious primaries. Being the ruling party, the fierce scramble for the APC’s tickets at various levels is understandable. Whatever may be the fault of the party and its administration over the last three and a half years, it still offers the best prospects for aspirants to public office in next year’s elections in large swathes of the country. In this context, it is to his credit that PMB has not thrown his weight around unduly or utilized the immense powers of the presidency to circumvent or short circuit due process during the APC primaries.

Some of those most aggrieved at the outcome of the primaries are known to be very close personal allies of Buhari. Yet, he has not constituted himself into a superior adjudicating authority to decide on the merit or otherwise of their complaints. Buhari has insisted rather that stipulated procedures be strictly adhered to. This in my view places him on an elevated moral pedestal that will be difficult to equal in this political dispensation.

What has become obvious from the various intra-party electoral contests, particularly those of the ruling APC, is that party primaries are too important and critical to the smooth functioning of the political system to be left to the internal arbitrary devices of political parties. Going forward, this column advocates the establishment of a National Political Parties Regulatory Commission (NPPRC) to oversee the registration and deregistration of political parties as well as conduct intra-party elections both for party and elective offices at all levels. That way, party members will not be at the mercy either of domineering governors or all powerful national executives.

 

 

 

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