Primacy and politics of direct primary

By Emmanuel Oladesu

A primary, an intra-party shadow poll, is not less important than the general election involving the generality of people who are not members of political parties.

A general election is akin to a festival of choice and change. It would appear as if voters really have choices. But, their choices are narrowed down and limited to the candidates of political parties on poll day.

How should standard bearers be selected by parties and presented to the electorate by the umpire? The mode of primary has polarised the All Progressives Congress (APC) in some states.

In Edo State, the faction loyal to National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole embraced the direct option, based on the guidelines released by the dissolved National Working Committee (NWC).

But, the faction loyal to Governor Godwin Obaseki, who has now called it quits with APC and embraced another platform, was insisting on the indirect mode.

Unlike the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has consistently determined the fate of aspirants through the indirect or delegate system, APC now appears to be consistently titling towards the direct mode.

The success of the method in Osun, Lagos and Edo is a testimony that it can always work, if it is preferred by any party or chapter, and if actors are ready to make it work.

According to the APC constitution, flag bearers can be selected by consensus, direct primary and delegate system.

To restless youths who appear to loathe the gerontocratic  politics of the old order, consensus should now be old fashioned. The system is becoming outdated. It is now been repudiated.

When consensus was in the vogue, ideological parties set the criteria of good conduct, sound education, previous working experience, contributions to the community and the party, seniority and loyalty to the platform as conditions for eligibility of candidates. The economic status of contenders was secondary.

Party members deferred to elders and the youths who are groomed for future leadership learned the ropes within the party’s organisational structure.

However, the polity is dynamic. Change is the most constant thing. The consensus option gradually became outdated because of allegations of imposition.

Although it is democratic, the mode could not meet the expectations of money bags who promoted the culture of monetisation of politics as from the Third Republic.

The indirect or delegate system is not less democratic. The delegates are selected at party congreses with tap roots at the wards and local governments.

But, the system became more expensive due to delegate targeting and financial inducement by the highest bidder.

Few days to the governorship primary, money bags usually camp delegates wooed by money in hotels where they temporarily live like kings.

When delegates are bribed or financially mobilised by aspirants, they are obliged to vote for him at the shadow poll. He who plays the piper calls the tune.

The implication is that financially weak candidates are edged out.

For successful candidates, the electioneering is an economic investment and returns must be garnered after victory.

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Since the ticket is largely purchased, the standard bearer may only have little respect for the delegates he had bought.

While the delegate system worked in the Second Republic without financial inducement, the Third Republic was a different ball game. Indeed, the Fourth Republic is building on the legacy of the ill-fated Third Dispensation.

In this dispensation, there are statutory delegates who are not elected at the congress. They are elected functionaries and aides of governors. Their strength lies in their bloc votes.

However, last year was a wide departure. Lagos APC opted for a direct primary, reminiscent of the Osun APC experience when majority of registered party members elected Gboyega Oyetola as candidate for the 2018 poll.

The adoption of the direct primary provoked a special enthusiasm and interest. Party members withdrew the mandate previously given to delegates to choose on their behalf.

The college of primary electors was dismantled. All party members, rich or poor, were involved in the process. The turn out was huge.

The horizon of intra-party participation was broadened. Although there were residual post-primary hues and cries, they did not culminate in litigation.

The day of primary election is a day of inescapable judgment for an unpopular governor. The governor will be on the weighing scale and trembling, despite his power of incumbency.

If a governor alienates himself from the party structure, sidelines party chieftains, oppresses perceived opponents and behaves like a lord of manor, he forfeits the renewal of his intra-party mandate as a candidate.

The direct primary guideline for the Edo Chapter has demonstrated the consistency and predictability of the national leadership, having been adopted in previous shadow polls in Lagos, Osun.

The mode has its inherent merits, and perhaps, flaws. Parallel primaries instigated by factions under the delegate system may not be possible under the direct system.

Since the primary committee is set up by the NWC, the lingering problem arising from the congresses leading to indirect shadow poll is kept at bay.

Direct primary is another form of effective mobilisation. Party members are sensitized and mobilised towards the general elections. They perceive the primary as the first leg of the general election.

Direct primary also provides a level playing ground for aspirants. The system therefore, fosters equity, fairness and justice

More importantly, the option will reduce the influence of money on the process, eliminate cash and carry syndrome and prevent the penchant for “kidnapping” delegates by the highest bidder.

The direct primary gives party members a sense of obligation to deliver the candidate chosen by the party. After the shadow poll, party members would have a moral obligation to deliver the flag bearer because of their involvement in the selection process.

Generally, direct primary is less expensive to organise and manage. It implies that party members have taken ownership of the process. When there is involvement, there is always the commitment to the success of the process.

But, is direct primary Covid-19 protocol-friendly?

Opinion is divided. Under the delegate system, no fewer than three or four thousand delegates converge on the hall serving as the venue.

Social distancing may be difficult. But, if the direct mode is adopted, the process will be ward- based and crowd control will not be a Herculean task.

But, how genuine and authentic are party membership registers? This is challenging. But, it can be taken care of by a party identification mechanism at the grassroots. Party members attend meetings regularly and they know one another.

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