By Ehichioya Ezomon
For obviously their enlightened self-interest in the lead-up to the 2023 elections, politicians have turned advocates or spokespersons for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The other day, the National Assembly (NASS), despite INEC’s pledge of its wherewithal to transmit poll results across Nigeria, short-circuits the powers that the amended 1999 Constitution guarantees it from non-interference by external influence.
In a manner of a meddlesome interloper, NASS subjects the electoral umpire to the supervision of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and approval by the legislature.
It took protests of critical segments of the society for NASS to untether the commission, and grant it the green light to transmit election results whenever it’s capable of doing so.
While the public is yet to savour the unfettering of INEC, discordant tunes are coming from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Their grouse is over the conduct of direct primaries by political parties for the nomination of candidates for elections, which NASS approved in consideration of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, for the review of the amended 2010 Electoral Act.
The APC is divided, with majority of its governors and chieftains canvassing independence for political parties to freely choose whichever methods in picking candidates for elections.
To Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Bagudu, the adoption of direct primaries by political parties “will overstretch” the INEC, without hearing from the commission as to its capability to shoulder additional responsibility on its loaded schedules for 2023.
Besides, Bagudu, the chair of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), told newsmen after a meeting of the PGF on November 8, 2021, in Abuja, that direct primary election “is undemocratic,” as “it limits the ability of political parties” to choose any options for the nomination of candidates for elections.
Yet, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is attempting to steer the APC Caucus towards a consensus between direct and indirect primaries that may not alienate majority of the party members.
President Muhammadu Buhari has set up an enlarged Tripartite Committee, to resolve differences within the APC, and prevent a repeat of the scenarios witnessed during the 2019 general election, and the congresses the APC has held in advance of its national convention in 2021 or 2022, and for the 2023 polls.
The committee meeting in Abuja on November 9, chaired by Prof. Osinbajo, and attended by leaders of NASS, head of the APC Caretaker Committee, and representatives of the governors, aimed at finding a common ground between the governors’ preference for indirect primaries and the lawmakers’ adoption of direct primaries.
The meeting, held hours after NASS passage of the harmonised version of the Electoral Bill, couldn’t agree on direct primaries, with the governors dissing the NASS members’ insistence that, “direct primary remains the way to go… as it works for the electorate.”
The governors, boxed into a corner, aren’t ruling out a return of the Bill to NASS, as they’ve reportedly resolved to dissuade President Buhari from assenting the legislation on which Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello stresses that Buhari has the final decision.
Still, Mr Bello, hinting at sending back the Bill to NASS, told State House correspondents that the governors have no problems with direct primaries he says have left the APC “with no alternative.”
In direct primaries, all party members have the moment to elect candidates for elections, while in indirect primaries, only elected officials and party leaders act as delegates at ward, council and state congresses, and at the national convention.
The scheming in the APC is between the governors and members of NASS, who frown at the governors’ favour of indirect primaries, which they use to weed out opposition to their hold on the party.
Thus, the governors view the NASS adoption of direct primaries as a way to checkmate their dominance of the APC structures in the states, and the power to determine the fate of party members.
So, were the APC to vote for indirect primaries, it’d undercut the adoption of direct primaries by NASS, where the APC has a clear majority in the Senate and House of Representatives.
That “supermajority” is the source of PDP’s attacks on the APC, which it’s accused of “imposing its policies on other political parties,” along with foisting, via NASS, direct primaries on them.
PDP’s spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, says in Nigeria’s constitutional democracy, it’s the right of each political party “to decide its form of internal democratic practices, including the processes of nominating its candidates for elections at any level.”
Mr Ologbondiyan holds that no political party should force its processes on any other party, “as the direct primaries amendment, a practice of the APC, sought to achieve,” adding that the PDP would publicise its final decision on the matter within 48 hours.
Perhaps, in its haste to label the APC, the PDP doesn’t take notice of the APC governors’ query of INEC’s capacity to supervise party primaries, which’s a tacit backing for indirect primaries.
On November 9, both chambers of NASS, after adopting the report of their joint Conference Committee, passed a harmonised version of the 2021 Electoral Act Bill, which mandates all political parties to conduct direct primaries to pick their candidates.
And on October 12, the Senate, following harmonisation of the differences in the Senate and House versions of the Bill, gives INEC the sole power to determine the mode of transmitting poll results, without permission of the NCC or approval of NASS, as in the previous amendment that attracted widespread condemnation.
In the new amendment to Clause 52(2) of the Bill, the Senate resolves that, “voting at an election and transmission of results under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission, which may include electronic voting.” The House subsequently sanctioned the Bill.
Curiously, the APC and PDP seem to agree only on the mode of transmission of election results by INEC, with the responsibility of the commission to conduct/supervise direct primaries under mild and harsh attacks from the APC and PDP, respectively.
While the APC chews whether to back direct or indirect primaries, the PDP has mounted outright rejection of direct primaries, stopping short of accusing the APC of arm-twisting the NASS to adopt the voting pattern that has a semblance of acceptance in the APC.
The PDP has accused APC of designs to manipulate the processes of the 2023 elections, by using INEC to install a successor to President Buhari, and secure majorities in the governorship, and national and state legislative polls, accordingly.
The APC has denied such underhand tactics, but the defection of high-profile PDP members into its platform has made the opposition uncomfortable that the APC is out to no good on the road to 2023, starting with its alleged “imposition of its policies on other parties.”
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.