PDP governors indifferent over direct primary

November 17, 2021
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The latest amendment to the Electoral Act, which proposed direct primary for picking candidates for elective public offices by political parties, has pitted governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against the National Assembly. But, many Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) governors are indifferent, reports GBADE OGUNWALE

While the furore generated by the issue of direct primary is tearing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) apart, governors elected on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) appear relatively unfazed on the surface. At the party’s national convention held in late October, the governors succeeded in installing their loyalists in every available position in the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). With the entire party structure at the national level in their firm grip, the PDP governors appear to have conquered the apprehension that is giving some of their counterparts in the APC sleepless nights. More so, the PDP does not have a “Leviathan” sitting president who may exert overbearing influence, or who could be influenced by any opposing group during party nominations under the direct primary mode. So, whether it’s direct or indirect primary, the PDP governors are fully in charge for now.

It is not clear if the party’s representatives in the two chambers of the National Assembly are on the same page with the leadership of the PDP and the party’s governors. Sources say the legislators have chosen to play safely on the matter by hiding under their minority status, which they claimed was overwhelmed by the APC-dominated National Assembly during the debate on the amendment. It is believed that they expect to benefit from the option if the president eventually assents to the amendment. So far, neither the PDP leaders nor their representatives at the federal legislature have put up any spirited opposition to the proposal. When contacted on the position of the PDP governors, the Director-General of the PDP Governors Forum, CID Maduabum, told our correspondent on the telephone that the party had made its position known on the matter and that nothing had changed about the party’s opinion.

The only opposition from the party was contained in a statement by the spokesman for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan. The spokesman said in the statement that no political party has the right to impose its own process on other parties. He said the PDP received the news of the proposed amendment with shock. The statement said: “Our party holds that it is the inalienable right of each political party, within the context of our constitutional democracy, to decide its form of internal democratic practices, including the processes of nominating its candidates for elections at any level. The PDP also believes that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party as the direct primaries amendment, a practice of the All Progressives Congress (APC), sought to achieve.”

Ologbondiyan had indicated that the PDP would make its final decision on direct primaries known “within the next 48 hours”. But, about a week after, the party is yet to make its “final decision” known.

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has added its voice to the controversy, saying that the process would place an additional logistic burden on the commission if the electoral body is to monitor direct primaries involving the 18 registered parties. The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Mr Festus Okoye, said monitoring direct primaries comes with greater financial and security implications. Okoye added that INEC would require about 17,618 officials to supervise direct primaries involving APC and PDP alone in one day.

Read Also: Rumbles over direct primary in APC

Okoye said: “If a political party decides to organise its primary at the local government level, it means that the commission must deploy monitors to the 774 local government areas of the country.” He added: “The monitoring of direct primaries has financial and national security implications. The ad-hoc staff must be harvested from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) or the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) or the universities or other sources as may be determined by the commission and supervised by a certain category of our staff. Some of the primaries may go late into the night and we must make arrangements for their security and protection. But the fundamental issue is that the commission has the experience in monitoring direct primaries and the only difference here is that in the present context few parties adopted the direct primary method of selecting or electing their candidates.”

The national commissioner said the entire INEC staff strength is slightly over 16,000 and that the commission would face a herculean task monitoring and supervising direct primaries of the 18 political parties. The INEC commissioner, however, assured that despite the huge challenges, the electoral body would adjust to the direct primary mode if the President eventually signs the amendment into law.

The direct primary election is a process that allows every member of a political party to participate in the voting process to choose candidates for general elections. In contrast, the indirect primary election is a system that allows only delegates nominated by their political parties to vote for candidates that will stand for general elections. The two chambers of the National Assembly had, on November 9, passed an embedment to the Electoral Act to compel every political party to adopt the direct primary mode in the selection of candidates for all categories of public elections. Section 87 of the Amended Act, in which the various clauses for the direct primary are embedded, has triggered controversy within the ruling party that may heat up the polity in the coming days.

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Apparently, the direct primary mode might have resonated with the federal lawmakers because of its popular appeal. Analysts posit that the direct primary deepens internal democracy because every member of a party is allowed to participate in the process of choosing candidates for general elections. They argue that on the contrary, indirect primary gives room for inducement of selected delegates who vote for candidates predetermined by “paymasters”. In the Nigerian context, the paymasters are usually state governors who have coveted the position of “leaders of the party” in their various states.

Also, the governors are known to constitute a greater threat during presidential primaries under the indirect primary mode. In the past, governors had, at one time or the other dictated who got a party’s presidential ticket with their total control over delegates from their states.

In some instances, they tend to hold a sitting president seeking re-election to ransom through the inducement of delegates during presidential primaries. The inducement of delegates is usually replicated in the states where sitting governors often manipulate the nomination process to secure re-election tickets for themselves. Also, tickets for elective positions for federal and state legislative elections are similarly reserved for their loyalists and cronies, thereby making the conduct of primaries a mere formality. In effect, lawmakers at both the federal and state levels who are not in the governors’ good books, have continued to be at the receiving end of the whip. Apparently, this must-have informed the decision of members of the bicameral federal legislature to clip the wings of the “rampaging” state governors.

Read Also: Who is afraid of direct primaries?

Event watchers are at a loss why some APC governors are protesting against the direct primary mode when they have indeed participated in choosing candidates in the past through the same method. The arrowhead of the protest, Kebbi State’s Governor Atiku Bagudu had, at the end of a meeting of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) on Monday, told reporters that the APC governors were not comfortable with the direct primary as proposed by the National Assembly. Bagudu, who is the chairman of the PGF, an umbrella for the 22 APC state governors, had queried the rationale behind the lawmakers’ decision to adopt direct primary. He said: “We discussed the pros and cons. There has been concern that political parties are voluntary organisations. We expressed the concern that political parties be allowed to choose from the options that they so desire.”

To buttress his point, the governor cited an Executive Order, signed by the President against large gatherings of people in one place. “Direct primary involves supervisory role by INEC. So, if multiple political parties are doing their primaries, INEC resources will be overstretched, and I think the chairman of INEC had even commented on that”, Bagudu had added. Arguing that political parties should be given a free hand to choose their mode of primaries, Governor Bagudu said the proposal by the National Assembly failed to take into account the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Echoing Bagudu, the Director-General of the PGF, Dr Salihu Lukman accused the lawmakers of smuggling the controversial clause into the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

In a widely circulated press statement last week, Lukman had said: “It was during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after the public hearing in July 2021 that the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila moved the motion for the amendment to allow direct primaries to be part of the amendment. “In the case of Senate, after passing an amendment bill, which did not include the requirement to compel parties to adopt a direct method for election of candidates, following a ‘motion for Re- Committal of some Clauses of the Electoral Act No.6 2010 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 (SB. 122) to the Committee of the Whole as sponsored by the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, All Progress Congress, APC, Kebbi North’ on October 12, 2021, Sections 87 (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) were inserted and passed. “It will be important therefore to appeal to both the Senate President, Ahmed Lawal, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and all the leaders of the National Assembly to provide the needed leadership for the country to have the right legal framework, which can guarantee the administration of direct primary by political parties in the country as a means of entrenching internal democracy during the process of nominating party candidates for elections.

“The proposal passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly on November 9, 2021, is highly inadequate and leaves more room for manipulation, which may produce more disaster for the country beyond what the nation is going through under the indirect method.”

However, there are indications that it’s only about three APC governors that actually feel threatened by the direct primary. Investigation revealed that two of the governors are from the Northwest, while one is from the Northeast. The governor from the Northeast is said to be at loggerheads with a former governor in his state who is also a serving senator. The two Northwest governors are also said to be battling the rising profile of their respective predecessors. One of the predecessors is a former senator while the other is still a serving member of the upper legislative chamber.

However, it’s a different kettle of fish with the PDP, even though the party may not be favourably disposed to the direct primary option.

Meanwhile, the final decision on the matter rests with President Buhari who may give or withhold assent to the amendment.

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