It is 166 days to the 2019 General Elections. Going by INEC’s schedule of activities… the next main item on the agenda is party primaries.
Nigeria’s democracy is on the cusp again. Not that it has ever departed thence. Virtually every day of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 has been a critical juncture. The next day always seems fraught with uncertainty. You just never know. It may not be enough therefore to say that the country’s democracy is on the cusp. The real question is, on the cusp of what? The prospects can so easily and logically be located in two extremes; the optimistic end and the gloomy side. Instructively each of the prospects frequently manifests equal capacity to pull through.
On one hand, the optimistic side; the high drama, the bickering and the sundry challenges that play out regularly in the practical interpretation of democratic governance in the country in the last 19 years could eventually come to pass as precursors of maturity. After all this is a nascent democracy (that phrase seems to have faded).
On the other extreme, the gloomy side; the chicanery, the systemic inequity and the neverending crisis of existence that have become the nature of politics and democratic governance in Nigeria could, in the medium or long run, crystallize in the unraveling of a system the foundation of which has, at best, been tenuous.
For a country whose people are given to boisterous prayers and some of whose governments often promote bellicose religiosity, whatever becomes the fate of Nigeria and its democracy at any point in time can so easily be accepted by many as what destiny ordains. As John McCain, the recently demised American Senator contended however, destiny is not completely value-free. McCain, the United States of America’s Navy Captain-turned politician who died on August 25 2018 after 60 years of illustrious public service had contended in an earlier book that came into focus with his death recently that Character is Destiny. In other words, what a country (or an individual) ultimately gets out of life is substantially what it puts into it.
A part of McCain’s prescription for a bountiful destiny reads, “Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, and beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people”
Of course, John McCain was talking to his American society. Whether his thesis that character is destiny has universal relevance and is applicable to such far distant land as Nigeria can be explored by those better equipped to interrogate the constitution of the Nigerian society and the foundation of its value system.
The American senator’s views on life, character and destiny is not actually the focus here. Of direct relevance to our discourse here is one of the high points of his fecund contributions in the Senate of the United States of America, what the International Edition of The Guardian (of London) captured in its editorial of August 26 2018 as “McCain’s passionate conviction that the system of campaign finance must be reformed to preserve democracy.” The Senator reflected the fundamental importance of the issue he was pursuing by reaching across the aisle to champion the “Bipartisan campaign reform Act”, strongly advocating “that all Americans should work to change the corrupting influence of money in politics”. That obviously speaks to Nigeria at this moment and always.
It is 166 days to the 2019 General Elections. Going by INEC’s schedule of activities leading to the elections, the next main item on the agenda is party primaries. This, surely, is a big deal. In more ways than one, this is where matters begin to arise in our party politics and preparations for elections.
Up till the last day of last month, August, the main focus of the Election Management Body and the political society was registration of voters. As crucial as registration of voters and the collection of PVC are, however, they rarely present nerve racking challenge to politicians and political parties. The dog has always been the primaries. Here lies the primary hurdle that makes or mares many a politician’s ambition. Party primaries also exist as a literal point of departure for many otherwise co-travelers. As experience has shown over the years a political party in Nigeria cannot meaningfully know how many persons are effectively in its fold until after the primaries. After the primaries in each major political party some will depart when things fall apart, and others will arrive with tail between their legs.
Money, though not the only factor in the making of the disputations in party primaries, is always a major factor. The subversion of the will of the majority and the hijacking by one or few elements of a platform that otherwise belonged to many, is always oiled by money. Deep pockets never allow a level playing field. They come out determined to buy off the system and change the rule. That is the problem. When Ahmed Markafi, former Governor of Kaduna State and a presidential aspirant in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was quoted recently as saying that money will not determine who emerges the presidential flag-bearer of his party, all one could say was, I wish!
In party primaries, in politics generally and pretty much in all of life, money has always been the root of various ills. The current agitations and disquiet in the major political parties over the form of primaries they will conduct to pick their candidates for the upcoming elections boil down to a struggle between mega money and other lesser monies within the parties. This is what McCain was fighting for in America. Campaign finance issues are not only relevant in the main elections. Party primaries are rocking too.
The extant law guiding the electoral process in Nigeria, Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) stipulates the form of primaries the parties can adopt to nominate candidates for elections. Section 87 (2) of the Electoral Act fairly provided that “The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries”. In other words, the Law allows for any of the forms of primaries to be adopted by a party. What equity and fairness require in the process within the parties is consistency in any type of primaries they choose and that they strive to get majority of their members to buy into that.