By Dr. Charles Omorodion
“Real liberty is neither found in despotism nor the extremes of democracy but in moderate governments” – Alexander Hamilton.
In a vivacious democracy, the Party Constitution ascribes roles and responsibilities that guide its members’ conducts and operations. This means the party’s constitution is supreme. Correspondingly, the Article 2 of the APC constitution clearly states: “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and any other Laws for the time being in force in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the provisions of this Constitution shall be supreme PROVIDED that where any Rule, Regulation or any other enactment of the Party is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such a Rule, Regulation and Enactment shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
This means that every organ of the party draws their power from the APC constitution and nowhere else unless otherwise interpreted by a court of competent jurisdiction in Nigeria. Article 11 of the APC constitution identifies the organs of the party in a descending order whilst Article 12 explains the composition, roles and qualifications of the party organs as listed in Article 11. Article 13 equally states the powers of these organs from national, states and ward levels.
In regards to the 2020 Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections, the APC National Working Committee (NWC) decided to conduct direct primaries in both states. In doing so, the NWC relied on the powers and proviso of Article 13.4 (XIV) which unequivocally states that NWC shall ”Organise Primary Election for the nomination of its Presidential Candidates, Governorship Candidates and Candidates for election into the National and State Assemblies. In regards to the definitions of terms, Article 33 (Xii) further stated that “Primary’ Election” means an election conducted by the Party for purpose of the nominating its Candidate for a general election or specified election as may it ordered by the Independent National Electoral Commission”.
Notwithstanding the provisions of the APC constitution, the Obaseki faction of Edo State APC has condemned the action of the NWC to conduct direct primary election in the state. While counteracting the rascality and unbecoming behaviour of Governor Obaseki to bring the APC party to disrepute, the NWC spokesperson, Lanre Issa-Onilu posits that “the state (branch of APC) does not have the constitutional right to decide the method of primary for the governorship ticket. The principle is what has been done before; it is easy to repeat it. The last primary that was done in Edo was direct, so it is easier to go by what the people are used to over there instead of starting something afresh with its challenges.”
Furthermore, a ratio decidendi from a recent case between the APC and Engineer Suleiman Aluyi Pere established by Rhodes-Vivour, Justice of the Supreme Court ruled that: “Candidates are expected to obtain expression of interest and nomination forms, present their certificates for verification and appear before a screening committee. This is the stage at which the domestic or internal affairs of the political party are not justiciable”.
The aforementioned ruling unequivocally suggests the party has the power to clear or disqualify any member, and is answerable to no one including the courts. The remedy for an aggrieved member is to leave the party and seek his/her political ambitions somewhere else. Therefore, the embattled Governor Godwin Obaseki has no choice in this matter than to adhere to the screening and primary election modality adopted by the National Working Committee of the party.
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner” – James Bovard.
Generally, a political election is a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. In consonance, a primary election consists of individuals casting a vote in favour of their preferred candidate. This means that voters have something candidates want: votes. So the primary election is a way of forcing candidates to interact with party members or voters.
Similarly, direct election or direct universal suffrage is the means or system of choosing political officeholders wherein the voters directly cast ballots for the person, candidate, representative or political party that they desire to see elected. As the voters elect their representatives directly, direct elections are considered to be a more democratic method of election. It helps ensure that the citizens or party members know exactly who is representing them. This system educates people regarding the candidate’s activities and helps in choosing appropriate candidates. Also, it encourages people to play an active role in politics.
Direct universal suffrage also empowers party members and makes their representative accountable for their actions. Though there are risks of illiterate voters being sometimes be misguided by false propaganda and sometimes votes can be cast on religious, tribal, cash and various other sectarian considerations. Nonetheless, direct primary elections of representatives guarantee that the people have the ultimate choice in who is going to represent their voice.
In contrast, an indirect election is an election in which individual citizens vote for electors (Electoral College system) who will select a candidate. This is a cabal system, where members of a political party do not vote for the candidate directly, choosing instead to put the decision in the hands of others. The indirect primary generally means the ultimate and direct responsibility of elections lies in a few selected persons.
The indirect system of election is contradictory to the spirit of democracy. Though the success of the whole electoral process depends on the attitude of the primary voters, even if it is assumed that primary voters are incapable in respect of the correct use of their right, it would also be indecorous to disenfranchise them from the electoral process particularly, in a country where politicians take the electorates for granted after the elections.
To deprive the electorate of directly electing their representatives carries more dangers. The arguments presented by the critics of direct election, regarding the incapability of the primary voters, are not valid. The very purpose of putting any intermediary body between voters and their nominees in a primary election makes no sense in a nascent democracy. This system has the flaw of impairing the self-respect and sense of responsibility of the voters.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln
What is instructive in the case of Edo State is the recent press statement allegedly issued by Concerned Edo Citizens Forum, (CECF) which states “As Concerned citizens, we are seriously worried about the political activities in Edo state because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is on record that this deadly virus has no respect for status and positions hence our worries…. “We hereby call on all political parties in Nigeria contesting for the gubernatorial election in Edo state to consider the mode of primaries that will help reduce the spread of coronavirus and also reduce the potency accordingly”.
On the other hand, an extract from a letter by Mr Lawrence Okah, the Edo State APC Secretary reads this: “The irrefutable information is that the Governor has directed that medical tests be carried out on fictitious persons of up to 300,000 (three hundred thousand). The plan is to deliberately increase the number of persons declared to be infected with COVID-19 as justification to lock down Edo State throughout the period scheduled for the primary election in the state”.
What is more disturbing in this development is the degree to which Governor Obaseki is willing to descend to rob Edo State APC of a legitimate representation. He is doing everything to force himself on a political party without subjecting himself to free and fair direct universal suffrage”.
The good news is that on the 22nd May 2020, Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, said in a statement issued that it has approved a new policy framework known as Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic… “Notwithstanding, the Commission is committed to conducting all elections that are due within the extant legal framework.
Mr Okoye further said that the provisions would be applied to the conduct of governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19 and October 10, respectively, as well as other by-elections, to be conducted soon in seven states. “The general purpose of the Policy is to enable officials and staff of the Commission to understand and respond adequately to the challenges of conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most relevant effect of direct democracy will be on policy congruence – such as the extent to which policies reflect the wishes of a majority of party members. The optimistic promise of direct democracy is exactly what will yield a gubernatorial candidate that is “more” democratic, in the sense that such a candidate is supported by a majority of the party members.
Those clamouring for indirect primary election under the pretext of Covid-19 are anti-democracy and antiparty cabals that are only out to disenfranchise the Edo State APC members, and they should be resisted at all costs. If the Governor is as popular with the party members, as expected, the direct primary ought to be a complete walkover for him and his cabals.
The key here is for all party members to adhere to the mandatory Government directive to wear a facemask while at the same time observing the 6 feet social distance from others. APC can also go a step further by providing a free facemask and hand gloves to everyone participating in the primary.
Finally let me say that unless we act swiftly now in Edo State, “Democracy, will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes, and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues, and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit, and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few.”
Edo State Must Move Forward
Dr Charles Omorodion (Doctor of Transformational Leadership and Strategic Management, London South Bank University).