Now that the party primaries are behind us, it seems that one of the most significant lessons of the exercise is the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to close the door on the Zamfara State branch of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for its inability to put its house in order and meet the electoral deadlines set by the commission.
Spirited argumentation by the APC and, perhaps, legal action, may force the commission to bend, but party leaders and their members must learn the culture of meeting deadlines and respecting the regulations. Public sentiments are with the INEC in the matter because the ruling party is expected to set a good example through its leadership in the observance of regulations instead of concocting barely credible arguments when caught on the wrong foot.
It was still shocking to see in many places violent thugs running away with ballot boxes, using intimidation and harassment as strategy. The most remarkable part of political thuggery in Nigeria is the unwillingness of both the police and the INEC to press charges, even though those offences are against the spirit and letters of both the Constitution and the Electoral Act. The idea of “when we are not winning, we scatter the election” ought to be severely punished to serve as a deterrence. On the contrary, even when it happens in broad daylight in the presence of security agents, not a single notable prosecution has been made. This is why the tribe of political thugs keep swelling at a time it ought to be a disqualifying offence for candidates.
The influence of money in politics can be reversed only through civics education. The level of poverty is not a sufficient excuse. The control of many states by vested interests, of the rich and wealthy, has reduced elections in some states to something akin to Medieval England where single landowners sometimes completely controlled the voting. The overwhelming influence of the rich has literally changed the name of our system of government from democracy to oligarchy with the creation of some governors who are in the ‘pocket’ of certain individuals. This sometimes creates the desperation to exercise control over the parties, leading to the scandalous levels of corruption which state governments tend to accommodate, including the so-called ‘security vote.’ The influence of state governors and the role of godfathers have been the bane of many party branches over the obsession with the control of “party structure.” This has caused deep dissension, got some members to cross the carpet, and in some cases factionalised some branches or kept them in endless litigation. It is the greatest indication of the absence of internal democracy within the parties, the autocratic tendencies of the party bosses, and the influence of their wealth in determining political power.
Vote buying reared its ugly head again during the Osun governorship rerun, but the election is still being contested in the courts. In all, the world has come to agree that, to the extent that it is more difficult to corrupt a larger number of voters than a small number of delegates, the direct primary is generally less susceptible to corruption than the indirect, and the consensus mode.
The Ekiti gubernatorial primary was a national scandal by the scale of the corruption that allegedly went into it partly because it was indirect. The support for the indirect mode by governors is often viewed in terms of their financial muscle. Indeed, the mode most amenable to corruption is the consensus mode because all an aspirant needed to do is to ask his opponents to ‘name your price.’ Yet for a party that has victory as its topmost priority, the consensus tends to unite the party, massage bruised egos, and give the appearance of everyone being part of a team.
But we also know that the Achilles’ heel of Nigerian administration is the paperwork. Some governors were reluctant to go to direct primaries because it would need the revision of the membership registers, a not-so-easy task. It was so easy to see the unpreparedness of the parties for direct primaries mostly because they did not have an up-to-date membership list. Yet that is one of the most important duties of party officials – to recruit, document, and update the membership list for fundraising, primaries and other needs of the party.