Years ago, the sentiment was promoted by influential persons within the political class that INEC needed to be substantially defanged.
These are very interesting times. Depending on what your stakes are, it could also be a very troubling time. You know the season is real tacky when even the rich also whimper or indeed cry. It was very apparent from all indications before the commencement of party primaries that the exercise held out very uncertain and complex prospects on the political landscape. Even at that, nobody could have predicted the extent of the rumblings and abracadabra that have happened on us in the name of party primaries. From the North-West to the South-East, across South-South, and from North-Central to the South-West, the cries and agitations over what transpired at the primaries have been divergent in composition but strident all the way. The best expression to capture the whole scenario is perhaps, hue and cry. Or maybe bedlam!
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Poor INEC. “Somehow somehow” the dirty load always gets dropped at its doorstep. A short letter last week to this column from an obviously concerned Nigerian, maybe a cheated partyman, brought to fore once more the inescapable burden the Electoral Commission bears in matters political in the country. The man asked: “Why should INEC allow political parties to cheat ordinary Nigerians by collecting huge amount of money from them to buy forms to contest offices only for them to eat the money (I guess he meant defraud them) and give the ticket to chosen people?”
That, you must agree with me is a pertinent question, whether the said money was chewed or swallowed.
For sure, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) gave to the Independent National Electoral Commission the function to “monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances, conventions, congresses and party primaries.” As it seems along the way, however, judicial rulings and interpretations have steadily whittled down the extent of control of the Commission over political parties. Even at that, the commission does not have the luxury of shrugging off what happens within the parties. Nor can it escape the expectations of the public that it has a duty to call the political parties to order, especially when they seem so recklessly headed on the wrong lane.
It certainly cannot be right under any circumstance for INEC to remain by the sidelines and watch political parties engage in what has obviously become a game of sleight of hand. A process that ultimately results in scores of aspirants seeing their money “eaten” after their party officials had sold forms to them to contest to be candidate cannot be justified by any sophistry. With all due respect, what happened in many instances in some of the political parties with reference to selling forms and eventually shutting the door in the face of aspirants who duly bought the forms amount to nothing less than obtaining by false pretense, what we can call the crime of three digits.
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Now just look here. You asked interested party members to come forward and purchase forms to contest in a party primary for positions that will be up for filling during elections. Folks responded, came along and paid the prescribed money. You collected the money and issued them the forms, which they duly filled and returned to the appropriate party office, which in turn received the forms. Then what next? At the appointed time for the primary contest to select the candidate, the party leadership resorted to hide and seek and eventually told the hapless aspirants that some individuals have been granted automatic ticket for the very position for which forms were sold to them to contest. Very unfair. And how about the money they paid to the party to purchase forms? Gone! Non-refundable. Come on! Or do we just say con! The embassies in Nigeria do far better. At least, in their case, they carry out some form of interview with prospective visa applicants before rejecting them and swallowing their money. Many among the throng of visa applicants who lose their hard-earned money at failed visa interviews at least leave the place with certain belief that with a little luck they probably would have secured the travel document. In any case they were interviewed. In the recent party primaries in reference no such diplomatic treatment was accorded folks whose money was “eaten”. They just had their money taken and dismissed. Duped!
Now, if you think only the poor are victims of this unfair deal at the party primaries, just read through this extended newspaper quote of First Lady Aisha Buhari’s Twitter cry out of pains and disapproval following an unfair treatment of one of her loved ones in a recently concluded party primary.
In the words of Mrs. Buhari, “It is disheartening to note that some aspirants used their hard-earned money to purchase nomination forms, got screened, cleared and campaigned vigorously yet found their names omitted on election day. These forms were bought at exorbitant prices … Many others contested and yet had their result delayed, fully knowing that automatic tickets have been given to other people.”
The anger and disapproval are palpable. And the First Lady spoke for many across party lines.
It is important that those who feel cheated in this sleight of hand know that INEC cannot do much in the circumstance. Unless and until a law is made that gives the electoral umpire the power to hold political parties accountable for many of the things they do within their fold, INEC remains a bystander. Once more, the choice is for Nigerians to make in terms of what they want of the managers of their electoral process. Years ago, the sentiment was promoted by influential persons within the political class that INEC needed to be substantially defanged. They virtually had their way. That was how INEC lost the authority to prescribe stringent conditions for registration of political parties. Consequently, political parties became parties in the most mundane meaning of it. That also was how INEC lost the authority to vet the qualification of individuals thrown up by political parties as candidates. That was how INEC substantially got held back from having very close supervisory role in political parties. There are always two sides to a coin. In the final analysis, there is still wisdom in the admonition, “be careful what you ask for, you may end up getting it.” At the moment, political parties are largely free to do as they like and some of their leaders are doing just that.
Maybe after this time-out the point may have been amply made for regulations that will rein in leaders of the political parties on what they do within their party and to their members. For one, wherever there eventually arises the case of automatic ticket, all those who had paid money to purchase nomination forms to contest for that very position should have their money returned intact to them by the party leadership. The state and its sundry officials or agents cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over citizens and to engage in sharp practices no matter how that is coated.