Senator Kabiru Gaya, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, confessed that the Senate had to make a u-turn from its earlier stand on the electronic transmission of results because the committee gathered that the stance of the Senate on the matter was not in tandem with the wish of Nigerians. There’s no other way to describe it than that this is a victory for democracy. This also lends credence to the saying that eternal vigilance is the price to pay to protect democracy. The Senate should be commended. They are elected to represent the people and should always harken to the people.

Let us note that the Senate Committee on INEC originally, after the public hearing, recommended electronic transmission of results. Unfortunately, when the recommendation came to the floor of the Senate, some politicians, who have a morbid fear for free and fair elections, attempted to hijack the process and sabotage the will of the people by ridiculously subjecting INEC to the wishes and powers of the National Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly. Whereas the politicians refused to believe INEC that it can transmit results electronically, they chose to believe NCC that INEC cannot. INEC, then needed to take permission from NCC and the National Assembly, before it can do its work. It was this position that the people vehemently opposed and it was this position that was reversed to revert back to the Senate’s original position, which is that INEC is not only capable of transmitting results electronically, but should be allowed to determine the best course of action in the collation of election results.

Specifically, the Senate, in clause 52 of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, passed almost three months ago, had approved that the Commission (INEC) may consider the electronic transmission of results, provided the national coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the National Communications Commission and approved by the National Assembly. However, after the deafening outcry by the people, the Senate, on Tuesday the 12th of October, amended the clause when the Bill was subjected to re-committal to provide that, subject to section 63 of this Bill, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission. Kudos.

Unfortunately, the Senate proceeded to give the people what they asked for and what they didn’t ask for. They went further to amend Section 87 of the Electoral Act to recommend the adoption of only direct primary mode of nominating party candidates. The reason Nigerians fought the former amendment was that they believed that INEC should be allowed to decide which procedure it should adopt. The reason Nigerians are fighting this amendment is for exactly the same reason. The Political Parties, not the National Assembly, should decide the method of electing their candidates.

The Act, before its proposed amendment, recommended that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries and a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party. The direct primary, on the surface of it, provides the opportunity for all the members of the party to participate in the nomination of their candidates on equal basis. However, party members cannot participate in the primary election on equal basis unless these conditions are met: There must be a properly compiled and electronically secured membership register. There must be security in all parts of the country since the primary election will take place in all parts of the country at the same time. Each party must have enough resources to procure the logistics necessary to conduct primary election in all parts of Nigeria because in the election of the President, the country is by law one constituency. We have more than 8,900 wards in Nigeria. The INEC must have enough resources to monitor the direct primary elections of about 18 political parties, plus the more that will be registered, on different days, in about 8,900 wards in Nigeria about 5 times before the general election. They have to monitor the primaries of the House of Assembly of the State, House of Representatives, Senate, Governorship and the President. Simple arithmetic shows that each party will organise the direct primary elections in 8,900 times 5 which equals to 44,500 places before the general election, while the 18 parties will hold primaries in about 801,000 places, to be monitored by INEC before the general election. This is practically impossible in our present Nigeria. A nation that is riddled with debts should be considering options that should be more cost effective not options that will inevitably blossom the cost of elections and end up spiralling our debts.

Because of the obvious absence of a properly compiled and electronically secured membership register, what happens in a direct primary is that the godfathers and the contestants simply sit and write the results they like and deploy resources to influence the Ogas at the top to accept their results. For the avoidance of doubt, this scenario occurred in the APC gubernatorial election in Enugu State in 2019 where all the contestants wrote different results and proceeded to the courts to determine the right candidate. At the end of the day, APC did not participate in the election. Same scenario took place in the Senatorial direct primary election recently held in Imo State in which every candidate came out with a different result that ended up in the Supreme Court. Adopting the direct primary election now in our democratic journey amounts to total disenfranchisement of the very party members which the Senate sought to protect because their votes will neither count nor be counted. Every Nigerian remembers what happened in the 2003 and 2007 general elections before the introduction of the card reader. Officials of parties and INEC simply wrote and announced results. People lost confidence to vote untill the birth of the card reader as they considered voting a mere waste of time. This will repeat itself in the party primaries if direct primaries are imposed on all parties making party members lose confidence in the Party primaries. In any case, they can’t even conduct the primaries in all parts of Nigeria because of security concerns. So direct primary mode of election cannot work without an electronic biometric party members register, voting and transmission of election results.

Indirect primary on the other hand is the mode of primary election in which all the party members elect delegates from each ward, which, together with some statutory members, constitute an electoral college that aggregate together in a designated venue, during a convention or congress, to nominate the candidates of the political party in question. The Electoral Act is very clear that the process of indirect primary must be democratic. Section 87(7) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended instructed that “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its Constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting in addition to delegates already prescribed in the constitution of the party”. In the constitution of different political parties, the entire members in a ward elect three delegates each to the electoral college to nominate candidates. This shows clearly that the members still constitute the majority block vis-a-vis the statutory delegates in the electoral college to nominate candidates.

It’s therefore false to adjudge indirect primaries undemocratic because some wealthy, unscrupulous politicians hijack the process. There’s no doubt that some politicians buy over the delegates to vote for them but this is possible because the delegates are purchasable. Nobody forced them. It becomes a systemic problem that requires a creative approach to handle. Apart from being cheaper for the parties to organise, it is also easier to protect because it’s taking place in a venue. INEC can easily monitor the process to ensure compliance with prevailing laws. We have witnessed some indirect primaries that were democratically organised that led to the emergence of candidates that were accepted by all the contestants. The APC indirect primary election that trumped up the candidacy of President Buhari in the presidential election of 2015 was so transparent and democratic that all the candidates accepted the results and genuinely worked together for the victory of President Buhari from the opposition party. Also the indirect primary election that trumped up the candidacy of Vice President Atiku Abubakar at Portharcourt during the 2019 Presidential election was so transparent and democratic that the result was accepted by all the contestants, including the host Governor of the State, who backed another aspirant.

It is very possible that the Senate acted in good faith in recommending direct primary for the nomination of candidates for elections because of honest belief that this may afford all the members of a political party the opportunity to vote. As can be seen, indirect primaries do not deny members of a political party the opportunity to vote. This shows that there’s nothing inherently bad in both the direct and indirect. It all depends on management of the process. We believe that the country, INEC and the political parties are ill equipped to organise free, fair and credible direct primary elections nation wide. They may grow up to it in future but any attempt to impose this mode of primary election on our democratic journey now will spell chaos even among the most organised political parties. The solution is simple, political parties should be allowed to determine whether they prefer the direct or indirect modes of primary election for now. Whichever political party that fails to organise itself should be allowed to perish like some of them have done. Imposition is symptomatic of dictatorship which is undemocratic.

In United States, where we borrowed our presidential system of government, each State and each party is allowed to decide the laws governing all elections, the methods of voting in elections and the modes of primary elections. This is in recognition that different states and different parties possess different ideologies and capacities and should be allowed to evolve according to their own pace. In this regard, about 13 American States are still operating manual voting and counting of electoral ballot papers despite the country’s technological advancement while in some States, the Republicans are allowed to vote in the primary election of the Democrats to nominate Democratic candidates. The National Assembly of Nigeria should simply allow the parties the right and opportunity to determine the mode of their primary election.

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