By Felix Osemwengie Isere. Esq.

On the 22nd of June 2020, the All Progressive Congress(APC) Edo State Chapter will conduct its governorship primary election which is expected to produce the flag bearer for the party ahead of the September,19, 2020 governorship election.

There have been myriads of arguments whether it should be direct or indirect primary. The two options became important sequel to the fact that a consensus arrangement is already ruled out. Consensus is only applicable when other aspirants are ready to step down and support one. Now that there is more than one contender for the ticket, it becomes germane for a primary election to be conducted to pick one person.

Image may contain: Felix Osemwengie Isere, sitting
Felix Osemwengie Isere

A primary election in a simple explanation is a mini-election where a political party elects its preferred candidate to run for public office under its platform.

During the primaries, parties go through an elimination process where they trim down a pool of nominees to just one person who will represent them at the general polls.

Nigeria’s 2010 Electoral Act mandates that all political parties hold primaries. In the build-up to the 2015 elections, Muhammadu Buhari won the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential primaries, emerging the victor over Atiku Abubakar, Rochas Okorocha and Musa Kwankwaso

This process of picking a representative when there is no consensus comes in two forms: direct or indirect. According to Section 87 of the Electoral Act, both are valid.

In an indirect primary election, party members elect delegates who in turn elect the party’s candidates on their behalf. Delegates are a democratically elected group of voters elected at party congresses. A congress is a formal meeting or convention between members of a political party. During the congress, registered members of a political party elect these delegates that will represent them at local, state and national congresses.

In a direct primary election, registered members of the party vote for who they want to be the flag-bearer of their party.

Unlike the indirect primaries, no delegates are involved in the direct. Party members choose their representatives through polls like they would in a general election.

I was excited yesterday morning when I woke up to hear the news that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC that have the power under Article 13. 4(XIV) to conduct governorship election primaries, in exercise of their power adopted the direct mode of primary, this in my own candid opinion was well considered decision by the NWC and it must be commended.

The direct primary option is the best for Edo State at this critical period for the following reasons:

1. COVID 19 Pandemic: It is a known fact that the world is currently undergoing a health challenging time occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic which has left hundreds dead. There is an important need to ensure that all precautionary measures by the WHO and governments are adhered to, especially on the area of Social Distance.In a direct primary, it will be very easy to observe all precautionary measures, unlike the indirect mode.

In 2016, the Edo State Chapter of the APC adopted the indirect mode of primary to chose its flagbearer and about about 4000 delegates participated in the said governorship primary election. This figure did not include observers, journalists, officials and committee members. If you add the delegates together with the aforementioned persons, you will realise that they may have been close to 5000 people at the stadium that day.It is risky and unwise at this critical time to gather such numbers of persons in one place, not even in the Sam Ogbemudia.

On the other hand, in a direct primary, this can be conducted at all unit levels. In Edo State, I do not know if there is any unit that has more than 200 active party members and with proper social distancing, the risk of spread is reduced. Direct primary will help to unavoidably reduce the number of persons who will gather at a unlt unlike the delegate system. If the wife of the governor Mrs Bectsy Obaseki just this week can organize a conference where 400 female aides of the governor participated according to their report, why can’t we conduct a direct primary that involves not more than 300 persons gathering in a community?

It is also very risky to bring delegates who are in all part of Nigeria together in one venue. One person who is infected with the virus can infect others. It is also logical to note that about 97% of our local communities in Edo are still very free from this virus,but the indirect primary can easily be a catalyst to spreading it as delegates from communities who have been infected by the virus during the primary can go back and spread it, and this will be very disastrous for us.

2. The legal challenges: The direct primary is the most legally feasible and reasonable mode to conduct the APC primary at this time. Article 13. 4(V) of the APC Constitution gives the NWC power to propose regulation to the NEC of the party for the conduct of the primary and this also include the mode to be adopted. It was in exercise of this duty that NEC adopted the direct mode of primary for future election in the party in their last meeting. This decision of NEC is binding on the NWC in the conduct of the Edo State APC primary. It will amount to illegality for the NWC to now adopt the indirect mode.

The direct primary has become a legal sine qua non at this time in Edo State because whether we accept the reality or not, Edo State APC has two factions. Indirect primary will create rooms for factional primaries by the two factions and at the end, it is the Court that would decide the faction that has the power to conduct the primary. This was the case in Delta in the last general election and other States.

The greatest mistake the NWC made in 2018 was to give opportunity to party stakeholders in the States in Nigeria to adopt the type of primary they preferred in their various States. This led to different factions adopted their own type of primary and that was reason while the party lost Rivers, Zamfara etc because the Courts nullified the factional primaries and in a place like Zamfara the governor didn’t allow the NWC to conduct the primary. This was certainly the mischief or wrong the NEC and NWC tried to avoid by opting for direct where you don’t need any party executive from State to Ward organise but simply an affair of the NWC through the committee they will set up for the purpose.

Desperate Politicians, especially governors who want to return for a second term or impose their preferred candidates always take advantage of this indirect system to promote illegality. In a nutshell, the NEC haven adopted the direct primary in their last meeting, any other mode of conducting the primary in Edo State will be illegal and such primary election conducted in such manner will certainly be nullified by the Court.

3. Direct primary is more democratic: I have ways advocated that internal party democracy is the basis for guaranteeing and enhancing our democracy in Nigeria. Unlike the indirect primary, the direct primary helps to throw up a popular candidate that enjoys the backing, support and confidence of majority of party members. It helps to deepen democracy and popular participation.

Whether it is viewed from the angle of the Latin phrase ( Vox Populi, Vox Dei( The voice of the people is the voice of God) or from Abraham Lincoln’s definition of democracy as Government of the people, by the people and for the people, the centrality of the matter is that the direct primary tends to whittle done the power of the sitting governor in manipulate the process for their selfish interest.

It is important to summarise that majority of people who always agitate for the indirect primary are governors because many of them are detached from their party and most party members see the opportunity as a time to express their displeasure. That is why for example, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is totally against the direct primary because the man is aware party members are not happy with the way he has orchestrated evil against members and leaders of his party, and his anti party roles which have brought the party into odium and opprobrium. The governor is trying to use covid 19 as an excuse to agitate against the direct primary. A governor who claims to be popular in his party and who has performed very well needs not to be afraid of the direct primary.

4. Indirect primary is more expensive and promotes corruption: Nigeria as well as Edo State is currently in an economic tough time occasioned by the COVID 19 scourge . In the 2016 APC primaries, some aspirants gave delegates up to N200,000 to buy their conscience and vote. At this critical time, it will be wrong to allow the sitting governor waste our tax payers money on such venture or allow other aspirants who may not have access to State treasury to sell their properties or borrow in order to compete with a sitting governor. The governor has said in many fora that he is not ready to share Edo State money for greedy Politicians, and indirect primary is an avenue to share such money to Politicians except if he is now telling us that he is ready to share the money now?

In a direct primary, the aspirants cannot pay all party members to corruptly buy votes and thereby helps to save cost. The governor of Edo State Governor who claims to be prudent with funds ought to be the one agitating for the direct primary mode for the state .

Governor Godwin Obaseki should not allow anybody deceive him to believe that his own support group led by the former APC State chairman, Barr. Aslem Ojeizua can adopt the type of primary they want. The APC Constitution is very clear on who can conduct and decide the type of primary to be used in governorship primaries. The supreme Court decision in the case of Emenike v. PDP & Ors. (2012) 12 NWLR (Part 1315) 556 at 602; Yar ‘Adua & Ors v. Yandoma & Ors. (2015) 4 NWLR (Part 1448) 123 at 182. and plethora of other cases are very instructive on who can conduct the party primary or how to conduct it.

The purported decision of his own support group yesterday adopting the indirect primary is not only an exercise in futility but it is ridiculous and a wild goose chase.

I sincerely do not see any logic or sense in a support Group in a State adopting the type of primary election they want under an election that that will be conducted by the NWC if not egoistic or self delusion purpose.

Are they going to sell forms to themselves? Are they going to fix their own date?
Are they going to screen themselves?
Are they going to set up the Primary Election Committee themselves to conduct the primary?

Enough of this ego game by Governor Godwin and his group and let him face the reality of his miscalculation and pride.

They should prepare for the direct primary and stop this unnecessary political activism which does not have any foundation in Law, logic or even common sense.

The fear that the direct primary can easily be rigged against him is a cheap escapist propaganda. Nobody can rig an election against somebody who is really popular.

Finally, Governor Godwin Obaseki should earnestly start mobilising his supporters in the party for the direct primary as other aspirants have thrown their political hats into the governorship race in a determined drive to challenge his self-acclaimed popularity.

Felix Osemwengie Isere Esq, a lawyer and public affairs analyst writes from Benin City.

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