by Orji Uzor Kalu
I advise the leaderships of other political parties to do away with all kinds of bitterness and rancor that currently characterize their primaries. They should be purveyors of justice, equity and good judgment, especially in the choice of candidates to fly their flags in elections.
Staging of primaries by political parties has continued to pose a huge challenge to our effort to institutionalize democracy in Nigeria. It is not a current development in our political space; rather it has been a recurring decimal and a sticking sore for that matter. However, the intensity and notoriety it has assumed in recent times is what is baffling. As our democracy gains momentum, politicians devise new tactics to outdo one another. One of the avenues they use to protect their inordinate desires or hoist candidates of their choice is the party primaries.
The concept of party primaries dates back to history. In fact, it has been entrenched in many developed countries as a strategy for minimizing bad blood and unnecessary feud in the selection of candidates to represent political parties in elections. Of particular reference is the United States from where we borrowed our presidential system of government. The United States has successfully grown its democracy for over 200 years with prospects for greater attainments. Party primaries are a big deal in the U.S. In fact, it is like a carnival. And the candidates that emerge from the process are generally acceptable to the party members and the wide spectrum of Americans.
In Nigeria, it is a different kettle of fish. The proliferation of political parties and the egocentric character of the Nigerian politician have turned the primaries into a kind of war, with some persons going to the extreme to ensure they outwit their rivals. Unfortunately, it is erroneously believed that once a person wins nomination of a strong political party to fly its flag in an election he is as good as having won. This belief has continued to gain acceptability over the years, assuming a very perilous dimension this time round.
A foretaste of what 2015 holds in store has been demonstrated by most of the popular political parties in Nigeria in their primaries. There is no political party that has held a smooth and uninfluenced primary. It is either some candidates have been deliberately disqualified or factions held separate primaries to select their candidates. In some cases, lives and properties have been destroyed by invading thugs and hooligans hired by the same politicians to ‘protect’ their interests.
Anambra State presents a very curious scenario. The Peoples’ Democratic Party has two factions in the state. One is supported by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), while the other is backed by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party. Both held their primaries last Saturday at different locations in the state capital. By late evening of the same day, two candidates had emerged: one for each faction. Then on Monday evening, we heard that PDP NWC had endorsed the candidate of one of the factions. What did anyone expect would happen thereafter? Chaos, of course!
A more ludicrous situation occurred a week before the PDP primaries when the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) decided to disqualify some of its candidates that appeared for screening on the flimsy excuse of not possessing a voter’s card. One of the disqualified candidates lured from his base in the United States to serve his people, and later drafted into the race for the party’s ticket, was disqualified for the same flimsy reason. Another aspirant of the party was sent packing for being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). When did a mere allegation become a conviction? What if, at the end of the day, the commission absolves him of any culpability? Will the party redo that which had been done? This is why we should be very careful about what we do today, because of the recompense that awaits us tomorrow.
I do not hold brief for anybody. But if you ask me, I would say it is morally wrong to disqualify a person because he did not show a valid voter’s card. There are many reasons a candidate might not be able to produce a voter’s card immediately on request. One of them is loss or misplacement. Because of its size, it is easy to misplace a voter’s card. What the party should have done, if it is obsessed with voter’s card, was to approach INEC to verify the information in its data.
What happened in Anambra State last week in the primaries of the two political parties under review was a charade. While the sham in Awka was taking place, the new entrant, All Progressives Congress (APC), was busy in Abuja endorsing its candidate for the Anambra Governorship election scheduled for November this year. Though seamlessly done, yet it caused some disquiet in some quarters.
By my calculations, the battle for Awka Government House is going to be a straight fight among three contending political parties – APC, PDP and APGA (not in any particular order in anyway). Ordinarily, it would have been an easy battle for PDP, but the fractionalization of the party has continued to cause it the governorship slot. This was manifestly demonstrated in the 2008 governorship election in which the incumbent governor won beyond everybody’s expectation.
PDP won in 1999 for the simple reason that it was seemly united. Cracks in the party began showing a few months to the 2008 elections, widening as the elections approached. In the end, the party’s candidate lost abysmally to the incumbent. With no lessons learnt PDP has continued to grope in the dark in Anambra State, and nobody looks ready to take the bull by the horns. The major problem of PDP in Anambra State is the personalization of the party. Why should such a big political movement as PDP be controlled by an individual or individuals?
The danger in PDP’s NWC adopting a particular candidate over INEC’s is that such a candidate stands the risk of disqualification by the courts. Probably, PDP NWC is hoping the courts (in reference to recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the supremacy of the parties in the choice of candidates) would not entertain any similar case. Nonetheless, it has to put into consideration the fact that people who are disenchanted over an issue can react in diverse ways. There is no way PDP can win in Anambra State if it failed to put its house in order before the elections. It should not repeat the mistakes of the past and expect to perform any magic. The party should learn some lessons from what happened in the South West and Edo State in 2007 and reposition itself.
Because of the dicey nature of Anambra politics, nobody can say for sure which party will win. But one thing is certain: the party that goes into the election fractious will lose. And which party is that? You guess.
I have noticed a very worrisome trend emerging in the parties: the overbearing influence of individuals. That is what is causing all the tension. When will Nigerians have true national parties as we have them in the United States and other countries in Europe? As we speak, INEC is still registering new parties. What does it hope to achieve by proliferating the parties? It should have known that the more political parties we have, the more the headache.
I have been wondering what will happen in 2014 when almost all the parties will hold their primaries. Definitely, the situation will be chaotic. This is why something need be done now to forestall any untoward consequences. The first step would be to make it mandatory for every political party to streamline the guidelines for the conduct of its primary and selection of candidates. There is something flawed in the current process that makes it cause discontentment and bad blood. Funding has been identified as a major reason some parties make themselves malleable tools in the hands of powerful and influential persons. Recall that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Government and individuals that form the kernel of the political parties should see what can be done to enhance the financial base of the parties. The funding should be done willingly and without any preconditions. By allowing individuals wholly or partially fund political parties cause them to indirectly mortgage their identity and integrity.
Again, efforts should be made to divest the personal interests of individuals in the founding and registration of political parties. By so doing, we will be able to have truly national and independent parties. It is only parties founded on this platform that can be aboveboard and further the cause of democracy.
This brings us to the crises rocking PDP across the country. It is very sad that a party we founded has been hijacked by some individuals that do not mean well for it. They have by their greed and vaulting ambitions stifled the development of the party, leaving it at the mercy of its rivals. If the original concept or founding the party had been stuck to there is no way any other political party could pose any threat to it. As things stand now, PDP is vulnerable and prone to bigger crises if nothing is done urgently by its leadership to check the drift. I do not mince words when I posit that the biggest problem of the party is itself. What is killing PDP is within PDP. Other parties have found it pleasurable to challenge us because we allowed them the leverage to do so. However, it is not late to redirect the party on the path of sustainable growth and advancement. We still have one clear year to reengineer the party and weed out the black legs in its fold. The enemies within the party see the primaries as the most veritable tool to destroy the party. By infiltrating the party and working for its disintegration these enemies are targeting its soul. They are bent on destroying it by ensuring that all efforts at reconciliation are frustrated. Why should any lover of peace and progress loathe the idea of reconciliation? I have written a number of articles in this column condemning the inglorious activities of new entrants or joiners to the party who have vowed to upstage the founding fathers for their self-aggrandizement. How can a child chase his father away from the house he (the father) built? This is what has happened in PDP.
PDP as a political party was founded on the principle of equity and fair-play. It is the same equity and fair-play, which form the pillars on which the party stands, that some persons are out to destroy in order to achieve their devilish ends. In any case, the Bamanga Tukur-led NWC has made conscious efforts to restore order to the party. He may not be a perfect person, but he has shown some courage in addressing the problems of the party. I wish to make it clear at this point that his reconciliation drive is what has saved PDP from total annihilation. Imagine what would have happened if the gale of defections that hit the party immediately after the 2011 elections had continued.
What should be done at the moment is for the different interests in the party to subsume their egos and idiosyncrasies and work for the overall good of the party and Nigeria. Those aggrieved one way or another should also bury the hatchet and work for the success of the party. Forget the grandstanding by some persons and groups about 2015. 2015 is under control. It is God, the creator of the universe and all that is in it, that knows what will happen tomorrow. It is not within the purview of man to know.
PDP still has the structures, goodwill and capacity to maintain its leadership position as a top brand among the political parties that ply their trade in Nigeria. It will be a tragedy of unequalled proportion if it allows itself to be cajoled by smaller political parties.
Unilateral endorsement of candidates by PDP is gradually assuming preeminence. This is generally believed to be unwholesome, and has the capacity to engender rift and dissension. Allowing due process and transparency in the selection of candidates for elections promotes healthy rivalry and fosters the spirit of fair-play and justice.
It is important to observe at this juncture that there is no way PDP can be completely insulated from crisis. What does anybody expect from a party as big as PDP? So, it is normal for members to occasionally disagree over critical issues. Recall also that in politics there is no permanent friend, no permanent foe. What is permanent is interest.
Now, a message for our governors: As leaders of their respective parties in their states they should do and say things that edify and can promote mutual coexistence and brotherly love. Some of them carry themselves with too much air and haughtiness. They should bear in mind that the success of the party rests squarely on their shoulders. Therefore, they should do everything within their power to provide level playing-field in the administration of their parties. Being a governor does not confer on you ownership of the party. It is just an opportunity for you to showcase your talents and administrative ingenuity for the betterment of the party and the people.
I advise the leaderships of other political parties to do away with all kinds of bitterness and rancor that currently characterize their primaries. They should be purveyors of justice, equity and good judgment, especially in the choice of candidates to fly their flags in elections. They should not because of their selfish desires destroy the ideology of their parties and their own reputations. To the Nigerian voters, the time for rational and courageous decisions is here. It is the choice we make today that determines our future. If we make the wrong choices in 2015, as I have always said, we will live to regret it.
Therefore, choose right, vote right.
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