By EHICHIOYA EZOMON
THE crisis in the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has re-ignited the decades-old internecine battles between political godfathers and godsons across the country, and the need to provide for independent candidacy in the constitution.
The introduction of independent candidacy will guarantee that aspirants are not beholden to godfathers’ influences for nomination and or election, but rely on their ability to persuade the electorate.
It will also minimise the fights in the polity prior to and after each election. Rather than engaging in a do-or-die struggle with dictatorial godfathers, godsons will simply move on and enrol themselves as independents.
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not permit independent candidacy. Sections 65(2)(b), 106(d); 131(c) and 177(c) stipulate that a candidate for any election shall be “a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party.”
And section 221 states that, “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election… or contribute to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
The 8th National Assembly (2015-2019), the National Political Conferences in 2005 and 2014, and reports on Constitutional Reforms in 2007 and 2016, recommended the adoption of independent candidacy in Nigeria’s political system.
The New Telegraph newspaper of May 18, 2020, reported of the existence of independent candidacy in 1961 that enabled Samuel Goomsu Ikoku to stand as an independent, defeating his father, Dr. Alvan Ikoku, for a seat into the Southeastern House of Assembly.
However, the House of Representatives is revisiting independent candidacy. In mid May 2020, it passed, for second reading, a Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution, to allow for independent candidacy for any elective office in Nigeria. The Bill has been referred to the Special Ad-hoc Committee on Review of the Constitution.
With independent candidacy in place, a Godwin Obaseki in Edo doesn’t need to go through any hurdles erected by his acclaimed godfather, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to thwart his second term ambition.
Once he senses roadblocks on his path to nomination, he activates a “Plan B”: Packs his “bag and baggage” and decamps to another political party or leaves the umbrella of any platform and becomes an independent candidate.
Were such a provision in the 1999 Constitution, the struggles between Governor Obaseki and former Edo State governor, Oshiomhole, wouldn’t have exacerbated in the past months.
Specifically, Obaseki wouldn’t hound Oshiomhole, using the report of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the Specialist Hospital in Benin City, to indict him; try to sack him as National Chairman of the APC and seek court order to bar the use of direct primaries to pick the APC candidate for the September 19, 2020 governorship poll.
In view of a primary challenge mounted by several aspirants, seven governors on the APC platform shuttled between Lagos and Abuja in the past week, seeking support for Obaseki to secure the ticket for a second term in office.
In Lagos, the governors, led by the Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, met with the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at the State House, Marina, the Lagos seat of government.
The governors reportedly solicited Tinubu’s assistance to procure a “right of first refusal” for Obaseki, or indirect primaries be used for the party ticket. Details of the meeting were not publicised.
But those in the loop stated that Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, told the visitors, including Obaseki, that the ticket was open to all aspirants in direct primaries, as ordered by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC).
Also in Abuja, the governors, without Obaseki, met with members of the NWC, headed by Oshiomhole, and laid similar requests for Obaseki to get the party ticket unchallenged, or the aspirants be subjected to indirect primaries.
Oshiomhole told reporters, after the meeting, that there’s no room for a sole candidate or indirect primaries, insisting that all aspirants would go through direct primaries, as announced by the NWC.
Perhaps, anticipating a failure in the governors’ mission, the Obaseki camp has planned to arrest and prosecute Oshiomhole, to answer for his indictment over the hospital contract.
But to forestall his arrest, Oshiomhole filed an ex parte application at the Federal High Court in Abuja, which restrained Obaseki and other respondents from arresting him until the issue of the court’s jurisdiction, raised by the respondents, was determined. Further hearing of the matter is fixed for June 17, 2020.
What should Obaseki do in the situation he’s found himself? If he moves to another party, chances are that he would meet the same problem of godfatherism in the determination of his nomination.
Indeed, if the claim is true, Obaseki’s “Plan B” to decamp to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has hit the rock. The party power-brokers reportedly gave him two conditions: No automatic ticket for him; and he should drop his deputy, Phillip Shuaibu, as his running mate.
If Obaseki has accepted the conditions, there’re no guarantees that the PDP apparatchiks, never a satisfied lot, would not subject him to other hurdles that may engender a clash between both sides. This may prompt his movement to another party.
But sadly in our clime, if he’s not sponsored by another godfather, he may become a godfather to other aspirants on his campaign. Still, this is better than kowtowing to a major godfather and party elders, as alleged in the crisis in the Edo APC.
Why will the constitution tie a politician’s ambition to the whims and caprices of a political party, thus negating a pillar of democracy that ensures freedom of choice and association? Limiting this freedom has given rise to few individuals to hijack the instruments of political parties to determine the aspirations of members to elective offices, and control the parties’ purses.
Because they mostly finance and or influence the choice of candidates at elections, they have strong hold on the governments formed by their protégés, dictating their make-up and running.
And any attempts by their acolytes to exert independence would prompt resistance from the godfathers, like the scenario painted by the Obaseki camp in the Edo APC crisis.
While the Oshiomhole faction maintains the feud with Obaseki stems from the governor’s neglect of the party people that worked for his election in 2016, the Obaseki camp counters it results from his refusal to “share public money” for the party elders.
Apart from strengthening and deepening Nigeria’s democracy, independent candidacy can curb imposition and interference of political godfathers, such as reported in Edo APC, especially during nomination of candidates for elective positions in government.
Ezomon, journalist and media consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.