WITH the emergence of candidates for the 2023 and with benefit of hindsight, former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, has stated that direct primary election, rather than the use of delegates, was the only viable option in the nomination of candidates by political parties.
In a lecture organised by the National Legislative and Democratic Institute (NILDS) in Abuja on Tuesday, the senator stated that the option was a credible way to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy.
Ekweremadu, in his lecture, “Nigeria’s Democratic Experience: Reflections on Leadership Recruitment and Democratic Institution Building,” observed that the essence of direct primary was to ensure that bona fide members of political parties took part in the primaries.
He explained that their participation would make the hijack of the process by a few people difficult.
He stared: “Today, not only does money play greater roles in the emergence of candidates, turning delegates to overnight millionaires, because the delegates are fewer, the non-participation of statutory delegates was fate playing into the hands of the governors, who colluded with greedy party leaders to manipulate the emergence of ad-hoc delegates and weaponise them fully for their selfish political interests.
“At the end of the day, democracy and the people, are at the receiving end, as the masses can only elect candidates thrown up by the various political parties.”
The senator traced the present situation to the parochial and partisan interests at play in the making of the 2022 Electoral Act.
He stated that the result of the veto of that provision by the President and insistence on the restoration of delegate mode and inclusion of consensus mode of nomination was “the recent political fraud perpetrated across the nation and across various political parties in the name of party primaries.”
A statement by his media adviser, Uche Anichukwu, the former deputy senate president disclosed that the leadership of the National Assembly since 2007, had moved to “reform the electoral system, including strengthening the critical institutions in the electoral process, namely the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the political parties.
“Whereas the INEC has really stabilised and improved greatly, the political parties have not made the expected progress.
“Some of our efforts include financial and administrative autonomy for INEC; removal of membership of a political party as a qualification for appointment into INEC; early release of funds to INEC; early primaries to allow time for resolving any issues, while also allowing INEC 360 days to prepare for elections; barring of INEC from rejecting or disqualifying candidates; removal of INEC officials as respondents in election petitions; removal of restriction on electronic voting; legal backing for smart card readers and any other voter accreditation technology that INEC may deploy; electronic transfer of results; and ending of disqualification of candidates by administrative panels.
“Others are compulsory conduct of party primaries to address the issue of impositions; substitution of candidates only in the event of death or written withdrawal by a candidate; early commencement of election campaigns; empowerment of political parties to conduct primary election to replace a candidate who died in the course of an election, among other reforms.”
Ekweremadu, admitted that the Electoral Act 2022 could have achieved more milestones if the processes had not been hijacked by other interests.
He stated: “A thorough scrutiny of the Act would show that unlike the Electoral Act 2010, Electoral Act 2022 lacks sequence and coordination, as lot of things were jumbled.”
According to him, it took the intervention of some lawmakers for critical provisions to be included in the Electoral Act.
“I drafted the provision for the Electronic Transmission of Results for inclusion in the Bill because for whatever reason, it was not there originally, and it took enormous push by some progressives among the Committee members to push such provisions through,” he stated.
While pointing out that further attempts were made to tamper the provisions to suit narrow party interests, he stated that “it was also the hijack of the process to tailor the law to serve narrow partisan interests that resulted in the grave error of the exclusion of statutory delegates, including lawmakers themselves, from participation in party primaries.
“We need to restrict political parties to direct primaries as the only mode of nominating candidates if we truly want to preserve and grow our democracy, and recruit leaders that will truly serve the collective interest.”