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Primaries of death

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All three leading political parties are facing serious difficulties conducting their primaries for the Edo State gubernatorial election. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has produced two candidates. The All Progressives Congress (APC) produced three in the initial botched exercise. Labour Party has not conducted its, but a leading aspirant and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata has accused the party in a curious letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of being unprepared for the election and having ulterior motives.

Of the three parties, the strangest and most heartbreaking is that of the APC. Here is a ruling party that defeated the former party in power on the campaign theme of ‘change’. But not much has changed concerning political behaviour and culture in the more than eight years the party has been in power. The APC has neither inspired change through its conduct nor the pursuit of legislative agenda and institutional reforms. Rather, political conduct and engagement have become more intense, more dramatic, and more desperate since the party emerged on the horizon. If this were a movie, it would be called PDP Part Two, or The Return of the Political Desperadoes.

APC primaries are mostly a matter of life and death where only the fittest, strongest, and most desperate survive, approximating the Hobbesian state of nature. As with Edo, so it is with other states, where politicians driven by the incentives of becoming the candidate of the ruling party do everything for its ticket.

This is sad and speaks to our political immaturity and lack of progress as a people. After almost 25 years of democratic rule, we cannot conduct in a civilised manner the most elementary form of democracy – that of electing or selecting party candidates.

In Edo, the APC prescribes direct primaries, in which, theoretically, every party member can vote for any aspirant of their choice. This is similar to what happens in the US with the Republican and Democratic parties, the two biggest political platforms there. But that is where the similarities end. The reality on the field is a different matter.

The APC has no comprehensive party register containing the names and digital imprints of all members. The only proof of membership is a small slip of paper containing the name, a blurred photograph, and other details of a registered party man or woman. This allows for easy manipulation during primaries as it is difficult to tell whether the person with the slip is the actual owner or an impersonator.

Also, the party relies on the state party officials where the direct primaries will be held for logistics and the supply of the electoral officers who do the actual counting. Needless to say, these state officials have vested interests, and consequently free, fair, and transparent elections rarely emerge from this process. This is the cause of the hoopla in Edo State as the gladiators Senator Adams Oshiomhole and others fight to finish. It is not about the popularity of the aspirants or their electability but who can best influence the process for a predetermined outcome.

Sadly, this is where we are after two decades of the practice of democracy. It appears every new set of politicians becomes more lustful for power, more corrupt, less forward-looking, and consensus-driven than the ones preceding it. if not, we should not be having this conversation about the analogue conduct of party primaries with the likely outcome being broken heads, dead bodies, and contentious results that would take the Supreme Court to untangle.

Were we making progress, even incremental ones from 1999, we would have long crossed this bridge and fashioned a fool-safe way of conducting party primaries, and general elections. Such a more composed and predictable environment would be conducive to attracting our best brains and talents, many of whom do not have the stomach for the roforo which is our politics.

As for Edo, whatever the outcome of the primaries of the leading political parties, one can bet that the matter will not end there. It will drag on to the Supreme Court, and even beyond, leading to a split in the parties, acrimonious defections, and perhaps death. Such is the chaos that is our politics.

We must change this culture of violence, this haphazardness, this anyhow-ness that has come to predominate our politics and is best exemplified during primary races. We must show that as people – the largest black society in the world we can evolve and put long-term viability and group interest ahead of personal ambition and winning at all costs.

Since the parties have refused to institute necessary changes, the matter should be legislated by the National Assembly, by enacting strict laws to govern the conduct of primaries, forcing the parties to digitize their processes and adopt a more transparent and fair internal mechanism for the selection or election of candidates. But, honestly, it is hard to see the National Assembly, which is full of politicians who benefit from the confusion, working hard to change things. More like expecting the devil to cool hell.

Yet, we have no choice but to try, if not for ourselves for the sake of our children who may one day join politics without the leverage some of us have. They deserve a system that assures equal access as much as possible, not to be cheated, beaten, or even killed because of a dream of serving the people. The next 25 years are on us, depending on what we do now.

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