The National Assembly recently, as part of its efforts to amend the Electoral Act and enhance the smooth running of elections in Nigeria, amended a clause in the Act which gave political parties the option of direct and indirect primaries as the mode of selecting candidates for general elections.
The amendment by the Red Chamber jettisoned indirect primary as it restricted political parties to only direct primary. The amended Clause 87 on Nomination of candidates by parties, now Clause 87. (1) reads: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Commission.”
It would also be noted that the House of Representatives had earlier equally adopted the direct primary as a method for the emergence of candidates for general elections.
The Conference Committee set up by both chambers has harmonised the resolutions of both chambers of the National Assembly and passed it, along with other amendments in the new Electoral Bill forwarded to the President for his assent.
This decision of the National Assembly to adopt the direct primary for political parties in selecting their candidates for elections has, as expected, generated mixed reactions from not only the lawmakers, but also different political parties and leaders of thought.
It would be recalled that the direct primary was adopted by the Lagos State Chapter of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in electing its governorship candidate in the build up to the 2019 general election.
Direct primary, a system in which all registered members of a political party participate in the primary election to pick candidates for elections, is as opposed to indirect primary or the collegiate system in which party members choose delegates, who in turn pick the party’s candidates at a convention.
Indirect primary has been the most used system in Nigeria’s political history. However, over the years, criticism has trailed this system, as it is always resulted in the highest bidder emerging as candidates for election at party conventions or primaries. It was this criticism that made the APC in 2018 to allow its state chapters the option of either direct or indirect primary in picking their candidates for the 2019 general elections.
The adoption of both direct and indirect modes of primary elections was also in the statutory book until the National Assembly came up with the decision to allow only the direct primary in the selection of candidates for elections by political parties.
The implication of this new development is that, if President Muhammadu Buhari assents to the bill, then political parties will have no choice than to stick to the direct primary mode of choosing their candidates.
Interestingly, most political parties may find this option very difficult because, except for the two major political parties, the PDP and APC, other parties do not even have a register for members and may find direct primary difficult, especially for want of funds.
While we agree that the conduct of primary elections in all wards implies huge financial outlay for parties, we think it may also increase the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as it would be required to present its staff in several locations to monitor the primaries of different parties.
However, we believe the essence of democracy is to achieve government of the people by the people and for the people and this will be better be put in place under this proposed system.
Direct primary will afford every member of a political party the opportunity to participate in choosing those who will represent the party in elections. The internal democracy of the parties, which has been lacking, will come into fruition.
Members of political parties will also be required to have their membership cards and make financial contributions toward the running of the parties. This is the best way to run political parties, not through sole financing by one or two wealthy individuals.
We commend the National Assembly for this novel decision. We also agree that the decision on electronic voting and transmission of results as recently put together in the new amendment to the Electoral Act will further deepen participation.
Peoples’ participation in the various election processes, beginning from political parties down to general elections, is essential in a democratic setting and no amount of expenditure will be too much to ensure that the government in a democracy really emerges from the people rather than a few rich and opportunistic individuals.
We therefore urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to hesitate in assenting to this mode of primary in the Electoral Act.