By Tijani Adeyanju
For the first time in the political history of the country, there was a historic shift through the electoral process in 2015 from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) . This was seen as a major leap forward in deepening democratic practice in Nigeria with the ability for the electorate to effect governmental change through the ballot box thus compelling politicians controlling state power at different levels to make at least minimal efforts to be responsive to the demands of the electorate and fulfill their mandate from the people. After 16 years of transition to civilian rule in 1999, Nigeria has seen an unbroken adherence by the military to its constitutional role of defending the country’s territorial integrity rather than usurping and exercising political power.
However, the 16 years of the PDP in power have shown that a formal democratic regime can very easily degenerate into a dictatorial party regime masquerading as a competitive electoral system. Ironically, the PDP was born as a democratic organization formed by experienced politicians, including its current National President, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, to pressure the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha to leave the political field to allow the emergence of a government elected by and accountable to the people. The PDP’s inaugural national convention at which former military head of state General Olusegun Obasanjo (retired) became the party’s presidential candidate in 1998 was characterized by free, open, competitive and credible primaries in which the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme was his formidable major competitor.
Rather than deepening democracy within the PDP and thus the party as a whole as the first ruling party in this dispensation, President Olusegun Obasanjo immediately took control of party structures at all levels after his election. The party’s internal democratic processes at all levels have become entirely wacky, with the PDP being systematically reduced to nothing more than a parastatal body under the control of the Imperial OBJ Presidency. The presidency imposed and removed the national leaders of the party at will, not tolerating any form of institutional autonomy to allow the party to play its essential and inevitable role in ensuring both a stable and constantly evolving democratic regime as well as a good governance by providing direction and holding its members in the executive and legislative branches of government accountable.
Through its control of party structures, the Obasanjo presidency also determined who emerged as elected executive and legislative public officials at all levels. With the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also fully subordinated to Obasanjo’s presidency, the government was initially hugely successful in its undisguised scheme to preside over Nigeria as a one-party state. This undoubtedly motivated and fueled the publicly stated optimism of party leaders that the PDP would rule Nigeria for 60 years. The 2003 and 2007 elections in particular ranked among the worst in the country’s electoral history. The winning candidates in many states were announced directly from the INEC headquarters in Abuja, with the declared election figures in no way reflecting the actual configuration of the political forces on the ground. Many of these fictitious victories in a number of states were overturned by the judiciary, especially after the 2007 elections.
With his administration’s gamble to amend the constitution to eliminate term limits and continue in office through his infamous “third term program” failed, Obasanjo led the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan through the PDP presidential primaries to succeed him as President and Vice President, respectively, in 2007. A man of integrity, Yar’Adua admitted that the elections that brought him to power were deeply flawed irregularities and initiated far-reaching electoral reforms, the implementation of which was truncated by his unfortunate passing. Under Jonathan’s presidency, the subordination of the party to the presidency continued and the use of executive power to impose the incumbent on the party as the candidate for the 2015 presidential election led to the implosion that led the PDP to lose presidential power and the APC to win the elections that year.
Although it came to power following the mantra of change which the electorate said meant doing things differently from the PDP, the APC surprisingly simply followed in the footsteps of the PDP by one faction of the party realizing what amounted to an intra-party coup, unconstitutionally removing the National Works Committee (NWC) led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and imposing the former party leadership chaired by Yobe State Governor Mallam Mai Mala Buni in 2020. What was to be a six-month interim NWC to give newly elected party cadres turned out to be a two-year term under Buni characterized by frequent changes in the rules of the game and the continuous shifting of goalposts . It was an almost successful mutiny against the continued power of the Buni Guardians Committee that led to the last national convention which brought in the current APC National Working Committee led by Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu.
Unfortunately, the Convention that brought in the party’s new leadership was not used to restore the APC’s democratic ethos and strengthen the control of its structures and processes by grassroots party members. Rather, a form of what could only be described as forced consensus was used as a method of primaries which saw the emergence of party leaders who were in effect the choice of the powerful few. To his credit, President Muhammadu Buhari has personally adhered to constitutional and democratic principles in his dealings with the party. However, the power and influence of his office has unfortunately been exploited by a powerful cabal to impose party leadership in an attempt to take control of party structures. A minority within the APC thus used its presidential power to consolidate the coup executed with the arbitrary imposition of the Mai Buni Guardians Committee in 2020.
To further deepen the grip of these few daredevils on not just the ruling APC but political power in Nigeria beyond 2023, there is an all too obvious plan to try by all means to use the consensus mode to choose the party’s presidential candidate this weekend. party congress. The new electoral law allows the party to adopt the direct, indirect or consensual mode of the primaries. All party members will be involved in direct primaries while elected ward and local government delegates will form the electoral college to elect the presidential candidate through indirect primaries. For the consensual mode to be constitutional, all aspirants must sign a written resignation agreement for one of them. Given the time and resource constraints, the direct primary mode is obviously impractical for APC. As demonstrated at the convention to elect party leaders, with many aspirants shedding tears while voluntarily stepping down, consensus mode can easily devolve into veiled imposition. The indirect mode of the primaries is therefore the best, the most pragmatic and the best option for the APC in the circumstances.
Already, no less than 28 aspirants have secured nomination and expressions of interest forms from the APC at a cost of one hundred million naira each. Most of them claim to have the skill, pedigree and character to fill the position they aspire to. Many campaigned hard across the country to win a majority of party delegates. Why then would any of them rather be imposed as a consensus candidate by a cabal than sell themselves to delegates and take part in competitive intra-party polls? A candidate imposed by a cabal if he emerges for the presidency will he not be beholden and trapped by such a cult of power once in office to the detriment of good governance? It is important that CPA leaders realize that the stakes in the presidential primaries, unlike the election of party leaders, are so high that the imposition of a candidate by forced consensus will very inevitably lead to an intra-party implosion. party within the APC that can catapult the PDP to power in the 2023 presidential election.
Today, the electoral commission is much more autonomous than it was in 2015 and 2019 and the electoral processes are more technology-driven, monitored by social media and almost impossible to manipulate to facilitate fraud. If the APC takes the electorate for granted by imposing an unpopular candidate by forced consensus, an act hardly distinguishable from a coup, it will grant the PDP victory in the presidential election despite its own internal contradictions. And with the way the APC went to great lengths to morally indict and publicly disgrace many PDP members when it seized power in 2015, key members of the ruling party today cannot be too sure. that they will not be candidates for a judicial trial and prolonged imprisonment. if they cavalierly jeopardize their chances of victory in next year’s elections, although that is not bad for the evolution of more responsible, transparent and accountable governance. In such a case, President Buhari will of course personally not be affected as there is no reason to doubt his honesty and financial incorruptibility. But some of those who abuse its trust in them to perpetrate impunity, violate the party’s stipulated structures and processes, thereby endangering its legacy. They will be the ultimate losers.
Adeyanju, public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja