Violent primaries and abuse of democratic process – Punch

Political parties last week went through primaries to select their candidates for the various elective offices in next year’s general election. Instead of a free and fair democratic ritual, the exercise became an ominous sign-post as thuggery, gunshots, snatching of electoral materials, parallel contests and vote-buying took centre stage.

The ignominy was ingrained overwhelmingly in many of the parties. Reports in the media mentioned pockets of deaths from the primaries, while scores were maimed. The APC had parallel primaries in Bauchi, Taraba, Cross River, Rivers, Imo, Delta and Ondo states; this led to protests and cancellation of some of the controversial results. The Peoples Democratic Party, the main opposition, was not innocent either. In Benue State, gunshots ruined the first attempt to hold senatorial primaries at the Aper Aku Stadium. Ten persons were injured, while 20 cars were smashed. An earlier congress in Otukpo could not hold due to alleged falsification of delegates list.

In Anambra State, the senatorial primaries of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, which featured Bianca Ojukwu, was disrupted by sporadic shooting and invasion of the venue by a team of heavily armed policemen. In Abeokuta, Ogun State, a governorship aspirants’ meeting was dispersed by thugs amidst a fusillade of bullets. Nigerians were similarly treated to delegates being dispersed at a House of Representatives primary of the PDP in Delta State that was beamed on television.

Across the board, automatic senatorial and governorship tickets were given out to the dismay of other aspirants, who had paid exorbitant fees to obtain the expression of interest and nomination forms. This is impunity. “It is disheartening,” says Aisha Buhari, the President’s wife, one of those riled by the development; it is alien to democratic ethos.

Perhaps, the most thespian dimension in all of this came from Lagos State. After the APC’s eight-man committee, headed by Clement Ebiri, dispatched from Abuja to supervise the governorship primaries, held a news conference to announce on Tuesday afternoon that no primaries had been conducted just yet, it was compelled a day after by the party headquarters in Abuja to uphold and announce the outcome of a contest the state party executives and chiefs organised. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who defied intense pressure not to contest, was defeated.

In nine APC-controlled states, the primaries were deadlocked. It belched out waves of anxiety in such states and the party; and peripatetic meetings among governors of the nine troubled states, President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC National Working Committee. As of Thursday, the party could only publish the names of 24 governorship candidates it had cleared their candidacies out of 36. With the Independent National Electoral Commission’s October 7 deadline for the conduct of primaries and resolution of inherent disagreements over, the courts might soon be the next rendezvous for aspirants to seek judicial remedy.

In fact, these absurdities have once again exposed the underbelly of party politics here: that the country still runs a democracy without democrats since 1999. Evident in these primaries were imposition of candidates by governors and party leaders, non-existence of party membership registers, or their manipulation where they existed, to produce falsified delegates list; and the use of cash to induce those so chosen, to vote for particular aspirants. These aberrations induce stasis in any democracy. It is for this reason that Nigeria’s democracy is decidedly a farce. It will remain so until deliberate and consensual measures are taken to wean it off these toxic elements.

Consequently, party members at all levels should insist on enthroning the culture of participatory democracy in decision-making. This means that no individual should be so powerful as to subvert popular will in the running of internal affairs of a party or be allowed to hijack its organs.

In the case of the APC, the ruling party, the President, being its leader, has again flunked a leadership test. Signs of these democratic setbacks in the party had appeared much earlier in many state chapters for more than one year, with the existence of parallel executives. But there were no serious attempts at resolving them. The most bizarre fuse threw itself up in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in May, when thugs belonging to rival APC camps shot their way to a court premises to stop a ruling on the party’s leadership tussle. The exchange of gunfire lasted for about 30 minutes. Its hangover obviously spilled to the primaries. These were some of the ills that headlined PDP’s 16 years of supremacy before its implosion.

Nigeria should always look West-wards from where it adopted this system of government in order to refine our rogue form of it, if this democracy is to survive. Despite hundreds of years of their evolution, Western democracies have not ceased from tinkering with their democratic governance, with a view to improving it.

For this democratic enterprise to be rooted here, Nigeria should begin now to fine-tune its politics through legislation; run parties that are driven by ideologies or values; give short shrift to the devious trend of “godfatherism” and money-politics. Ultimately, Nigerians should seize the ownership of the democratic process, conscious of the fact that, invariably, the people drive democracy.

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