The one-word motto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is “Change.” So resonant and powerful is the word “Change!” as a rallying cry that it was the veritable motor that drove APC to its historic victory in the 2015 elections. And this despite the many obstacles that the nature of the party’s emergence posed to its survival, causing many to predict its disintegration and death even before it could get its name printed on the ballots. For a populace that had watched for sixteen years as the Peoples Democratic Party laid the country to waste, change was not a mere slogan to their ears as they looked for hope and succour; change was the promise of a new beginning.
As in 2015, the run-up to the 2019 elections provides APC a golden opportunity to renew its commitment to change. Given that many of President Buhari’s transformation projects in infrastructure, agriculture, social welfare, public ethics (the war against corruption, for instance) and good governance can only come to fruition and yield their benefits at the needed level of mass impact in two or more years ahead, something on the political front is needed to signal change as an article of faith; something that can be the bedrock of a more wholesome political culture. That thing, in my opinion, is the bold call by the party’s new national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, for direct primary elections. The call was warmly welcomed by all true democrats, so much so that even with very little time it was used for the election of the party’s governorship candidate in Ekiti State. And it worked!
In this light, the resistance to the adoption of direct primaries by the National Working Committee, mostly by state governors, is a vote against the people — the ordinary card-carrying members of the party whose voices are most needed in choosing those to govern or represent them. I should add that I have yet to hear of any demurral to the idea of giving power to the people from Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, whose Osun State was the next testing grounds for the direct primary election of candidates. This suggests that reports of the governors’ opposition may have been a tad too broad. But we know what privilege their excellencies seek to protect. Used to having the leadership of the party and the majority of automatic delegates at their beck and call, they are affronted by the thought of giving up that power. In non-APC states, the party chairmen wield the power of herding the executive committee and (s)elected delegates into the corners of their preferred candidate(s).
But all this must stop. APC must stand up for democracy and be seen as the party that brought this crucial change to our unsavoury politics. It is gratifying that a wellspring of counter resistance from stakeholders is building up across the states. In Kaduna and Delta States, for example, forceful arguments have been proffered against the ostensible reasons why direct primaries would be inadvisable. Chief among the arguments against is the purported lack of comprehensive membership registers in the states, inadequate time to update them, and the alleged danger of infiltration by non-party members. No one said that democracy is easy, nor that it always affords us ample time to meet exigencies, but once an overriding goal is known every effort must be made to ensure that obstacles to its attainment are surmounted. As they were in Ekiti, and will surely be in Osun, for where there is a will, there is a way. The great good served by direct primaries was aptly identified by Oshiomhole. The direct primary process, he says, is “free from the vices associated with the indirect primary. Direct primary cannot be manipulated. It is not prone to corruption [and] we want to grow democracy. We want the party members to have ownership of the party. We want to give our members a sense of belonging.”
I urge Oshiomhole, himself a former governor, to stay committed to the empowering idea of every card-carrying member of the party as a delegate whose voice must be heard. How hard, really, can it be to say, Let the people decide? If the most popular candidate emerges, is the work of the party in selling him or her to the general electorate not already made easier? Ironically, even the most redoubtable opponents have no qualms with the direct primary option for choosing the party’s presidential candidate. I think that ought to settle the matter: as with aspiring presidents, so must it be with all other aspirants. Let whoever loves APC so much he or she is willing to forge a membership card in order to vote at the direct primaries do so. After all. any such impostor would vote for an APC aspirant!
In the interest of democracy, APC must resist the impulse to perpetuate a process riddled with corruption and abuse of power; that turns delegates to the pawns of governors and party leaders. Indeed, the words “indirect primaries” remind me of a phrase bequeathed to us by colonialism: INDIRECT RULE! I’m glad, however, that the party’s National Working Committee stipulated stringent conditions for permitting indirect primaries in any state, while also making it clear that where there is a disagreement among party leaders, stakeholders and members, NWC would conduct the primaries using its prescribed option. This is good news to states still enmeshed this late in leadership battles. Isn’t it clearer than daylight that the outcome of an indirect primary election controlled by one faction will most certainly be rejected by members of the rival faction? And how can the resulting disenchantment and perpetuation of division not be costly to the party during the general election? APC must renew faith in change on the political front by jettisoning indirect rule primaries. This may well be its most effective post-convention reconciliation move.
Ifowodo lost his bid for the House of Representatives during the November 2014 indirect primaries. He represents Delta State on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission.