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Direct Primaries Will Strengthen Nigeria’s Democracy

September 5, 2018

It is not as if direct primary method is a new method of candidates’ selection. It is not rocket science either and the simplicity of the option lifts it up and above other possible options for candidates’ emergence.


One of the most profound decisions the Adams Oshiomhole-leadership of the All Progressives Congress is bringing to party politics is the adoption of direct primary as a means of selecting candidates that will fly the party’s flag in all elective positions. The decision is as revolutionary as it is well timed. It stands to improve the stock of the APC in the coming 2019 election as well as other elections in the coming epoch. The decision to adopt direct primary for selecting candidates stands to imbue greater participation and confidence among members of the party and give them an edge over other parties’ candidates because it gives the candidates the assurance of majority members of the party. If adopted by other parties, the adoption will give more transparency to political participation and regain the confidence that has been lost over time as the process of selecting candidates gets increasingly mired in secrecy.

It is not as if direct primary method is a new method of candidates’ selection. It is not rocket science either and the simplicity of the option lifts it up and above other possible options for candidates’ emergence. It gives confidence to choices made because it benefits from the free choice of all members of the party in contrast to indirect primary or the consensus option where a few leaders of a party decides who is fielded as candidates for such parties in elections thereby limiting the capacity of members to choose and put up their best candidates for elections.

It is just natural that the decision to adopt direct primary option is generating some furore amongst leaders and members of the party because it stands to topple an old order that has benefited a select few against the silent majority that had lost their rights to choose. The beauty of democracy obtains in its participatory ambience and the more the participation, the merrier and less rancorous the outcome will be. One of the merits of direct primary is that it rends the decision on who flies a party’s flag in an election from the hands of few ubiquitous caucus members and hand such power to the rank and file of the party. There is nothing to argue about the fact that a more wholesome participation stands to throw up better and more popular options than a selection made by a few or through the convoluted process of delegate elections.

It is not a matter of contestation that delegate primaries where a few delegates that often emerge through heavily compromised selection processes are often fraught with manipulation and other corruptive influences. There is little to argue that delegate primaries often reward the highest bidder and is therefore not the best leadership selection modal in a democracy. It is certain that delegate primaries are an open market that shortchanges the majority to reward the powerful few that have mobilized enough cash to control the process. If democracy is to be rightly interpreted in its original form, there is no way this will suffice as the best democratic option open for members of a party to exercise their natural rights of selecting who to put forward in elections. Again, this mode of party primaries remains one of the central canons of the dysfunctional democracy Nigeria has been saddled with since independence.

It is therefore laudable that the Oshiomhole leadership of the APC came up with this brilliant idea of taking the party back to the people who own a party. The direct primary option stands to actively revive participation in all the processes of election to the people who remain the soul of democracy. If all members of a party are involved in the process of choice of the candidates of a party, there is no doubt that much of the issues that burden democratic participation would be removed and democracy would be made to assume more practical and direct meaning with the people. If members of a party are involved in the process of electing the candidates of a given party, there is greater chances that such candidates would enjoy the confidence of a greater number of electorates of which the members of a party that elect candidates are a part of. What remains is for the party leadership to ensure fairness and transparency I the conduct of primaries so that results can reflect the choice of a majority of the party members.

While one recognizes the huge cost implications as well as the unwieldy process involved in direct primaries, there is no arguing that the acceptability of the outcome as well as the confidence such engenders far rewards the costs of the process. Direct primaries scale down the post-electoral rancor and squabbles that have become an integral aspect of our democracy and makes the control of a party fluid and more participatory.

Granted that there are oppositions to this mode of election but what is needed is for the Oshiomhole leadership to stand its ground and in a matter of little time, it will become a positive fad that will grow and enrich our democracy. Leading the opposition to the adoption of direct primaries are the governors who relish the employment of state treasuries and apparatchiks of government to take absolute control of parties and dictate what happens therein. The governors have come to believe that absolute control of parties and deciding the fates of others is an integral part of their powers and as such, they play others like pawns in an expansive chessboard that assures them tight control of the process. The selection of delegates as their fancies approve has become a whimsical tool in their hands such that they see direct primary as an audacious attempt to latch the control of parties off their hands. They will do everything to retain this skewed status quo to ensure they don’t liberalize control of political parties which direct primaries are bound to ensure. It is therefore not surprising that they have stood as a bulwark against direct primaries and are doing everything to scuttle its adoption. If, however parties belong to the people, every effort must be made to frustrate their scheme to nullify the adoption of direct primary in selecting candidates for elective positions.

So the Oshiomhole executive must stand firm and ensure that the direct primary option is adopted for the coming APC primaries. It should not be limited to the presidential primary alone but should be made to go across board. Let whoever wants to serve the people start by going to all members of a party to ask for their approval. Let all those who desire to fly a party’s flag offer themselves for the nod of all members of the party and not a select few. Let those who want to contest under the APC seek the votes of all members of the party. That way, democracy would be well served. There is little doubt that if the process is allowed to endure in the party, APC will reap tremendous harvest from it in the coming elections. This anticipated benefits will make other parties adopt same method and what better way to build democracy than through that?

So let direct primary endure to rightly take the party back to the people who own it. Let those opposed to it be made to know they are standing against a current they are powerless to stop. The wide acceptance of direct primary since it was muted shows its democratic credentials and there is little to argue that if the Nigerian electoral system is invested with direct party primaries, some of the impediments that tug ceaselessly at its soul will be decisively addressed and our democracy will grow stronger and more matured from that.



Peter ClaverOparah

Ikeja, Lagos.

E-mail: [email protected]