The Nigerian Senate on October 12, 2021 approved direct primary — a process whereby every party member votes for the candidate of their choice to represent the party in an election. The approval is for all elective positions in political parties, which is in contrast to the commonly used indirect primary where delegates elect who becomes the candidate of the party.
This generated mixed reactions from politicians and, in fact, led to the major political parties, the All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party, having factional executives as they conducted parallel congresses across a number of states.
These divisions and factions mean that there will again be controversy over who is the rightful candidate as each faction will produce their delegates afterward their candidates. All these occurrences have shown that, in reality, Nigerian democracy cannot continue to rely on indirect primary and the crises that entail. Thus, direct primary is the answer for a lot of positive reasons.
Direct primary will help to resolve the never-ending delegate list dilemma, as well as the disagreement over which faction should elect the candidate. Since all party members will be having one vote, this will reveal who will become the right delegate.
Direct primary will also help to ensure citizen engagement in political party activities; the appeal of everyone casting their votes to select the party candidate will encourage more people to participate in the activities of the political parties. This will help to dispel the perception that political parties are mere tools for godfathers as members would be having a say in how the party is being run.
Furthermore, power of interference by the judiciary will be lessened in electoral processes since the common dispute over who was elected by the legally recognised faction and delegates will be reduced. Petitions are filed every election cycle regarding who should represent the party after the different factional primary elections. However, with direct primary, all party members will vote, avoiding factional primaries by forcing all factions to compete for who has the majority of party members on their side.
Direct primary offers many advantages, hence implementing it as a policy must go beyond just approval. There is a need to make it transparent; like digitalisation of political party data so that only legitimate members can vote in preventing aspirants from manipulating the primary by bringing in non-party members.
The Senate also needs to resolve the issue of undue advantage that the population might give a candidate supported in a place over the other. The primary elections must reflect the idea of winners having a broad base of support. The general election law which stipulates that a candidate will emerge victorious after having the highest number of votes coupled with 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the states or local governments must be introduced to party primaries to achieve this.
To cap it all, as 2023 elections in view, it is critical that the processes by which parties elect their candidates are right because failure to do so will result in the judiciary removing elected leaders due to issues with their primaries and handing it over to the opposition candidate who might have received fewer votes as in the case of Zamfara State— effectively tactically disenfranchising the majority of voters.
CREDIT: Ogundare Bright is a writing fellow at African Liberty.