Politics 2023: We are all delegates

By Tonnie Iredia

The presidential primaries of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was scheduled to hold on Saturday and Sunday May 28 and 29, 2022. On its part, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had planned to hold hers 24 hours later. As I began putting this article together on the eve of the primaries, a news break indicated that the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) had extended the deadline for the conclusion of the events by one week. Before commenting on the implication of that, let’s not lose focus of the main issue in this article which is the role of delegates in the selection of party flagbearers for elections in Nigeria. So far, the delegates have had a great time deciding those that voters are allowed to choose from.  However, not many believe they have done well or would conclude it successfully. For me, I think the general condemnation of delegates is not well thought out because it seems many citizens expect the delegates to act against the run of play. The pointing of accusing fingers is not a surprise anyway because many citizens are used to raising the bar for other people above their own behaviour in similar circumstances.
For governorship and legislative primary elections which have already been concluded, aspirants were blamed for not only bribing delegates but for using foreign currency instead of our blessed naira to get the votes of delegates. Is it only political aspirants that should be condemned for this? Those we empowered to manage our economy, that is, economic delegates who ended up making the naira less attractive in value must share in the blame. Whereas to bribe delegates with whatever currency is a condemnable crime, it makes little sense for anyone to carry huge naira notes around instead of small sized dollars of same value for the same purpose. Even the argument that many of the delegates were making huge demands must be viewed against facts on ground. What is the current standard of doing any transaction in Nigeria? Is the percentage increase of delegates’ demand higher than the percentage increase of the cost of nomination forms? Are we able to quarrel with air flights that now cost over N100,000 per person for a trip from nearby Kaduna to Abuja?
The two major political parties which charged as much as N40million and N100million respectively for presidential nomination had also, even if inadvertently, set a standard for the charges of their delegates.  Indeed, the National Assembly had hugely raised the threshold for election expenses. So, if raising inducement charges by delegates is attributed to profiteering, both their leaders and political parties have not shown dissimilar inclination. A further evidence that everyone has a delegate’s attitude, is seen in the argument of the ruling party that she charged high nomination fees so as to harvest enough resources for a non-stop implementation of party programmes for a long time.  In the same way, delegates demanded huge inducement so that for the next four years, they can have enough resources to live on, while those they elected become inaccessible. It can therefore be imagined that if those pursuing huge sums of money are delegates, then Nigeria has, by far, too many types of delegates.
One error which many appear to be making is the impression that many delegates are not well educated or exposed enough for what they have become. Interestingly, Nigerian political delegates are not dull at all as we have seen in some locations such as Kaduna where a cerebral personality like senator Shehu Sani could not outsmart them. According to media reports, for refusing to bribe the delegates, he got only two votes but later received calls from no less than 300 delegates who claimed they are the two who voted for him pushing Sani to simply equate them with bandits who demand ransom. They are thus not dullards but smart speculators like other politicians who virtually hypnotize anyone. Here, the experience of a former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro is instructive. Okiro revealed that after his retirement, he was swindled of his savings having been persuaded to contest election to the senate. That unfortunately is the nature of the zero-sum political system we run and if the nation cannot rise in unison to condemn it and demand reforms, we are all delegates.
The only political group whose members are not delegates in Nigeria are state governors. Understandably, they cannot be delegates because they are the proprietors of delegates, akin to king makers. And because they spend much to make and sustain the delegates which is called political investment, whatever anyone pays to a delegate is immaterial, what matters the most is what his governor decides. Naturally, delegates know that “one good turn deserves another” hence, they make no serious demands of aspirants installed by governors. The delegates have fellows who have different titles. One group is called screening committee whose role as the name implies is to screen-in aspirants in the favoured list and screen-out competitors. This seems to explain why in places like Lagos, Ogun etc. other governorship aspirants, on the day of the primaries, still didn’t know why they were screened out. Some didn’t even know they needed to demand for certificate of clearance.
There are a few delegates in the judiciary and that is a big plus because there is no human institution without its bad eggs. When a court deliberately entertains only political cases for which it has no jurisdiction, despite repeated warnings from the highest professional level, it is hardly an innocent mistake because what each court in Nigeria has powers to handle are well-spelt out.  There are other delegate-judges whose pronouncements are usually capable of more than one meaning thereby leaving stakeholders in confusion. Some elements in the judiciary probably warm themselves up to opposite parties in a case thereby making factional-delegates from some states to continue to debate the authenticity of each other until after the primaries.
But is there a possibility that there are delegates in our electoral body? For two reasons, I personally admire the posture of the current INEC. First, I like the way the commission handled the issue of electronic transmission of election results and second, her firm stand in declining the request of the political parties for alteration to the election time table. Therefore, I had discountenanced earlier rumours that there are a few persons in the commission that have not fully had non-partisan background. This faith was shaken yesterday when I heard that INEC had caved-in to the extension request though for only a couple of days. Why can’t election timelines be sacrosanct as in other climes after they are published? I pray there are no delegates in INEC as the new development occurred hours to the national convention of the main opposition party. If the PDP can keep to her date of May 28, 2022, is it the ruling party whose convention is to come a day after, that cannot cope?
It is however gratifying to learn that irrespective of where delegates are hibernating, one day the aspirants who bribed them will take back their booty. Already, there are reports that the process has begun. Adam Namadi, son of former vice president Namadi Sambo has developed a strategy for retrieving the N2million he allegedly paid to each delegate who did not vote for him in the election to the Kaduna North Federal constituency of the House of Representatives. A serving Senator, Ayo Akinyelure from Ondo state has also reportedly retrieved vehicles given to some party leaders and he is now making efforts to get back monies given to seven delegates for failing to vote for him. What remains now is for Nigerians to stand firmly against vote trading as youths of Ibarapa, in Oyo state did the other day when they discovered that a delegate list prepared for their area was fake. It is only such efforts that can stop us all from becoming delegates.      

May 29, 2022

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