The beauty of Nigeria’s recent delegate elections

Tonnie Iredia

The pain of Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives that many of his colleagues would be unable to return to the National Assembly is with due respect misplaced. While Femi as an individual is free to miss some of his close friends who could not secure their party tickets to run in next year’s general election, their loss was not against the run of play.

Indeed, failure of many lawmakers to return to the legislature has been the trend since 1999 when democracy was restored in Nigeria. At each election season, the competition to get into office grows more intense progressively. To start with, Nigerians who thought politics was a dirty game have since changed their minds by discarding the fear of political violence because of the transparent evidence that nothing in the country is as lucrative as politics. Thus, with increased interest in politics, electioneering has assumed a fiercer dimension capable of unseating several incumbents.
The Speaker’s conclusion that loopholes in the delegate system caused the loss of his colleagues at the party primaries is also not entirely accurate. The system may have played a role; but if the truth must be told, many legislators are undeserving of reelection. They really have no business in the legislature because they are only there to pick-up ‘basic’ salaries and humongous allowances.

Their incapacity is aggravated by their omission to appoint competent legislative aides to assist them perform their duties satisfactorily. For inexplicable reasons, they also have no viable constituency offices as demanded by law which would have positioned them to get acquainted with the real preferences of the people they represent. Many are in fact unknown to their constituents. The contributory negligence of passing a poorly worded Electoral Act 2022 was essentially the last self-inflicted injury. Just before that, there were bills with unpardonable typographical errors and sheer contradictions of the provisions in different sections that no one detected.
In fairness, national legislators are by far better than their colleagues in the Houses of Assembly in the states – a good example being the 24-member Kwara state legislature in which virtually every bill passed since 2019 was sponsored by the state governor. Accordingly, Nigerians should not bemoan the inability of certain legislators to return to base in 2023. The argument about continuity is essentially feeble. What should bother us now, is how to raise the level of political awareness among our people to vote for persons of substance that are passionate about making laws for good governance of society. Of course, some legislators have endeavoured to acquit themselves creditably. Gbajabiamila is in fairness one of such dutiful lawmakers, hence he got back his party ticket unopposed to contest the seat of his Surulere, Lagos constituency notwithstanding the contentious electoral bill which targeted members of the executive branch of government.
From the events of the last few months, the new electoral law has inadvertently helped to get many incumbents out of the legislature. In a country like Nigeria with stunted growth, it is unfair for certain persons to be in power for too long to the detriment of other citizens. It was therefore almost like a divine intervention that made the lawmakers by their own volition to pass a bill to their own disadvantage, just as it blinded them from some rather unintended errors until it was too late to act. The ‘wisdom-after-event’ thought of overriding the president was probably for self-consolation as the present legislature had no capacity during its potent days to contemplate such no-go area, let alone now that many members are nursing heart-broken injuries while vibrancy has been adjourned till after the 2023 election.      
One of the gains of the new Electoral Act is that it has emboldened hitherto timid people to rise up to challenge the self-made emperors in our democracy. It was quite interesting to learn that our senate president among a few others who lost out in the recent political intrigues had attempted but failed to coerce winners to step down for them. That was obviously a tall order within the context of the new circumlocutory electoral law. According to media reports, Bashir Sheriff Machina, the winner of the All Progressives Congress APC Yobe North Senatorial District primaries has said that rather than step down for Ahmed Lawan, he himself intends to become the senate president having served as a law maker earlier in 1990. Machina confirmed that it was because he never intended to step down for anyone that he declined to complete the withdrawal form attached by the party to the nomination package. Now, with the new Electoral Act, the Machinas of this world appear invigorated. 
As proof of the growing awareness of the muscle of the new law, aggrieved supporters of certain flagbearers in Kogi state who were being cajoled to step down stormed the APC national secretariat last Thursday, to protest attempts to substitute winners with favoured aspirants. Protesters from Abia and Ondo states had earlier demonstrated against same allegations. In the case of Enugu state, some aspirants claimed the party denied them the necessary forms to fill for the submission of candidates. They also alleged that the party instead offered them ‘withdrawal concession forms’ which they reportedly rejected. In the past, party executives implemented such anti-democratic behaviour with ease. There is doubt now if the party would not end up losing as the oppressed have provisions of the new electoral law to proceed with.
The situation in Akwa Ibom North-west Senatorial District does not appear different from that of Yobe state where a retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Udom Ekpoudom who won the party primaries has rejected pleas for him to step down for Senator Godswill Akpabio. There are few high points in the Akwa Ibom situation. First, the party having failed to get the cooperation of Udom claimed to have organized fresh primaries which Akpabio allegedly won. Second INEC monitored the first and not the second primaries. Third, the Akwa Ibom office of INEC disowned the second primaries thereby strengthening the resolve of the former police boss to hold-on to the ticket. The old attitude of putting blames on electoral officials didn’t succeed because INEC headquarters aptly discountenanced attempts to blackmail its Resident Electoral Commissioner in Uyo who testified that the only primaries monitored by his office was the one which produced the former police boss.
However, the development was not restricted to the ruling party. The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party PDP has had its share of the trend. Last week, the party’s candidate for the Kebbi Central Senatorial District, Haruna Dandio Saidu denied stepping down for the former Kebbi governor, Adamu Aliero who recently defected from the APC to the PDP. In a petition to INEC, Haruna warned that he was prepared to institute legal proceedings against any person who forges any document which purports that he accepted to withdraw his candidature. But for the new law, the underdogs in the two political parties would probably have been sacrificed to suit the wishes of party caucuses. This development therefore underscores the beauty of the recently conducted party primaries across the country.
Nigerians can now hope that elections in the country would depart, even if slightly, from the old order where we hosted failed elections. For example, the opportunity for the voices of the underprivileged people to be heard will at least stop the fake landslide victories of ruling parties whose members value party interests more than the wishes of those they are supposed to represent. In addition, our youths are now persuaded to pick up their permanent voters’ cards and vote out non-performing office holders. With this development, many contending national issues will be appropriately determined. One such issue is whether the nation is comfortable with a Northern candidate taking over from the outgoing President from the same region. This burning issue in addition to another one concerning whether a Muslim-Muslim ticket does not matter will all be determined not by political gladiators who are currently debating the issues but by eligible voters.                                                                                       

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