Democratic Institution Building And APC Internal Dynamics – By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Following the August 28 and 30 APC National Caucus and National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings respectively, the issue of mode of primaries for selection of the party’s candidates for 2019 general elections dominated public discussions. Even before the meetings, while preparing for the Osun Governorship primaries, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, APC National Chairman announced that the party will use direct primaries for selection of the party’s candidates for 2019 elections especially in states controlled by the party.
Since this announcement, much interests have been generated from APC members almost in the same strengths as the opposition parties, including the PDP. Perhaps because of its potential to trigger some fundamental changes in the political landscape ostensibly towards shifting the locus of power from surrogate keepers to party membership, the endemic interests are just as contentious as predictable. Interestingly, the debate around it is almost as if it is entirely a new proposal. This is hardly the case. But what is the basis of the contention?
In simple terms, the contention is informed by leaders – members relationship dynamics associated with political parties’ governance framework since 1999. It is a governance framework that encourages monetized process of candidates’ selection across all parties. It is despised by party members and the public but also painfully costly to aspirants and candidates. All things considered, the rational for direct primaries based on expanding the democratic space for membership participation is hardly contestable. Some of the questions begging for answers include, will increasing participation of party members lead to more citizens’ participation during general elections? Could it also bring party leaders closer to membership, or citizens closer to their elected representatives?
To a great extent, the volume of space for members’ participation or what some literature refers to as logic for collective action, which is based on the assumption that possibilities for collective action are dependent on economic choices in diverse areas, including politics is very narrow. This certainly would suggest that our parties are controlled by small groups of interests. What are the nature of these interests?
A strong collateral here is the issue of party funding? How are party funds mobilized? Are there accountability mechanisms associated with the process of political party’s financial mobilization? In other words, are members contributing to party funding? Are they aware of all the sources and size of contributions? Is the awareness of sources and size complemented by members’ consent of any expected transaction details associated with such financial contribution?
Looking at the Nigerian reality, to what extend is APC any different? Claims about parties being controlled by small groups of interests can at best be supported by the way individual political party candidates emerge and how they are able to mobilize campaign funds. The fact is that for quite some years now, the challenge of bringing party leaders closer to membership, or citizens closer to their elected representatives is probably the dream of most Nigerians. It is one dream that could have been said to turn into political nightmare between 1999 and 2015 on accounts of poor political party and electoral management under PDP.
Considerably, the certainty of the existence of such a political nightmare contributed to the popularity of APC and its subsequent electoral victory in 2015. The wide national expectations were that the political culture in APC would depart from what existed in PDP and most of our parties, especially around processes of candidates’ selection for election. With the domineering political culture of candidates’ imposition under PDP and repressive framework with hardly any provision for reconciling aggrieved members, the expectation of Nigerians was that APC will be founded on strong democratic foundations, which will ensure broader participation of party members in the process of candidates’ emergence for elections.
Lumped to the issue of candidates’ imposition is the monetization of the process, which produces negative electoral vices of votes buying, rigging, manipulation, etc. In so many ways, the expectation for strong democratic foundations under APC was considered to include deliberate and conscious initiatives by the party to eliminate these vices. Perhaps, while it can be acknowledged that candidates’ imposition is not the case under APC, comparative to the culture in PDP, monetization of the process is no doubt as significant. Electoral victory in APC is highly correlated with candidates’ spending to acquire votes from delegates during indirect primaries. However, the emergence of the candidates is certainly a reflection of delegates’ votes.
What is very clear is that the current national debate around whether the process of candidates’ selection in APC should be through direct or indirect primaries reflects the old expectations of Nigerians for the party to deliberately and consciously initiate actions to eliminate vices of votes buying in particular during primaries. The issue of direct or indirect primary is in truth only a barometer with which Nigerians are measuring the disposition of the party, APC, to meet public expectations. That Nigerians are using the handle of internally considered options available to the party to assess APC’s democratic potentials is a very encouraging sign.
The great challenge however lies in the capacity of the party leadership under Comrade Oshiohmole to steer the party in a direction nearer to increased membership participation, away from surrogate keepers and high incidences of votes buying. The fact that the decision of the party’s August 30 NEC did not foreclose the matter, notwithstanding manifest conventional disposition from broad section of representatives means that the party is considerably democratically elastic.
Compared to the old PDP tradition whereby the President is philosopher-king, ramming all his choices on party members and the nation, given that direct primary is the preferred choice for President Muhammadu Buhari, that would have been the decision across board. This wasn’t the case. Instead, we have a decision whereby it was only in the case of the process of selecting the party’s Presidential candidate that direct primary was conclusively decided. In the case of other offices, the party announced its preferred choice, which is direct primaries with a proviso that stakeholders are free to make their choices across all the states.
Without any hesitation, it needs to be acknowledged that even by this decision, spaces for democratic participation for members in APC are expanded. Levels of internal contestations have been increased to cover modes of candidates’ selection. Whether party aspirants for different positions from the states are able to take advantages of this new opening is a different matter entirely. Also, whether the party leadership at all levels will be able to develop the needed skills and sophistication to manage the process of contestations and negotiations is the critical challenge. A typical related scenario is that if party Congresses produce parallel leadership, there is the latent risks of having direct and indirect processes cohabiting in many of our states and producing conflicting candidates.
If that happens, how is the party going to handle it? These are very difficult questions that cannot be answered with references to either conventions or legality. The capacity of the party to facilitate processes of consensus building, reconciliation and teambuilding will be the determinant. This is the difficult task facing the party. Notwithstanding whatever come out of today’s challenge associated with the direct vs indirect primaries, the party leadership needs to also appreciate that the management of the current situation should prepare it for the big 2023 transition. This is because, things being equal, by 2023, both President Muhammadu Buhari and many of the current generation of APC governors will be vacating offices. Is the APC going to respond to the 2023 transition challenge democratically? Or will it follow the route of bullying party members in whatever guise to impose candidates as successors?
Somehow, all the debates and public noises around this issue hardly mirror this challenge, perhaps in expectation that it will be business as usual. Part of the assumption is that direct primaries would be the only safeguard against the business as usual syndrome. In so many ways, there appears some misconstrued assumptions about the efficacy of direct primaries. In reality, it also has the potentials to further crosshatch the same old vices of vote buying, rigging, manipulation, etc. on a higher scale. Some commentators have also highlighted the probability of electoral contractors taking over internal party processes similar to what happens during general elections.
Should all these happen, APC’s electoral chances will most likely correspond to PDP’s 2015 reality, especially in 2023. Certainly, the management of primaries for the emergence of candidates for 2019 elections require that the APC prioritize issues of internal capacity development to facilitate consensus building, reconciliation, teambuilding and above all membership development. Since 1999, the absence of these are issues that have hindered processes of democratic development and institution building within political parties. To the extent of this reality, national frustrations against all parties and political actors are widespread.
Given the circumstances of today, moving towards the 2019 primaries, APC leadership need to as much as possible ensure that three things are in place. First, there is need to exercise firm control of the party’s membership register at the national level and that the records are authenticated and therefore incontestable. Inability to guarantee this could mean that powerful blocs within the party take over the register such that party membership could be disputed on accounts of loyalty issues.
Secondly, the processes of arriving at stakeholders’ decision at state levels regarding mode of primaries should be transparent and all-inclusive. At least all aspirants should be part of such a process and freely canvass their preferences. The challenge is that of ensuring that all stakeholders respect decisions arrived at. The capacity of the party to stimulate respect for decisions arrived at stakeholders’ meetings would strengthen processes of consensus, teambuilding and reconciliation especially after primaries, which would have added electoral advantages.
Thirdly and very fundamentally, the party leadership at national level needs to begin to take steps to strengthen its relationship with party leadership at lower levels – states, local governments and wards. This is one area of big political deficit across all parties in Nigeria, which has left party structures at national levels completely alienated from lower level structures. This is one factor that has strengthened firm grip of so-called godfathers on party leaders at all levels. Once APC leadership at national level is able to initiate processes of strengthened relationship with lower levels party leaders, the process of democratic consolidation would have been strengthened.
The capacity to speedily handle all of these will be contingent on the capacity of the party to address the collateral funding challenge, which is a different subject that will require a special focus. What is however significant now is for the APC leadership to remain steadfast in managing internal processes such that process of candidates’ selection within the party attracts increasing participation of party members. That the issue is receiving public attention is a confirmation of APC’s electoral advantages and the significance of potency of its decision towards meeting public expectations.
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