Compiled by Mr Lazarus M.A, Miss Jerum Uneje, R.A. Hwande Esq and S.P. Oobulu Esq
Nigeria’s democracy is nascent and oscillates on a 4-year election cycle. As the present administration draws close to the end of its tenure, various political parties have conducted primaries across the Federation as stipulated by the legal framework regulating the conduct of elections in Nigeria. Political parties are legally saddled with the responsibilities of sponsoring their candidates’ campaigns for every political position for election.
The law perhaps is apt regarding the conduct of party primary elections regarding how a candidate can be elected. On this point, section 87 of the Electoral (Amendment) act, 2015 clearly lays down the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties which could either be by direct or indirect voting. The spirit of this section is in line with provision of section 36 of the 1999 constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria which guaranteed fair hearing. By direct election, aspirants are given the opportunity of being voted for by all members of the party present at the election venue, while in indirect primaries aspirants are voted for by delegates (the number is usually determined by the position contested for). Whichever procedure (direct or indirect) a political party decides to adopt, the aspirant with the highest votes becomes the representative of the party.
Despite this injunction, the Media, Civil Society and other stakeholders report that the recently held primaries fell short of the provisions of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. All the major Political parties failed to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework as shown in a range of malpractices that shadowed the primaries across the country.
The APC (All Progressive Congress) adopted the indirect primary election procedure in Benue State. This system as earlier mentioned makes use of delegates who elect candidates on behalf of the party congress. However, it is alleged that the procedure was not strictly followed in practical reality. For instance, it was reported that during the House of Representatives election for Kwande/Ushongo Federal Constituency, violence ensued because of protests from delegates who alleged that they were being impersonated. Allegations of vote buying and tampering with the delegates list were also rife and thrown at 2 of the aspirants.
The PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) which also adopted the indirect election procedure also failed to comply with the provision of section 87 of the ELECTORAL (Amendment) ACT 2015. It is alleged that the PDP primary elections at all levels and stages in Benue state were marred by violence, supplanting of candidates, vote buying and clear case of God-fatherism. In Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency for election for example, candidates were alleged to have been substituted.
From the above it is clear that the spirit and tenet of the above section of the Electoral Act was violated in its entirety. In any case, elections, be they at primary or general stage require strict compliance with the provision of the electoral act to ensure peaceful, orderly and smooth conduct. Any deviation from these provisions is punishable under the Act if found guilty by the court of law. For instance, section 122 of the Electoral Act provides for the offence of impersonation and criminalizing same. The punishment paragraph under sub section (1) of the above section stipulates that, if found guilty the person shall be liable for a maximum fine of 500,000 (five hundred thousand naira) or 12-months imprisonment.
Other alleged offences also took place. For example, it is widely reported that the All Progressives Congress (APC) failed to conduct the required primary elections for the State House of Assembly; instead, party big wigs selected candidates of their choice for the elections over those desired by the electorate. This is a clear violation of the subsisting electoral law.
The above stated violations have their consequences in varying degrees and dimensions including the following:
The rights of both the delegates and aspirants who have the mandate to vote or be voted for have been fundamentally denied and breached by leaders of the various political parties.
Another serious consequence is the potency of derailing the forthcoming general elections and its credibility.
Another consequence is the breeding of grounds for violence and unrest in the political ecosystem.
Based on the foregoing therefore, the following are recommended:
That the Independent National Electoral Commission intensify its monitoring of Party Primaries, investigate allegations and sanction erring Parties accordingly.
Sensitize political parties and their officials on the need to adhere strictly to the provisions of the subsisting legal framework regulating the conduct of elections
The justice system actors including the Police, the Judiciary and other stakeholders should be sensitized on the need to closely monitor, investigate and sanction erring individuals and parties accordingly.
Power brokers should be told of the need to ensure peaceful elections by midwifing a free and fair process thereby providing a level playing field for all.
Leaders of thought such as the traditional and religious leaders should be encouraged to preach against the culture of vote-selling as it inhibits community development subsequently.