“That these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
(U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.)
This is about the most famous declaration of all times, when talking of democracy as a system of government. It is one of the greatest and most influential statements in relation to politics and governance. Generally speaking, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. According to the Britannica, ‘DEMOCRACY literally is rule by the people. The term is derived from the Greek demokratia, which was coined from demos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th Century BCE to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens.’ It has since become the preferable system of governance acceptable to many. And even in countries ruled through monarchies, there is still the element of involvement of the people.
Section 2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) prescribes federalism as the system of government, consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory. Section 4 of the self-same Constitution vests legislative powers in the National Assembly consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, while section 5 vests executive powers of the Federation in the President and that of the States in the Governors. Under and by virtue of section 6 of the Constitution, judicial power is vested in the courts established by the Constitution or any other law. The Constitution in its section 14 (1) entrenched the Lincoln concept of democracy in the Nigerian situation when it states that “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.” We therefore as a people accept it as a binding principle to be governed through our elected representatives, especially in relation to the legislative and executive arms. This is the best approach in the circumstances of a country of over 200 million people since everybody cannot be the President, the Governor or legislator. But we must not lose sight of the fact that in adopting representative democracy as the system of governance, the Constitution carefully retained power for the people, in section 14 (2) (a), wherein it states that “it is hereby accordingly declared that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.”
The legislators have attempted to infuse the concept of democracy into the political parties through section 84 of the Electoral Act 2022 by providing for direct and indirect primary elections through which they will produce their candidates to stand for elective offices. In the case of direct primary elections, all members of a political party that adopts this method are expected to vote for the candidates whilst in the case of indirect primary elections, delegates are to be assembled in a chosen location to vote for the candidates. This is why in section 142 of the Electoral Act, direct primaries is defined as “an election at which candidates for elective offices are chosen by direct vote of political party members instead of by delegates at a convention or congress”. Although the Act did not define what an indirect primary election means, the plausible interpretation is to take it as the opposite of direct primaries as defined above. Probably for convenience and to cut costs, most political parties have adopted the indirect primary election to choose their candidates, which leads us to the issue of delegated democracy.
Although the word was used in several sections of the Electoral Act, there is no specific definition of who should or can be a DELEGATE. According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a delegate is “a person acting for another: such as a representative to a convention or conference”. He is an agent, assignee, attorney or a representative who is entrusted with the responsibility of exercising authority on behalf of the one who has chosen or appointed him. In a cartoon circulating on social media, a pupil was asked by the teacher to state his career path and he responded without batting an eyelid that he would love to be a delegate. In times past, we did not hear much about them because godfathers would just simply issue binding commands to them. However, section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act has placed delegates in the limelight by insisting that political parties should adopt democratic methods in choosing their delegates who would in turn choose the candidates, making them the bride in this new dispensation.
The experience with the delegate system has not been very comforting but it is about the best that we can have now, if it is properly implemented. The monetization of the delegate system has posed a great challenge to the practice of democracy, whereby the choice of candidate is not necessarily based on programmes, ideologies and principles but rather payment of money. The amount being paid cannot be ascertained but it is sad enough that the concept of democracy is being bastardized by moneybags, as they are called. In our case, the delegates simply sold their consciences and in that way, sold off Nigeria and its prospects. Once the vote is based on any consideration other than merit, character, track record, integrity and manifestoes, then democracy is in peril. The present situation in Nigeria has become scandalous, given the reports that we have read or heard through the media. In one bizarre case, an aspirant who had paid to delegates hoping to buy their votes, was shocked to record only two votes at the primary election, vowing to recover his money, as confirmed in this report monitored in the media.
“Adamu Namadi, son of former Vice President Namadi Sambo, has confirmed receiving a refund from delegates after losing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House of Representatives ticket for Kaduna North Federal Constituency. Reports earlier emerged that drama ensued when Namadi who allegedly gave each delegate N2 million and promised to add N1.5 million if given the ticket, asked them to refund the money. Reacting in a statement on Wednesday, the former aspirant justified his action, saying ‘there was nothing dramatic about the request, and it is unfortunate the media has been purporting it as such’. According to him, there was an agreement between the delegates and stakeholders in the constituency prior to the primary election that those not favoured by the outcome of the election should be refunded.
He said, ‘delegates themselves are aware of the directives given by the major stakeholders of the PDP in the Kaduna North constituency, that any sums given to delegates by various aspirants for their support should be returned to those unsuccessful in their primary elections.’
In the present dispensation, PDP has not pretended to conduct any transparent primary election at all, as it was all a game for the highest bidder. This happened all over the country and even at its national convention for the election of its presidential aspirant. The open display of corruption and the shamelessness with which it was practiced and adopted as the policy of a political party seeking to take over power from the ruling party leaves much to be desired. In yet another case, an aspirant who spent N100m on delegates in order to secure their votes as the candidate of the PDP for the House of Representatives but lost the election to a higher bidder, consulted with and recruited vigilantes and hunters in his community to help him recover his money from all the delegates. Dr. Doyin Okupe has confirmed that presidential aspirants of the PDP were ready to give each delegate the sum of N4.1m for the presidential primary election. In Ondo State, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, who lost the PDP primary election for the Senate, demanded for the return of the cars given to induce party leaders and dollars paid to delegates, including money released as hotel expenses. There is enough evidence to invoke the provisions of the law against bribery and corruption, whilst the National Assembly reworks the Electoral Act to regulate the activities of delegates and aspirants. It will be no surprise that the case of the ruling All Progressive Congress would not be anything different, but it has so far kept its bargains under wraps and away from the media. By the time the APC convention is held finally, we will get to know the intrigues of the monetary bargains.
Why on earth would anyone invest N100m in a House of Representatives election? To do what exactly? Without any doubt, APC is to blame for the embarrassing monetization of the electoral process. Or else, why would a political party, claiming to fight corruption, ask aspirants to pay N100 million just to buy a nomination form? And twenty-eight aspirants bought the form, some through their proxies, even though they had to abandon the process for one reason or the other. That singular act of the APC hiked the stakes for the delegates, their reasoning being that if an aspirant could dole out N100 million to buy his nomination form, surely he should be able to spend much more to secure his election.
INEC should enforce its powers under section 87(1) of the Electoral Act to place limitations on the amount of money to be contributed to political parties and to demand for their source of funds and also monitor the parties. By section 88 of the Electoral Act, electoral expenses are limited as follows:
(i) Presidential election, N5 billion; (ii) Governorship election, N1 billion;
(iii) Senatorial election, N100 million; (iv) House of Representatives election, N70 million; (v) House of Assembly election, N30 million; (vi) Chairman, Area Council election, N30 million; and (vii) Councillorship election, Area Council, N5 million.
Section 88 (8) which states that no individual or other entity shall donate to a candidate more than the total sum of N50 million should be extended to aspirants as well and INEC should be granted powers to deregister political parties involved in corruption and inducement of votes. We cannot posit that it was an error to entrust democracy to delegates but if they have seen and taken this process as their bazaar, they will have themselves to blame at a later date. As the APC convention is being awaited, the huge challenge upon the party is to practice what it preaches in the name of fighting corruption.