In primary elections in Nigeria, some believe all power belongs to delegates and not God – they may not be wrong. This year, as the main political parties elect their candidates for the 2023 presidential election, an amendment of the electoral law is raising concerns over how good or bad next year’s poll will be.
When amending Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the National Assembly passed a bill – now signed into law – making it mandatory that all delegates for primaries must be elected for that purpose. By doing so, the lawmakers stripped public office holders in the party of the privilege long enjoyed by those voting in the primaries as statutory delegates, as they are so-called.
Otherwise known as automatic delegates, the statutory delegates vote in primaries alongside ad hoc delegates – the second group who are elected during congresses across the wards in each state.
These statutory delegates include:
- The current president and vice-president and the former office holders
- Governors and their deputies
- Senators, members of house of representatives and of state assemblies
- Local government chairmen and their deputies
- Ward councillors
- Chairman of the party in all the 774 local government areas
But here is the thing: That amendment excluding the statutory delegates from voting was done in “error”, federal lawmakers admitted, with intense lobbying now going on for the president to sign a new amendment bill that brings that provision back.
Though insiders say Buhari may not sign the bill, all eyes remain on him and the electoral umpire as the APC and PDP among other parties remain confused over who would participate in the primaries.
The absence of that provision backing statutory delegates is a “deficiency that was never intended”, Senate President Ahmad Lawan said after the new amendment bill was passed by the upper chamber.
“It is important to enable every statutory delegate to vote,” said Lawan, one of the favourites in the race for the APC presidential ticket. He is believed to be among those to be worst hit by the absence of statutory delegates in the primaries as that would mean the exclusion of National Assembly members he hopes would vote for him.
What’s the big deal about statutory delegates?
The use of statutory delegates is “a very complex model that makes things so difficult”, says Ariyo-Dare Atoye, executive director of Adopt A Goal Initiative, which has been campaigning for electoral reforms in Nigeria. “They can’t continue this approach of cutting corners,” he says of the political parties.
He sees the use of statutory delegates as giving “undue advantage” to current and former political office holders, adding that “a candidate who is going to face a popular election shouldn’t be afraid of a popular process within the party”.
However, some do not see it that way, instead arguing that having fewer delegates comes with reduced opportunity for a democratic process and more chances for manipulation of the outcome.
Nigeria is no closer than we were to credible elections than we were in 2019.
With the number of statutory delegates drastically reduced, it is going to be “extremely costly to Nigerians’ desire for […] better governance from those elected in 2023 because by the time Nigerians are waving their PVCs at the polling booths in 2023, more than 90% of the battle for decent leadership has been lost”, says Ayisha Osori, Director, Open Society Foundations.
“This is because while internal party democracy has always been weak with the major political parties, the reduction in the number of delegates by 70% to 80% due to the disqualification, so to speak, of statutory delegates by Section 84(8) heightens the inequity and deceit around how delegates are selected and how they vote,” Osori tells The Africa Report.
She further argues that even with the new electoral law signed after many years of advocacy, Nigeria is “no closer than we were to credible elections than we were in 2019”.
“Aside [from] the reality that INEC cannot and will not regulate the internal mechanisms of political parties, nor can it reign in the costs of campaigning and the violence associated with elections, a black hole in our elections is how votes are collated and nothing in the 2022 Electoral Act addresses this gap,” she says.
What the numbers show and mean
The leadership of the PDP announced that delegates who vote at the primaries and national convention “shall be those democratically elected for that purpose only” and consequently, “those qualified and eligible to vote as delegates in the forthcoming primaries and national convention of our great party, the PDP, are the three Ad Hoc delegates per ward, elected at the ward congresses and one national delegate per local government, elected at the local government area congresses”.
Sources within the two main parties tell The Africa Report that the current state of affairs leaves out at least 70% of the usual participants from the convention. “We are expecting just about 1,000 people [in Abuja without the statutory delegates], but we still don’t know what could happen with INEC [Nigeria’s electoral umpire] between now and then,” a chieftain of the PDP at the party headquarters says, on condition of anonymity.
In Nigeria, you do not beg for votes whether in the primaries or in the general election
Even with the current status quo, the northwest and the southwest parts of Nigeria – where a large percentage of votes come from – boast of the highest number of delegates from the wards for both the PDP and APC primaries, barring any last-minute change announced by the electoral umpire.
The northwest, with 186 local government areas, has 744 delegates while the south-west, with 137 local government areas, has 548. It is a direct contrast with the southeast – the least with 95 council areas and 380 ward delegates.
Statutory funds for statutory delegates
Some in Abuja see the reduced number as an advantage.
In Nigeria, “you do not beg for votes whether in the primaries or in the general election – you negotiate for the votes with power or money”, says Oladimeji Kunle, an Abuja-based public affairs analyst. “That is why people like Peter Obi [former governor of southeast Anambra state] cannot beat Atiku Abubakar [PDP presidential candidate in 2019] in the PDP primaries.”
In campaigning for votes, he says, “money is a big factor” and statutory delegates “often require much more money because of the greater number, their status and influence”.
Bauchi State Governor and PDP presidential aspirant Bala Mohammed puts this in another perspective in siding with the style of primaries that excludes statutory delegates. “I think the less, the merrier as somebody who is in the race,” he told journalists in Abuja. “I have less delegates to go and woo, it is better for me than all these 4,000, 5,000 delegates.”
The way forward
The first step in overcoming the hurdles to a people’s mandate in Nigerian elections is through political party reforms, says Atoye.
Even as the political parties in the US are holding their primaries for the upcoming midterm polls, the political analyst sees a different trend in Nigeria.
Parties must not continue to cut corners with undue advantage given to former and current office holders as statutory delegates.
“By the performance of each of the candidates in the US, they are almost 40% to 50% sure of who is likely to win at the polls,” he says. “So why is it so difficult for us [Nigeria] to revert to popular participation.”
If Nigeria must adopt the style of democracy in advanced countries, he says one thing must be done: Parties must not “continue to cut corners” with “undue advantage given to former and current office holders as statutory delegates”.