The power of the voter’s card is tempered by certain electoral practices in the country that need to go away.
Over the past few months, the permanent voter’s card (PVC), issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has attained the status of peak reverence in Nigeria.
A job recruiter has disqualified job applicants for not possessing one, a presidential aspirant has asked wives to deny sex to husbands who haven’t got theirs, and a religious leader has divinely declared it a sin to be a Nigerian of voting age without acquiring the voter’s card as Nigeria barrels towards the 2019 general elections.
The voter’s card has largely been touted as a weapon that’ll be used to usher in another political revolution in the country as many Nigerians are being encouraged to exercise their electoral power.
While speaking recently in Lagos, presidential aspirant, Fela Durotoye said the voter’s card is an important weapon for the electorate to wield to choose a future that they desire.
“We need to get our PVCs. PVC is not a nice thing to have, it’s a need thing to have if you want a future that you can choose. In fact, for me PVC is not just permanent voter’s card, it’s the power to vote your choice,” he said.
While the sentiments of Durotoye, and others like him, are well-placed, it’s a different story when you examine how much of a role the wishes of the electorate actually play in electing the best candidates for political offices with their voter’s cards.
The big question mark over Nigeria’s delegate system
Over the years, primary elections have become an integral part of Nigeria’s electoral system as parties get together separately to elect a flag bearer to contest for elective positions on their platforms.
It is during the primary elections that parties go through an elimination process where they cut down a pool of challengers to just one to represent them at general polls, and this is where elections really happen.
In the Electoral Act of 2010, Section 87 stipulates that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for various elective positions could be by a direct or indirect process. While the direct procedure involves registered members of the party getting an equal opportunity to vote for the flag bearer as the general populace does in a general election, the indirect procedure empowers a special group of voters called ‘delegates’ to make the choice for everybody else.
Delegates are usually elected through ward congresses where registered party members elect people that will represent them at local, state and national congresses.
Some parties, most notably the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), adopt a method where any registered party member that is also an elected or appointed public official is automatically a delegate at local, state and national congresses. They are called “statutory delegates”.
For the primary election that led to the emergence of the flag bearer of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) at the 2015 presidential election, the party used both elected and statutory delegates to choose current president, Muhammadu Buhari.
Even though the Electoral Act makes provisions for two clear processes, political parties have notoriously opted for the closely-guarded indirect delegate system to elect flag bearers on their platforms.
The procedure has been heavily criticised most especially for being too easily manipulated by party leaders, aspirants, as well as delegates who have turned it into a money-making scheme.
In principle, a delegate should act through voted delegation by casting votes based on the wishes of the group of people they represent. However, delegates have frequently been accused of hawking their precious votes to the highest bidder and discarding the collective wish of the delegation they’re supposed to responsibly represent to line their own pockets.
This incredibly-flawed democratic procedure has ensured that the electoral factory consistently churns out an unending stream of inadequate political office holders who most likely engage the occasional dishonest method to attain their positions.
As gate-keepers who enjoy the mandate of strengthening Nigeria’s democratic chain by electing capable hands based on the true representations of the wishes of Nigerians, delegates typically fall behind the highest bidder.
This effectively incapacitates candidates of unreserved integrity who are competent enough to occupy positions that continue to accommodate an inadequate political crop and denies the electorate the opportunity of getting fair dividends of democracy.
The inadequacy of the zoning system
Fixing the flawed delegate system will also require that attention is paid to another major drawback in Nigeria’s electoral conduct which has been allowed to run unimpeded.
During its non-elective convention in 2017, the PDP’s leadership reached the decision to zone the party’s presidential ticket for the 2019 presidential election to a candidate from the northern region, while other positions, such as the party’s chairmanship, got zoned to members from the south.
Since that decision was made, Uche Secondus, a party member from the south, has been elected the chairman of the national working committee as the party prepares to wrest power back from the APC.
The party’s cast-iron decision to present a candidate from northern Nigeria for the 2019 presidential campaign has meant that a declaration of intent from someone like Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose, to contest for the presidency on the party’s platform next year has been laughed at by its leadership simply because he’s a southerner. Then-acting chairman, Ahmed Makarfi, noted that Fayose’s 2019 ambition was not “in compliance with the position of the party” on zoning.
With the PDP’s decision to zone its ticket to the north regardless of if a better candidate emerges from the south, the party has already denied a large pool of worthy aspirants the opportunity to even contest on its platform.
When delegates are not selling out to aspirants for money, a zoning decision such as the one the PDP has made is bound to impact the decision of delegates to fall in line when it’s time to elect a primary candidate later this year even if an aspirant from the south is overwhelmingly better than one from the north where the ticket has been gifted.
Decades ago, the party made the decision to assign elective and appointive positions to party members based on a rotational policy that notably jettisoned competence. Despite the well-intentioned motive to use zoning to ‘equitably’ distribute power fairly among Nigeria’s very diverse crop of ethnic regions, the practice fundamentally runs against letting democracy take its due course.
While the PDP most notably employs the zoning system, other prominent parties, including the APC, are believed to be unofficially using the same process to decide elective and appointive positions.
Are you really voting your choice?
With a cocktail of zoning and an incredibly-flawed delegate system, the Nigerian electorate have been feeding off scraps for decades and keep getting cheated out of receiving the best possible representation in public offices.
While the illusion of voting for their choices has been championed every election season, the truth is Nigerians have oftentimes been forced into a corner where they have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
It’s actually an electoral culture in the country to vote for a candidate that you think is the lesser of two evils because the institution keeps churning out people who have most likely bent the corner in some way to get into a position where they can become the general electorate’s ‘choice’; this, at the detriment of more well-intentioned people who don’t have the stomach to dabble in the dark arts of the country’s intricately-dubious electoral system.
These systems are radically unhelpful in helping Nigeria navigate a period when the public is feeling completely exhausted and disillusioned with its political crop. For a transparent and more credible system where the people that get platforms to contest for offices are, for all intents and purposes, the choice candidates of a large portion of the people, the delegate system needs to be scrapped or at least revamped into something more reliable.
During his speech on The Platform, Durotoye urged Nigerians to show more active interest in the country’s politics by joining political parties and fighting for reforms in voting laws to create a sound internal democracy.
He said, “More importantly, you also need to go and join a party but not just any party; prefer to join a party where you’ll have voting rights as a member.
“If you cannot get voting right as a member, work very hard to become an executive and a delegate and then work to change the constitution of those parties. Until parties have internal democracy, we don’t have internal democracy, we have selectocracy.”
There are already efforts being made by some to be more transparent. For example, the National Secretary of KOWA Party, Mark Adebayo, announced in April 2018 that all party members will be delegates at its 2018 national convention and presidential primary election.
More parties should adopt this system as it is the most reliable in ensuring that the candidates that emerge as flag bearers in general elections are the products of a large section of regular voters and not instalments of a few greedy people whose palms have been greased. This is not to say the system is impervious to manipulations too, but it’s easier to bribe, say, 5,000 delegates than it is to bribe 500,000.
For years, armed with just voter’s cards and good wishes for the country, the Nigerian electorate has been systematically forced to decide to vote for candidates who have emerged from a system that hardly rewards competence.
This has watered down the significance of voting for your choice; and, until it is fixed, the voter’s card will continue to simply be an empty symbol of a useless electoral system.