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Nigeria decides: Delegates and the curse of pragmatism

One would think that in a country where belief in private part snatching and money doubling persists, we would have fantastic visions of possibilities from our elections. We are comfortable with buying tickets to heaven for N310,000, but draw the line at imagining electoral outcomes that will upset the status quo.

We are skeptical to the point of disparagement, of those who try to engage in the process outside the accepted norms of winning elections. Some tittered at the news that Shehu Sani – former senator for All Progressive Congress (APC) – contesting the gubernatorial ticket for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) got two votes during the primaries after he declared he would not pay delegates. Despite our loud complaints about corruption, he is not applauded for refusing to take part in a corrupt process; he is mocked. “He got one vote for every million Twitter follower.” “He cannot even win in his local government.”

Who knew? What it takes today to win elections and hold power in Nigeria is something to be admired.

There is nothing new, unfortunately, about buying and selling votes at the primaries and the general elections, but not enough has gone into understanding that being able to pay the delegates is not the only determinant of why a person wins or loses, and that there is a connection between our elections and how accountable governments are to the people.

It is true that our politics and elections are increasingly transactional and money plays an inordinate role; however, there are instances where aspirants spend massively and do not get the party ticket or where endless reserves of cash do not determine the outcome of elections. As a deciding factor, money does matter more in a general election than in the primaries with several factors contributing to make primaries more unpredictable when it comes to the power of cash.

One is control of the delegates. The delegates, particularly the ad-hoc ones who are the only category of delegates eligible to vote during the primaries due to the amended provision of Section 84(8) of the 2022 Electoral Act are the easiest to control. Quick primer. Ad-hoc delegates are delegates selected only for the purpose of party primaries – the use of ‘selected’ is deliberate; no one should be fooled by the Electoral Act’s mention of ‘elected delegates’.

Statutory delegates, also known as automatic delegates, are typically elected officials of the party i.e., national chairmen, treasurer, etc. and past and current members of the party who have been elected into office, e.g., the president would be a statutory delegate and so would a former deputy governor. The general belief is that statutory delegates are harder to compromise – they are more likely to ‘vote their conscience’ as if a person who has taken a bribe from several people could still have one. Ad-hoc delegates though, are less likely to have the flexibility to vote as they like because they are selected on the basis of their loyalty or submission to the person(s) who wrote the delegate list. These are the category of delegates that can be corralled away from other aspirants.

This is why at every election season, there are stories of multiple delegate lists and ‘parallel’ primaries taking place for the same positions in the same state. Ganduje and Shekarau struggled over whose delegate list would prevail in Kano. The Supreme Court decision in the first week of May, upholding Ganduje’s faction of the APC contributed to Shekarau’s decision to leave APC for the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP). Ganduje’s control over the delegate list meant had Shekaru stayed in APC and contested for the ticket for Kano Central Senatorial District, he would have lost whether or not he matched his competition Bashir Lado, dollar for dollar.

Read also: 2023: Uneasy calm in Delta over delegates role

Another factor in determining primaries, albeit rarely, is the party elders. These include founders of the party and former presidents, where they are still respected. In this case, regardless of who the delegates vote, or before they vote, it is made clear who the preferred candidate is. Typically, there is a sense of danger, of the possibility of a maverick, or renegade being elected and this triggers an intervention. Again, liquidity would not make much of a difference to the outcome.

A third factor is how the primaries are organised. Depending on where the organisers rank on the ‘fear of unpredictable results’, how the actual casting of the votes (where it is impossible to ‘fake the primaries by ghosting, not sharing location for the primaries or holding it at 3am) is structured can neutralise a generous spender. For instance, at the PDP presidential primaries last week, the delegates cast their votes into one ballot box and then the ballots were sorted and then counted. An alternative arrangement would be to have ballot boxes by state or candidate, where delegates would drop their ballots into their state box or into the box for the aspirant of their choice. Both options make it easier to track how delegates voted and to hold them accountable later. This is the reason why votes are supposed to be secret – to prevent intimidation. By using one box and by making the voting and ballot area phone free – the delegates were free to betray as they wished.

It is clear that what it takes to win primaries and elections is chicanery of the highest order and even when people play the game as it should be, there are no guarantees. Yet, we crow with delight at delegates with zero to low votes and speak with empty authority about what it takes to win without a thought that what it takes to win is what is ruining Nigeria. We are doubly schizophrenic: we believe in miracles, but won’t believe there is any path to political success outside brigandry; we want a better Nigeria but we revel in venal shenanigans to capture power. If we cannot envision it, we cannot realise it.

Too many of us could do with a little more political education and a lot more consistency in our ethics.

Ayisha Osori, author of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’, will be writing for the Nigeria Decides 2023 series every fortnight on Wednesdays.

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