INCREASING RESTRICTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC SPACE
Consensus and high nomination fees constricting political participation, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
When President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill on the ground that the National Assembly, by imposing a mono primaries system on the political parties, was restricting the democratic choices of their members, not a few analysts supported his standpoint. The federal legislature had in an attempt to curb the excesses of the executive, particularly at the state level, imposed direct primaries as the only mode of selection of candidates by political parties.
Faced with the stout presidential opposition and adverse public opinion, the federal legislature expanded the choices to include indirect primaries and consensus modes of selection. But to forestall the propensity of the executive to be overbearing, the legislature legislated a definitive definition of consensus to mean a written consent by all aspirants to concede a position to a particular candidate. Fair enough you might say.
However, the recent special national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress showed how infinitely mischievous and autocratic the Nigerian politicians could be. It had been suspected that the president refused to sign the amendment bill because consensus, his preferred mode of the candidate selection process, was excluded from the document. It was thought that consensus would enable him to exert his influence on the party in order to affect the choice of not only its national leadership but also its presidential candidate.
Those who were in doubt about the president’s motive had their doubt cleared by the outcome of the special national convention where aspirants who had spent precious time and financial resources to express their aspirations were compelled to stand down for the preferred choice of the executive arm of the government at the federal and state levels. Although this was nothing new in the political space, the electoral law had provided the legal framework for this agelong autocracy which in the main strengthens the tendency of political oligarchs to restrict the democratic space.
Perhaps encouraged by their successful outing at the special national convention the APC oligarchs have tried to extend their exploit to the upcoming primaries for the selection of candidates for the 2023 general elections. Talks of consensus candidacy have rented the air with chieftains harping on its efficacy for the unity of the party. The argument is made that contested primaries tend to divide the party ahead of the general election making eventual victory at the main contest more difficult attainment.
The drawback though is that generalisation and enforcement of consensus, which is obviously being done under duress, tend to constrict the democratic space and deny the party the opportunity to deepen its internal democratic processes and culture. For if one or two or more aspirants contend, it opens the internal process to test of contestation of ideals and the ensuing debate and activities have the potential of refining the policies and programmes of the party.
It is, however, fair to say that this malady is not native to the APC as the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party is equally bitten by this bug even if to a more subtle extent. Fortunately, and given the calibre of the presidential aspirants in the leading parties, the scheme appears to be failing and is bound to founder at the end of the day. With the electoral act 2022 compelling voluntary withdrawal in writing, it remains to be seen how Bola Tinubu, a former senator and two-term governor of Lagos State, and Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president and governor-elect of Adamawa State, would be muscled out of the internal contests in their respectful parties.
With the leading aspirants resisting the restriction of the democratic space, the political oligarchs have employed other means. They have introduced prohibitive nomination fees as a way of fencing aspirants. The PDP was earlier in this gaming method. Those who want to be president on its platform would cough out N40million only. Governorship aspirants would do N21 million, while senatorial hopefuls would obtain forms for N3.5 million. The House of Representatives and House of Assembly forms go for N2.5 million and N600,000 respectively. The party was lenient with the youth, granting a 50 per cent discount.
Social critics who took to the media space to pillory the PDP for its high nomination fees soon found out that it was, in fact, kind. The APC came out with its scales of fees earlier in the week. It was simply scandalous. Presidential aspirants were asked to buy forms for N100 million; governorship contestants would do N50 million; would-be senators would pay N20 million; House of Representatives, N10 million; and House of Assembly, N2 million. Like the PDP, it showed mercy to the youth of 25 to 40 years at a 50 per cent discount.
Expectedly, public outrage has come in a torrent. “The current price placed on participation is the very height of political insensitivity and an open invitation to thievery by anyone who could only corruptly meander himself to power,” Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, said through Sola Ebiseni, its general secretary, adding, “How can the poor members of the party who are so blatantly discriminated against, on the basis of their situation in life, contrary to Section 42 of the constitution, participate in the governance of the country, particularly in a country where only a political party can field a candidate and no independent candidate allowed.”
While the social critics have been hauling inventive at the political oligarchs, the victims in both parties have been mute. Already the PDP has reaped N640 million from 17 presidential aspirants alone. The APC result is yet out but it would be mouth-gaping. Notwithstanding the despicable silence within the parties, it should be clear that the democratic space could only shrink to the detriment of the majority of the people who though interested in participating, are unable to step forward because of lack of cash.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from firstname.lastname@example.org