GUEST COLUMNIST BY MAGNUS ONYIBE
Despite the huddle placed on the path of political actors via section 84 clause (9) in Electoral Act 2022, which demands that for a consensus process of election in political parties to be deemed legitimate, it must be consented to in writing by all the registered candidates contesting for that office: the resort to consensus methodology in the recruitment of our political leaders has become the most preferred process of producing candidates for the 2022/23 general elections in our politically beleaguered country.
In some cases, there are breaches of the provision in Section 84 clause (9) of the Electoral Act 2022 which requires that for a consensus candidate to be accepted as legitimate, all the candidates vying for the same office, and who have signified interest by paying for and obtaining the party’s nomination forms, must have put down in writing their acceptance to step down for the consensus candidate and A VOTING EXERCISE, even if symbolically, has to be conducted.
Hitherto ‘elders’ of the party, willy-nilly, dictated who is crowned as a consensus candidate, and it was often done without recourse to the other contestants who had not been chosen.
And in most cases, the ‘chosen’ one is the highest bidder or the fellow who presented the highest filthy lucre to the so-called leaders of the party.
That element of dictatorship, made consensus methodology, a selection process rather than an election process that it ought to be.
Real political party election in a democratic system, presupposes that there would be horse-trading and jostling for delegates that would cast their votes in favor of the preferred candidates of the members of the party who are the delegates or registered, not just a few elders intent on illegally appropriating the rights of fellow members of the party.
It is worrying that oftentimes, votes are not cast when a consensus process has been adopted. Rather candidates emerge by fiat.
That is a breach of the electoral law of our country which is sanctionable.
Therefore it is surprising and curious that, such an aberration is being claimed to be the case with March 26, 2022, APC convention which was allegedly conducted via a consensus process without the voting aspect -a prerequisite for the conferment of legitimacy on the exercise.
As such, it is a ground for litigation with a view to declaring the ruling party’s convention illegal, null and void if and when the allegation is tested in court to determine if indeed the APC met the minimum requirement of section 84, clause (9) of the electoral law 2022.
In the event that it is proven that voting never took place during the convention where a consensus option was exercised, as it is being alleged, it would be in violation of the Electoral Act 2022 and a negation of a cardinal principle in a functional democracy of which voting is an intrinsic part of the general process that is grounded in the majority-wins-the-votes mantra which is a foundational bulwark and fulcrum of democracy.
As we all are well aware, a truly democratic process is characterized by the wooing of delegates by the candidates contesting for public offices who must market, sell or pitch their manifestos to the voters with a view to persuading them to cast their votes in their favor in order to emerge as winners.
Against the backdrop of the scenario described above, it is trite to state that the resort to consensus option which is bereft of any of the protocols outlined earlier, as conditions precedent, is suboptimal since it falls short of the legal requirement for the process of consensus to be said to have been fully consummated.
Striped of those politicking adornments, in the opinion of purists and defenders of democracy, of which l am one, consensus candidacy in more ways than one, devalues and denigrates democracy.
That is simply because the atmosphere for disaffection amongst politicians to thrive evolves when the other interested candidates in public offices being contested are prevented from testing their mettle to win votes at the polls based on the strength of their plans and programs of development for the progress and betterment of the electorate.
It needs to be emphasized that consensus candidacy institutionalizes zoning and promotes prebendal considerations which attenuate the value or dilute the potency of democracy.
Unarguably, the imposition of candidates via consensus is responsible for the preponderance of political party-related cases in courts which is a manifestation of the feeling of disenfranchisement by victim politicians of that unwholesome process of recruiting leaders.
To be clear, while one is not making a case for the total elimination of consensus candidacy in politics in our beloved Nigeria, the point being made is that in an ideal situation, resort to consensus is an exception rather than the rule.
Unfortunately, the adoption of consensus for producing candidates for political office contestation in the current political dispensation in our dear country is tending towards reaching an epidemic proportion.
The assertion above is validated by the fact that before the APC leveraged consensus in conducting its primaries on 26 March, 2022, the main opposition party, PDP had also deployed the consensus method for the conduct of its party’s convention held on 30-31 October 2021.
To put in perspective the unwholesomeness of the consensus option of producing political office seekers by parties, let us take a critical look at the main opposition party, PDP which currently has a motley crowd of fourteen (14) men and women who have declared interest in the presidency by purchasing the nomination forms.
The current push for the adoption of a consensus process for choosing the party’s presidential flag bearer driven by the former senate president, Bukola Saraki, would likely not augur well for the party as it could trigger combustion and conflagration of the party, if adopted simply because the candidates to be weeded out may feel short-changed since they were denied the opportunity to slug it out at the polls, which is the ideal requirement for a leadership recruitment process to be adjudged as being fair and democratic.
The susceptibility of consensus process to being divisive is accentuated by the fact that the candidates that have literally thrown their hats into the ring are men and women of high caliber who are either political, corporate, or media/civil society advocacy juggernauts. They range from heavyweight and battle-tested leaders like ex Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is a veteran of about 6 presidential contests to the former senate president, Bukola Saraki, Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal -both of whom contested the last presidential primaries in 2019 on the platform of the PDP. In the list of the noncareer politicians who also contested in 2019, but on the platform of fringe political parties are Dele Momodu and Omoyele Sowore, both of whom are media entrepreneurs, as well as civil and political rights advocates.
The first time contenders for the presidency like ex-secretary to the government of the federation, who is also an ex senate president,Anyim Pius Anyim, Bauchi state governor, Bala Mohamed, Sam Ohuanbunwa, a pharmacist, and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen an ex-banker, are also featured in the burgeoning ranks of presidential candidates in the PDP fold.
Bringing up the rear is a physician from the USA, Nwachukwu Anakwenze, and the only female in the male dominated list, Olivia Diana Teriela.
Considering the caliber of the aforementioned candidates, how can a consensus process be an efficacious methodology for producing a flag bearer that would be considered acceptable,given the high quality and standard of the contestants (not timid by any measure) highlighted above, who will be denied the ticket? Plainly put, would fellow contestants see the consensus candidate as being deserving of the victory, and therefore inspire committed follower-ship after the order of the 2019 presidential contest which Atiku Abubakar won, and a fellow contender, Bukola Saraki graciously became the Director-General for his campaign?
That is exactly the reason the consensus initiative being driven by about half of the contenders for the presidency, of which the party primaries for candidates in the general elections scheduled for next month May 28 , is currently facing severe headwinds.
Having elevated democracy from being a mere selection process (which is actually subterfuge by another name) to the real election process (a basic tenet of democracy) via electoral reforms (evidenced by the use of electric accreditation and voting methods -BVN etc) started by president Umaru Yar’dua of blessed memory before he passed away in 2010 and now consolidated by president Buhari; why should democracy be allowed to suffer a reversal of fortunes through the resort to mainly consensus process as opposed to indirect and direct primaries?
In light of the fact that both the main opposition party PDP and the ruling party at the center APC, have exhibited an uncanny penchant for tilting more towards consensus, is it not safe to conclude that the architects of the initial electoral reform bill 2020/21 which was vetoed by president Buhari had anticipated that having consensus as an option would be very alluring to politicians and could therefore be used to debase and possibly thwart the democratic process that was on the ascendancy in our country, hence it was not recommended?
Instead, the only direct primary was proposed in the original bill presented for presidential assent, as a hedge against the current situation whereby consensus appears to be the favorite option being adopted.
Before, going into the nitty-gritty, perhaps, it would help in putting the issue in a better perspective, by examining the dictionary meaning of consensus which is somehow a merger of two words Con and Census.
According to the Oxford dictionary, Con-is to persuade (someone) to do or believe something by lying to them, and Census-is an official count or survey, especially of a population.
So, a combination of con and census make up the word consensus.
From the description above, it is easy to identify an element of fraud in the word consensus.
That probably underscores the propensity with which some politicians prefer that process of producing candidates for public office elections to direct or indirect primary options.
In a nutshell, it is the Con aspect of the Census of opinion that explains the popularity of consensus type of primaries which is subject to manipulation by vested interests who had hitherto engaged in fraudulent election practices via ballot box snatching and stuffing; writing of results with hijacked sensitive and critical election result sheets before elections are conducted ; and abduction of election umpires such as returning officers who are placed under duress to append their signatures to the fake results , sometimes at gunpoint, to subvert the will of voters.
The foregoing perfidious acts were the hallmarks of previous electioneering processes and the factors responsible for the mooring of Nigeria’s political ship in shallow waters, instead of sailing in the ocean of political evolution, as it should, after over sixty (60) years of independence continuous practice of a democratic system of governance, back-to-back since 1999.
But following the recent improvements in the process of political leadership recruitment, arising from the reform of the electoral process that was last reviewed in 2010, culminating in the electoral act 2022, as reflected by the introduction of technologically driven electronic elements in voters’ accreditation and voting processes, such as the reliance on BVN, BVAS and electronic transmission of results from polling units to Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC database, the aforementioned vices that enabled rigging that negatively impacted election outcomes have been effectively eliminated.
And, just as the benefits of the positive values in the electoral reforms are about to be reaped, the process that is the most amenable to manipulation, which is election the consensus process, instead of direct or indirect primaries, is currently the most attractive to politicians for exploitation with magnetic force and in a manner that bees are attracted to honey, butterflies to nectar and monkeys to banana.
While the PDP convention was conducted via consensus, it is on record that only the position of the secretary of the party was contested through an indirect primary as the candidates for that position failed to be persuaded by party leaders to step down for one or the other.
Similarly, the APC convention was basically a carbon copy of the PDP one. The only exception is that more offices were competed for by the candidates who exercised their rights not to step down for ‘anointed’ candidates , rather , opted to slug it out via balloting.
My understanding is that the number of positions in that category is in excess of ten (10).
As things currently stand, political radars and indicators suggest a consensus process would most likely be the preferred option for the conduct of primaries by both the ruling party at the center, APC, and the main opposition party, PDP.
Clearly, owing to its susceptibility to abuse, the consensus method of producing candidates by political parties for general elections would most likely be brought back to the drawing board for further improvements during the next round of electoral reforms, very likely in the lifespan of the tenth (10th) assembly which commences after May 29, 2023.
The aim would be to make the votes of the majority of party members count, in order to further confer integrity on the process of electing public officers in our beloved Nigeria, in pursuit of our quest for the practice and entrenchment of liberal democracy, which we have for too long been craving in our clime.
Hopefully, that would be in addition to the introduction of electronic voting, voting by mail, and diaspora voting which are further improvements that would make the process more transparent and boost the quality of our electioneering process.
And it is likely that in the course of the next political dispensation, (2023/27) the lack of financial resources to fund direct and indirect primaries and the frightening level of insecurity in the north that could expose voters in the north to the risks of attack by terrorists, bandits or outlaws, which are the factors cited by president Buhari for rejecting the proposal by the National Assembly, NASS for direct primaries to be the sole process of producing candidates by political parties, and the reason for consensus candidacy becoming the favorite option for current political actors, would have abated as our economy might have rebounded and the sordid state of insecurity in our country would have also recorded improvements-all things being equal.
Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.
*Conversation continues on magnum.ng.