Party delegate system and Nigeria’s democracy: Time for something different



By Angela Agoawike ([email protected])

Two thousand and twenty-three will be a year of reckoning for Nigeria. It is when citizens will exercise their civic rights to choose from a group of an all-male cast, one person who will lead the country for the next four years to 2027. This will be happening nine months after the registered political parties picked one person each from a plethora of aspirants to fly their individual flags in the coming elections.

While the process of picking the candidates lasted, the horse trading was intense with attention focused squarely on the party delegates whose enviable responsibility was to decide who, among their individual party’s aspirant was fit to occupy Aso Rock come 2023. That is how it has always been and may continue going forward, except there is a conscious effort at changing the practice.

The special conferences of the political parties have never been of what is good for the country, but rather, a case of which of the aspirants best meets the financial needs/demands of the delegates. They (delegates) rarely carry with them, the aspirations of the mass of Nigerians in casting their votes, thereby leaving the voters on election days, not necessarily with candidates with plans to tackle issues the electorate care about, or enough patriotism to work for the country’s unity. Rather, the delegates system throws up candidates that leave a great majority of the people choosing one of the lesser evils to cast their votes for.

This, perhaps, may not be divorced from the reasons many Nigerians, especially the non-political party-affiliated, are disengaged from the political process. A costly mistake, no doubt, which everyone pays for at the end of the day.

In the past seven years, a lot has happened in the space called Nigeria. Terrorism has taken root, Unknown Gun Men (UGM) has become a new phenomenon, banditry, and kidnapping, have all found their ways into the country’s daily discourse, while corruption has mutated in the bloodstream of most Nigerians, especially in the public sector. This is even as Nigerians, old and young daily look for ways to escape from a country that is sapping them and giving nothing in return.

For those that manage to escape, they still find themselves fully engaged with the deteriorating state of the union they left behind for the simple reason that they still care and have people back home still going through the stress that is living in Nigeria. For most of them, they do not seem able to truly escape the scorn they face as Nigerians, or the denigrating remarks that regularly accompany the response to ‘where are you from?’

A silver lining though, is that as the race for who replaces President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 heats up, there has emerged an ongoing debate around the delegates system and its contribution, if at all there is any, towards the deepening of Nigeria’s democratic journey.

For a nation which Electoral Act yet does not allow for independent candidacy, the electorate looks up to the political party delegates to pick candidates that have the capability of giving the right leadership to the country, and not just candidates wanting power either for the sake of it, or to fulfil life-long personal ambition, not forgetting the depth of the aspirants’ financial vaults.

Which is why there should be conscious efforts to move towards scrapping the delegates system. Sure, politics is expensive but more of such expense should be expended to trying to reach out to as many Nigerians as possible, selling the manifesto of the candidates, rather than in lining the pockets of about 10,000 men and women, to coerce them into picking who gave out the most amount as candidate of the party, which they eventually foister on over 200 million people. If this country is to get it right, that must change.

More than 60 years after independence, and decades after the truncated third republic by military President General Ibrahim Babangida, it is time for Nigeria to step back in time to revisit the system that almost gave the country a real government of the people, by the people and for the people – the Option A4, introduced by the Professor Humphrey Nwosu-led National Electoral Commission, NEC. That election on June 12, 1993, gave Nigeria what has been adjudged as the freest and fairest election in the country. Unfortunately, the election was annulled by General Babangida, thereby throwing the country into many years of internal conflict.

Adoption of Option will enable the candidates to demonstrate grassroot acceptance. It will not eliminate the influence of money in the country’s electoral process, but it could reduce the humongous amount that is used to buy votes in the current delegates system.

It may also be an expensive process, but again, it will give party members from the ward to national levels, not a select group of money-grabbing politicians, the opportunity to pick their party’s candidate for the general election.

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