Disparate primaries put APC on tenterhooks

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FREEPRESS – The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) could be facing one of its worst crises since it was formed in 2014.
   
The leadership of the party at the national and state levels are singing discordant tunes on the mode to adopt in conducting primary elections to produce the party’s candidates for the forthcoming poll.
 
While President Muhammadu Buhari and the party’s national leadership are in support of direct primaries that would involve all registered members of the party in order to reduce the influence of money politics, and include all stakeholders, governors strongly favour indirect primaries so that they can retain their grip on party machinery.

Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Emeka Okpoko (SAN), who is of the view that the party’s constitution is supreme and should regulate their primaries said, “If the party’s constitution says it is only direct primaries, that is what should be done.

But we need to be very careful in interpreting the party’s constitution because there may still be an omnibus provision somewhere. 

That is why a constitution is not always as simplistic as we assume.

Are we sure that their constitution did not create a leeway somewhere, where the states are trying to anchor their position?”  

He continued: “It is important to understand that the constitution of the party is superior to the decision of their National Executive Committee (NEC), unless the highest decision making body of the party decides to amend the constitution.”

According to him, the bottom line is that the constitution of the party prevails and any member, who is affected and dissatisfied with the decision can challenge it in court.

I can assure you that the courts would be more interested in the constitution of the party because it should be the radar that determines what the party is doing. Once the constitution is clear on that, you follow it.

Another senior lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) aligns with Okpoko on the matter, being an internal affair of the party, adding that a party has the right to decide on the way and manner it conducts it’s primaries, although it must comply with the guidelines provided by INEC and its constitution. 

“So if they adopt direct and it is going to destroy the party, they have themselves to blame. It is the internal workings of the party,” he declared. 

For Owerri, Imo State-based legal practitioner, Mr. Ngozi Olehi, the ongoing conflict has sharply brought to the fore, the divisions in APC. 

This, he said is because there is no provision in the Electoral Act for states to choose whether direct or indirect modes after their party has taken a decision. 

The implication of this conflict, he said, is that APC is loosing control of its state machineries, and if legally challenged, the party will suffer for it.

If challenged by a member, it will further disintegrate the party and it is quite ominous the party can’t keep the states they already have in the next election. 

A national decision should be seen to be binding on the states, whether they like it or not,” he stated. 

Also, Mr. Anthony Omaghomi, a lawyer believes that the indirect primary is an attempt by some politicians to hijack the whole process because they don’t have the popularity to win a fair contest. 

“What they are saying in essence is that if I am a card-carrying member of the party, I don’t have a say on who becomes my representative.

That is the bottom line and that is a clear violation of the right of anybody in an association. 

“They have been disenfranchised completely by that decision. It is shameful and violation of their right.

He reasoned that any member is entitled to decide who he wants to cast his vote for, and who, he thinks will protect his interest. 

His words: “If what the state chapters of the party are doing is at variance with what the national body wants, they must try and synchronise, but like I have said, it is unpopular governors and lawmakers who want to return that are advocating this indirect primary.

Honestly, if I were a member of the party, I will resist it.” 

Kano-based lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Sani, simply wants the party to “assert itself if any of its chapters challenges it. It is the duty of Adams Oshiomhole to sort out their internal matters.

Assuming it is INEC’s guidelines or the Electoral Act, it would have been a matter of law.

If you don’t like the rules or any of the policies of a club the best thing to do is to leave after all, this is the season of ‘decampment’.”

Agreeing more with the national body of the party, Abuja-based lawyer, Abdulaziz Ogbui said the party’s NEC’s decision is more democratic. 

“The problem with that is whether they have a kind of verifiable register for members. Let it not be like the 1992 election of the NBA in Port Harcourt, where all manner of people came and claimed they were lawyers, attempting to vote, and that stalled the NBA Conference for more than seven years.

“If the party does not have an authentic, identifiable membership register in each locality, then there is the possibility that mercenaries can be hired to vote for a particular candidate.

Again, there is this fear that it is politicians like unpopular governors who are against direct primary and in favour of indirect primary,” he submitted. 

“Again, the APC should be on the look out, in the sense that if they allow those party chieftains to have their way, it may be a sign of what lies ahead, which is lack of party discipline. 

So, the APC should strategically adopt a position that will make them avoid humiliation since they are reading the handwriting on the wall,” Ogbui said, adding, “but if they insists, then they must stamp their feet and ensure that the resolution of the national body is respected, otherwise, they will have crisis in the future.”
 
In the midst of the hullabaloo generated by the primary mode, the National Legal Adviser of the party, Babatunde Ogala, insists that there was no cause for alarm as the APC has the mechanism to resolve whatever crisis.”

“There is really no threat to the unity of the APC in the current circumstance because the leadership had taken a decision that would promote internal democracy and strengthen party politics in the country.

All these talks about a brewing crisis in the APC is not true.

There is no crisis and there is no ambiguity in what the leadership of the party agreed upon.

The NEC of the party agreed that the states should make their choice,” Ogala said.

This is in line with democratic tenets all over the world especially in the United States where there are differences in electoral management at state levels.

“In a democracy, there are always people that will oppose any system because we disagree to agree.

That is democracy and party politics. If there is any genuine complaint, we will look into the grievances and treat them on their merit.

What the national leadership said was that each state, after considering their peculiarities and internal political set-ups, should adopt any of the two options.

But of course, they must carry all critical stakeholders along in reaching a consensus on the option the state would take.”

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