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Delegate’s Hurdles: NASS Comedy Of Errors 

By Ike Abonyi

“ A vote is like a rifle: Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” – Theodore Roosevelt

On 28 December 1549, William Shakespeare published The Comedy of Errors. If the English playwright would leaf through Nigeria’s amended Electoral Act four and a half centuries later, he would turn green with envy. We shall return to that later. 

The mercantile disposition of the national convention of our  leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, may perish the thought of a credible successor to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The late Senator Kanti Bello from Katsina State properly captured today’s situation better when he said that it would be better to deal with Boko Haram than delegates in an election in Nigeria. Delegates are as dangerous as the BH militants who kill and maim but with them you know and prepare yourself to meet an enemy. As for party delegates, you could be off guard, thinking you are dealing with friends and fellow politicians who dine and wine with you but still hit you below the belt. Be it in politics, in professional groups, and in labour unions, delegates could make or mar one’s electoral value.

Party delegates provide the unavoidable bridge that aspirants must cross to get to their destination. Like them or not, you must find a way around them to be able to get to your destination. Some 48 hours from today, this special group of Nigerians called delegates will be at the centre of political discourse. The future of Nigeria’s journey to 2023 will be placed squarely in their hands.

The APC and the PDP will hold their statutory conventions in Abuja to elect flag bearers for the 2023 presidential election. This means that the likely successor to PMB may be known this weekend. At the centre of these activities in the two leading political parties will be politicians elected from their local government areas for this weekend’s assignment of picking the likely President from 2023. Technically, what is happening at the weekend is as critical as the general election itself because one leads to the other.

The controversy surrounding the delegates in this dispensation even makes the weekend’s activity more attractive and curious. Until lately party constitutions enshrined how to select delegates to national conventions. But the National Assembly, in amending the Electoral Act, deemed it fit to tinker with who can be delegates. In the process, the Act overrides the party constitutions. The federal parliament displayed glaring bias on several issues.

First, it provides for the exclusion of political appointees as delegates. By this, the legislature shed the executive arm a lot of powers. In doing this, it allows legislators, being elected people’s representatives, to be automatic delegates. The president and governors do not enjoy this, seeing the insertion as an uppercut from the legislature. Again comes up the issue of resigning from office by political appointees seeking to contest elections. The Act stipulates that ministers, commissioners, and other appointees first must resign before seeking elective offices whereas such a provision does not apply to legislators seeking elective offices. As a result, President Buhari refused to assent to the bill, arguing that by inserting that aspect, the legislature was trying to dictate to the executive arm when appointees should go. Following this logjam, a gentleman’s agreement was entered into between the leadership of the National Assembly and the President that he should sign and make a formal request for the amendment to delete the resignation clause.

While the President met his side of the bargain by signing it and making the formal request, the legislators reneged, jettisoning the President’s request. Aggrieved, the executive arm, found a friendly high court in Abia State, which ordered the deletion of the provision for resignation in the Amended Electoral Act. But that judicial restraint order was short-lived as the Appeal Court axed the lower court verdict for lack of jurisdiction.

That did not mark the end of the drama as the President appeared to be the person laughing last as the legislators committed a huge blunder in drafting the final amendment that was sent to the President for the assenting signature. They omitted critical points on the issue of delegates to national conventions of political parties by erroneously inserting that to raise delegates to National Conventions of political parties, only those elected as delegates for that purpose will qualify to vote for the Presidential flag bearer.

By this, even the representatives of the people excluded themselves as they cannot vote as delegates; even governors and leaders of the political parties organising the conventions were statute-barred. So are the members of the National Working Committee, NWC, members of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the parties, members of the Boards of Trustees, BOT, and the elders and founding fathers of the parties were all kept out from being part of those to pick the presidential flag bearers.

Having dribbled themselves into the President’s court, he was ready for a pound of flesh, fighting off pressures this time to sign the corrected Act. It’s now the President’s turn and he didn’t fail to take it.

Whatever led the National Assembly to commit such costly omissions or even exclude MPs and other critical leaders from voting at presidential primaries must be a demon. This is what you get when selfish motives rather than patriotism drive the making of laws for the public good. What a comedy of errors.

It would remain an enormous dent on the 9th National Assembly that they made history on the wrong side where even the National Chairman of a political party will not participate in the election of their flag bearer. Yes, President Buhari should have considered the larger implications and signed the correction into law but do you blame him when he also selfishly feels that the error favours his pet consensus project. Curious minds are even wondering if the whole saga was an innocent omission or a grand design.

All said and done, what is indisputable is that whichever number or class of delegates is now empowered by law to pick our political leaders for the next four years, are Nigerians.

Our concern now is their sense of judgement and their understanding of the critical job before them.

Any judgmental error in voting as delegates will go far to hurt this country. The right choice they make will place the country’s political journey on the path of national healing. What will the delegates be looking out for? Will they be influenced by the integrity, competence, and nationalism of the aspirants or driven by money and selfish gains since in a society like ours governed by corruption, organised greed always defeats disorganised democracy? Will they be looking at the track records of the aspirants or just be engrossed in the sentiment of religion, tribe, and geopolitical interests that have held this country down since independence 62 years ago? Will they be looking out for a problem solver or going for integrity-challenged persons with deep pockets?

Will they be going for the person who will heal the wound and bring Nigerians to the harmony table or persons whose utterances and mien will further divide us? To what extent will the votes of delegates in all the parties, particularly in APC and PDP, be breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls that have continued to celebrate our differences? The best ballot in a democracy is usually taken when the voters take time to study and understand issues and know how far their vote will go in righting or wronging their community or country. Can we say that these delegates have a sound frame of mind to pick the best for the country?

This delegate hurdle is critical because how we cross it will shape our tomorrow as a nation.

Finally, in underscoring the importance of this weekend’s action to the political lives of Nigeria and its citizens, I like to leave the delegates with this warning from the 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” 

May these delegates never turn on the fire and burn our behinds by how they vote on Saturday at the Eagle Square for APC and the National Stadium velodrome for PDP.

God, help us.

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