By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
The real time to know whether political games have changed for the better in Nigeria is when there is a major election at stake, such as the upcoming Anambra State governorship election scheduled to hold in November, 2021. By reason of the said election, the tempo of political activities in Anambra State has reached its peak with the primaries of the major political parties, being the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Just simply following the flurry of events in that State is enough to give any reasonable person high blood pressure, as it has become a matter of the more you look, the less you see. From my personal monitoring of political events in the current dispensation, not much has changed, that is if things have not taken an unfortunate turn for the worse. Let us go through the details of the political drama currently playing out in Anambra State.
Anambra State has been under the firm grip of APGA since the dispensation of the new democratic order, due mainly to the strong influence of the late Ikemba, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, its founder. It has not been a smooth ride however, when it is recalled that a sitting governor was once kidnapped in broad daylight in that same State. APGA held its primary election last week, wherein the former governor of Central Bank, Professor Charles Soludo, emerged as its candidate, through the Chief Victor Oye leadership that has been recognized by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. However, it would seem that INEC has some issues with the APGA and due process, as the electoral umpire is claiming that the delegate congress that heralded the primary election was not conducted in line with the Constitution and the Electoral Act. Indeed, in a television interview that I monitored, INEC spokesperson was bantering with one of APGA’s stalwarts, Chief Victor Umeh, on the legality of that process. I was myself wondering about the interest that INEC seeks to protect in openly engaging in partisan arguments by which it has almost transformed itself into a complainant.
The case of PDP is perhaps more intriguing, as Chief Valentine Ozigbo and Chief Ugochukwu Uba emerged as governorship candidates of the party from parallel primaries conducted in the state capital, Awka. The primary election that produced Ozigbo was conducted by the Deputy Governor of Edo State Philip Shaibu-led Committee, while the Chris Uba-led faction similarly organized its own primary election at the University of St. Paul, Awka. Prior to these primaries, the Federal High Court Abuja had sacked the state executive led by Chief Ndubisi Nwobu. The issue is this; how can it be impossible for a political party that has ruled (or misruled) Nigeria for so many years, to organize a primary election in just one State? Given the rate at which its elected officers, including governors, are defecting from the party, the PDP has become more like a shadow of its former self, having not been able to find its bearing since it was booted out of power in 2015.
The confusion trailing the primary election of the APC would seem to dwarf that of APGA and PDP put together. The Chairman of the APC primary election Committee and Governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, announced Dr. Andy Uba as the winner of the said election, thus throwing up some kind of family contest. Andy Uba is a brother to Chief Chris Uba, the factional leader of the PDP State Exco, as well as Ugochukwu Uba, the winner of the factional primary election. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, claimed that the primary election was not held. Also, Chief George Moghalu, who spoke on behalf of 14 other aspirants, corroborated Dr. Ngige’s assertion that the purported primary election did not hold. He maintained that the figures being paraded are votes that emerged from the outcome of a fraudulent process.
The above scenario has been the trend since the advent of democracy in 1999, manifesting in brazen manipulation of all electoral processes through thuggery and violence, alteration of results, imposition of candidates and outright subversion of the will of the people, either during primary or indeed the general elections. It is the unchanging ugly face of Nigerian politicians. But then, who actually is a politician? According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a ‘politician’ is “a person experienced in the art or science of government”, he is the one “actively engaged in conducting the business of a government”. The authors didn’t stop at this positive description, perhaps knowing human beings as they are, particularly the stock of politicians from Nigeria. It is stated further in this Dictionary that a politician could also be a “person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons”. This latter definition aptly captures the true character of Nigerian politicians, who go about spending fortunes on elections meant to secure a political position of service. They go to any length, just to secure victory, including engaging in very devious schemes such as rituals and even murder. One of them actually once declared that politics to him is a do or die affair.
This is the common story with the average Nigerian politician, regardless of the political party he claims to belong to, his primary focus is to capture power by all means possible and thereafter to be in government perpetually. So, if he or his party loses in an election, he either would not accept defeat or wait for the sun to go down before embracing the winner to dump his own party and if his former party is able to displace him in the next election, he goes back to that platform without any thought at all. In the Anambra State example for instance, almost all the candidates have gone round the three main political parties.
The confusion in Anambra State and indeed almost all other zones across the country is due to impunity, by which politicians do not believe in complying with the rules and procedures that they themselves laid down. Impunity reigns in any situation where rules are broken with reckless abandon, where an individual is exempted from the consequences of the breach of law or due process, and where a person holds out himself as above the law and is thus immune from punishment that should ordinarily have been the consequence of his action. It is actually the bane of leadership in Nigeria, where some of those who hold power in trust for the rest of society take it upon themselves to impose upon the people, without giving a hoot as to the effect of such, on the general psyche of the people or even corporate governance. If people give due regard to the processes established by law for general human conduct, then there will be less crisis, less conflicts and indeed less court cases, although some of my colleagues have corrected me that this should not be the wish of any serious lawyer, since conflict in itself is part and parcel of human development and progress.
The Constitution in its section 221 has accorded the political parties the pride of place in the determination of candidates for any election. However, section 87 of the Electoral Act prescribes that “a political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions” and that “the procedure for the nomination of candidates by a political party for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.” The Supreme Court has now put the matter of party primaries beyond controversy, as a matter purely for the internal affairs of the party and therefore not justiciable. In the recent case of APC v. Lere, the Supreme Court, on Friday, May 10, 2019, held as follows: “Candidates are expected to obtain expression of interest and nomination forms, present their certificates for verification and appear before a Screening Committee. This is the stage at which the domestic or internal affairs of the political party are not justiciable. The court will not dabble into how a member of the party is screened, or why a member was not cleared by the party to contest the primary. Put in another way, before a member of the party is cleared, the party has the power to disqualify their member, and is answerable to no one including the courts. A dissatisfied member’s remedy is to leave the party and seek his political ambitions somewhere else.”
Politicians should organize themselves and allow some measure of confidence in the political space, as is applicable in other climes. The Supreme Court gave this admonition in the case of APC v. Marafa, as follows:
“The democratic system this country adopted was borrowed from the United States of America and other Democratic Nations of Europe. Those from whom we borrowed this system are steadily forging ahead in all areas of endeavour in order to create stress free and economically viable nations. For this great country, some politicians either are ignorant of what party politics is, or out of mischief, have continuously dragged this nation backward. If care is not taken, this class of politicians will drag this nation to the Stone Age, where all of us will be consumed. I once again, as this Court has consistently preached, urge this class of politicians to play the game according to law and guidelines which they themselves have enacted. It is only when this is done that sanity will take centre stage in the domestic and international affairs of this great nation.”
If what we currently witness in Anambra State is just the primary election, what then will happen during the main governorship election? It will be good that INEC should be on top of its game, in ensuring free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in the State come November, 2021. Good enough it is an isolated election, which means that security agencies will be less burdened and INEC officers will have the opportunity to deploy all its arsenals to ensure a hitch-free electoral contest. If politicians are unwilling to change their ugly faces, the regulator can help beautify them.