Today's piece is dedicated to Job Obanor and others like him who are physically challenged in one way or the other but who have refused to be tied down by their challenges. Obanor was a member of the defunct Bendel State House of Assembly in the Second Republic. He is now visually impaired and must be taken everywhere by a grandson.
It was around 5.30 a.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2012. The phone rang and it was Job Obanor: "My son, I hear the primary for Oshiomhole is today. Where are they doing it?" I told him it was going to take place in the 192 wards of Edo State. Then, he quickly responded: "That means I have to go to Uhi".
I tried persuading him not to go because of his condition. He insisted he must go. According to him: "I may soon die. If this is the last thing I am going to do for that young man, let me do it". That's Obanor for you - a man of stoic discipline and iron determination, who once he decides on something, cannot be stopped.
There have been lots of debates around the desirability or otherwise of organising a primary for a single, unopposed aspirant in a political contest.
The idea of subjecting an unopposed candidate to further test is supported by three main reasons: It is a check against the infamous "returned unopposed" syndrome of yesteryears; it is also the greatest check against imposition; and it is a call to celebration.
The history of further testing the unopposed candidate dates back to the Second Republic, precisely, 1982, when members of the National Assembly were working on the Electoral Bill of that year. The bitter experience of the turbulent politics of the First Republic indicated that a lot of harm was done in the name of election.
The common practice of that era was for some strong political machines to lock up their political opponents in police custody towards the closing of nomination. The result of this was that while those opponents languished in police custody, the political "frauds" were declared "returned unopposed" and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Members of the National Assembly were alive to this type of ugly situation when they introduced an amendment to the Electoral Bill 1982, to the effect that when a candidate is nominated unopposed, he would still have to test his popular acceptance with the generality of the electorate. "YES" and "NO" boxes would be provided and the candidate would be declared elected only if the "YES' votes outnumbered the "NO" votes.
Akin to the above, the test of the unopposed candidate is a check on imposition. Up till now, the PDP, which relishes in imposition of anointed candidates, is unable to comprehend why an unopposed candidate like Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had to be taken to the grassroots for the final determination of his candidacy.
Since the issue first arose in the Electoral Act 1982, it has become a permanent feature in subsequent Electoral Acts and a requirement of law that in the event of the emergence of an unopposed candidate, the owners of the party, the grassroots people must have a final say in the determination. The ACN stance presumes the possibility of the leadership of the Party forcing a particular candidate down the throat of all members of the Party.
In the particular case of Comrade Oshiomhole, his popular acceptability is near unanimous. Out of the 341,333 party members who were accredited to vote, he received 334,269 "YES" votes, which represented a score of 97.9 percent. In this case, the leadership is able to go to sleep, satisfied that they made a good choice while the generality, the grassroots people are satisfied that they have participated in the process of producing the party's candidate. This is the essence of participatory democracy.
For sinister reasons, the PDP has described the primary for an unopposed candidate as a jamboree, a wasteful exercise. For genuine reasons, we also accept that the exercise was a celebration at its best. Every aspect of the primary was symbolic. The primary for the selection of a governorship candidate is a unique feature, which every party member looks forward to every four years. It cannot be done by private treaty. It is celebration time.
The direct primary co-opts every member of the party into the process of selecting a flag bearer. It says that instead of transporting a few selected members of the party, delegates, so-called, to go and fight at Ogbemudia Stadium, after which, you take still a selected few to go and pop Champagne at the candidate's lodge, it is better to go and gyrate from all the wards to the local government headquarters and finally end up at the State Headquarters of the Party.
Essentially, a good primary is the very beginning of success at the poll. That clearly underscores the need for participatory celebration. At the grassroots level, the best palm wine must report and as many goats as possible must cry. Then, you needed to see the grand finale at the Airport Road Offices of the ACN last Saturday. That was a carnival. We had fun. It was an opportunity to roll out the drums.
In the main, to deny members of the Party the opportunity of testing the unopposed candidate would not only have been unlawful, it would also have been unjust and would have taken away the shine in politicking.