interviewBy Turaki A. Hassan and Abbas Jimoh
Chief Max Gbanite, Convener of Concerned PDP Democrats explains why he says the ruling party should dispense with presidential primary saying it is to avoid divisive internal politics. Excerpts:
You said the PDP should abolish the system of presidential primaries to adopt the American model, can you explain how this can work?
Party primaries are necessary to choose flag bearers for political parties before the main election. It is dubbed the election before the election. Sometimes, the real choice of the people may not emerge in party primaries especially when the delegates' system of selection is involved and money plays a significant role in the choices made. At other times, the primaries become so acrimonious that cracks develop among party members leading to disaffection and defection to other parties.
It has also been established that even when a political party like the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) adopts the conclave system otherwise known as consensus in choosing their candidates, those dissatisfied almost always move against the preferred candidate. The case of Ondo in the last election when some ACN aspirants defected to Labour Party bears mention. What it means therefore is that a political party cannot be too careful in the management of its primaries so as to guard against dissension and anti-party activities.
You sound as if the process of primaries is entirely flawed...
That was the scenario President Goodluck Jonathan referred to in his last presidential chat when he declared PDP primaries as battle fronts because of the perceived belief that whoever gets or picks the party tickets in a primary election is as good as the winner in the main election. As the ruling party in Nigeria, PDP has faced so many challenges in the management of its internal affairs that even outsiders had expressed concerns over its future. The opposition has in fact been praying for the implosion of PDP which had been in power since the return of Nigeria to democracy in 1999.
Because of the obvious danger and threat to the continued dominance of PDP, it has become absolutely necessary for the party to take a second look at the rules governing the conduct of its presidential primary.
But sitting presidents have been challenged in primaries in the past....
Those recurring errors are what should be avoided in the tortuous road of endorsing a candidate for future presidential elections in Nigeria. Yes, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and others have severally challenged the incumbent president without success even when they are certain of winning. The truth is that all organs and the processes of power in the ruling party are naturally skewed in favour of the incumbent president. For instance , he is the leader of the party , he contributes over 70 percent of the finances of the party , police , and other security apparatus are all under him as the Cin C , the Federal Executive Council , the economy , anti corruption agencies, just name it are all under his control . It's near impossibility for an incumbent president to lose his party's primary ticket. Every patriotic PDP member must look at this proposal purely on its merit and with the experiences of the past. PDP must decide now to realistically re engineer it's self for the future.
In advanced democracies of the world, especially United States of America whose presidential model we seek to chart, the incumbent President is not subjected to the indignity of primaries because he or she is the symbol or the strength and capacity of the party. He is always given the right of first refusal. In other words, except he declines to re contest, the road is cleared for him to pick the party's ticket effortlessly.
How does your position square with the presidential aspiration of Ndigbo in 2015?
Who are their partners in pursuit of such ventures? After President Goodluck Jonathan has done a second term then such matters can be visited. An Igbo president for Nigeria remains a noble, great and fantastic option for Nigeria.
Is this idea specifically tied to the person of President Jonathan and 2015 or is it something that goes beyond Jonathan?
Please, for the avoidance of doubt, let me stress that this proposal for the National Executive Committee of the party to amend the PDP constitution to abrogate primaries for our sitting president has nothing to do with President Goodluck Jonathan as a person or with 2015 in focus. It is a most patriotic and pragmatic suggestion on how to show leadership to the nation and ensure that we face any presidential election as a united front. Yes providence has put Jonathan as our president now, but this proposal is beyond him; anybody could be there tomorrow and such a person is bound to enjoy this privilege.
Bickering, animosities, blackmail, big-money-politics, and bad blood often associated with primaries will be spared PDP if it makes it mandatory that an incumbent President produced by the party must get an automatic party ticket for the general election. What is required for the party to do, to meet with the electoral guidelines, is to go through the motion of affirmation where the candidature of the incumbent president is endorsed at a National convention. This is the culture of democracy in America, be it Democrats or Republican Party, and indeed in all civilized democracy.
As earlier canvassed, if this system is adopted, the party will pool resources from all heavy weights to face the main election. It will also avoid the distractions of bitter rivalry. Most importantly, it will checkmate the threats of decampment by aggrieved aspirants, thereby depleting the needed arsenal for the main election.