Party primaries dim president’s, governors’ anniversaries

Ordinarily, this weekend would have been one of celebration in the Villa and government houses, celebration of their anniversaries of ascension to the throne as president and governors. Usually, it is a week-long affair replete with various activities and culminating with a banquet dinner splashed with cultural entertainment on the D-Day, May 29. The ambience would have been one of conviviality whether for first termers or second termers. Today, in year 2022, the story is different.

The air instead is filled with tension as all our elected leaders are engaged in their parties’ primaries with its associated high wire politicking and intrigues, desirous to see that their favoured aspirants emerge as candidates. We the bystanders or observers are no less anxious as we eagerly await those that the ‘almighty’ party delegates would present to us as candidates from which the larger electorate would elect Nigeria’s next president or our next governors as the case may be, come February next year.

Thus, the country is on edge so to speak. And the international community is just as interested to have a glimpse of who would be piloting affairs of the world’s most populous black nation and Africa’s second largest economy, come May 29, 2023 when President Mohammadu Buhari exits the scene upon completion of his constitutionally mandated two terms. In short everyone’s eyes, here in Nigeria and in the diaspora, abroad, is now fixed on particularly the ruling APC and main opposition PDP primaries which would be concluded by end of this month. Thus, little or no attention is being paid to the anniversary date of May 29 by both the celebrants themselves and the general public. The important event of May 29 is being relegated to the background. Yet there can never be another May 29,2022 after this.

Another issue that our elected leaders especially governors are concerned about is the apparently unintended exclusion of statutory delegates in the primaries. Statutory delegates are elected persons like National Assemblies/State Houses of Assembly members, local government chairmen, governors and the president himself. Others are ministers and special advisers to the president as well as commissioners and special advisers to a governor.

All of these are referred to as super delegates. It is the reason why many governors flood their cabinets with many people and appoint numerous special advisers. Since they, governors usually determine who becomes local council chairman (the election being conducted by state electoral commissions) and also have a big say in who flies their party’s flag at Assembly election, these persons are more or less beholden to the governors.

Cabinet appointees are of course, expected to be loyal to their principal, the governors. Having these numerous ‘super delegates’ under their belt in their various states, is it any wonder that governors often succeed in getting their anointed persons elected as their parties’ candidates especially with respect to their successors for those whose two term tenure is running out?

With the disenfranchisement, these statutory delegates that includes governors and the president, can no longer vote at primaries, indeed, they should ordinarily not be seen at the venue. At best, they can only be observers, not participants certainly. This exclusion came about by a twist of fate, brought about by our lawmakers themselves through an oversight. Since nothing happens by accident in Creation, deep-thinking people would say it was brought about by Providence and since we often speak of Wise Providence, we could say that it is a first step towards reordering our political landscape by the unseen hands of Providence. Realising their ‘mistake’ both chambers of the National Assembly quickly amended that particular section of the electoral act and also speedily sent it to Mr. President for his assent; by which time however, President Buhari was apparently buying into the idea that party primary elections can jolly well do without super delegates.

This has reduced the number of delegates by thousands. For example, where one of the two political parties was formerly expecting over seven thousand people to vote at its presidential primary, the voters are reduced to just over 5,000. The electors are made up of a fixed number of elected ad-hoc delegates per local governments in each of the 36 states and the federal capital territory as determined by each political party. Nonetheless, the governors as leaders of their parties in their states still have considerable influence on these ad-hoc delegates. And they are succeeding largely, as results from PDP’s primary election so far, indicate.

In Delta state, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s preferred candidate to take over from him (current Speaker of the State’s House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori) triumphed over that of James Ibori, the erstwhile godfather; Governor Nyesom Wike’s choice (Fubara) was equally successful. What is significant about the governor’s candidate is that this is the first time since birth of the fourth Republic in 1999 that a non-Ikwerre speaking person (who constitute the majority in Rivers state) is being chosen as the ruling party’s gubernatorial flagbearer. Should Fubara win in the general election, he would be the first Rivers state governor from the riverine part of the country.

Former deputy senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremade, who has been in the senate from 2003 to-date, withdrew from the Enugu state governorship race at the 11th hour having apparently seen the signal that delegates would abide by the agreement between Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and stakeholders that the gubernatorial ticket be zoned to Enugu West senatorial zone. Not so in Taraba state where some stakeholders are not happy that the party’s chosen flagbearer is from same zone as the departing Governor Dairus Ishaku. No female governorship candidate has emerged so far for PDP.

A new phenomenon has arisen though, that of a departing governor and his deputy clinching their party’s senate ticket, which means two of the three senate seats. We already have some former governors turned senators winning their tickets for re-election. Should this trend continue, then the senate chamber would in no time be made up of former state governors completely.

Bauchi presents an interesting case where incumbent Governor Bala Mohammed, a first termer who is constitutionally entitled to a second tenure is not going for it as often happens and as should be the case. Mohammed a former minister of the federal capital territory (FCT) is instead gunning to be president by contesting for his party’s presidential ticket. Already, the governor’s former secretary to the state government (SSG), Ibrahim, his choice, has clinched the PDP’s ticket to succeed him.

I find Governor Mohammed’s action of not going for a second term rather unusual. Is it that he prefers the Abuja environment to that of his state? Does he have a Plan B to retake the gubernatorial ticket should he fail at the presidential primaries?

The PDP’s presidential primary is predicted to be a battle royale among Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar and Ezenwo Nyesom Wike. Should Saraki win at this primary election which was about to begin as at time of writing this piece, then it would be emergence of a new era. The ruling APC’s own primaries to choose its State Houses of Assemblies, House of Representatives, Senate, governorship and presidential flag bearers are in the offing, coming after those of PDP. We hold our breadth for the results. Interesting times await us.

Ikeano writes via [email protected] 08033077519