Over the next few days, a tiny percentage of Nigerians, called party delegates, would have the big task of deciding who will occupy elective political posts in the country after the next election cycle including perhaps the most important of those positions, that of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
And yet, Nigeria is supposed to be a democracy. A system of government for the people by the people, underpinned by the cardinal principle of one man, one vote. Except that through a rather self- serving party structure put together by the country’s politicians, some votes now matter, more than others. Those of delegates!
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While it is true that in order to avoid chaos, political parties must find a structured way in which to decide their party flag bearers, the current system utilised by the leading political parties in Nigeria does not enable internal party democracy. So, even membership of the two leading parties in Nigeria, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), does not guarantee that one will have a say in determining who represents one’s party at the polls. Those decisions will be taken for party members and therefore by extension, the rest of Nigeria’s citizens by the mighty delegates.
In theory, some level of democracy exists in the way these delegates emerge. There are two categories, those that are elected and those that are automatic delegates. The latter are political office holders who are card-carrying members of their political parties and the former are picked through elections conducted by party officials at the ward level but already, the conduct of some ward congresses have been questioned.
In Borno State, for example, Mrs Aisha Umar, contesting for the Jere Federal Constituency, House of Representatives has written a petition to the leadership of the APC alleging that no elections occurred and that under the guise of consensus, ‘’The party leadership in Jere, in total disregard for party guidelines and basic procedures for electoral contest…, is seeking to impose a unilaterally compiled list of delegates’’
Mrs Umar’s case is not an isolated one, and every four years, we witness the spectacle of a pretence of democracy among political parties when in reality a handful of people made up of governors, party officials and political godfathers, determine who ends up as a party delegate. And these are not just issues that concern the fate of political parties at the polls, they impact all Nigerians. The failure to enshrine internal party democracy and a truly transparent process through which party officials and party delegates are elected has had a huge impact on the quality of elected political leaders in Nigeria at all levels.
There is little doubt that the country suffers from a leadership deficit and has done so for some time. These electoral processes, which begin at party levels throw up candidates without the requisite skills and character to lead at national, state and local government levels with dire consequences for the country. By the time Nigerians get to the polls, they are often asked to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea. It isn’t that much of a choice truth be told.
The outcome of this failure – an inability to elect qualitative leadership- is self-evident.
Insecurity is now widespread across the country but is particularly endemic in the northern region, which, and this is no exaggeration, has become a killing field, with hundreds kidnapped for ransom and or murdered on a regular basis with very little in the way of consequences for those perpetrating these heinous acts. Increasingly, the south eastern part of the country is also facing rising violence against citizens by armed and dangerous non-state actors. Terrorists are now de-facto, presently, fully engaging in their nefarious activities in three if not four geopolitical regions of Nigeria and the state is clearly struggling to contain them.
The economy is also doing very badly, with little productivity. A continued reliance on the oil sector for foreign exchange earnings, unbridled corruption, a lack of accountability, and a myriad of other issues including fiscal indiscipline have all combined to ensure rising inflation and growing poverty among Nigerians.
The recent energy crisis has exacerbated the pressure of eking out a living on already overburdened citizens. An oil and gas producing country of 200 million people, which has in the last few decades spent billions of dollars trying to power the country, is today, shockingly, not able to distribute more than 5000mw regularly. Power shortages are costing Nigeria some $28 billion according to the World Bank. Citizens in Africa’s biggest economy continue to plunge into poverty. According to the latest data from the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria has over 70 million people, representing 33 per cent of the population who are currently living in extreme poverty. This means they live on less than one dollar ninety cents a day or N1,000. In fact, according to Business Insider Africa, real data shows that the poverty levels are much higher and that up to 53 per cent, i.e. more than half the population is living below the poverty line.
Overall, the threats facing Nigeria appear to be existential. They are so serious that even the most capable, competent and courageous leaders and the government would be challenged with the arduous task of finding solutions. So, imagine if in 2023, Nigeria is again faced with less than stellar choices. What if we are forced to choose between leaders that are incompetent or those who are corrupt or even those with both qualities?
It is within this context that the mighty delegates across all parties need to understand the huge responsibility on their shoulders over the next few days. It is they who will determine the quality of the candidates Nigerians will be asked to elect. It is they and not Nigerians, that will determine the country’s future. It is they who will determine if the 2023 elections will restore hope or be the final blow that will knock this country out.
Concluded on www.dailytrust.com.ng
Kadaria Ahmed is the Executive Director, DM Nigeria Limited, Lagos