The political transition process to the 2023 elections has reached the important stage where flag bearers for most elective offices in the country will emerge from the various political parties. This entails the screening of those party members who have signified their interests to aspire for elective positions by purchasing the necessary forms and appearing before a select committee of party officials for authentication of their records and suitability for the positions they are vying.
This process will reach its climax when those aspirants come before party members during special congresses for the purpose of electing who among the various aspirants cleared deserves to represent the party against other aspirants from the other parties at the general elections next year.
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This is where party delegates are pivotal to the process. Party delegates perform the role of electors at the party conventions to elect party officials and representatives. And to earn this right they had to submit themselves to elections from the ward to the national level. This concept and practice, borrowed from the United States where the delegate system runs through the entire electoral process, is designed to ensure that the people are represented by those elected by them at every level of politics and governance. The delegate system, thus, works to strengthen and sustain the political institutions that undergird the electoral system internally within the parties.
Since its introduction into the Nigerian political process, the delegate system has achieved mixed results. It has helped to simplify party processes, especially in terms of electing party officials and representatives at general elections. It has also in many ways brought some modicum of internal democracy into the parties in the knowledge that every position within the party and in the polity must be subject to the elective process.
On the flip side, however, the delegate system as we have seen in practise here in Nigeria is subject to gross abuse and corruption. The process of electing delegates at every level of the party, to their conduct at the congresses has been hijacked by presidency officials, governors and party bosses. Indeed, it has become such a farce that in most instances, the overwhelming majority of the delegates we find at congresses and conventions of political parties are made up of appointees of federal and state governments, as well as other powerful party officials. In our recent past, state governors would employ hundreds or thousands of advisers who have no advisory purpose whatsoever, but almost solely for use as delegates to influence the outcomes of party primary elections. Invariably, we end up with delegates that are handpicked rather than elected democratically as should be.
Added to this unsavoury usurpation of the delegates system is the issue of corruption. In this regard, delegates have been known to trade their positions to the highest bidder without considering the moral and political standing of those that seek to be elected. Again this sometime lead to the emergence of persons of dubious and questionable backgrounds as elected representatives. Last week, this newspaper reported how some presidential aspirants have been busy requesting the bank accounts of delegates, in an apparent attempt at electoral bribery, rather than market their ideas and policies.
Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the issue of delegates constituted one of the major items of extensive deliberation in the electoral bill which has now been passed. Due to its contentious nature and coupled with its importance to the electoral process the electoral act sought to introduce far reaching provisions intended to regulate and improve the delegates system. We note that the entire Section 84 of the Electoral Act 2022, which deals with party nominations to elective positions, dwells on this issue. And although legislation can be made, and indeed has been attempted, towards improving the process of party nominations, the onus lies on the delegates themselves to be alive to the moral responsibility of ensuring the credibility of the process by which future leaders emerge.
Indeed, we note that in recognition of the importance of the delegates for the first time in our democratic experience, presidential aspirants now have to travel round the country to meet the delegates and canvas for their votes. This is an improved departure from the past where aspirants waited until during the conventions to reach out to the delegates. We urge all the delegates across the parties to seize the moment by voting according to the dictates of their conscience and their impression of the suitability of the aspirants for office, rather than remain tied to the apron string of governors and party officials, or swayed by money. With the growing recognition of their role in the process, delegates now have an opportunity to reshape the conduct of politics in this country. At no time is this conscientious responsibility on the part of the delegates needed than at this present juncture when the future of the country hangs precariously in the balance on the weight of many existential challenges.
In the next few days when the various political parties will conduct primaries and congresses to elect persons who will eventually represent them at the 2023 elections, the delegates have a date with history to ensure that they elect only those with credible credentials to lead the country successfully through these trying times. They must understand that it is whoever they present from their parties that Nigerians will select from. It is indeed a role that calls for the highest moral responsibility and sense of patriotism in the overriding national interest.