With all the drama surrounding the issue of political party delegates, this week IDEAs had a big interview with Honourable Patrick Ikhariale, a former member of the House of Representatives on the issue.
Ayo said that the discussion about delegates had all been about money and delegates being committed to one candidate or another, and asked Hon. Patrick, who would have been a statutory delegate, to give an idea about how delegates emerge, because many party members claim not to know how this happened.
Hon. Patrick said that different political parties had their own mechanisms, but that his own party, APC, had delegates at three different levels, Ward level, Local Government and State. Some were elected as delegates for LG elections, some as State delegates for the elections like those to the House of Assembly and National Assembly members, and then three delegates elected at the LGA level for the Presidential. Each party has its own rules, but APC decided to have three delegates elected from each state to participate in the presidential primary election, so it will have three times the number of states plus one for the FCT for the presidential primary, while at the lower level there would be five per LG who vote for the legislators.
He explained that political parties use their internal mechanisms to announce that they are going to hold Ward elections and so on, and people present themselves for that election.
Ayo asked whether people present themselves for election promising to vote for Aspirant A, or B for any of the elective offices, given that aspirants would not have emerged at that time. She also said that many party members don’t seem to know the way in which they select their delegates.
Hon. Patrick emphasized that a party member needs to participate in their units and ward meetings, before coming to LG level in order to know what is happening in the party. The election of delegates could be in different forms – direct, indirect or consensus – as decided by the party leadership at that level. Once that is done, the person is a delegate for local government, state or national primary elections.
Referring to reports that when aspirants meet delegates, it is presented as though “All the delegates in this state are for Aspirant A”, Ayo wondered whether delegates hold discussions amongst themselves, and whether the delegates don’t have the right to think for themselves?
Hon. Patrick said that an aspirant selling something has to make himself available to the people and tell them what he have to offer, but that it is impossible to imagine that all the delegates would be whipped into line to follow a particular aspirant. If there had been statutory delegates, there would have been up to 100 of them, and it was unlikely that they would all follow the same line. There would be some who would follow the leadership line, and but others would refuse to be railroaded.
He said that voting by delegates was mostly by secret ballot, though the internal affairs of the party were down to the leadership of that party, and the courts could not interfere with that, but that the method of lining up behind candidates was rare.
Ayo then turned to the way that cash seemed to have dominated the discussion as if that was the only way to secure a delegate’s vote. She asked whether one committed to an aspirant and collected money from them, or whether one collected from all aspirants. Or whether the talk of cash was overdone?
Hon. Patrick agreed that the issue of cash was dominating the discussion, but that a delegate must first of all have an idea of what they want and an idea of what their leadership want. He said that the beauty of democracy was that it is a game of numbers, but he felt that it is only on looking back at the process that one would truly be able to say whether the result was down to cash or not.
Ayo referred to reports of some aspirants saying that as people did not vote for them, they wanted to collect back the cash or cars or whatever had been given, and saying that their political party had mandated them to retrieve such expenditure from delegates.
Hon. Patrick said that it was difficult for him to know what was happening everywhere, especially when people said that was their own experience, but that he did not think that delegates would not go into the process without having pretty much made up their minds, cash or no cash.
Ayo asked Hon. Patrick about the situation where – with the failure of the President to sign the amendment to the Electoral Act – it seemed that the statutory delegates were out, leaving his own party with just three elected delegates per state or per local government.
Hon. Patrick agreed that this was the situation as at today, and could not say whether it was a deliberate error or self-inflicted injury, leaving only those who were elected as delegates to participate in indirect primaries as stipulated in the Electoral Act, while the statutory or ‘super’ delegates were completely out.
Ayo remarked on the principle of not changing the rules in the middle of the contest, and noted that ordinarily the statutory delegates would have far outnumbered the elected delegates.
Hon Patrick said that almost everybody who would have been a statutory delegate did not contest for the elected delegates position because that would have amounted to displacing other potential delegates by going into contestation with them when one expected to be an automatic delegate – for example in his party – a person who had been elected to the National Assembly at any time was an automatic delegate until the implications of the Section 84(8)a of the Electoral Act came into focus. He said that a more robust delegate system would have given a more representation of people who could have a say in who would become the party’s flagbearer.
Ayo asked whether the way we had seen aspirants trying to engage the delegates was a welcome development for Nigeria’s democracy. Had the aspirants been forced to engage delegates on policy, or was it just a matter of trying to suborn them to their side?
Hon. Patrick said that prior to the issue of Section 84(8) the aspirants had been going around the country trying to meet the delegates, but that just as when an illness changes one has to prescribe a different medicine, with the exclusion of statutory delegates, the aspirants were also changing gear and making moves to reach out to the elected delegates. He doubted that at this stage aspirants could meet all the elected delegates in person, but they would reach out through their agents.
Ayo reflected on the National Assembly’s self-inflicted wound, saying that many felt a party should be able to determine its own rules and how it wanted to pick its flagbearers, rather than the Electoral Act making rules about who could and could not be a delegate.
Hon Patrick agreed, but said that the parties had to work within what the law prescribed, and that meant that in his own party, instead of over 8,000 delegates, there would now be just less than 2,500, while in PDP, it would just be one delegate per local government.
Ayo said that one lesson from this seemed to be that party members needed to get involved in the affairs of parties. Remarking that today’s programme had focused on the mechanisms of Democracy, but that issues of the Integrity and Ethics of Delegates had also arisen, she thanked Hon. Patrick for coming on to the show.