Behind the Scenes at the Triumphant Osun APC Governorship Primary -By Muyiwa Gbadegesin

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Muyiwa Gbadegesin

Osun State is notable for many reasons. It is host to the ancient town of Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yoruba and seat of the Oonirisa, the traditional religious and cultural ruler of the Yoruba. It also hosts the Obafemi Awolowo University, a citadel of learning that is ranked among the top three most alluring university campuses in the world, and in whose halls echo the footsteps of intellectual giants like Wole Soyinka. Of course, Osun State occupies a prominent place in the international cultural calendar because of the annual Osun-Osogbo Festival which attracts visitors from all over the African Diaspora – Cuba, Brazil, United States and Haiti. The festival is in honour of the Yoruba goddess, Osun, wife of Sango (the god of thunder and third Alaafin of Oyo), who turned into the river from which the State takes its name. Osun-Osogbo Festival takes place in the vicinity of the sacred Osun-Osogbo Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can find famous sculptures by the revered Austrian artist Susanne Wenger (Adunni Olorisa), who during her life was the self-appointed custodian of the grove and leader of the New Sacred Art movement, which she founded in Osogbo.

Beyond the purely cultural and religious, Osun is also notable for political reasons. In Nigeria’s fourth republic, Osun State was the arena for an extended power struggle from 2007 to 2010 between conservative and progressive forces represented by the former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the current governor and eventual winner of that struggle, Rauf Aregbesola of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The struggle started with the violently rigged 2007 Osun Gubernatorial Election that was contested all the way to the Supreme Court by Aregbesola, with evidence gathered from the forensic examination of ballot papers and videos recorded using body cameras, a first in Nigeria at the time. That period in Osun State contributed significantly to efforts to sanitise the electoral process in Nigeria. It was one of the most notorious episodes of electoral robbery and it helped to inspire a movement for electoral reform that coalesced into the Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER). CODER, coordinated by former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) secretary, Chief Ayo Opadokun, and with substantial moral leadership, legal strategy and financial support from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and fellow travelers, was able to pressure the Yar’Adua administration to set up the Justice Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform. The Uwais Panel made far-reaching recommendations on how to establish free and fair elections in Nigeria. A member of the panel, Professor Attahiru Jega, was eventually appointed chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Thus, we could say that Osun State was the cradle of the electoral reform process in Nigeria.

Now Osun State is once again developing into the cradle of another important and required feature of Nigerian democracy – namely INTERNAL DEMOCRACY. This is a topic that I have previously written about in my blog. I have also preached about internal democracy on my social media channels as one of the key steps to fixing Nigeria, the others being ideology-based politics, campaign finance reform, local government autonomy and radical transparency in governance.

Considering my prior advocacy for internal democracy, you can imagine my pleasure at being selected by the APC National chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, to be a member of the Governorship Primary Election Committee chaired by Governor Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari of Zamfara State. The committee also included Senator Ovie Omo Agege, a serving senator representing Delta Central Senatorial District, Honourable Nze Chidi Duru, a former member of the House of Representatives, and Comrade Peter Akpatason, a current member of the House of Representatives representing Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency.

Besides the five committee members, the chairman of the committee drafted a high powered team of political functionaries from Zamfara State into the committee to compliment our work. These include Senator Tijjani Kaura (Zamfara North), Alhaji Lawali Liman (Zamfara State APC chairman), House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members, commissioners and local government chairmen. After collecting our appointment letters, terms of reference and guidelines for the election from the national headquarters, we proceeded to the Zamfara Governor’s Lodge in Abuja for initial briefings and meetings. We were graciously received by Governor Yari who introduced us to the members of his team. We discussed modalities and initial strategies. Our departure was delayed for a day while we waited for the election materials. These materials were essential to the successful conduct of the election. Just as INEC treats their election materials like holy scripts, we wanted to ensure that we collected the authenticated materials and established a clear chain of custody. Properly documented electoral materials would be essential as evidence in case of legal challenges by any of the aspirants. The election materials for the Osun State primary election included the state APC membership registers, the ward results sheets, the local government results sheets and the state results sheet. Since the National Working Committee had decided on direct primaries using option A4, which involves queueing of voters in front of the poster or agent of their candidate of choice, there was no need for ballot papers. The materials were inspected and signed for by the chairman of the committee and then sealed in secured containers for the trip to Osun State.

Due to the infrequency of commercial flights, the chairman of the committee had secured a chartered flight to Ibadan Airport, where we were met by officials of Osun APC and driven in a convoy to Osogbo. By the time we arrived in Osogbo, there was a lot of tension among the aspirants and their supporters. This was probably due to the lack of information about the modalities of the primary. In the past, APC and its progressive precursors in the South-West, like the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Action Congress (AC), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) had always selected candidates by consensus, which was often just another word for imposition. The selection would be done by party elders, and all other party members would be expected to adhere to the decision. This practice is not ideal because there are often no clearcut criteria to determine the winner. The quality of the candidate chosen through such an ad-hoc process is entirely dependent on the sagacity or otherwise of the elders. At best, this particular style of candidate selection could be attributed to the Yoruba culture, which rightly puts great store on the wisdom and experience of elders. At worst, imposition is simply due to the reluctance of elders to relinquish any control at all to the younger generation who outnumber them.

Over the years, the failure of the progressive family to evolve better methods of candidate selection has led to the loss of interest in party politics, particularly among the younger generation. There is low party membership and also low turnout during elections. Parties are viewed as cults that operate solely for their own benefit. The culmination of the negative trend is the current situation where voters expect to be paid before they vote for any party. For the Osun election, the aspirants had not been expecting the party to use the consensus method but rather indirect primaries, a slightly better system of candidate selection. The aspirants had been working towards indirect primaries by focusing on appeasing identified delegates with various juicy packages in cash and kind. They were thrown for a loop when the National Working Committee decided to use direct primaries instead. The week preceding our arrival in Osogbo had witnessed progressively escalating tension that was not helped by incendiary full page adverts by some of the aspirants accusing party leaders of working to favour a certain candidate who was believed to be preferred by the establishment.

We held a stakeholders meeting at the party office a few hours after our arrival in Osogbo. The tension was so thick that you could have cut it with a knife. It didn’t help that the aspirants had been seated for several hours before our arrival. Despite this, they and their supporters welcomed us pleasantly enough. The meeting was chaired by the acting chairman, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, whose fame had preceded him. The recent mace snatching episode at the National Assembly, and his battle against the dictatorial ways of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, had turned him into a hero of sorts among APC members. He addressed the aspirants on behalf of Governor Yari, who was held up with other urgent party affairs in Abuja. The senator explained the direct primary process that had been adopted by the National Working Committee of the party. His clear explanation of the guidelines appeared to douse some of the tension. The acting chairman assured the aspirants that the elections would be free and fair. Despite this, during the question and answer session, one of the more vocal aspirants, Barrister Kunle Adegoke (K-Rad) raised allegations that we had come from Abuja with pre-written results for the election, and that one of the governor’s aides was at that very moment supervising thumb printing of ballot papers at government quarters. While these accusations were patently false and self-contradictory, they could be attributed to the tension and fear arising from our delayed arrival, and lack of details of the method to be used for the election. As I stated earlier, the most recent elections had been conducted with delegates voting in indirect primaries. For this method, there are two types of delegates: Statutory delegates who are members of the party executive at various levels and elected representatives of the party like governors, local government chairmen and house of assembly members; and elected delegates who are chosen by party members during ward or local government congresses to represent all members at the state congress or national convention. In the past, indirect primaries have often been open bazaars where delegates sell their votes to the highest bidder. For example, in a State with 3,000 delegates, a governorship aspirant could buy 2000 of them for N200 million, at 100,000 per delegate. Thus, the party tickets at all levels were up for sale. This Balogun Market democracy is close to impossible in a direct primary because every verified member of the party can vote and it is virtually impossible to pay off so many people. Instead, aspirants would have to focus on winning the minds and hearts of party members through a sustained track record of loyal service to the party and nation, and through the establishment of personal and community outreach programmes that deliver value to party members in their respective constituencies.

The lack of preparation of the aspirants was evident in their alarm at the request by the committee that they should provide lists of their agents in the 331 wards in the State. A serious aspirant for a state-wide office like that of the governor should already have agents in every ward. Surprisingly, only six of the 17 aspirants were able to present their list of agents. Other aspirants betrayed their lack of preparedness in other ways. During the question and answer session, one of the aspirants, the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Lasun Yusuf, in a manner more suited to street brawling between agberos (bus conductors), resorted to bellicose posturing, finger-pointing and intimidating statements directed at the perceived establishment candidate, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola. This was most unexpected of an aspirant to high office. There was also a lot of rhetoric from those advocating against imposition and those advocating for power shift to their favoured zone. Instead of the expected response of ‘PROGRESS’ to the chant of ‘APC’ by successive speakers, the crowd of party members responded variously with ‘NO TO IMPOSITION’ or ‘WEST LO KAN’ (it is the turn of the west senatorial district).

To calm frayed nerves and demonstrate full transparency, the committee invited the aspirants and their agents to assemble later that night to inspect the electoral materials that we had brought from the party headquarters. This step seemed to work its magic as most of the aspirants appeared to finally accept our stated intention to conduct a free and fair election – although Adegoke insisted that the party membership register was actually the INEC register. Apparently, he was not aware that the party had conducted biometric membership registration according to polling units in 2014 before the last general election. It turned out later that he had not even taken part in that registration exercise and thus was not in the membership database. Fortunately for him, the committee granted an exception for aspirants who were not in the membership database since many party members had joined the party since the registration exercise. Despite this concession, Adegoke still filed an appeal after the election.

The logistics of the direct primary itself was another matter. How to go about ensuring that 200,000 plus party members were able to vote and the results ferried back quickly from the wards to the local governments to the state collation centre? How to ensure that there was adequate security at each voting point and collation centre and even during transit? Elections are a notoriously violent in Nigeria, and already one of the aspirants had allegedly recruited thugs from the notorious gang leader, Sunday Igboho, from neighbouring Oyo State. During his declaration in his hometown, Sunday’s boys accompanied that aspirant in a show of force complete with gunshots renting the air and the display of dangerous weapons. Ensuring security was the one issue which required the full support of the governor. Fortunately, Governor Aregbesola is a no-nonsense type with deep roots in the rough and tumble world of Lagos politics. He took charge as the chief security officer of the State and gave firm instructions to security formations to ensure absolute security during the primaries. He also sent a warnings through private channels to all notorious thugs that any invasion of Osun State would be their last. Going by the peace that dominated on that day, they took this warning seriously.

The All Progressives Congress in Osun State was well prepared for the direct primary. The party, headed by Prince Gboyega Famoodu, had selected local government and ward election committees according to the National Working Committee guidelines, and had gone to extra lengths by engaging a consultant to train the local government election committees on the documentation required for a successful election – a big factor because of the largely administrative nature of elections.

Initially, in order to maintain a level of control, the committee had considered the option of conveying party members from all wards of a local government to vote centrally at the LG headquarters – but this option was eliminated because of its logistical impossibility. To maintain adequate supervision and oversight of the process, the committee decided to send one member of the Zamfara Team to each LG as supervisors of the LG Election Committee. This decision was critical. All the members of the Zamfara Team were highly experienced in politics, governance and elections and could provide a steady, neutral hand in the LGs to which they were assigned. They were coordinated by Senator Tijjani Yahaya Kaura, assisted by Alhaji Lawali Liman.

Each of the Zamfara LG supervisors, with their assigned LG Electoral Committees then moved with the election materials to each LG centre and distributed the materials to the ward electoral committees who then moved to the wards to conduct the direct primary. At the ward level, members were first accredited between 9 to 12 a.m. and then asked to queue in front of the poster or agent of the aspirant of their choice. After this, the number of party members on each queue was counted by the electoral officer and results announced over a handheld public address system. Once the results were entered on the ward results sheet and signed by the agents and electoral officers, the results from each ward were taken to the LG collation centre where they were entered into the LG result sheet. The signed results from each LG were then taken to the state collation centre at the State party office in Osogbo where they were entered into the State results sheet by members of the State committee. Attaching LG supervisors from state electoral committee to each LG committee was an effective control measure that helped to win the confidence of aspirants and their agents – because the supervisors were impartial arbiters from another State. Members of each LG election committee were also chosen from other local governments so they could not be accused of bias.

An additional control measure adopted by the committee was to send members of the state electoral committee to serve as roving monitors in each senatorial zone. I was assigned to Osun East senatorial zone with Alhaji Liman. The election was at an advanced stage in most areas we visited and some results were already coming back to the LG centres. There was peaceful, orderly conduct by party members – probably due to adequate sensitisation by the party apparatus prior to the election. People already knew what to do. As we moved through the senatorial zone from Ilesa to Osu to Ile-Ife to Moro, we encountered large crowds at every ward who had come out in a festive atmosphere with much backslapping and camaraderie. The direct primary had become a festival of democracy.

The success of the direct primary for the Osun Governorship primary is practical proof that Option A4 is the best system to entrench internal democracy. It is a transparent system because it requires physical queueing and counting – hence figures cannot simply be written with impunity as with other systems. Option A4 is an open expression of choice: No coercion is involved and it demands each voter to consider their choice carefully and proudly show the world where they stand. They must be willing to make a public show of support for their candidate. Option A4 is also better because it encourages greater participation because there is safety in numbers. When people see large numbers of their peers gathering in this manner, they are also encouraged to participate. Another major advantage of Option A4 for direct primaries is that party members become automatic stakeholders because of their involvement in a transparent process. It is easier to unify members after the primary because no-one is likely to feel cheated.

It is hoped that the party will continue to use the direct primary method to entrench internal democracy. This will be of benefit not only to APC but also to larger society and the nation because we will be able to select higher quality candidates for positions of responsibility at local, state and national levels.

In conclusion, it is fitting that Osun State, the source of a vibrant Yoruba culture that has extended to the four corners of the globe, may also turn out to be the source of a new transparency and internal democracy in party affairs in Nigeria.

Muyiwa Gbadegesin, Ph.D, a APC member in Kajola local government area, is a former commissioner of Health in Oyo State. Email:[email protected]

 

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