A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and member representing the Ilaje/Ese Odo Federal Constituency in Ondo State in the House of Representatives, Kolade Akinjo, tells LEKE BAIYEWU how and why aspirants pay delegates to secure votes at political parties’ primaries
How do you feel about the failure of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to assent to the amended Clause 84(8) of the Electoral Act, 2022 to recognise statutory delegates in the primaries conducted by political parties to choose their candidates for the 2023 general elections?
In any case, the entire document – the entire bill – left us here (National Assembly) and the President even signed the bill to become an Act. Of course, it could not have been the fault of Mr President; it is our (lawmakers’) fault. Laws sometimes need to be explicit. There are different cannons of interpretations in law and literal meaning is quite easy – the way the law is, that is how you interpret it. Under Section 84(8), we did not do enough as lawmakers. We needed to have explained those that were supposed to categorically be the delegates and there is nothing wrong in listing them out as it ought to have been. We cannot allow people to input in the law, which was not the original meaning. So, the fault is ours. Trying to weave the issue around the President is just not right. But again, since we made a mistake and came back to reflect on that mistake and correct it where necessary, then we also did what we were supposed to do. It is incumbent on the President to look at the general picture in the interest of our democracy to do the needful. And this naturally should not be a big deal.
Do you think having statutory delegates at the primaries would have made a difference at the shadow elections?
Of course! It is just like somebody who is reading with a particular syllabus for a particular examination. You have done well and exhausted the syllabus, but a few days into the examination, the syllabus was changed. There is no doubt that it will become the survival of the fittest. So, there is no way that would not have affected (the primaries), because people were working on the statutory as well as the ad hoc delegates but all of a sudden, it changed to only ad hoc delegates based on the (current) provision of Section 84(8). It would have naturally rocked the entire roots and re-election of many members, senators and governors. If care is not taken, the entire ad hoc (delegates) are just a handbag of the leader (of a party) in a particular state. And if he does not like your face, then you are gone. If the governor is the leader of the state, he will just handpick (the delegates). The chairman of the party and the governor, they work together and they will just list whoever they want. In many cases, there was nothing like the election of those ad hoc delegates. They were usually from consensus or powered by the chairman and leaders of a party in a state.
With the recent primaries, do you believe that the governors hijacked the process?
There is no way you can (avoid that). In many of the states, it is usually who they want.
Do you think Nigeria is really practising true democracy with the heavy monetisation of politics in the country, especially how aspirants reportedly paid delegates heavily to emerge as party candidates?
Except some are lying, it is real. Our politics is monetised. The process is monetised. Some will just come and tell you that they never pay money. They paid money. We paid money to delegates. There is no way you can survive that hurricane without effectively and efficiently releasing resources for those people (delegates). Whether you have served them for seven years and you have been their perpetual or perennial friend, it is not going to count. You just have to do the needful at that point. Again, if you don’t do it, they will not vote for you. This is because it is not just one aspirant or candidate that is doing that; it is a system. You will give what the system is asking for. There is a stimulus that the system is pumping and which the electorate will have to react to. It is not the fault of those who are currently in power or those that are seeking to come to power, it is not their fault.
It is a systemic issue and there is no way to gauge it. There is no parameter to measure it. There is no punishment for any action or inaction of anybody. Also, no one is going to blame you for not doing what you are supposed to do and when you are supposed to do it. Who is going to bear your blame? So, when you have an aspiration and you find the aspiration in the midst of a system that is dysfunctional, then you need to adapt. So, what many of these aspirants did was adaptation. Some of us were not used to it but you just have to adapt. This is Nigeria. This is not America. And this is not Britain.
How then can Nigerians say they will be voting for the best candidates for public offices in the 2023 general elections if they’re paid to get party tickets?
If you are the best (among the aspirants), you will pay; if you are the worst, you will still pay. It is just a systemic thing. Those who eventually won, it is still the same. In my area, we had three very strong contenders. We paid equally and people made their choice on who they wanted. The three people (aspirants) paid equal amounts of money. They (delegates) collected money from the three of us and made their choice on who they wanted.
Was it a consensus reached by the three of you or a coincidence that you spend a particular amount on electioneering?
It was not a consensus. It was (based) on the carrying capacity. The carrying capacity was at a particular benchmark and everybody stopped at that benchmark. Nobody added; nobody subtracted. Then the delegates took time to make a decision on who they wanted. In any case, if you look at that, the election is not proportional to the amount that you spent; no, people still voted their conscience at the end of the day.
What about the presidential primary of your party where some aspirants were forced to withdraw from the race as the process was said to be ‘obscenely monetised’?
They will say that but at the end of the day, there is usually an innermost mind of most of these delegates. The reality is that even at the height and peak of the monetisation, people eventually voted for their choice. What you saw at the end of almost all the elections is a reflection of the mind of the people, even without money. If people had not collected a dime and no money was involved, the result of that presidential primary is still what it would have been. If (former Vice-President and presidential aspirant) Atiku Abubakar was giving N1, and (Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom) Wike had not brought N1, the result of the poll would go the way of Atiku. It is just an appetiser; it is not really going to change anything. The only area where you can look at it is that there are some states where the governor gagged all the people that were aspiring and he says this was the person he wanted, and he forced everybody to go and vote for that person. That one is a bit different. If you look at the primaries of the PDP at the national level, no one was gagged. There was no president saying that this was the person he wanted and all of you must go and vote for him. In my own area, there was no governor to gag anybody. People can take resources as an appetiser but that will not vitiate their collective mindset as regards who they wanted.
A larger percentage of National Assembly members have failed to secure party tickets to re-contest their seats in 2023. There are two schools of thought on whether legislators should spend longer time in parliament to garner more experience for better lawmaking or constituencies and districts should keep changing their representatives. Which view do you hold?
Sincerely, this place is better off when you have people returning from time to time. Like the issue of institutional memory; it is strong here. Like what happened to this Electoral Act (2010); it was expected that if you had people who were here when this Electoral Act was passed and the issues that later emanated from the Electoral Act, if we found ourselves still in the chambers, we would be able to raise it. Ideas and experience are so fundamental to running a nation effectively, and that is the reality. This is how it is: the people at the background – the people who are home – don’t even have an idea about this. If we occupy a vantage political position in the parliament, we should be able to espouse and expand the opportunities inherent in returning members. The members that are returnees, given sensitive political positions, will be able to ventilate and tell Nigerians the advantage that is therein. But in a scenario where you will return here and you will still struggle (for positions), people will not see any advantage in it. There must be a premium that is placed on returning members to occupy sensitive political positions, drive a sincere legislative agenda and tell Nigerians the advantage that is there, so that when the fresh members are coming, it will give them an advantage almost immediately.