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What’s the fuss about statutory delegates? [Pulse Explainer]

What's the fuss about statutory delegates? [Pulse Explainer]

These are also known as automatic delegates; statutory delegates vote in primaries alongside ad hoc delegates – the second group who are elected during congresses across the wards in each state.

When amending Nigeria’s Electoral Act, the National Assembly passed a bill – now signed into law – making it mandatory that all delegates for primaries must be elected for that purpose. By doing so, the lawmakers stripped public office holders in the party of the privilege long enjoyed by those voting in the primaries as statutory delegates, as they are so-called.

These statutory delegates include:

  • The current president and vice-president and the former office holders
  • Governors and their deputies
  • Senators, members of house of representatives and of state assemblies
  • Local government chairmen and their deputies
  • Ward councillors
  • Chairman of the party in all the 774 local government areas

This is where it gets interesting… That amendment excluding the statutory delegates from voting was done in “error”, federal lawmakers admitted, with intense lobbying now going on for the president to sign a new amendment bill that brings that provision back.

The absence of that provision backing statutory delegates is a “deficiency that was never intended”, Senate President Ahmad Lawan said after the new amendment bill was passed by the upper chamber.

“It is important to enable every statutory delegate to vote,” said Lawan, one of the favourites in the race for the APC presidential ticket. He is believed to be among those to be worst hit by the absence of statutory delegates in the primaries as that would mean the exclusion of National Assembly members he hoped would have voted for him.

The use of statutory delegates is “a very complex model that makes things so difficult”, says Ariyo-Dare Atoye, executive director of Adopt A Goal Initiative, which has been campaigning for electoral reforms in Nigeria for years.

He sees the use of statutory delegates as giving “undue advantage” to current and former political office holders, adding that “a candidate who is going to face a popular election shouldn’t be afraid of a popular process within the party”.

However, some do not see it that way, instead arguing that having fewer delegates comes with reduced opportunity for a democratic process and more chances for manipulation of the outcome.

With the number of statutory delegates drastically reduced, it is going to be “extremely costly to Nigerians’ desire for […] better governance from those elected in 2023 because by the time Nigerians are waving their PVCs at the polling booths in 2023, more than 90% of the battle for decent leadership has been lost”, says Ayisha Osori, Director, Open Society Foundations.

This is because while internal party democracy has always been weak with the major political parties, the reduction in the number of delegates by 70% to 80% due to the disqualification, so to speak, of statutory delegates by Section 84(8) heightens the inequity and deceit around how delegates are selected and how they vote,” Osori tells The Africa Report.

The idea was met with both acceptance and opposition. While affected lawmakers like Lawan continue to advocate for a change of clause, an Abuja-based public affairs analyst, Kunle Oladimeji, argues that it brings some fairness into play as those who can be easily bought over are made to be only an audience.

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