Nigeria: Party Primaries and Public Expectations

Public officers should do what is right

One unfortunate feature of the ongoing primaries for the nomination of candidates for various offices by political parties has been the extensive use of money to buy delegates and their votes. This has particularly been the trend in both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The concern is that not only has the process been corrupted, but we also seem to be institutionalising a bizarre recruitment leadership model. For instance, one of the most productive senators who successfully ensured the passage of two important legislations lost his primaries because he is deemed by the people he represents as “too stingy”.

We can argue that the persistent pressure on public office holders is largely a product of leadership failure. In the absence of any real empowerment in such critical areas as health facilities, education, shelter and others, desperation compels the people to demand gratification in exchange for their ballots. This option, as was witnessed during the primaries, undermines the essence of representative administration. But there is a way we can also argue that the experience of the defeated senator sums up the public expectations of office holders in the country which seem to be at conflict with national aspirations.

A former governor once lamented on national television that the inability of public officers to function well is due to the demands of money and other personal gratifications from the people they are supposed to serve. Government functionaries, he explained, often divert funds meant for development to satisfy the need of individuals or groups within their various communities. In other words, public office holders expend the resources put in their trust to preserve their positions through satisfying the personal needs of their constituents and with that, it becomes difficult to deliver on the core responsibilities of government.

The former governor indeed expressed an unfortunate reality about our country today: Family members, friends, communities, and tribesmen most often insist that the only way for a public officer to show their worth is to address personal needs. This is taken to a ridiculous extent during elections when they demand instant gratifications in exchange for votes as we now see at the APC and PDP primaries.

There is therefore an urgent need for a proper re-orientation if we must reverse this detestable drift. Public officers must come to terms with the doctrine of true service. Prospective office holders should be determined to discharge their responsibilities effectively rather than succumb to any shady practices, including public demand for instant gratifications. Where the people know their rights and are truly served, they do not have to be paid to vote for the candidates of their choice either at the primaries of a political party or at the general election.

We understand that no excuse should be made for corruption in the public space. But the people should not unwittingly provide public officers with excuses for underperformance. Poor implementation of projects and programmes is bad enough. Linking such directly to what is now being painted as the parasitic behaviour of the public makes the situation even worse. Nigeria will fare better if those in public offices and the people they are supposed to serve insist on doing the right things, and not compromise on their duties.

From whatever perspective it is viewed, the ongoing monetisation of politics is antithetical to the development of the country. It is a given that when people pay to secure an office, they must recoup their investment. While embracing accountability is urgently required by public officials, there must also be an enlightenment campaign on the service the people should expect from those they send to represent them in government, at all levels.

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