Originally, the delegate system otherwise known as the primary election (or simply, party primary) is traceable to the work of two English political philosophers, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. While the work of Locke laid the foundation, that of John Stuart Mill put finishing touches to it. How?
Writing on the social contract that births the state, Locke tried to explain that while every member of the society participated in the FIRST CONTRACT that created the STATE, only a few property owners and knowledgeable individuals participated in the SECOND CONTRACT that established GOVERNMENT. Therefore, Government becomes elitist construction while the State is designed by all members of the pre-state society (comprising of both the elites and non-elites). Impliedly, while the ordinary people have joint ownership of the state with the elites, the elites on the other hand are the strict owners of government.
Now, John Stuart Mill (popularly known as JS Mill), an English philosopher like Locke, political economist and member of the British Parliament who was one of the most influential thinkers that contributed widely to classical liberalism, insisted that avoiding the pitfalls of majoritarian democracy where the people (i.e. the majority) who do not know their left hand from their right hand will risk electing leaders on sentiments that could put society in jeopardy, few intelligentsia (the minority) with sophisticated mind should serve as DELEGATES to weed out bad men (and women) seeking for public offices. This way, Mill believed that the few intellectuals who are the moral compass of the society would prevent the ruination of the collective good from the manipulation of the feeble-minded majority by unguarded power-seekers and mongers to elect bad people into power.
Therefore, the task of choosing from among the litany of pretenders to public offices should or ought to be done by delegates who are expected to be patriots, men and women of proven and impeccable characters and who will rise above personal pettiness and shenanigans of ruthless public office seekers. Americans successfully weaved both Locke and Mill’s theses into the processes of electing their presidents via the delegate and electoral college systems.
Alas, in Nigeria as it is elsewhere in Africa, elites have hijacked this noble and well-intended process of leadership recruitment to suit their class interest at the detriment of the greater good of the society. They do this by hand-picking people who are anything but the exact opposite of who Mill suggested should be delegates. Instead of electing people of proven integrity who should be above the influence of the ‘god of mammon’ called money and the influence of politicians for self-aggrandizement, the delegate system in Nigeria in particular is made to suit only the lackeys of the political class who could easily be manipulated by wads of Dollars ($). It was not meant to be so at the beginning of time when the idea was first conceived.
Interestingly, the very majority of ordinary citizens/people that Mill was afraid of endangering the sanctity of democracy and good governance have become the defender of democratic ethos while the supposed defenders, the delegates, are now the habitual dangers to it. Indeed, what a role-swap this is!
Thinking randomly though.
Source: Usman Solomon Ayegba, OAU Political Science Lecturer