Governors lobbying President Muhammadu Buhari not to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill may have lost out in the equation going by the disclosure from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Thursday, that the president was in support of direct primaries for political parties to produce candidates for elections.
The Speaker, who spoke with journalists after meeting with the president at the State House, Abuja, said Buhari was a product of direct primaries, because of his popularity, adding that direct primaries open up the political space for the youths to participate.
He noted that the indirect primaries, which have been the practice in the selection of candidates for political parties for elections have not helped the growth of democracy in the country.
Gbajabiamila, therefore, assured the people that the president would soon sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law since he was back from official engagements.
“The President is happy. He will look at all the issues we have brought to his attention. We talked about the Electoral Act amendment. We talked about agricultural development and other issues. All of the issues, the President will look at them,” the Speaker said.
Asked to dwell on his discussion with the president, the Speaker retorted: “Several issues, which one are you interested in? I will tell you whether it was part of it or not. Yes, the issue of national development and the synergy with the National Assembly.
“This tripartite committee, if I tell you we didn’t discuss the Electoral Act amendment, which is what I am sure you are asking about, I will be lying to you. We had a very robust discussion and our position is known to the president,” he said.
When further asked to state the official position of the National Assembly, Gbajabiamila said, “Are you not aware that the National Assembly has passed the issue of direct primaries and electronic transmission of election results? That is the position of National Assembly. It has passed through both houses. We have passed the law. The official position of House of Representatives and the Senate, we are for direct primaries.
“We are for empowering the people at the grassroots level. Let everybody participate in governance. Democracy is defined as government of the people, for the people and by the people. People is used three times in that definition. And it doesn’t start from general election. It starts from primaries. So, we have made it very clear, abundantly.”
Defending direct primaries, said, “It has been like that for a long time and it’s not helping our democracy. It is not growing and deepening our democracy. We have passed ‘Not Too Young to Run Bill,’ which the President was very happy to be a part of, because he wants to encourage young people. But it’s just a bill on paper.
“You pass Not Too Young to Run Bill, but at the same time you close the space for the young ones for whom you have passed Not Too Young to Run Bill.
“You have continued with your indirect primaries, how will the young people get involved? Now, they have a chance with the direct primaries. You have opened up the space and they can get in and mobilise themselves and if they are popular enough, they win the election. They are not dependent on any godfather,” he said.
While reacting to the view expressed by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State that it would be too expensive for political parties and INEC to handle direct primaries, he said,”Here is what I have to say. I have heard that argument about cost. And this is what I have to say.
“Do you put a price tag to democracy? I don’t think you should. What is too much and what is too little to buy freedom and democracy? I don’t think you should put a price tag to it. So, how much will be okay for him? He should tell us how much will be okay for him.”
On the concern that the National Assembly was fighting, because they had been edged out, he said: “Let me tell you something very clearly, and I have said it over and over again, the indirect primary is easier for me, at least, as far as my constituency is concerned.
“The indirect primary is easier for me. But because I don’t want to be selfish, because I want to look at the bigger picture, I will rather go with direct primaries. Let everybody go and vote. If they vote me out, they vote me out. It is as simple as that.”
On whether the Electoral Act Amendment Bill had been transmitted to the President and when it would be assented to, the speaker said, “It’s on the way. You can be sure of that.”
Speaking on the takeaways from his discussions with the president, Gbajabiamila said: “Very good, hopefully, we get the bill transmitted now that he is back very soon. We are hopeful it will become law and Nigerians will be better for it.”
Also speaking on the reason for the visit to the State House, he said: “I haven’t seen the president in a while. The president has been out of the country doing Nigeria’s business.
“He attended Climate Conference and he was in South Africa for the Trade Conference. He was also in Paris. I just came to brief the President as to the goings on in the country as it affects the National Assembly. So, we had fruitful discussions.
“We have been here for a while. We had fruitful discussions and tried to strike some synergy.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja