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Gbajabiamila’s masterstroke on direct primaries

The Nigerian political landscape came alive recently owing to a critical development that has generated serious interest, not just among the...

By Musa Abdullahi Krishi


The Nigerian political landscape came alive recently owing to a critical development that has generated serious interest, not just among the political elite but also among the masses, whose interests political office holders seek to protect. What was at stake was the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which makes it mandatory for political parties to adopt direct primary as the only mode of producing candidates for elective positions.

The background to this, is what some Nigerians may not know. In July this year, just before proceeding on their annual recess, members of the House of Representatives considered and adopted the report of the Committee on Electoral Matters on the amendment of the Electoral Act.

During the consideration, the Speaker of the House, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, who has been at the forefront of opening the Nigerian political space for all Nigerians to partake in electing their leaders right from the grassroots, made a watershed amendment. The vocal Gbajabiamila proposed that a clause be inserted to make it mandatory for all political parties to adopt only the direct primary mode for electing candidates. Members present at the session welcomed the amendment, and it easily sailed through.

But because both the House and the Senate passed different versions of the Bill, it was imperative, as demanded by legislative practice, for both chambers to harmonize their positions on this and others such as the electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Last Tuesday, the Senate concurred with the position of the House on direct primaries, as proposed by Speaker Gbajabiamila.

Although it is glaring that some vested interests were not comfortable with the arrangement to allow for wider political participation among Nigerians, the amendment gained traction among the masses. And it is hoped that when the Bill eventually gets to President Muhammadu Buhari, he would append his signature to it so that it would become law.

In the build-up to the 2019 elections, the APC, in most of its states, adopted the direct primary mode. The presidential primary that produced President Buhari as the party’s sole candidate was done through the direct primary at the ward levels and ratified at the national convention.

Understandably, some governors, both of APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are vehement in their opposition to the direct primary mode. The issue generated so much interest that it became the major topic of discussion at a recent National Caucus Meeting of the APC, where the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was in attendance.

At the meeting, Speaker Gbajabiamila, who is never shy to state why he champions the direct primary mode, gave his reasons, and all, but a few among the attendees, were convinced.

On Thursday, November 11, Gbajabiamila gave more reasons when the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, led representatives of the Nigerian youths to the Speaker’s Office on a thank-you visit for the Speaker’s role in the adoption of the new amendment.

By popular demand, Gbajabiamila said, the direct primary mode would bring more accountability and adequate representation as political office holders would not be restricted to pleasing a group of few people selected as delegates, but would work for the interest of the generality of their party members, and by extension the electorate.

As a ranking 5th-time member of the House, having being first elected in 2003, Gbajabiamila said he observed that many Nigerians, especially the youths, would ordinarily want to participate fully in the election of those to represent them, right from the grassroots level, hence his preference for the opening of the political space for all, including the youths.

Gbajabiamila, a senior player in the Nigerian political space, said: “If I know that my return will depend on some few men, I may not care about you. But if I know that my return will depend on my accountability and representation to the people, I will do the right thing.

“It is important for this generation to open the door of leadership to the next generation. We must allow every Nigerian to participate fully in the process of leadership. I, therefore, stand with Direct Primary.”

The visit, to every discerning mind, only pointed to one thing: that the single-handed amendment for direct primary canvassed by Gbajabiamila and accepted by his colleagues is the way to go as it gains wide acceptance even among the Nigerian youth.

The youth, including the sports minister, were full of praises for the Speaker. For example, Dare said: “When the president signed the Not Too Young to Run Bill, it paved the way for many youths. Another door was opened two nights ago. The kudos goes to you and the National Assembly. We support you for direct primaries. It will open the door for Nigerian youths.

“As a journalist, and it has been recorded, I know that you moved the amendment of the Electoral Act that has led us to where we are (on direct primaries).”

As if that was not enough, one of the youths’ representatives, Miss Patience N. Eze, who is the spokesperson of NYCN, thanked the Speaker for working for the Nigerian youths in different ways, including on the issue of the direct primaries.

She said: “We appreciate you for pushing for direct primaries, which, we believe, will give an opportunity to the youths. I assure you that we’ll take the opportunity with the support of people like you.”

It is, therefore, evident that the direct primary mode of electing candidates for political offices is just the answer to the clamour by the masses to be given voices and the opportunity to participate more in the election of their leaders. Gbajabiamila only followed that pattern and worked based on the yearnings and aspirations of the majority of Nigerians, who have now found a voice in the affairs of their political parties.

Krishi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, House of Representatives.

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