August 14, 2022
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Direct Primaries Won't Give Power to the People – THISDAY Newspapers

  • November 28, 2021
  • 11 min read
Direct Primaries Won't Give Power to the People – THISDAY Newspapers

Ring true BY Yemi Adebowale   Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com
Phone 08054699539

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I always laugh whenever I hear the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, the arrowhead of the push for direct primaries, talking about the merits of this proposal awaiting President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent. The Speaker moved the amendment to introduce direct primaries during the clause by clause consideration of the 2021 Electoral Amendment Bill. He wants Nigerians to believe that direct primaries will return power to all party members; that registered party members will determine candidates for elections. Few days back, Gbajabiamila added another dimension to his argument for direct primaries saying he pushed for its inclusion in the Amendment Electoral Bill because the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act “is not addressing the exclusion of youth in politics.”
The law reduces the age limit for contesting elective offices in the country. The Speaker said the youth had not been able to capitalise on the Act because the needed environment had not been provided.
Gbajabiamila 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 primaries. That’s why I said at different fora that I’m for direct primaries. We have to do this for the sake of the institution.”
Gbajabiamila is not grandstanding about the merits of direct primaries. No doubt, it has huge value. Unfortunately, direct primaries won’t make any difference in Nigeria; at least for now. This is because of the complexities of the Nigerian system, where votes don’t count and god fathers dominate politics. Direct or indirect primaries, the god fathers and governors will still determine who gets what, when and how. With the experience of direct primaries in Nigeria, registered members will vote for candidates for election, while the god fathers/governors will sit down at the state capitals and rewrite the results. It’s just like governors conducting local government elections. The case of the former governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode is still fresh in my memory.
Of course, we know that with direct primaries, INEC can’t monitor all the wards. Teams sent by the parties from Abuja to conduct primaries won’t also be able to directly conduct primaries in all the wards in any given area. Such teams, usually not more than five members, will stay at the capital city, enjoying all the comfort of the governors/god fathers, and then write results to please them. Gbajabiamila has suddenly forgotten that state Excos of the parties will conduct the direct primaries; the same Excos controlled by governors/godfathers.
In the case of Ambode, the Lagos State Exco of the APC weirdly completed the governorship direct primary before the electoral panel sent from Abuja arrived the state. A bizarre result was simply handed over to the panel from Abuja. The head of the panel, Clement Ebiri, initially said no primary was held, and that election materials brought from Abuja were still intact. Ebiri added that his committee was yet to commence the process. But by the time Ebiri and his panel members were “settled properly”, they changed their story and quickly accepted the result.
Aside from the fact that god fathers and governors will always write their own results during direct primaries because they control state Excos, I also believe that making direct primaries mandatory for political parties is undemocratic. Let’s face it; democracy is about choice in everything. The choice of how to select candidates for elections must be left open to the political parties to decide. It is undemocratic to limit political parties to the use of direct primaries. They must be allowed to pick the option best suited for them at any given time. Gbajabiamila and his colleagues have forgotten that it is the unchallengeable right of every political party, within the context of the Nigerian constitution, to decide its form of internal democratic practices, including the processes of proposing its contenders for elections at all levels.
Again, these lawmakers pretend to be unaware that direct primaries are usually very cumbersome and would overstrain the limited resources of INEC, a body legally mandated to oversee primaries conducted by political parties. These states have thousands of wards. How will INEC perform its supervisory role in situations like this? It means if multiple political parties are having primaries, INEC’s resources will be overstretched.
INEC recently unveiled the financial and security implications of monitoring direct primaries of the 18 registered political parties in the country, stating that it would require about 17,618 officials to supervise only that of the two leading political parties in the country – APC and PDP.
Before the passage of the law, former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki added an interesting perspective, saying, “Let us leave each party to decide how it wants to source its candidates. The experience we have in the past shows that direct primary will lead to a crisis if forced on the parties. We saw how people sent from the national headquarters to conduct primary elections stayed in hotel rooms and conjured up figures which were announced as the result of direct primary elections.
“The direct primaries provision may work for us in the future but not now that we are not prepared for it as the primaries may hold next June. That is just nine months from now. The time for adequate and necessary preparations towards direct primaries is even not there. There will be so many litigations arising from the process. Do we have the time to hold crisis-free primaries and not create booby-traps for the general elections?”
Saraki said the demand for direct primaries had always reared its head as a fall-out of the internal dynamics in certain parties where legislators feel they have been short-changed in the congresses where state governors seized the structure because they felt the process was neither transparent nor free and fair: “The legislators may now see the process of passing the Electoral Act as a means to settle the scores. However, in the process that we have now, it is the country that will lose. It is our electoral process that will be undermined.”
My appeal to Buhari today is to return the Amendment 2021 Electoral Act to the National Assembly. The direct primaries clause must be removed swiftly and sent back to the President. The main issue Nigerians have been clamouring remains electronic transmission of result. This direct primaries, as good as it sounds, may become a major clog in the smooth conduct of elections in Nigeria. It may also affect the credibility of this country’s electoral process.
The existing and operative law provides that the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries. On this I stand. This is the way forward for Nigeria.
Kaduna-Abuja Highway Still a Big Mess
The Kaduna-Abuja highway remains the fastest road to death in Nigeria. Kidnappers have scores of camps along this road. Daily, they abduct hundreds of Nigerians unhindered with many unreported. The police, military and other security agencies persistently fail Nigerians on this highway. It’s so painful seeing security agents regaling the nation with stories of clearance operations on this road. Most of these “clearances” are deceptions. The kidnappers are alive and kicking. They were on the highway for hours last Monday, and abducted many people. Travellers in an 18-seater bus from Zamfara State, heading to Abuja, were among the victims. Four vehicles of other abductees with broken windshields and damaged tyres littered a section of the road last Monday.
The abductors were also on this road for hours last Sunday, capturing and maiming people. It’s a shame that security agents are struggling to effectively protect this stretch of road. Technology, equipment and quality manpower are essential for this job to be properly done. Our security agents, as presently constituted, lack these capabilities. Those in government, who should help improve the capacity of these security agents are unperturbed. The big men who call the shots in Nigeria have long abandoned the Kaduna-Abuja highway. They patronise rail and air. So, they care less about the masses of the people, who are daily dehumanised on the road.
The endless tales of woes on the infamous Kaduna-Abuja highway reflect all the trappings of a failed government. Communities located on this road are also persistently attacked by the kidnappers. Chikun and Kagarko local government areas are badly affected. Nigerians living in these two local governments persistently pay kidnappers, with unending tales of woes. Military men are not spared. I still remember how Col. Samaila Inusa, serving with the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, was kidnapped by gunmen around Kamazo area in Chikun Local Government.
This is the main road to death in Nigeria and has remained like this for over three years. The growth and intensity of kidnappings here is massive. Some abductees pay ransom and still end up being killed. Some are killed on the spot in the process of abducting them. These can only happen in a country without a government. The security of the people has evidently been relegated in Nigeria. In sound societies, these kidnappers would have been wiped out with helicopter gunships.
Hadi Sirika’s Nigerian Air Farce
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, is becoming an embarrassment to forward-looking Nigerians over his imaginary national carrier to be called Nigerian Air. This man wasted huge public fund during an air show in London in June 2018, to announce the dubious birth of the airline. Now, Nigerians are regularly assaulted with all sorts of preposterous funding plans for the proposed airline. We were first told that the airline would be private sector-led. Later, Sirika said public funds would be used to start it, and later bring in investors to buy into the company.
Last Wednesday, Sirika announced that the national carrier would begin operations in April 2022. According to him, the new official airline would have 51 per cent of its equity shares owned by the Nigerian government and people, with foreign partners having the remaining 49 per cent. He added a deceitful note that the venture is expected to generate 70,000 jobs. Haba! Even mega-carriers like Emirates can’t generate 70,000 jobs.
I’m shocked that Sirika said the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had given approval for the new national carrier. How did this happen? Sirika’s plan would amount to wasting government resources amidst dwindling revenue. Where will the foreign investors come from after the failed Virgin Nigeria experience? No single foreign investor made any concrete commitment to Nigerian Air during the 2018 London show of shame by Sirika. No foreign investor participated at the fraudulent launch in London. This airline exists only in Sirika’s imagination.
These guys just want to flush public funds down the drain. I need to remind Sirika that it is no longer fashionable for countries to set up national carriers. I’m sure he knows this, but more concerned about personal gains. What will the national carrier do that existing flag carriers cannot do? A good government will support flag carriers instead of wasting public funds to set up a national carrier. Besides, a national carrier cannot be the priority of an inept government swimming in debt. It cannot be the priority of a country in which the security and welfare of the people are in shambles.
The focus of a good government should be on critical sectors like security, health and education. Airline businesses are better left to the private sector. This is the standard in lucid climes.

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