By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Though its adoption resonates in the 9th Senate, not many Nigerians will recall, however, that just like the electronic transmission of election results, the idea of direct primary election for political parties fast-tracked by the 9th House of Representatives which is fast becoming the think-tank of Nigeria’s National Assembly.
Their constitutional mandate of lawmaking may be same but there are mileages in their philosophical and analytical views. Perhaps, that’s why there is always a conference committee, the harmonizer of legislative and bills discrepancies.
Though it is regarded as the lower chamber, the House of Representatives can safely be called the punching arm of the Nigeria’s national assembly. In other parlance, it is sobriqueted the Nigerian House.
With 360 members representing 360 federal constituencies across the federation, the House is peopled by grassrooters who share direct affinity with the common man. Most often, the members are young and energetic men and women who are enthusiastic. And so, almost always, they eschew politics of party, religion and region and other obscure sentiments that blur and clog the wheels of national developments and growth and respond to the core yearnings of the people. In many respects and on many fronts, they have had to bleed for the country even though there are still genuine criticisms of underperformance.
While such scenarios are historically ubiquitous, spanning decades, there are, however, three of those demonstrations recently by the 9th House.
First was the allocation of 5 percent equity share for the oil host communities in the then Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB. Here, the House pursued altruism, towering the Senate that approved 3 percent. Of course, the outcry that later trailed and still trails the Senate version has innocuously and unsolicitedly given the House some public endearments. Now, the Act is before the two chambers for an amendment and many House members are mulling a revisit to the approved percentage for the benefit of the people.
The second was the discretionary powers given to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to either adopt electronic transmission of election results or manual. While the House adopted this for the credibility and sanctity of the electoral process in line with the demands of 21st century Nigerians, the Senate catastrophically and outrageously subjugated INEC’s constitutional powers to the National Communication Commission, NCC and to themselves, the politicians, thereby sacrificing the independence of the electoral umpire.
But the 9th House saw tomorrow. It understood the paramountcy of elections and the concomitant of the times with advanced technology.
Senate’s error, backtrack
Realizing their error, however, the Senate which had been taken to the cleaners by Nigerians in the conference committee for harmonization of the two approved versions backtracked and concurred with the House. That was not all. It also adopted the option of direct primaries for the selection of candidates for political parties in elections.
This is the third and perhaps, the biggest demonstration of patriotism and altruism through law enactment.
The Origin/Senate’s reluctance despite Sen. Ike Ekweremadu’s earlier push
But while this goes, not many a people would have the recollections of the origin of the proposal in the 8th House. There is difficulty in understanding the fact that despite the fact that former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu from Enugu State had in the 8th National Assembly in 2016 mulled the possibility of Nigeria joining the United States, US, in that political trajectory, the 8th Senate still didn’t muster the political courage to push it before the 9th House.
“I commend the House Democracy Partnership as a bipartisan effort at deepening responsive, effective government and also strengthening democratic institutions through assistance to legislatures in emerging democracies around the world. We are willing to partner with you because it will not only enrich our democracy, but also that of the entire West Africa sub-region and Africa as a whole.
“I believe both countries have a lot to benefit from shared parliamentary ties. Nigeria, in particular stands to benefit from you in the area of electoral reforms, such as direct primaries, which has conferred a lot of transparency and credibility on the U.S electoral system”, Ekweremadu said while welcoming a delegation of the House Partnership for Democracy, United States House of Representatives, on a working visit to the Senate on behalf of the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
But now, not many will recall that the proposal was an ingenious, sagacious and cognitive push from the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. The Speaker had while contributing to the debate during the consideration of the Electoral Bill on July 16, 2021 proposed the eternal removal of “or indirect primaries” as had been recommended by the relevant House Committee that superintended the work.
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The Committee’s recommendation in Clause (section) 87 titled “Nomination of Candidates by Parties”, read thus:
(1) A political Party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct or indirect primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which may be monitored by the Commission.
(2) The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.
But an amendment came from Gbajabiamila who represents Surelere 1 Federal Constituency of Lagos State. It read thus: “In subclause (1), line 2, leave out the words “or indirect” any anywhere where it appears in the bill”.
This was put to vote and the majority favored it, leading to its adoption. That’s how direct primaries evolved, giving credence to the ingenuity and the intellectual wizardry of both the speaker and the entire House membership.
An avalanche of benefits
Meanwhile, while opposition mounts against this amendment, the advantages, thereto, abound. According to the proponents of this idea, many political analysts and keen observers of social events, perhaps, with good experiential knowledge, direct primary is the most transparent mode of nominating a candidate in any election. It is more participatory as it allows for mass participation. It will address selection of candidates – where candidates are selected instead of elected. It will allow for more women and youth participation in the political process. Direct primaries will checkmate and send into oblivion god-fatherism in Nigeria politics. The internal party democracy in all registered political parties will be enhanced just as a level playing ground for aspirants will be created. Direct primary election is “power to the people”.
In direct primaries, the role of money or influence to buy delegates, voters or members will be whittled down. Under the new political system, in the event that political thugs disrupt voting before declaration of winner, there are chances to revert to direct primary method in the re-run elections. It helps political parties easily win at the general election since they have elected the most popular and acceptable candidate during the primary election.
Speaking to Vanguard on the issue, the lawmaker representing Uromi/Esan Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House, Hon. Serguis Ogun (PDP) said primaries should be at the discretion of the political parties.
“Primaries should be the prerogative of the political parties. This is an interference in the function of the political parties. Direct party primary is expensive hence the small political parties will struggle to implement it. It’s also going to be a huge financial burden on INEC in terms of personnel deployment and logistics to monitor the primaries”, he said.
Similarly, Hon. Ben Rollands Igbakpa (PDP) representing Ethiope federal Constituency of Delta State said “Indirect primary is better, less expensive, easy to organize in terms of logistics, security and other necessary aspects. Direct primary is going to be rancorous, will have security challenges. It is akin to telling the entire people of the constituencies to come to Abuja. I don’t know what the proponents want to achieve. What is INEC coming to do in the internal affairs of political parties? May be, very soon, INEC will start telling political parties how much they will sell their nomination forms and all that. These are the internal affairs of political parties”, he said.
Obviously, with the sagacity of the House of Representatives in especially the contemporary turbulent national issues like the 5 percent equity share, the electronic transmission of election results and the direct primary mode of election for political parties, it may not sound immodest to describe the Green Chamber as the think-tank, the melting pot and point of the National Assembly. They appear to be taking bolder steps and endearing themselves to Nigerians more than the Senators. All hopes are now high that the adoption of direct primaries by the Senate will witness easy and seamless passage in the House which had first proposed it.