By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila Thursday said that President Muhammadu Buhari will soon sign into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that contains direct primaries for all political parties.
The Speaker stated this in an interview with State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
There have been a sharp disagreement between members of the national assembly and state governors over the mode of primaries for different political parties.
While the Senate and the House of Representatives in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill approved direct primaries for political parties, the governors are insisting on indirect primaries.
But the Speaker said that President Buhari has been a product of direct primaries because of his popularity, adding that direct primaries opens up the political space for the youths to participate.
He noted that the indirect primaries which has been the practice in the selection of candidates for political parties for elections has not helped the growth of democracy in the country.
He gave the assurance that the President would soon sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law as he is back from official engagements.
On the purpose of his visit, he said, “I just came to brief the President about the goings-on in the country as it affects the National Assembly. So, we had fruitful discussions. We had fruitful discussions and tried to strike some synergy.
“We had a very robust discussion about the tripartite committee, Electoral Act amendment, which is what I am sure you are asking about. If I tell you we didn’t discuss that, I will be lying to you.
“You are aware that the National Assembly has passed the issue of direct primaries and electronic transmission of election results? That is the position of the National Assembly. It has passed both houses.
“Hopefully, we will get the Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted now that he is back very soon. We are hopeful it will become law and Nigerians will be better for it.”
Asked about the concerns raised by the Benue State Governor who on Tuesday advised the President to return the Electoral Act to the National Assembly because of direct primaries which he claimed would be too expensive for political parties and INEC, the speaker said the national assembly cannot put a price tag on democracy when making decisions.
He said, “I have heard that argument about cost. And this is what I have to say. Do you put a price tag on 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 on it.”
On direct primaries, Gbajabiamila said, “But 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 a 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 elections. It starts from primaries. So, we have made it very clear abundantly.”
He added that the indirect primaries have for a long time not helped the country’s democracy.
“We passed 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.”
Asked about the progress on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Gbajabiamila simply said “It’s on the way. You can be sure of that.”
Fielding question on the concerns that the direct primaries will not favour the Speaker’s political ambition, he said the indirect primaries are easier for him as far as his constituency is concerned.
He, however, said he is pushing for direct primaries 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.”
Gbajabiamila added that the President has always supported direct primaries, adding that he has been a proponent from the very start.
On the President’s outlook on the state of the nation, he said
“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.”