From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and governor of Ekiti state, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had said contrary to perceptions, neither President Muhammadu Buhari not state governors scared of direct primaries as the sole means by political parties to select election candidates.
This is even as he described as courageous President Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
Fayemi, who was responding to questions from State House Correspondents after a meeting with the president at the presidential villa, Abuja on Tuesday, dismissed suggestions that the president had succumbed to their pressure by declining assent to the bill, noting that state governors do not care whether the mode of primaries is direct or indirect.
All Progressive Congress (APC) governors had recently voiced their opposition to the clause making direct primaries mandatory for parties.
Fayemi said as someone who had gone through both systems during his first and second primary elections to pick his party’s ticket, just like President Buhari he is comfortable with either mode.
He added that by declining assent, President Buhari is standing on the side of the people as according to him, he is neither for nor against direct primaries but wants all options provided for.
The Ekiti Governor said President Buhari’s courage must therefore be commended for standing on the side of the people.
When told that governors are happy because President Buhari did not sign the bill over the mandatory direct primaries, Fayemi argued: “Okay, well, I don’t know what you mean by governor’s being happy. At least as the governor who has gone through a series of elections, my election to office during my first term was via a direct primary that took place in all the 177 wards in my state. And my election to my second term in office was via an indirect primary.
“So, I’ve tasted both. And I can tell you that it really doesn’t matter to any governor whether you have primaries via direct mode or an indirect mode. What is governors’ interest and concern is that opportunities are given for an inclusive process. And I think that is what Mr. President’s letter has brought out.
“Mr. President has not objected to direct primaries, neither has he endorsed indirect primaries. He has only said, be fair to all, let all options apply and what you decide should be determined by your own local and peculiar circumstances. Being mindful of questions of security, finances, and internal democracy.
“So, I think we all should commend the courage of Mr. President to stand with the people. And the President, you know, just like me, is not afraid of whatever mode you you decide to use.
“When I chaired the primaries, the historic primaries that brought him in as a presidential candidate, I was the chair of that primaries in 2014, it was an indirect primaries.
“But in 2019, when he was coming back, he came back via a direct primary. So, Mr. President has also tasted both. And I don’t think he’s somebody to be lectured about the pros and cons of either processes.
“What is important is to ensure that whatever process you choose in your particular circumstance, still provides a process that is as free a manner as possible.
“It’s not completely free process, but at least there is something that is called substantial compliance in electoral law. And if it meets substantial compliance, I think all of us should be happy with that. We shouldn’t really dwell too much on…there’s been this exaggerated expectation that direct primaries is going to provide all answers to whatever electoral challenges that we have faced.
“And we all know that that is false. Direct primaries has its own challenges, indirect primaries has its own challenges, a consensus approach is also not without challenges, but options should be provided.
“That’s all I think Mr. President has said and whether governors are happy or not, it’s really immaterial to governors whether it’s direct or indirect.”
Fayemi said as the Chairman of the NGF, he came to the villa to brief President Buhari on issues concerning the states and as well commend him for trying to stem insecurity in the country.
He explained: “Well, it’s customary, I mean, as chairman of the Nigerian Governors to always exchange notes with Mr. President from time to time, especially in the yuletide season like this, I always find time to come and say hello to Mr. President.
“But yes, there will always be issues to discuss between the sub nationals, and the president of the Federal Republic, to commend him for his efforts in trying to stem the tide of insecurity in our country, and to also deal with the economic challenges that we are confronted with.
“On our part as governors, we have had cause during the year to raise issues about insecurity in various domain. We have had cause to raise issues about economic challenges that the country is experiencing, we have had cause to raise other governance related issues.
“And Mr. President has responded to many of those issues, he has stepped in the bridge, he has assisted us as states, even most recently he had supported as with bridge finance, to address some of the economic difficulties that states are experiencing. And it’s always appropriate to express our gratitude, even if we, as we continue to raise concerns about aspects of our governance that we still want him to do more on.”
Addressing the criticisms trailing the use of federal government’s intervention funds by states, Governor Fayemi affirmed that such funds have been applied to tackle critical challenges by the recipients.
He further said: “Well, governors are elected to tend to the affairs of their states, and protect their citizens in the best manner possible. You would recall that the bridge finance that we negotiated with the federal government was precisely that to bridge the gap that was created by the repayment of the previous facilities, around bailouts, around budget support, and on excess crude support, which Mr. President approved in 2017.
“The repayment of those loans had commenced because CBN wanted the money back. And because that would have left us with a very deep hole in virtually all the states, we then negotiated for these to address specific things in relation to workers welfare, in relation to infrastructure development, in relation to improving on the enabling environment for investments in our states, and these are the things that states are spending it on.
“They are very specific, the measurable and in each state had outlined what this support would cover.”
On the president’s response to his visit, he said: “Oh, it’s always enlightening to meet with the President, as you know. I came to see the President in my capacity as the chairman of the Nigerian governors and to express, as I said, gratitude for his approval of the bridge finance, and is also to let him know, some of the steps we are taking in our various states to also fundamentally address this lack of revenue, because we have a challenge in this country, and tokenistic support will not do what the federal government does not have the resources, neither do we have the resources in our various states.
“So, we need to look for creative measures that would allow us to be able to raise funds that we can use to tackle the challenges of the moment, the challenge of infrastructure gap, the challenge of educational inequalities of our children that are out of school in parts of the country, the challenge of security.
“If we don’t have the resources, we would continue to have difficulties in managing people’s expectation. And the truth of the matter is, the country is not as buoyant as most people think it is. And one of our suggestions to Mr. President, is clearly that we need to create the enabling environment that will give those who can provide such support for the country the confidence to want to invest in the future of Nigeria. Those are the things that I discussed with Mr. President.”