With the National Assembly’s passage of the bill to amend the Electoral Act to mandate Direct Primaries for all elections, we spoke Hon. Dason Nemieboka, the Chairman of the United Rivers Alliance, to get his views of the new law and other political issues. As usual, Hon Dason was in his elements, frank and detailed.

Que: Sir, the National Assembly has just passed the bill that would compel political parties to adopt direct primaries to elect all candidates for all elections, whose benefit would that serve?
Ans: I think it’s a welcome development, because when assented by Mr. President and implemented. It would empower the electorate who are the real owners of political power but currently hold the short end of the stick.
Democracy implies popular participation and choice of the majority but the elite had for so long taken the right to decide from the people. So, in fact the concept of the direct primaries is good for the electoral system, however, it is also clear that the legislature is concerned about taming the powers of governors, who had for long been the ultimate powers in our democracy. So, there is in a sense a battle between two arms of governments, the executive and the legislature.
But its best if we focus on the significance. With direct primaries, clearly the political parties would gain some freedom from the stranglehold of their paymasters the governors. So, the party members would have a greater say, the party leadership would be more assertive, the aspirants would focus on the people rather than an individual or small cabal. So, the national assembly has by this action contributed to the liberalization of the electoral process.
Secondary benefits would include encouragement of credible aspirants, reduction in electoral cost, increased confidence in election results and better management of political parties.

Que: So, if direct primaries is a win-win as you say, why are there dissenting voices?
Ans: You know that in an unfair setting, you take from someone to give to someone, to achieve balance. And at such times those who had more are reluctant. The improvement in our electoral law is good for the process, people and even the parties, but not the oppressive governors.
Remember that many governors see themselves as deputy gods, they believe that their views, interests and thoughts equal that of the states. So, it’s their right to decide who gets what. They therefore would want to continue to have senators and election hopefuls come bow at their courts. So, what is gain for process, people and parties is loss for them.

Que: Could that be why the APC governors tried to prevail on the national assembly caucus to backdown on the passage of the bill?
Ans: My brother you can use your throat to count your teeth. The ego of the governors has been bruised by that law. You are referring to politicians who won elections on the mantra of change but who now afraid of progressive change. It is unfortunate. However, I know that the worry isn’t partisan, both PDP and APC governors are uncomfortable with the what they see as slicing their powers.
However, whatever happens, the president would sign the Act into law.

Que: As a pressure group championing rotation of power, how does this law affect your quest?
Ans: Fair question. Our quest is the institutionalization of a process that guarantees mutual cooperation and consideration. It’s the awakening of a consciousness, it’s a plea to all and so it’s not dependent on an individual. We are calling for a fairer deal for Rivers people. So, a good law can only enhance our demand.

Que: But even Governor Wike has threatened to go to court if the president signs the bill into law.
Ans: Really? Well, its within his rights as an interested party, but whose interest would he be seeking to protect? I would rather choose to disbelieve that he would go to court to change such a law. Remember that he is a member of the PDP, whose slogan is power to the people.
The Nyesom Wike I know is not a coward, he will not create an impression that he would lose his influence if the people have a say.

Que: The leader of the APC in Rivers State, Rt. Hon Amaechi had declared that he would support a riverine candidate for the governorship of the state in 2023. Now with the full implementation of the direct primaries; what if the APC votes for …
Ans: My brother, what is good is good and what is bad is bad. I am not sure that Amaechi made that statement believing that he is a superman or dictator. I think as a leader with large followership, he expects that his supporters would reason with him and flow with him.
It is politics, aspirants would campaign and negotiations would take place, what is important is that followers believe their leader’s vision. Otherwise, they have no business hanging around him. What is important is that political leaders now know that it’s not business as usual, so if someone thinks that I would impose my son, boy, in-law or friend regardless of his suitability or otherwise, then his party members can shock him.
Que: Is the United Rivers Alliance not worried that the upland might vote…
Ans: Don’t go there. There are too many wild assumptions in politics. Even in a sharply polarized polity, you can’t get such homogeneity. Even in your family you would lose votes. So, nobody can claim that he or she can single-handedly change the direction of a people.
We are not the streets, media houses and even on social media propagating the ding-dong philosophy because we know it’s in the interest of all. And I can tell you people are buying in, not because they like our faces or voices, but because it’s the way to peace and sustainable development.
Remember that the APC national had since indicated a willingness to look southward for its next presidential candidate. Is it because the south can forcefully take power? No. But the southern governors rose from a meeting and said power must return to the south in 2023. Of course, that statement frayed some nerves and even northern governors who had publicly declared support for a president from the south backed off and began to say they would not support the return of power.
It was a matter of approach. In politics it’s not the use brawn but brain. If a leader doesn’t read the mood well and sets his sail wrongly, he would stray into political defeat. The mood in the state is that we should have a governor of riverine extraction. So, the parties and their leaders only need to seek the best amongst them for presentation to Rivers people.
Que: Are you saying uplanders should be barred from contesting the governorship in 2023?
Ans: No, not barred, but they should be wise enough to sit out a riverine governorship. The north did so in 1999. Political adroitness will not encourage them to run.
Look at this stage of our political development we need to strengthen our belief in the unity of our state. And the surest way to achieve that, is if we get that sense of belonging that all can be.
Que: As a political pressure group, are there lessons from the just concluded Anambra governorship election that produced Prof. Chukuma Soludo as governor?
Ans: Oh certainly. But I think the lessons are more for the political parties and leaders. The first is never take the voters for granted. The second is field the best available, quality candidature now matters. Thirdly, imposition can be very costly.
Ndi Anambra or Anambarians as they call themselves knew that after the wedding comes the marriage, they were more concerned about what their lot would be in the next four years, and it reflected in the voting pattern. We hope Rivers people would take a clue. As our friend would say, politics is too important to be left for politicians.
So, even in the midst of riverine agitation, we cannot ignore competence and character. The parties should field their finest from the riverine.

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