The Majority Leader of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) Femi Gbajabiamila was one of a panel of speakers at an event this evening held at one of the committee rooms in the UK’s House of Parliament in Westminster. It was the UK Diaspora Edition organised by Nigeria’s Emerging Political Leaders Forum (NEPLF), with a line-up of other speakers including, British MPs Jim Shannon and Jeremy Lefroy, Alistair Soyode the owner of the UK-based BEN TV, and Taiwo Akinola, who said he was part of a new organisation – Nigeria Intervention Movement, which he claimed was in response to the failures of the two major parties in the country – the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
It was a typically boisterous Nigerian crowd and Gbajabiamila bore the brunt of the tough questioning after each speaker had made their opening statements. He was put on the spot by Kinsley Ifudu, who is planning to float a new party in the country (the Nigeria Future Party). Ifudu invited the Majority Leader to look at the British MPs on the panel, stating that we could all find out how much the British lawmakers were paid, while the earnings of Gbajabiamila and colleagues remained a mystery to Nigerians. Fortunately for Gbabajabiamila, the moderators, who did a terrible job all evening, didn’t allow him to address the question. Nigerian legislators are allegedly the highest paid in the world, with some reports claiming they earn in excess of $1m a year.
Gbajabiamila also floundered when he spoke about giving the vote to diaspora Nigerians. He said it required a constitutional amendment. Someone in the audience then reminded him that he spoke earlier about reducing the age requirement for elected office through a bill. The age requirement is also in the constitution. If that didn’t require the more torturous route of constitutional amendment, the inquisitioner wondered if Gbajabiamila knew what he was talking about by claiming the diaspora vote needed a change to the constitution.
Incidentally, when Gbajabiamila arrived late for the event, one of the moderators asked the audience to rise to their feet in welcome. That request was ignored by a significant number in the audience, possibly the majority.
Earlier, Akinola said his Nigeria Intervention Movement was going to be a “third force” after the two major parties, and this “force” was triggered by the recent statement from former president Olusegun Obasanjo loaded with criticism for the current president Muhammadu Buhari. Akinola likened the APC to “APC” medication which he said “could reduce headaches, but could lead to cancer in the long term”. The APC (the political party) was meant to be the “cure” for the PDP’s 16 year misrule, but proved unable to solve Nigeria’s problems. He asked Nigerians to come together under his new platform and called for a “mobilisation of ideas”.
Akinola seemed to be short on ideas himself and this was noted by someone in the audience. He spent a lot time name-dropping about how he worked with First Republic politician Anthony Enahoro, APC Chairman John Oyegun, former Lagos governor and APC bigwig Bola Tinubu and mining minister Kayode Fayemi.
Alistair Soyode informed the gathering that he was leading a new “Yes movement”. It meant “yes to good education, yes to basic healthcare” and so on. His only idea how to achieve this was by registering to vote. He argued that Nigeria could be a better nation if “we choose to become a bridge to the better future”.
Gbajabiamila devoted much of speech to steps to achieve giving Nigerians in the diaspora the vote. He said about 20m Nigerians abroad are disenfranchised and most of them live abroad because the government has failed them. He claimed that he was willing to champion a challenge in the courts on this denial of the fundamental human right to vote to Nigerians abroad. He also suggested that there were legal, political and ethnic considerations for some powers in the country to be unwilling to give Nigerians abroad the vote. This was presumably related to calculations such as most of those living abroad coming from southern Nigeria and unlikely to vote for northern candidates.
However, Gbajabiamila argued that with the $20bn remitted to Nigeria from its citizens abroad yearly, it gave them significant “financial clout and leverage”.
In what appeared to be a Freudian slip, the House Majority Leader said Nigerians should demand a “better government” and “change” in the 2019 election. This suggested that incumbent Buhari should be removed. Gbajabiamila swiftly corrected himself, with several attempts to rephrase his sentence.
MP Lefroy took up the theme of diaspora voting, saying there was a system in the UK for “proxy” voting for those who have lived abroad for up to 15 years. He said the French had an even better system with seats in parliament representing the French diaspora. Therefore a place like London, with its huge Nigerian population, could have a representative in the National Assembly. The MP asked Nigerians in the audience to consider lobbying for this sort of change.
He also asked for consideration to be given to reducing the influence of money in Nigerian politics. He gave the example of the UK where TV advertising during the general election is banned, candidates are restricted to spending £15,000 in their constituency during campaigns, even though central parties could still raise money – in the region of £10-20m for elections. Lefroy contrasted this with megabucks American elections and argued that such restrictions minimise the influence of big business who would expect favours in return for their money.
There were a variety of contributions from the audience including a George Azu who used the opportunity to demand that “Buhari must go in 2019” and he had a hastily-prepared poster to support his demand.