Politics

Electoral Act: Senate initiates fresh amendment over primaries

CHUKWU DAVID reports that a few months after the Electoral Act 2022 was passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, NASS members, particularly senators, are uncomfortable with some of the provisions of the legislation and are calling for expeditious amendment to the act before the 2023 general election

When the Ninth National Assembly came on stream three years ago, one of its major objectives was to tinker with the nation’s constitution, with a view to providing the country with a body of laws that would promote peace, unity and progress in politics and governance. Therefore, one of the major items on the legislative agenda of the Ninth National Assembly, was to carry out amendments on the 1999 Constitution (as amended) as well as on the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), with a view to making serious improvements on the legal instruments, which would facilitate better governance.

Accordingly, many bills were introduced by the lawmakers to achieve this purpose and the two Chambers of the country’s apex Parliament (Senate and House of Representatives), worked assiduously to make major alterations on both the Constitution and the Electoral Act. On the Electoral Act, the National Assembly members tried to use their powers of lawmaking to curb what they considered undue influence of state governors in using some provisions of the Act to manipulate the electoral process during elections.

This made them to introduce a new section – 84(12) – which makes it mandatory for all appointed government officials to resign their appointments before standing for any elective office in the country. This provision however, did not go down well with the state governors, who first raised voices of opposition to the item. President Muhammadu Buhari and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, were also not in agreement with the provision. So, while signing the bill into law in February this year, the President asked the National Assembly to amend the Act and delete the provision of Section 84(12). Unfortunately, the lawmakers refused to expunge. This compelled President Buhari and the Attorney-General to file a suit at the Supreme Court, seeking an interpretation of the controversial clause in the Electoral Amendment Act 2022.

Controversy over section 84(12)

According to section 84(12) of the legislation, “no political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.” The judgement on the matter which was recently delivered by the Supreme Court was in favour of the lawmakers. It was obvious that the National Assembly deliberately inserted that contentious clause in the Electoral Act to check-mate the excesses of the state governors, who have been taking advantage of their numerous political aides that stand as delegates during primary elections.

That provision also compels ministers and commissioners to resign their positions before going for any elective position, a development that made not less than seven ministers in the Buhariled Federal Executive Council to resign before they participated in the recent presidential primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Also, in the 2022 Electoral Act, the lawmakers provided for direct and indirect primaries as well as consensus mode of selecting flag bearers during party conventions.

Furthermore, in a seeming desperate self-preservation effort, the Senate also amended the Electoral Act, 2022, to allow for statutory delegates to participate and vote at conventions, congresses and meetings of political parties. In order to achieve this, the apex legislative chamber, embarked on expeditious consideration of a bill during plenary, which scaled first, second and third readings and was passed by the lawmakers after consideration by the Committee of the Whole on the same day.

Those identified as statutory delegates include the president, vice-president, members of the National Assembly, governors and their deputies, members of the state Houses of Assembly, chairmen of councils, councillors, and members of National Working Committees of political parties, amongst others. As this drama unfolded, the lawmakers tried to whittle the over-reaching powers of the governors by making their aides not to participate in voting during congresses and conventions, they discovered their failure to capture elected persons to vote, which obviously affected them hence the insertion of section 84 (8) to accommodate statutory delegates.

President takes his pound of flesh

Unfortunately for them, President Buhari, in obvious revenge against the lawmakers’ refusal to delete section 84(12), declined to assent to the amended Electoral Bill, in which they inserted section 84(8). Accordingly, the lawmakers and others under the classification of statutory delegates did not vote in the last primaries. During the primaries, scores of federal lawmakers failed to secure tickets to contest the 2023 elections. They blamed the development of the delegate system and its alleged manipulation by state governors. While the Electoral Act allows direct, indirect or consensus methods of nominating candidates for elections, some parties adopted the indirect or delegate system during the primaries. This gave rise to a fresh call for the re-amendment, while a reworked version of the bill transmitted to President Buhari is still awaiting his assent.

Lawan’s assurance

In an address of welcome to senators after their last recess, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, promised that the Red Chamber will continue to refine the electoral law to make it more effective. Against this backdrop, he said that efforts would be made by the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to serve as safeguard against weaknesses identified in the law.

Lawan stated this following a matter of urgent public importance brought to the floor by the former Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North). He described the judgement by the Supreme Court on section 84(12) of the Electoral Act as a “landmark” judgement that vindicated the National Assembly. According to him, further amendment of the Act will strengthen it ahead of the 2023 general election.

His words: “Let me say that this is one major landmark judgement by the Supreme Court that the National Assembly had done its job and the court upheld it. The idea of what method of primaries should be adopted at the moment is entirely left for the political parties to decide. But as we implement the electoral act 2022, we are supposed to be very observant of the strengths and weaknesses deof the law. “This law is supposed to improve on the electoral processes and procedures in our country. So, it is for us to ensure that where there are weaknesses, we try to come up with measures, amendments to deal with the issues of weaknesses in the law.”

Senators caution against bowing to pressure

Rising under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Orders, Senator Abdullahi lauded the 9th Assembly for resisting the pressure from the executive to amend section 84(12) of Electoral Act 2022. He also applauded the Supreme Court for the clarity, decisiveness and unanimity of its verdict in upholding the separation of powers principle enshrined in our 1999 constitution. According to him, the verdict of the apex court was a major victory towards true democratic governance anchored on the rule of law.

“In my view, the Supreme Court verdict should be celebrated for the following reasons. It restored and anchors the power of making laws to the National Assembly; and establishes a principle that once the President accents to a Bill he/she can’t approbate and reprobate, i.e. he/she cannot go to the courts to amend/ reject the Bill in part or in whole,” he said. Abdullahi, however, stressed the need to amend the Electoral Act to revert to the direct mode of primaries, saying: “One issue still remains outstanding, and that is amending the Act (after the 2023 elections) to revert to our earlier stance on direct primaries.

“Our recent nasty experience of the misuse of consensus and delegate system has vindicated our earlier position on the merit of direct primaries provided that verifiable membership registers of political parties kept simultaneously at the ward level and with INEC with all the necessary safeguards against corruption and data manipulation, is put in place. “As the political process towards 2023 unfolds, the National Assembly needs to be observant of the loopholes and weaknesses of the 2022 Electoral Act, so that a comprehensive assessment is undertaken to provide adequate grounds for making amendments to the Act before the end of the term of office of the 9th Assembly in 2023,” he said. Also, Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West), while addressing journalists in Abuja recently, said that there is more work to do on the Electoral Act than the latest amendment.

He said: “We have already started discussing the need to re-amend the Act. The deficiencies and loopholes in the electoral law are too overwhelming, especially with what the country witnessed during the primaries of the political parties.” Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), who earlier called for amendment to the law to make direct primaries as the only mode of nominating candidates for election, said whereas several milestones were achieved in the Electoral Act 2022, the Act could be better if the processes were not hijacked by narrow and political interests. “My advice is that we need to restrict political parties to direct primaries as the only mode of nominating candidates if we truly want to preserve and grow our democracy, and recruit leaders that will truly serve the collective interest,” he said. With the woeful outing of most of the National Assembly members in the last party primaries and their call for immediate amendment to an Act that was signed into law in February this year, it is obvious that the lawmakers fell victims of their own trap.

 

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