Electoral Bill: Clamour for president’s assent intensifies

PATRICK OKOHUE reports that despite opposition by state governors to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill recently passed by the National Assembly mandating political parties to nominate candidates for elections through direct primaries, most Nigerians believe that it is the way to go

Relieved that the National Assembly eventually passed the muchawaited amended Electoral Bill, a cross section of Nigerians have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to it when both chambers of the National Assembly transmit it to him. Making the appeal to the President in chats with our correspondent, Nigerians across various divides urged him not to allow the recently passed bill suffer the same setback the previous one suffered, when he refused to assent to it due to some disagreeable clauses.

They noted that the National Assembly had to bend backward to accommodate the part giving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the final say on the mode of transmission of election results despite what seems to be the obvious position of both the executive and the legislature.

They urge the President to side with the people and give them what they want by assenting to the bill. Enjoining the President not to allow his disagreement with aspects of the just-passed bill, if any, to stop his assent, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Paschal Njoku, said the position that the federal lawmakers took was in line with the wishes of majority of Nigerians they represent. He noted that even after assenting to a bill there is always a provision for amendment.

“I know that many governors, especially of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are not happy with the direct primaries imposed on political parties by the amended bill and I believe the President will likely be on the same side with them, but that is not a reason for him not to assent to it.

“Many democracies of the world, like the United States of America go by direct primary; so there may actually be nothing wrong with it, but even with his opposition, he can assent to it and then seek amendments later. We need to move forward,” he said. Tokunboh Adisa, a university teacher wondered why some Nigerian leaders would refuse to do what is right even when they know that is the right thing to do.

“I am still at a loss why the President refused to sign the Electoral Bill the last time, and I hope such will not be repeated this time around, because if care is not taken he can still hide under such flimsy excuses and refuse to sign it again, but I hope that will not happen,” he said.

Ahmad Yusuf, a human rights activist and expert in constitutional law, said but for the electronic transmission of election results and the use of technology, the result of the just-concluded Anambra State governorship would probably be different. According to him, “the result of the Anambra State election was a shock to many people, even though the turnout was low.

The use of technology, especially the electronic transmission of result and the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine made a lot of difference and I think we should think more of this and embrace more of tech-nology. The President should sign this quickly, even though I expect an amendment to the bill soon to accommodate electronic and disapora voting, but we will celebrate what we have for now and wish he signs immediately.” A security expert and consultant, Prince Ehize Oribhabor, reasoned that signing the amended electoral act at this time would not only put the President in the good books of many Nigerians, but give his political party, the APC, a major campaign instrument and make the people to believe that they do not have ulterior motive on the 2023 election.

“Actually, I will say signing the electoral bill into law is in the interest of the President and the APC, his party, because refusing to sign it gives the impression that they have something they are afraid of, but signing it will give the impression that they are on the side of the people. So, if I were in his shoes I will sign it without delay,” Oribhabor said. Recall that in 2019, the Director-General (DG) of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Salihu Mohammed Lukman, supported the direct primaries for selecting parties’ candidates for elections.

Lukman works directly under Alhaji Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, one of the governors vehemently opposing the direct primary mode today. Lukman supported the direct primary mode when he wrote in a book titled, ‘Power of Possibility and Politics of Change in Nigeria’ that: “The announcement that the party (APC) would resort to direct primary in the selection of candidates elicited excitement among APC members. Perhaps because of its potential to trigger some fundamental changes in the political landscape, ostensibly towards shifting the locus of power from gatekeepers to party membership, the widespread interests the decision for direct primary generated both within the party and in the general public were as contentious as they were predictable. “In simple terms, there were expectations of possible changes in the dynamics of leaders-members relationships within the political party’s governance framework.

It is a governance framework that encourages the monetisation of candidates’ selection across all parties, which is much despised by party members and the public, but also painfully costly to aspirants and candidates. The rationale for direct primary based on expanding the democratic space for membership participation is hardly contestable all things considered.” However, in 2021, just two years after his public endorsement (and apparently that of Bagudu too) of the direct primary mode, following the adoption of the new amendment by the National Assembly, Lukman said: “It is worrisome that the APC members in the National Assembly are the ones pushing for this amendment.

“Rather than leaders of the party negotiating among themselves on what needs to be done to produce internal agreement to resolve all challenges facing the party, increasingly, structures of the party are being abandoned and other structures outside the statutory organs of the party are being used to attempt to address perceived problems.”

The pertinent questions Lukman should answer are: what has changed between 2019 and 2021 that he and his co-travelers are suddenly changing their minds? Whose interests is he trying to protect: Nigerians’ or governors’? Why is he and his paymasters now afraid of the direct primary mode? Who is fooling who in the whole thing? History was made on Tuesday November 9 when the Senate at plenary passed a Bill providing amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). The icing on the cake of the repackaged bill is the inclusion of the much desired electronic transmission of election results and preference for direct primaries mode of congresses for political parties.

Suffice to say that the tortuous journey towards reformation of the electoral process in the Fourth Republic which started since 2007 somehow came to a promising berth with the passage of the new bill by the 9th National Assembly. Hardly was the harmonisation of the two items among 21 clauses agreed upon by members of the Senate and House of Representatives at Conference Committee pronounced that diverse reactions and comments started coming from political parties, civil society organisations, non – governmental bodies and individuals.

While the recommendation for electronic transmission of election results received wider acceptance across board, provision for direct primaries was received with mixed feelings. The ruling APC through one of its strongest organs, the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) vehemently opposed the bill while stating why Buhari should not sign the bill.

Chairman of the Forum and governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, reminded the President of an impending danger in authorising large gatherings of people as required by the direct primaries system. The PGF said: “There is an Executive Order signed by Mr. President against large gathering.” The major opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), simply attacked the proposal on the ground that it is wrong for the ruling APC to lord the direct primaries option over other parties. The PDP maintained that parties should be allowed to adopt any method that suits their purpose of election. PDP spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan said: “Our party holds that it’s the inalienable rights of each political party, within the context of our constitutional democracy to decide its form of internal democratic practices including the processes of nominating its candidates for elections at any level.

The PDP also believes that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party.” The Social Democratic Party (SDP) also rejected passage of the direct primary mode of election by the National Assembly and therefore asked Buhari not to assent to it. According to the party, direct primaries may have some laudable features, but should not be forced on every political party to be used in every case and at all times. Dr. Olu Agunloye, National Chairman of SDP, in a statement said: “We enjoin President Buhari not to assent to the bill which is generally considered by the people as an outright misplaced priority by the National Assembly.” Apart from political parties, the major antagonists to direct primaries are state governors irrespective of party platforms.

They picked holes in the amendment and considered the lawmakers as deliberately passing the law to spite their hold on their party machinery in the respective states. A senator, who pleaded anonymity said: “This amendment, if signed by the President, will also stop the governors from removing federal lawmakers at will. They (governors) just sit in their offices and decide who will return and who will not return.

They have been doing this for 20 years.” These notwithstanding, a majority of Nigerians not only lauded the National Assembly for the initiative in reforming the nation’s electoral system, but urged Buhari not to hesitate in assenting to the bill. A chieftain of the APC and Director- General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Osita Okechukwu, who appealed to Buhari to assent to the bill, said: “I’m sincerely afraid that the controversy, hyperbole and cacophony of voices over direct primary may wittingly or unwittingly scuttle the entire Electoral Bill, and thus throw away the baby – BVAS and the bathe water, direct primary.

Mr. President, please avoid this booby trap against electronic transmission of election results.” The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) categorically said there should be no justification for the President to withhold assent. NEF spokesperson, Dr. Hakeem Baba- Ahmed, said: “The President should respect the democratic process as well as his recurring comments that he intends to leave a better electoral process in 2023. So, there is no reason why President Buhari should not assent to these amendments.”

Dr. Goke Lalude, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo Univery, Ago Iwoye, said the President now has the golden opportunity to reinvent his name and image in the minds of Nigerians by signing the bill. “It is now time for President Buhari to demonstrate his status of statesmanship. He must demonstrate political will and not mind whose ox would be gored among his party cohorts,” he said.




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