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Clamour for presidential assent to Electoral Act swells

By Azeez Olorunlomeru
05 December 2021   |   2:59 am
Weeks after it was passed by the National Assembly (NASS) on November 9, 2021, and thereafter transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari, diverse reactions have continued to trail the bill.

[FILES] Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari addressing NASS. Photo/Facebook/ MuhammaduBuhari

Weeks after it was passed by the National Assembly (NASS) on November 9, 2021, and thereafter transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari, diverse reactions have continued to trail the bill.

Buhari, who received the bill on November 19, has until December 19 to either give his assent or communicate to the National Assembly any comments, or misgivings that he has towards the bill.

However, if he fails to sign the bill and the NASS is not in favour of his amendments, the parliament is at liberty to recall the bill and pass it. And if that is done by two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the president’s signature.

With feelers indicating that the president so far has no qualms with the document, it also came to light that he was seeking advice and to know the stand of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

But as he continues to consult with relevant stakeholders on the matter before the bill is signed, the clamour for presidential assent to the document is gaining currency.

Indeed, some Nigerians across various divides are urging him not to allow the bill to suffer the same setback that 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 backwards to accommodate the part that gives 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 ascent, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Paschal Njoku, said the position that the federal lawmakers took was in line with the wishes of the majority of Nigerians that 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.”
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 as to 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.
“I am especially concerned because the government did not get what it wanted, due to the popular outcry; otherwise they were going to shoot us on the foot by rejecting electronic transmission of the result. How can we be sure that the President will not because of that find a reason not to sign it?”
Niger Delta philanthropist, mobiliser and grassroots politician, Joel-Onowakpo Thomas, who is also a chieftain of APC and its House of Representatives candidate in the 2019 general election, said the direct mode of primaries “will put an end to hijacking party structure by moneybags to enable them to impose candidates on the electorate.”
Ahmad Yusuf, a human rights activist and expert in constitutional law, said that for the electronic transmission of the election result and the use of technology, the result of the just-concluded Anambra State governorship poll 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 results and the use of BVAS machines made a lot of difference and I think we should think more of this and embrace more of technology. The President should sign this quickly, even though I expect an amendment to the bill soon to accommodate electronic and diaspora 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 also give his political party, the APC, a major campaign instrument and make the people 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.

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 worked 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.”

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 whole insertion of the provisions requiring political parties to adopt the direct method in the Electoral Act would appear to be an afterthought because the original bill that was subjected to the joint public hearing by both the Senate and House of Representatives did not contain it. It was during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after the public hearing in July 2021 that the Speaker of the House moved the motion for the amendment to allow direct primaries to be part of the amendment.”
The pertinent questions Lukman should answer are: what has changed between 2019 and 2021 that he and his co-travellers are suddenly changing their minds? Whose interests is he trying to protect: Nigerians’ or governors’? Why are he and his paymasters now afraid of the direct primary mode? Who is fooling whom 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 in 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 the 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 Forum proposed that Ward congresses conducted through direct primaries should be enough foundation to conduct further election through the indirect process or delegate system.
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 asked that parties should be allowed to adopt any method that suits their purpose of election. 
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) also rejected the passage of the direct primary mode of election by the National Assembly and therefore asked Buhari, not to assent.
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 Muhammadu Buhari, not to assent to the Bill, which is generally considered by the people as an outright misplaced priority by the National Assembly.”