Both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have expressed reservations about the decision by the National Assembly to mandate political parties to adopt direct primaries in selecting candidates for election in the Electoral Act Amendment bill it passed yesterday.
Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi and chairman, Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), said that adopting direct primaries by political parties will overstretch the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He said this while speaking with newsmen at the end of a closed-door meeting held by members of the PGF on Monday night.
The PGF is an umbrella body of serving governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The National Assembly has adopted Section 87 on mandatory direct primaries for all parties.
Bagudu said the decision by INEC to make it mandatory for political parties to elect their candidates for elective positions through direct primaries could be undemocratic.
He said the Forum discussed problems associated with direct primaries, noting that there had been concerns that political parties were voluntary organisations.
The governor said the concern of the governors is that if you limit the abilities of parties to choose options that they so desired, “that may even be arguably undemocratic”.
He explained that this was because nothing stops one party from adopting one or the other.
The PGF chairman said the meeting, among other things, reviewed developments in the polity and in the APC states especially, as well as the party’s membership registration and the congresses that had successfully been conducted.
The chairman appreciated the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker and Extra-ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) for the success of the congresses, for supporting APC states and for taking steps to resolve issues wherever they arose.
“In particular, the governors were appreciative of the CECPC because of its respect for President Muhammadu Buhari’s expectations that they should support the party bottom-up, and I think that had been achieved in the last exercise.
“Equally, we reviewed the congresses and advised on how we think it should strengthen our democracy,“ he said, noting that the party’s planned National Convention was in progress.
He described as a big milestone the just-concluded APC state congresses, saying that the appeals processes had also been conducted.
“I believe that, soon, the party will inaugurate all the state executives, and then some of the outstanding congresses that are to take place in Zamfara and Oyo states and three other states will be concluded.
“Then we are on our way to setting a date for the National Convention,” he said.
Present at the meeting were governors of Nasarawa, Kano, Kebbi, Ekiti, Plateau, Yobe, Kogi, Ebonyi, Gombe and Osun states, while Lagos and Ondo state governors were represented by their deputies.
Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has rejected the direct primary system for nomination of candidates for elections by political parties recently passed by the National Assembly.
The national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, while reacting to the issue of mandatory direct primaries said: “Our party holds that it is the inalienable right 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.
He added that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party, as the direct primaries’ amendment, a practice of the ruling APC, sought to achieve.
“Having stated this, the PDP shall, within the next 48 hours, make its final decision in respect of this amendment.”
This came as the National Assembly yesterday passed the harmonised version of the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, approving direct primary elections for political parties and also gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the nod for electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results.
With this, the National Assembly has laid to rest the vexed issue of the mode of primaries to be adopted by the various political parties for the emergence of their candidates in the 2023 general election.
It also, as contained in clause 52 of the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 earlier recommended by the Senate, gave INEC approval for the usage of technological/electronic devices in the conduct of elections and transmission of results.
Concurrence to this effect by both chambers of the National Assembly followed adoption of a report of Conference Committees set up by the Senate and the House of Representatives in July this year by the Senate in plenary on Tuesday.
A total of 21 clauses as presented by the leader of the Senate Committee on Harmonisation, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi ( APC, Kebbi North) , were harmonised by either adopting the one earlier adopted by the Senate or House of Representatives .
Yahaya Abdullahi in presenting the report said: “The objective of the Conference Committee was a reconciliation of the differences in a few clauses of the bill as passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“The clauses are 1, 5, 6, 15, 16, 17, 23, 24, 31, 36, 43, 49, 50, 52, 63, 76, 87, 97, 98, 117 and 135.
Of the 21 clauses, 52 and 87 were the most controversial as they were the ones dealing with the conduct of elections, transmission of results and mode of primaries for political parties.
In July when the Bill was passed, the Senate made electronic transmission of election results by INEC subject to approval by the Nigerian Communications Commission ( NCC) depending on national network coverage and effectiveness, while the House passed a clause that says “electronic transmission of election results by INEC can be done where and when practicable. ”
But the finally adopted provision of the clause by both Chambers based on the Conference Committee report is the amended one carried out by the Senate last week which says that the “mode of conduct of elections and transmission of results are to be decided by INEC.”
For Clause 87 which deals with the mode of primary elections for political parties, the amended version of the Senate which compelled all political parties to use direct primaries was adopted.
The clause reads: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Commission (INEC)”.
Of the 21 clauses harmonised, 14 were adopted from the earlier ones passed by the Senate and the remaining seven clauses were adopted from the earlier ones passed by the House of Representatives.
In his remarks after the presentation of the report to the Senate, the chairman of the Senate Conference Committee, Yahaya Abdullahi, said, “This bill is a process that started from the 7th Assembly through to the 8th National Assembly and has now been completed by the 9th National Assembly.”
Aside Abdullahi Yahaya, other senators in the committee are Kabiru Gaya, Danjuma Goje, Sani Musa, Matthew Urhoghide, Ajibola Basiru and Uche Ekwunife.
On the committee from the House of Representatives are Hon Akeem Adeyemi as chairman, Aisha Dukku, James Faleke, Blessing Onuh, Ahmed Kalambaina, Chris Azubogu and Unyime Idem.
The House of Representatives yesterday adopted the final report on the electoral amendment bill. This is expected to be transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent in seven days.
The House had on July 16, 2021 passed the bill, favouring electronic transmission of election results and direct primary elections for political parties, but the Senate differed on the two clauses, necessitating a conference committee to harmonise the differences.
Following the public outcry, the Senate later reversed itself and concurred with the House.
At plenary, yesterday, the House received, considered and adopted its own report, thereby concluding work on the bill.
Briefing journalists after the plenary, the chairman, House Committee on Telecommunication, Hon. Akeem Adeyimi, who had earlier laid the report for consideration in the Committee of the Whole, said the National Assembly had finished work on the bill.
He said, “Today, the National Assembly has finally concluded its own side of the Electoral Act Amendment bill. On the floor of the House of Representatives today, 9th November, 2021, the process that started since 2010 to get Nigerians an Electoral Act amendment for the sake of our elections and related matters was laid on the floor by me, after which the House went into the Committee of the Whole with the Speaker presiding to consider the report. All the processes regarding this amendment have finally been concluded today. The next phase is for the Presidential assent.”
Similarly, House spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, said it was a memorable day for the National Assembly as it had successfully passed the bill into law.
With the passage, Kalu said that power had been returned to the people of Nigeria.
According to him, the next stage will be the transmission of the document to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
He said, “Today is a happy day in Nigeria. The beauty of bicameral legislature was displayed today where the two houses of the parliament agreed on this fundamental position that has to do with Clause 87 as well as Clause 52 for the House and Clause 53 for the Senate. This bordered on the issue of transmission of results as well as direct or indirect primary by the political parties.
“Oftentimes, when we have divergent opinions on a particular clause in a piece of legislation, the rule is that the two houses will have a conference committee that will do the harmonisation. This is usually a very serious outing. But in this case, there was an agreement between the two chambers that it is in order for the advancement of our democracy. We should begin to look at the principles of democracy that need to be fine-tuned to meet the best of democracy in other advanced democratic climes.
“One of such is returning power to the people where this government of the people, by the people and for the people will be seen operating fully for the benefit of the people. That was why the two chambers accepted that for the benefit of the people, the principle of direct primary will outweigh that of indirect primary. Therefore, we stood clearly and still stood for direct primary.
“On transmission of results, we have agreed that there is no third-party precondition that will be done before results can be done electronically. That has also been accepted by the Senate and by the House.
“The question is where is the legislation heading next? It will go to the clerk to the National Assembly from where it will go to the president. The matter, in the eyes of the parliament, has been decided which means that the parliament has done all that the law requires it to do with regard to lawmaking.
“We are on the side of Nigerians and all that they want. We have through this legislation laid another brick on the wall of advancing our democracy.”
Responding to a question about what the National Assembly would do should the president withhold his assent, Kalu ruled that out, saying that the president had been enthusiastic about deepening the tenets of democracy.
“In the doctrine of separation of power, the parameter and mandate of our office is limited to what we have done. We cannot predict Mr. President or his next action. Nigerians, by the provisions of the constitution, mandate us to amend laws that we feel need attention to be able to meet the current needs of the nation. There are guidelines in carrying out legislation and we have fulfilled that. The ball has been passed to the Executive.
“Whether or not we still have any option open to us if the president takes a position that we are not convinced about, the law is clear on that in our constitution and that is vetoing the president if the need arises. But in this case, we will cross the bridge when we get there. There is no need to pre-empt the president by reminding him of the powers of the parliament which are not in dispute at the moment.
Earlier at the plenary, the minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu had raised a Point of Order under Privilege, requesting the circulation of the report to every member to study before the consideration.
He asked for more time and a new date for the consideration, recalling that the House Committee chairman on Rules and Business, Hon. Hassan Fulata had moved a motion for the suspension of the consideration of the report.
He insisted there was no need to rush through the consideration, pleading for time to enable the members to go through the report.
But in his response, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said members were already familiar with the report.
According to him, the differences that prompted the setting up of the harmonisation committee had been recommitted in the Senate, adding that.
He said that time was of the essence to secure the presidential assent and put the law in practice, adding that Nigerians had been asking for this act day since June.
Similarly, the House leader, Hon. Ado Doguwa said the committee was a special conference committee and not the usual conference committee, stressing that the issues discussed were familiar to everyone.
The report was eventually adopted by the House.
Osinbajo Wades Into Direct, Indirect Primaries Controversy
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday waded into the direct and indirect primaries controversy in the National Assembly.
The Senate had adopted the direct primary mode for political parties in the Electoral Act amendment bill.
Consequently, the vice president met with members of the National Assembly yesterday night to resolve the impasse.
Speaking after the meeting, political adviser to the president, Babafemi Ojudu, said the vice president was able to play the role of a conciliator.
He said, “The resolution tonight of the tripartite meeting is a victory for party internal democracy. Tension was high. Emotions predominated but the vice president was able to play the role of a great conciliator.
“While the younger elements in the House of Representatives were vehement and uncompromising in the expression of their preference, the senators were calm but resolute.
“The VP laid out the reasons for calling the meeting and allowed the parties to ventilate. It was a victory for the party, the governors, and the legislators. We should commend the party leaders for reaching an agreement in a democratic manner.
“I think the outcome of today’s meeting is a victory for internal democracy in APC. You recall that, in his sage wisdom, President Muhammadu Buhari had set up a tripartite mechanism to interface whenever conflicts of this nature arose between the party, the body of governors, and members of the National Assembly.
“Acting on the president’s mandate, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo called today’s meeting to allow for all parties to ventilate their voices in a no-holds-barred manner. It was a family meeting.
“At the end, a common ground was reached, direct primaries were upheld and aspirants under our party can now go back to the people and seek endorsement rather than giving a few delegates the power to decide for all,” he added.