It’s back to the proverbial drawing board for the governors, National Assembly, political parties and the civil society as far as the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is concerned.
After what seemed like a long wait, a little beyond the 30 days provided by the constitution, President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Electoral Bill, the singular most important bill to upgrade the nation’s electoral system as most pundits view it. His reasons were clear. In an official letter to both chambers of the National Assembly, dated December 13, Buhari explained his reasons for the declining assent to the bill.
Buhari cited financial, security and legal consequences for rejecting the bill, adding that it would infringe on the rights of Nigerians to participate in governance and democracy.
“The amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices of which political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of association,” the statement reads in part.
He added that the existing constitution of the parties already registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) permits direct, indirect and consensus primaries.
Buhari said his decision is based on informed advice by relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government, and careful review of the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the circumstances.
For some pundits, the president’s position didn’t come much as a surprise considering past experience. He had turned down amendments to the Electoral Act during the last National Assembly even though that legislature, led by Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Hon Yakubu Dogara was considered a political opposition to the president. And with the 2019 polls in view, the presidency couldn’t leave anything to chance then.
But for other pundits, the president’s decline to sign the bill this time, was rather surprising because this National Assembly has been overtly cozy with the executive, in spite of the notion that it has become an appendage of the presidency.
What’s more, pundits who are of this school of thought, wondered why the president would not support what seems like a far reaching reform to the electoral system since he would not be on the ballot in 2023; and especially when he has promised repeatedly to entrench democratic ideas as he leaves office. So for them, what would he stand to lose by signing the bill?
It’s almost doubtless that the intrigues are embedded in the intricate interests ahead of 2023. And this is not far-fetched considering that the two key issues in the bill, electronic transmission of results and mandating direct primaries for all political parties had become more complexly divisive than contentious.
This is so because while the governors cut across party lines oppose direct primaries, members of the National Assembly see it as a fighting chance against the overbearing influence of governors whose control on who gets party ticket is immense.
At party level, while PDP is overwhelmingly against a law which dictates to parties how they conduct their primaries, mode of party primaries has remained contentious within the APC as the 2019 primaries show. Recall that it became so divisive under the Adams Oshiomhole-led APC that the party was forced to allow its state chapters to decide which option to adopt.
On the other hand, while PDP is fully attuned to the idea of electronic transmission of results, most members of the APC, especially lawmakers, had to make a volte-face on the matter after several bashing from the civil society.
By and large while the contention on electronic transmission of results appears resolve, the debate over what mode of primaries has
However, now that the president has made his position known, the task now lies with the other stakeholders.
The position of the governors is already known. It is expected that they would hold their ground on the matter of direct primaries. If anything, they will consolidate on their stance having sensed subtle uprising from the lawmakers.
However, the challenge on what to do next lies more with the lawmakers. By declining to sign the bill and laying out his reasons the president has charged them to revisit the bill.
So far the options before the two chambers is either they veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent.
With the fuss generated by the bill so far pundits, like Mike Obiekwe, a political analyst, aver that “it might be too dicey for the lawmakers to just sleep on this bill and not act on it even though it appears they have suffered some form of a bloodied-nose on the matter so far.”
He continued, “Having bragged about overriding the president and raising the hope of Nigerians on this matter, only to melt like jelly after the president turned down the bill, it would be expected that they preserve what’s left of their reputation by just returning the bill after effecting the observations raised by the president,” he said.
However, mindful of how intricate the situation is, immediate past Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, is more concerned about how fast the National Assembly should act fast on the concerns raised by president
Saraki, who stressed that the federal lawmakers do not have the option of not acting on the president’s concerns about the bill, said millions of Nigerians are desirous of seeing the National Assembly act fast on the matter.
He further added that the lawmakers cannot allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act [amendment] Bill.
“Whichever option, our legislators choose, can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022.
“Anyone that has been following the mood of the nation knows that Nigerians desire to have a new electoral law that will lead to having a credible, free, fair, and peaceful process of electing our leaders.
He said Nigerians want a system that will ensure that their votes really count in the election of those who govern them.
“This is why, as the representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly must take a decision in the interest of our nation and its long-term democracy. The option of not doing anything after the refusal of the assent by the President is not an option.
“Our legislators in both chambers of the National Assembly and Mr. President must ensure that it becomes a law without delay,” he said. No doubt, how the lawmakers react will be key. This is considering that they have put themselves in a tight spot with the governors who are now more mindful of their actions ahead of the 2023 elections.
Nevertheless, the civil society would not have any of the political scheming that may overshadow the gains that this bill provides for the country’s electoral system. But the events of the coming year will decide.