On Sunday 5th December, I speculated on this page that President Muhammadu Buhari may withhold assent on the Electoral Act Amendment bill 2021 and that he is entitled to his position on the matter. Eventually, the prediction was right as the president cited a plethora of reasons why the clause should not be part of the ongoing amendment.
Rightly or wrongly, I share the president’s sentiments, although for slightly different reasons. But before I address the reasons adduced by the president, let me observe, repeatedly, that the argument, for and against the direct primary clause has reduced the amendment into an APC affair.
There are 18 surviving political parties in Nigeria while about six of them have representations at the National Assembly, yet the leadership of the parties did not have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is my view that an amendment to the nation’s electoral laws, particularly on an issue as sensitive as the mode of nomination of candidates by political parties should have been taken through all legislative processes. Unfortunately, the clause wasn’t part of the proposed amendment until it was introduced during the consideration of reports. At that point contributions from stakeholders and the general public is foreclosed and only members of the National Assembly could determine the fate of the bill.
This is one of the reasons why the matter has been reduced to a battle between state governors ‘who are believed to be in control of party delegates and lawmakers who are striving for political liberations from the shackles of the governors.’ in my opinion, the political chess game is beyond the governors and lawmakers, but the 2023 power play.
It is majorly a struggle between those who have secured patronage during the APC state congresses and those who felt unfairly treated during the congresses. It is, however, not untrue that governors who have taken control of party structures in their respective states will never support direct primary, to them, it amounts to changing the goal post when a football match has already started.
President Buhari is of course not oblivious of the situation in his party, and he needed not assent to a law that will affect all the political parties just because some people in his party wanted it. Therefore, by withholding assent, the president has earned my respect.
Fortunately enough, political parties have won elections fielding candidates nominated by both direct and indirect primaries, and the experience is not entirely different. The PDP which ruled for 16 years between 1999 and 2015 is known for the collegiate system, while the APC has in the past practised both if for anything, the party has recorded lower votes during inter-party elections for the same candidates who got votes during the direct primary of the party, this system cannot be adjudged as transparent.
Meanwhile, while a few of the reasons stated by President Buhari as grounds to veto the bill were tenable, many of his reasons remain within the realm of unwarranted excuses.
First and foremost, the cost is direct primary by an individual political party should not be the concern of the president and INEC did not at any time express concern about the commission’s ability to monitor the processes, at least, not to the public.
Secondly, the high cost and monetisation of electoral processes will not arise the voting would be so decentralised that voting would be as cheap as N5000 per vote as against $20, 000 per delegate vote, the cost analysis may just arrive at the same financial implication to different destinations. And the anti-graft agencies will be more busy chasing big thieves and leave ‘yahoo yahoo’ boys to more junior officers.
On the president’s suggestions regarding security challenges, if the security situation in Nigeria is indeed better than what it was in 2015, then any kind of elections shouldn’t be the problem, former President Jonathan is alive to serve as a security consultant to the government.
Mr President, it is also not true that the proposed direct primary is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy which is characterised by freedom of choice, political party membership is voluntary and nobody will be forced to be a member, but when it is done right, every eligible Nigerian will be encouraged to join a political party.
I can on and on, but for want of space. Mr President is right to veto the bill but his reasons are lame as they show that the number one of citizen does not even have confidence in the system and the institutions he leads.