Civil society organisations (CSOs) and other political stakeholders yesterday called on President Muhammadu Buhari to give his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill forwarded to him last Friday by the National Assembly.
The demand of the stakeholders is against the backdrop of concerns that the debate over the adoption of direct primaries as contained in the amendment bill might scuttle its passage.
There are also worries that the president has less than 27 days to sign the bill into law. The president has 30 days to sign any bill sent to him by the National Assembly.
The CSOs and political actors who spoke exclusively to LEADERSHIP noted that the Bill reflects the aspiration and will of the Nigerian people just as they cautioned against plots to thwart the amendment process because of the raging debate over the adoption of direct primaries by all political parties in the bill.
LEADERSHIP gathered that since the Bill was transmitted to the president, governors and lawmakers have been lobbying the president over the direct primaries issue. While governors have kicked against the adoption of direct primaries for all political parties, lawmakers have insisted that it will ensure transparency and intra-party democracy.
The National Assembly had on November 9, 2021, against moves by some state governors of the APC extraction, passed the electoral act amendment bill allowing direct primary elections for political parties. It also gave the nod for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct election electronically and transmit the election results electronically.
The chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Sen Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South) said the inclusion of direct primary in the electoral act was to take democracy to the grassroots.
“I believe that direct primary is taking democracy to the grassroots. That is what President Buhari always talk about. It will allow people who are card carrying members of the party to decide who should be their candidate. We are happy with it and we believe that President Buhari will sign the bill very soon,” Gaya said.
However, as the debate rages, LEADERSHIP gathered that some influential Nigerians are working against the signing of the bill.
“There is a serious contention because some people are working against the signing of the electoral act amendment bill because of the inclusion of the direct primary elections for political parties.
“They are working hard to persuade the president not to sign the bill because of some other grey areas which have been contentious issues before. But we await the president’s decision within one month,” a source which is aware of what is happening said.
But speaking with LEADERSHIP yesterday, the civil society community urged President Buhari to sign the bill, stressing that the bill reflects the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP last night, executive director of Yiaga Africa Samson Itodo said there are three reasons why the president should sign the bill without further delay.
According to Itodo, the bill enjoys participation and engagement from Nigerians with a lot of investment, both financial and human, made into the journey.
“The president should, without further delay, assent to the electoral bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly on Friday. The clock started ticking from the day the bill was transferred to him. He has 30 days as prescribed by the law.
“Why do we want the president to assent to the bill? It’s for three reasons. One, the bill contains amendments that reflect the will and aspirations of Nigerians. So, we have confidence that the current bill will radically transform our electoral process. We have confidence that the bill should be passed for that reason.
“The second reason why we need the president to assent to the bill is that we are already out of time in preparations for the 2023 elections. If there is further delay in assenting to this bill, it might not go well for transparency and the credibility of the 2023 general elections, because the logistics for that election need to commence. If the president assents to this bill now, the budget process will commence. It will also enable INEC as well as political parties to intensify their preparations for the 2023 elections. And let us not forget, we have four cycle elections happening next year. So, the earlier the bill is passed, the better for all stakeholders to prepare for the elections.
“The third reason why the president should assent to the bill is the fact that the bill enjoys participation and engagement from Nigerians. A lot of investment, both financial and human, were made into this journey. The National Assembly have obtained a very comprehensive approach in amending the electoral act. What we have is a repeal-and-enact legislation. We believe that the president will assent to this without delay will yield an output that is commensurate with the level of input that Nigerians made.
“And let’s not disregard the fact that Nigerians demanded this reform and the president should not stand in the way, and let no any individual, regardless of political party or affiliation, stand in the way of Nigerians to participate in an election that is conducted with a legal framework that should ensure the integrity of our electoral process and strengthen democratic institutions for us to deliver electoral justice to the people,” Itodo added.
Also, the director, Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said the president should sign the bill because it is coming a year before the general election.
“History will be favourable to him if he gives Nigerians this parting gift before he finishes his tenure. There is nothing he can give Nigerians outside giving them the electoral act that will help in conducting free and fair elections.
“Had he signed the last one, we would have been talking about an amendment in certain areas. The bill itself has given the opportunity to other people; it has taken away the place of money politics in selection of candidates.
“Anybody that is against this bill at this time is not for Nigeria; he is not for democracy. So, the president should sign the bill,” Idayat said.
On his part, the executive director, Civil Society Advocacy Legislative Center (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, said urged the president not miss the opportunity to write his name as one of the people that contributed to strengthening Nigeria’s electoral process.
“One thing that we want the president to do, given the fact that he had in the past complained about electoral fraud, is to sign this bill.
“We expected the president to have carried out electoral reforms in the first tenure because it was part of his agenda. In the last Assembly under Abubakar Bukola Saraki, they made some amendments but the president did not sign it, and we are hoping this time around that the electoral act has been passed again, the president should not waste time in signing this bill if he wants to leave a legacy of electoral transparency.
“Notwithstanding the lobbying against this bill from those who do not wish Nigeria’s democracy well, we are hoping that despite the campaigns, despite the lobbying from powerful individuals that undermine the direct primaries and electronic transmission of election results, we are hoping that the president will remember how he had tried to fight electoral fraud in the past. Let him help democracy to grow by allowing popular demand.
“Nigerians have attended public hearing at the National Assembly, they have spoken on what they want on the electoral act amendment; we are hoping that the president, despite lobbying from people who want to truncate the democratic process, the choice of Nigerians and popular aspiration of Nigerians, the president should go ahead and sign the electoral act,” Rafsanjani said, adding that “failure to do this will be a monumental lost opportunity by the president to write his name as one of the people that contributed in strengthening Nigeria’s electoral process,” he said.
But speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP, elder statesman and immediate past Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, said the opposition to direct primaries in political parties only shows the morality of the politicians.
“That the Supreme Court has ruled that political parties be allowed to decide how to select their candidates for elective offices does not preclude the National Assembly from making laws for the improvement of internal democracy in our political parties which have been roundly accused of lack of internal democracy in their selection processes.
“Direct primaries afford all party members the opportunity to participate in the process of selecting party candidates for elective offices. That way, party members would own the processes and the candidates.
“Direct primaries would also reduce the prevalent incidence of imposition of candidates often associated with governors and money bags during indirect primary by delegates who are easy to buy.
“Direct primary would therefore put an end to plutocracy and abuse by the incumbents, since it is not easy to bribe party members as it is done of delegates that include superdelegates,” Sani said, adding that since the direct primaries are undertaken either at the level of polling units or at level of electoral wards, there will not be much cost.
“Any other level or constituency like state assembly, local government chairman, House of Reps, Senate, governor and the presidential candidates are a matter of collation of the results of the polling units or electoral wards, as the case may be. From the foregoing, it is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that direct primary has more advantages over indirect primaries when it comes to improvement of quality, volume and tenets of our democratic values.
“That is why we urge the president to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill of 2021 for effect and performance. More so, that the Bill has been passed in accordance with democratic practices which thrive on the majority that has both its say and way, while the minority only has its say,” Sani added.
On his part, former chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Mohammed Shittu, said “we must strengthen the democratic process so people must be brought in to participate in it. Direct primary is a way of going back to the grassroots and the issue of some persons appointing people as candidates will be checked, if not eradicated. So, it is a welcome development.
“When I was chairman of the IPAC, we called for direct primaries because that is the way of ensuring popular and participatory democracy in the system. It will strengthen democracy and let Nigerians know the real guardians of the electoral process.”
On whether the disagreement between governors and lawmakers over the issue will affect the amendment bill he said, “It has been passed and it is before the president. I believe that Mr President will do justice to it. He will look at the popular voices and act accordingly.”
On his part, former national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) Rufai Hanga, noted that both direct and indirect primaries were prone to manipulation by political actors.
Although he stated that the current debate over the matter was a division between governors and lawmakers in their battle for political control, he however said that the contest will not affect the entire amendment bill.
He however leaned in favour of the direct primaries because it affords lawmakers a fighting chance unlike the indirect primaries which is solely under the control of governors.
He said, “I am torn between two evils – the direct and indirect primaries. With indirect primaries, an aspirant that is not backed by the governor has a very slim chance, but with the direct primaries, an aspirant can get a chance especially as the party members can even protest if he or she is popular.”
Hanga, however, said the rift between the governors and lawmakers would not derail the amendment bill because there is still time within which to make any adjustments even if the president rejects it now.
Meanwhile, some senior lawyers across the country have expressed concerns over the controversy surrounding the Electoral Amendment Bill waiting for the assent of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some of them who spoke to LEADERSHIP said the governors are free to express their grievances.
A Senior Advocate, Abdul Balogun, said the governors are free to approach the court to test some of the contents of the amended bill.
He said, ”One of the grievances of the governors is the direct primaries. They are free to approach the court on any issue contained in the bill that they feel will not guarantee a free fair and credible electoral process.
”If the governors approach the court to challenge the presidential assent, they will have to wait for the court to decide the matter one way or the other.”
Barrister Bello M. Gafar agreed to the submission, saying that the governors are free to challenge any ambiguity.
He said even if the law is passed, the court can nullify it if discrepancies are found in it.
He said, ”Though, the President has about 30days to give his assent and it may be impossible for the court to determine that matter, if the case is filed now. I feel the right thing should be done by our politicians to to avert court cases.”
A Kaduna-based constitutional lawyer Mumuni Badewole blamed politicians for always creating controversy anytime they are amending the electoral act.
According to him, so many interests are not considered before the bill is passed into law.
He said, ”The lawmakers should always try to avoid controversy in amending the electoral act. The interest of Nigerians should be taken into consideration before passing the electoral amended law.”