The Senate last week bowed to arguments and observations raised by President Muhammadu Buhari on the direct primary provided for in the 2021 electoral act amendment bill.
This followed the recommittal of the 2021 electoral act amendment bill by the Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi.
While Nigerians were expecting President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the electoral act amendment bill into law or communicate to the National Assembly before or on 19 November, 2021, which is the stipulated time by law for the president to act, there was no communication until 21 December, 2021 when the Senate officially received and read the President’s communication rejecting the electoral bill.
Buhari’s letter which was read on the floor of the Senate on 21 December, 2021 dated 13 December, 2021. This raised questions on the sincerity of both the executive and the legislature on the new electoral legal framework many said will help the country’s electoral process and credibility.
Buhari in his letter to the National Assembly rejecting the electoral act amendment bill, raised concern majorly on the direct primary to be conducted by political parties, insisting it will limit right of choices, make the electoral process expensive, increase violence and insecurity, but declined comment on several errors observed in the bill for the battle ahead.
Recall that in August 2018, President Buhari declined assent to the 2018 Electoral (Amendment) Bill presented to him by the 8th Assembly on the ground that there were errors and cross-referencing gaps in the bill including the time it was presented to him to sign, which he said was too close to the 2019 general elections.
While the executive was quiet on the errors found in the bill for the battle ahead, CSOs found errors in 11 chapters of the bill which can affect its assent.
But the National Assembly has deleted the contentious clause which will now provide for direct, indirect and concensus options for the selection of candidates by political parties.
Accordingly, the chamber in Clause 84(2) of the report approved direct, indirect primaries or consensus as procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions.
It also approved the recommended Clause 84(3) that “a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the part.”
Clause 84(4) further provides that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall adopt the procedure outlined below; (a) In the case of nominations to the position of Presidential candidate, a political party shall, (i) hold special presidential convention at a designated centre in the Federal Capital Territory or any other place within the Federation that is agreed to by the National Executive Committee of the party.
It provides further in sub-paragraph two (ii) that, “the aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of voting, shall be declared the winner of the Presidential primaries of the political party and the aspirant name shall be forwarded to the Commission as the candidate of the party.”
But Civil Society groups has rejected the inclusion of consensus candidate in the amended electoral bill stating that it was a completely new issue.
Even though the CSOs commended the swift action taken by the National Assembly upon resumption to review its position on direct primaries as the sole mode for nomination of candidates in the Electoral Bill 2021, added that the amendment to Clause 84 dealing with nomination of candidates was the right thing but rejected the inclusion of consensus candidate, a mode of selection they described as completely strange in a democracy.
The CSOs are made up of Yiaga Africa; International Press Centre (IPC); Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD); The Albino Foundation; CLEEN Foundation; Institute for Media and Society (IMS) and Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Others are: Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ); Partners for Electoral Reform (PER); Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC); Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO); Inclusive Friends Association (IFA).
The CSOs which said consensus violates the rights of aspirants to equal participation in party primaries and limits the choice of voters to candidates who did not emerge from democratic primary elections, is insisting that the House of Representatives version should be adopted.
“We call on the Senate to, in line with the popular will of Nigerians, adopt the position of the House of Representatives which now recognizes direct and indirect primaries as procedure for nomination of candidates,” the CSOs said.
While Nigerians await the harmonisation committee to complete their work, it is not certain whether the National Assembly will limit the choice of candidates to direct and indirect primaries.