Globaltimes Nigeria reports that Politicians, university teachers, rights activists, youths and other interest groups yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the amended Electoral Act Bill to law.
They lauded the National Assembly for the retention of the direct primary clause in the bill, adding that the presidential assent will enable the President to leave a legacy.
According to them, it will be a deservice to the country, if the bill is allowed to suffer a setback of denial like previous ones.
They recalled that the National Assembly had to bend backward to accommodate the provision that allows the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to have thd final say on the mode of transmission of election results, despite what seems to be the obvious position of both the executive and the legislature.
Urging the president to assent to the bill, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Paschal Njoku, said the position that the federal lawmakers took was in line with the wishes of the majority of Nigerians that they represent.
He noted that after assenting to a bill, there is always a provision for amendment.
Njomu said: “I know that many governors, especially of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are not happy with the direct primaries imposed on political parties by the amended bill and I believe the President will likely be on the same side with them, but that is not a reason for him not to assent to it.
“Many democracies of the world, like the United States of America go by direct primary; so there may actually be nothing wrong with it, but even with his opposition, he can assent to it and then seek amendments later. We need to move forward.”
A university teacher, Tokunboh Adisa, wondered why some Nigerian leaders would refuse to do what is right even when they know that is the right thing to do.
He said: “I am still at a loss why the President refused to sign the Electoral Bill the last time, and I hope such will not be repeated this time around, because if care is not taken he can still hide under such flimsy excuses and refuse to sign it again but I hope that will not happen.
“I am especially concerned because the government did not get what it wanted, due to the popular outcry; otherwise they were going to shoot us on the foot by rejecting electronic transmission of result. But how can we be sure that the President will not because of that find a reason not to sign it?
“But, from what I see of the people, there is determination to ensure the right thing is done and the right platform is put on ground to have a credible election. So the best thing for all of us is for him to sign the bill; it will be good for all of us.”
Niger Delta activist, chieftain of APC and firmer Housecof Representatives candidate Joel-Onowakpo Thomas said the direct primary “will put an end to hijacking party structure by moneybags to enable them impose candidates on the electorate.”
Rights activist Ahmad Yusuf said but for the electronic transmission of election result and the use of technology, the result of the just-concluded Anambra State governorship poll would probably be different.
He said: “The result of the Anambra State election was a shock to many people, even though the turnout was low. The use of technology, especially the electronic transmission of result and the use of BVAS machine made a lot of difference and I think we should think more of this and embrace more of technology. The President should sign this quickly, even though I expect an amendment to the bill soon to accommodate electronic and disapora voting, but we will celebrate what we have for now and wish he signs immediately.”
A security expert and consultant, Prince Ehize Oribhabor, reasoned that signing the amended electoral act at this time would not only put the President in the good books of many Nigerians, but give his political party, the APC, a major campaign instrument and make the people to believe that they do not have ulterior motive on the 2023 election.
“Actually, I will say signing the electoral bill into law is in the interest of the President and the APC, his party, because refusing to sign it gives the impression that they have something they are afraid of, but signing it will give the impression that they are on the side of the people. So, if I were in his shoes I will sign it without delay,” Oribhabor said.
The Director-General (DG) of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, had supported the direct primaries for selecting parties’ candidates for elections.
He supported the direct primary mode when he wrote in a book titled, ‘Power of Possibility and Politics of Change in Nigeria’ that: “The announcement that the party (APC) would resort to direct primary in the selection of candidates elicited excitement among APC members. Perhaps because of its potential to trigger some fundamental changes in the political landscape, ostensibly towards shifting the locus of power from gatekeepers to party membership, the widespread interests the decision for direct primary generated both within the party and in the general public were as contentious as they were predictable.
“In simple terms, there were expectations of possible changes in the dynamics of leaders-members relationships within the political party’s governance framework. It is a governance framework that encourages the monetisation of candidates’ selection across all parties, which is much despised by party members and the public, but also painfully costly to aspirants and candidates. The rationale for direct primary based on expanding the democratic space for membership participation is hardly contestable all things considered.”
However, in 2021, just two years after his public endorsement, the DG said: “It is worrisome that the APC members in the National Assembly are the ones pushing for this amendment. Rather than leaders of the party negotiating among themselves on what needs to be done to produce internal agreement to resolve all challenges facing the party, increasingly, structures of the party are being abandoned and other structures outside the statutory organs of the party are being used to attempt to address perceived problems. The whole insertion of the provisions requiring political parties to adopt the direct method in the Electoral Act would appear to be an afterthought because the original bill that was subjected to the joint public hearing by both the Senate and House of Representatives did not contain it. It was during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after the public hearing in July 2021 that the Speaker of the House moved the motion for the amendment to allow direct primaries to be part of the amendment.”
The pertinent questions are: what has changed between 2019 and 2021 that he and his co-travelers are suddenly changing their minds? Whose interests is he trying to protect: Nigerians’ or governors’? Why is he and his paymasters now afraid of the direct primary mode? Who is fooling who in the whole thing?
History was made on Tuesday November 9 when the Senate at plenary passed a Bill providing amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
The feature of the repackaged bill is the inclusion of the much desired electronic transmission of election results and preference for direct primaries mode of congresses for political parties.
The tortuos journey towards reformation of the electoral process in the Fourth Republic, which started since 2007 somehow came to a promising berth with the passage of the new bill by the 9th National Assembly.
Hardly was the harmonisation of the two items among 21 clauses agreed upon by members of the Senate and House of Representatives at Conference Committee pronounced that diverse reactions and comments started coming from political parties, civil society organisations, non – governmental bodies and individuals.
While the recommendation for electronic transmission of election results received wider acceptance across board, provision for direct primaries was received with mixed feelings.
Major political parties which are primarily concerned kicked against the provision, mobilising to convince President Buhari on why he should not append his signature on the Bill.
The Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) vehemently opposed the bill while stating why Buhari should not sign the bill.
Chairman of the Forum and governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, reminded the President of an impeding danger in authorising large gatherings of people as required by the direct primaries system.
The PGF said: “There is an Executive Order signed by Mr President against large gathering.”
The Forum proposed that Ward congresses conducted through direct primaries should be enough foundation to conduct further election through indirect process or delegate system.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), attacked the proposal on the ground that it is wrong for the APC to lord the direct primaries option over other parties.
The PDP said parties should be allowed to adopt any method that suits their purpose of election.
PDP spokesperson Kola Ologbondiyan said: “our party holds that it’s the inalienable rights 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. The PDP also believes that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party.”
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) also rejected passage of the direct primary by the National Assembly and therefore asked Buhari not to assent.
According to the party, direct primaries may have some laudable features, but should not be forced on every political party to be used in every case and at all times.
Dr Olu Agunloye, National Chairman of SDP, in a statement,said: “We enjoin President Muhammadu Buhari not to assent to the Bill, which is generally considered by the people as an outright misplaced priority by the National Assembly.”
Apart from political parties, the major antagonists to direct primaries are governors, irrespective of platforms. They picked holes in the amendment and considered the lawmakers as deliberately passing the law to spite their hold on their party machinery in respective states.
A senator said: “This amendment, if signed by the President, will also stop the governors from removing federal lawmakers at will. They (governors) just sit in their offices and decide who will return and who will not return. They have been doing this for 20 years.”
These notwithstanding, a majority of Nigerians not only lauded the National Assembly for the initiative in reforming the nation’s electoral system but urged Buhari not to hesitate in assenting the bill.
A chieftain of the APC and Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Osita Okechukwu, appealed to Buhari to assent to the Electronic Transmission and Direct Primary.
He said: “I’m sincerely afraid that the controversy, hyperbole and cacophony of voices over direct primary may wittingly or unwittingly scuttle the entire Electoral Bill, and thus throw away the baby – BIVAS and the bathe water, Direct Primary. Mr President, please avoid this booby trap against electronic transmission.”
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said there should be no justification for the President to withhold assent.
NEF spokesperson, Dr. Hakeem Baba – Ahmed said: “the President should respect the democratic process as well as his recurring comments that he intends to leave a better electoral process in 2023.
“There is no reason why President Buhari should not assent to these amendments.”
Dr. Goke Lalude, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, said the President now has the golden opportunity to reinvent his name and image in the minds of Nigerians by signing the bill.
He said: “it is now time for President Buhari to demonstrate his status of statemanship . He must demonstrate political will and not mind whose ox will be gored among his party cohorts.
“The President is no more coming to beg for votes from Nigerians. He can do and undo and it is high time to do that which millions of our people expect of him. He should sign the amendment to our electoral law and swell our democracy.”
He enjoined all Nigerians, no matter their political persuasions, to unite against electoral malpractices
Director-General, Ekiti State Culture and Tourism Board, Wale Ojo – Lanre said he would advise the President to assent the Bill to enrich his credentials in governance.
He added: “The President has blazed many trails in governance in this country. Should he sign this bill, he will be adding another feather to his political cap. He has the opportunity to write his name in gold because of the importance of this particular bill to democracy and governance.”
A rights advocate, Ms. Justina Achegbo, said: “this amendment is a right in itself to voters fundamental right of having their votes count; hence the President has to protect their rights by assenting the bill.
“President Buhari should show high sense of responsibility by signing the bill. Not only to sign the bill but the President should do so in good time.
“This is to forestall unnecessary apprehension because delay in doing so may raise tension and create agitation among Nigerians.”
A Labour Party (LP) youth leader, said signing the bill would be the best thing that will happen to Nigerian democracy.
A politician, John Izuchukwu Nnamdi, whose party participated in the recent Anambra State governorship election, said the adoption of direct primaries will curb impunity in the electoral process.
He said: “The direct primaries model will force politicians to go back to the grassroots. They will no more distance themselves from the electorate.
“It is now that relevance in politics will count as against vote-buying and imposition of candidates by the powers-that-be during primaries using the indirect method.
The stage is set for the transmission of the bill to the President on his return to the country from his foreign trip.
The question is: would the President succumb to subtle pressure from state governors to decline assent and what would be the consequence?
Should Buhari decline assent, Nigerians will eagerly wait to see if the National Assembly would muster the courage to invoke its power to override the President.