Pressure Mounts On President Buhari

December 8, 2021
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There are growing fears that President Muhammadu Buhari may reject efforts to amend the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly on November 9, 2021. The bill is currently on his table. Among the key provisions of the amended law are the electronic transmission of results and the adoption of the direct primary by all political parties.

All stakeholders seem to have accepted the idea of electronic transmission of results, but the compulsory adoption of the direct primary by political parties has continued to generate controversy. Many governors favour the indirect system where delegates are required to elect the candidates. The governors are insisting that each party should be allowed to choose the system it prefers. Indications are that the opposition to the direct mode of primary for political parties by state governors may influence the president not to sign the bill and consequently it may suffer the same fate as it did in the last assembly.

Before the last general elections, efforts of the Eighth Assembly under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara to get the amendment act signed into law was a fruitless one, as President Buhari declined his assent three consecutive times. His first rejection was in March 2018 where he said the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters. In September 2018, Buhari turned down the bill for the second time, asking the National Assembly to revise some clauses. In December when the bill was rejected for the third time, the president said signing it into law could “create uncertainty and confusion” in the forthcoming 2019 elections.

The president was severely criticized by a cross-section of Nigerians for not signing the bill in the interest of the people. Observers had said at the time that the major reason President Buhari declined his assent was because some of the provisions of the bill, particularly the change in the sequence of the elections may jeopardize his second term bid. But, as part of his bid to regain the trust of the people, he had indicated while inaugurating the APC presidential campaign council in Abuja, in January 2019 that he will leave a legacy of credible elections in Nigeria. Buhari added at the time that credible elections are the foundation of political stability and peace in any nation.

President Buhari, who received the current bill on November 19, has until December 19 to sign it or communicate to the National Assembly his feelings and comments about the bill. He has since written a letter to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, seeking comments from the commission over the amendment bill. INEC has responded to the president’s letter, saying it is satisfied with the amended Electoral Act.

Presidency sources were quoted as saying that the bill has provisions that will. make the electoral process stronger and more credible. One of the sources said: “The commission specifically mentioned the electronic transmission of results and the early nomination of candidates for elections. INEC also told the president that it is good that the commission will now have the power to review election results announced by its officials under duress.”

Over 70 civil society organisations (CSOs) are also said to be mounting pressure on President Buhari to sign the bill. If passed into law, the CSOs are of the view that the bill would facilitate early preparations and efficient election administration of the 2023 general election, which is a little over a year away. The CSOs include Yiaga Africa, the International Press Centre, the Centre for Citizens with Disability, the Albino Foundation, the CLEEN Foundation, the Institute for Media and Society, the Nigerian Women Trust Fund and the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Human rights activist, Dr Naseer Kura said signing the bill into law by the president is in the interest of Nigerians because it will provide the impetus for a democratic rejuvenation. He said: “It is in the best interest of the political parties and the Nigerian people because it would strengthen the electoral process by getting more people involved in the selection process of persons that would emerge as their leaders.”

He said those kicking against the idea of the direct primary based on the cost implication are wrong because irrespective of the method employed for the conduct of primaries, every election cycle involves money. He said: “Every four years, a humongous amount of money is being spent on our elections and hardly do we conduct a flawless election; that has not stopped the government from saying, no, we haven’t reached a level of perfection.

“I believe that whatever amount of money that is spent to ensure that we have an electoral act that would empower the Nigerian people and pave the way for real democracy is money well spent. Governance is about service and not about profit-making and cost-benefit analysis in monetary terms.”

Kura who is the executive director, Basic Rights Action said judging from the way President Buhari is about the issue of signing the current Electoral Act amendment bill; it is obvious he is not interested in signing it. He said: “I don’t think Buhari is interested in signing the bill; if it were something he is interested in doing, the zeal with which he would grab it and append his signature would have been obvious to everyone to see. Judging by the way he is going about it, I don’t think he is interested in signing it and this is against the wishes of the Nigerian people.

He said Buhari canvassed for direct primary when the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was formed before the 2011 general election. He said: “Direct primary was the basis of the party’s campaign. The party had insisted that all the candidates who intends to fly its flag during the 2011 general elections must go through that process. So, it would be inconceivable for the president to turn around and say it is too expensive, after selling the idea to Nigerians in 2011 that it is the best way to select candidates. Who is going to bear the cost? It is the Nigerian people and the same people have indicated that that is what they want.”

Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai said the widely-held view that the direct primary would cost a lot of money is wrong. His words: “It would cost money of course but not as many people are thinking. For instance, instead of relying on the registers of political parties, the INEC register of voters can be used and everybody would come with their permanent voter’s card (PVC). That would solve the problem of…

“Secondly, steps should be taken to limit the number of participants in the primary. This is because, in the country, many political parties know that they are just making up the numbers because they cannot win, but they still go ahead and thereby make the process unwieldy. This would ensure that only political parties that have the wherewithal to conduct such primaries in the various constituencies would embark on it. By the time that is done, it would eliminate all these mushroom parties that contest for contesting sake.

“What is worrying us is the corruption in the electoral system. As long as we continue to elect candidates to vie for elective positions through the indirect mode of primary, corruption would continue to mar the electoral system. The advantage of the direct primary is that it institutionalizes democracy in the country because the more people that participate in the process, the more democratic it becomes.”

Yakasai, 96, said the direct primary would eliminate the tendency of aspirants to bribe delegates. He added: “With that alone, corruption would have been drastically reduced. If people use money to ‘buy’ their elections, it is only natural that they would want to recoup their investments once they get to power. We cannot do away with corruption in elections in Nigeria unless we go for the direct primary.”

He said members of the National Assembly can muster the political will to veto the bill if the president refuses to sign it, “because they can garner majority votes to achieve that goal”. This, he added, is because most of them have the governors to contend with under the indirect mode of primary, to return to the National Assembly

A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abia State, Chief Chekwas Okorie has urged President Buhari will sign the bill into law. He said the benefits of direct primary are immense. This, he said, includes the deepening of the country’s democracy by involving everybody interested in participating in leadership recruitment at that level. He said: “First, it will give members of political parties a say in terms of electing the candidates of the party.

“But, based on what we have witnessed in this regard so far, the parties must also guarantee the transparency of the exercise. Secondly, every evil of indirect primary is corrected by direct primary. The way indirect primary has been implemented so far during this political dispensation has always resulted in the imposition of candidates and this has hampered the quality of leadership recruitment in the democratic process. So, if the president decides to delay it as a result of that particular provision, it would only mean that the president is pandering to the wishes of the governors.”

Okorie, who was the founding national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), said President Buhari is likely to sign the bill. He added: “The only controversial aspect of the bill is the issue of direct or indirect primary. Considering the fact that President Buhari has always, based on his failure three times to win the presidential elections because the system can be manipulated, promised that he will introduce more technology to the electoral process to make our elections more credible, transparent and acceptable.

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