Buhari withholds assent from electoral bill

December 20, 2021
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From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has withheld his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021.

In a letter to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and read by AriseTV News monitored in Abuja, the president said that the prevailing situation in the country would not allow him to sign the bill.

Amongst other reasons, he cited the high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens rights, and marginalisation of small political parties.

President Buhari also noted that adopting direct primaries also has implications on the rights of citizens to participate in the government, as constitutionally insured.

According to the President, the conduct of direct primaries will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties, as well as the increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

He explained that the direct consequences of the high cost are monetization and that it will drive and increase financial crimes and constitutes further strain on the economy. In his view, Buhari said it will also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilize all party members for the primaries, a situation which he said is not healthy for the sustenance of multiparty democracy in Nigeria.

The president further stated that security agencies will also be overstretched, as direct primaries will be open to participation from all and sundry.

‘Such large turnout without effective security coordination will also engender intimidation and disruptions, thereby raising credibility issues on the outcomes of such election”, he said.

Significantly, Buhari said: ‘The amendment as proposed is the violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterized by freedom of choices of which political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of association.’

President Buhari also said that the proposed amendment might also give rise to a plethora of litigations based on diverse grounds and issues of law, including but not limited to the fact that the proposed amendment could not work in retrospect, given that the existing constitution of the parties already registered with the INEC permits direct, indirect and consensus primaries.

President Buhari said his decision is based on informed advice by relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government, and careful review of the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Presidency has said the National Assembly is free to make public President Muhammadu Buhari’s reasons for withholding assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.

According to Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, ‘The President has sent a letter to the National Assembly stating his position on the bill amending the electoral act. It is privileged communication so it is for them to disclose the contents.’

Related: Electoral Act: National Assembly free to disclose content of president’s letter – Presidency

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