PRESSURE from state governors who opposed the introduction of a provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries by political parties forced Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to decline assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The leadership of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), also kicked against the direct primary model of selecting candidates of political parties for elections.
The bill was transmitted by the National Assembly to the president on November 19 and after the 30-day period for assent expired on December 19, Buhari wrote a letter to Senate President Ahmed Lawan explaining the reasons he refused to sign the proposed legislation into law.
The bill contained key provisions that were expected to deepen the credibility of the Nigerian electoral system, particularly the adoption of the direct primary model by political parties and electronic transmission of election results.
However, the state governors, especially the APC Governors Forum led by Kebbi State governor Atiku Bagudu, opposed the introduction of direct primaries and mounted pressure on Buhari to decline assent to the bill.
At a meeting in Abuja on November 9, the APC governors insisted that the Electoral Act should not be concerned with the method through which political party candidates emerged.
Governors wield enormous influence in the selection of candidates through the indirect primary method and the provision that made direct primaries mandatory for political parties was aimed at whittling down the governors’ powers by making the electoral process more transparent.
Most of the political parties also kicked against direct primaries, arguing that it was very expensive.
The parties said they lacked the financial resources to conduct direct primaries, a development that led to suggestions that the government should fund political parties.
The ICIR exclusively reported that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ruled out government funding for political parties.
In the letter he wrote to the Senate President to explain his reasons for declining assent to the amendment bill, Buhari agreed with the views of the governors and other electoral stakeholders who opposed direct primaries.
The president noted that the direct primary model was too expensive.
He also pointed out that it would be unconstitutional to force political parties to adopt direct primaries as they already had their individual constitutions which stipulated methods of electing candidates for election.
The president in the letter equally observed that making the direct primary method compulsory would alienate the smaller parties.
Buhari asked the National Assembly to review the provision for compulsory adoption of direct primary and return the bill to him for assent.
After the amendment bill was transmitted to him, Buhari consulted ‘relevant stakeholders’ including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami.
While INEC Chairman Mahmoud Yakubu urged the president to assent to the bill, Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), informed Buhari that making direct primaries mandatory for political parties would cause confusion.
There were reports that the governors had lobbied Malami in their quest to shoot down the amendment bill.
* Buhari declines assent to Electoral Act Amendment Bill for fifth consecutive time
Despite his pledge to bequeath a legacy of transparent and credible electoral system in Nigeria, Buhari has now declined assent to the amendment of the Electoral Act for the fifth time.
On four occasions in 2018, the Eighth National Assembly led by then Senate President Bukola Saraki had passed and transmitted Electoral Act amendment bills to Buhari for assent and, on each occasion, he refused to sign.
On the first occasion in February 2018, Buhari rejected the amendment bill because of provisions that reordered the sequence of elections.
A second amendment bill passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and transmitted to Buhari in June 2018 was not considered at all.
For the third time, in July 2018, Buhari again refused to sign another version of the amendment bill passed and transmitted to him by the National Assembly citing concerns over increased cost of conducting elections, among other issues.
In December 2018, Buhari, for the fourth time, declined assent to the amendment bill, after the National Assembly had addressed all the reasons he gave for refusing to sign on the previous occasions.
In a letter dated December 6, 2018, and addressed to Senate President Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, Buhari said he would not sign the electoral bill into law at a time the country was preparing for the 2019 elections as, according to him, doing so would cause confusion and lead to uncertainty in the polity.
He promised to sign the bill after the 2019 elections.
* Direct primary was introduced in electoral bill as ploy to stop electronic transmission – Wike
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has alleged that the introduction of direct primary in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the National Assembly shortly before it was transmitted to the president was a ploy by the APC to stop the introduction of electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria’s electoral system.
The APC had opposed electronic transmission, prompting the Senate to initially reject the inclusion of the provision in the electoral bill.
The Senate eventually made a U-turn and joined the House of Representatives in adopting electronic transmission as well as direct primaries in the harmonised amendment bill which was passed by the National Assembly on November 9.
However, Wike said APC governors and the National Assembly members deceived Nigerians by faking a battle of supremacy over direct primaries, whereas their aim was the rejection of the electoral bill just because their party did not want electronic transmission.
Speaking during the flag-off of Chokocho-Igbodo Road in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers State on December 20, Wike said the APC was not really concerned about direct primaries, as the party made Nigerians to believe.
According to him, the party’s concern was its fear of electronic transmission.
Wike said, “What the APC resolved in the meeting they had was that their problem is not necessarily direct primaries, but the electronic transmission of results in 2023.
“If they allow that, obviously the APC will lose the election in 2023 and they told themselves that the only way they can survive that is to include the direct primaries in the bill so that Mr. President can use that as an excuse that he will not sign the bill.”
Wike added that the National Assembly would not heed calls by Nigerians to override the president by passing the electoral bill with two-thirds majority.
“Unfortunately, you don’t have a National Assembly that has what it takes, that will stand for the people, that will say, ‘look we were elected by the people and we want to give the people the best.’ Nobody in the National Assembly, not even the leadership, can have what it takes to say ‘Mr. President, for the interest of Nigerians, we are going to veto your refusal,’ ” the governor, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said.
The APC has a majority in both chambers of National Assembly.