More setback for direct primaries as Kukah backs Buhari, NASS to remove clause

THE INTRODUCTION of a provision for mandatory adoption of direct primaries by political parties in the electoral act suffered further setback on December 30 with the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Matthew Kukah backing President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to decline assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

Buhari had pointed to the clause that made it compulsory for political parties to adopt the direct primary model in selecting candidates for elections as the reason he refused to sign the bill.

The decision has been condemned by many Nigerians, including several civil society organisations (CSOs), who are urging the National Assembly to override the president’s veto by passing the bill with two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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However, speaking with journalists at St. Barkitha Catholic Secretariat in Sokoto State, Kukah, a vocal critic of the Buhari administration, said the president was right in declining assent to the bill due to the provision which mandated political parties to adopt the direct primary model.

The cleric said political parties should be left with the power to decide the method through which they would select their candidates for elections.

Backing Buhari’s reasons for refusing to sign the electoral bill into law Kukah said, “For instance, if Manchester United are playing against Arsenal, it is left for them to choose who makes up their team. What they are interested in is winning. You can’t tell them the mode of selection.”

Kukah advised the National Assembly to remove the clause that provided for direct primaries and return the electoral bill to the president for assent.

In a related development, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila appeared to have foreclosed the possibility of the National Assembly overriding Buhari’s veto with two-thirds majority votes in the two chambers.

The Nigerian Constitution stipulates that the National Assembly can pass a bill rejected by the president with two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Following Buhari’s refusal to assent to the bill, reports had emerged that about 73 senators signed their signatures to support a motion to override Buhari’s veto on the electoral bill.

But the Senate failed to proceed with plans to move a motion to override Buhari’s veto when it deliberated on the matter on December 22.

Rather, Senate President Ahmed Lawan said the Senate would consult the House of Representatives on the way forward concerning the bill when both chambers resumed from the Yuletide recess in January 2022.

Some Nigerians are still urging the National Assembly to override the president and pass the electoral bill into law when the lawmakers resume in January, but Gbajabiamila has hinted that the way forward for the electoral bill is the outright removal of the clause that provides for compulsory adoption of direct primaries by the political parties.

Speaking in Surulere, Lagos State, while commissioning some projects on December 30, the Speaker said the National Assembly would remove the direct primary clause while revisiting the Electoral Act Amendment Bill before re-transmitting it to the president for assent.

    The Speaker said, “There is a process. When we come back from recess the House will look at those amendments. We will sit as the National Assembly, look at the reasons and at that point, consider removing that clause (direct primary) and pass the bill so that we do not throw away the baby with the bathwater.”

    But he added, “It is not my decision to make, it is the decision of the National Assembly. If they determine that the reasons are not good enough, then, there is a process prescribed by the constitution.”

    Gbajabiamila, however, went ahead to highlight the advantages of the direct primary model, noting that it gave the people the opportunity to have a say in selecting who represents them “as opposed to a few people sitting in the four corners of a wall and writing results.”

    “For me, it does not make sense that these people do not have a voice in who represents them,” he added.

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