Monday, September 26, 2022

Concerns as Hope Dims for Amended Electoral Bill

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President Muhammadu Buhari left Abuja yesterday for Istanbul, Turkey, to attend the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, putting Nigerians even more in the dark about the yet-to-be-assented modified electoral bill submitted to him by the National Assembly on November 19.

 

With two days until the 30-day deadline on Sunday, within which he is constitutionally required to assent to the bill or return it to the legislature, hope appears faint, as the newest version of the electoral measure faces the same destiny as past attempts to change it.

 

Following the President’s failure to communicate his decision on the bill last weekend, the National Assembly’s presiding officers planned to meet with him on Wednesday night or at the end of the week’s plenary duties, yesterday, in a last-ditch effort to save the controversial Electoral Act Amendment Bill, but the President’s visit to Turkey prevented them from doing so.

The President is set to return from Turkey on Sunday, December 19, the same day the deadline expires, according to a statement released by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey will host him at the summit, which will be held under the subject ‘Enhanced Partnership for Common Development and Prosperity,’ with an agenda that includes a review of African-Turkish collaboration since the last summit in 2014.

 

The third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit follows President Erdogan’s recent visit to Nigeria, during which he signed multiple agreements to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the domains of energy, defense, industry, mining, and hydrocarbons.

President Buhari was accompanied on the trip by his wife, Aisha; the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Defense, Maj-Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd); FCT, Mohammed Bello; Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; Agriculture, Mohammed Abubakar; Industry, Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo; the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd);

Despite calls from all areas, including the diplomatic community, for President Buhari to sign the updated electoral bill, he has continued to play the waiting game.

While he hasn’t mentioned it since receiving the electoral bill, it has sparked debate between those urging Buhari to sign it in order to improve participatory democracy, as evidenced by the approval of direct primaries, and those who are skeptical of the model of political parties electing candidates. Legislators and governors have been pitted against each other in these two posts.

According to National Assembly insiders, the debate over the direct primary option is causing alarm among the legislature’s top leaders, a situation that could harm the relationship between MPs and the President.

 

The National Assembly has gotten more concerned, according to a politician, because it will proceed through the Christmas and New Year recesses before the deadline expires.

 

The president’s body language, the governors’ forum, and political parties have all indicated that the bill’s provision for direct primary has thrown spanners in the works.

 

One of the main reasons the law may not be signed is that governors and significant leaders of the two major political parties are concerned that imposing candidates and manipulating primaries will be difficult if the direct primary election option is implemented.

Speaking in support of the President’s delay in approving direct primary, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, warned that financial constraints would prohibit the President from granting his assent to the law. Before signing the bill into law, he said, the President would assess the bill’s security and financial ramifications.

“One thing I can tell you is that any decision the President makes in response to the law will be based on justice, public interest, security interest, and economic benefit of the country,” Malami said. All of them will be considered by the President in deciding whether or not to agree to the bill, and I do not believe this electoral bill will be any different in terms of the President’s discretion.”

After multiple discussions, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, the governor of Kebbi State and Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), decided that the indirect primary remained the best option, arguing that political parties should be free to choose the best option suited to them.

 

He also said that a direct primary was too time-consuming and unwieldy, and that it would put too much on on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is tasked with overseeing political party primaries.

 

However, Aisha Dukku, the Chairman of the House Committee on Electoral and Political Matters, said at a stakeholders’ meeting on Wednesday that the new electoral bill had gone back and forth five times in the previous Assembly because some people felt they were not carried along, assuring that this time around, all stakeholders were carried along from day one.

Nigerians may receive positive news about the new bill before the end of the week, according to Dukku. “I hope Nigerians will hear good news by the end of the week,” she remarked.

While several lawmakers had expressed Dukku’s anticipation for good news on the bill earlier in the week, the fact that the National Assembly will be on recess starting yesterday, Thursday, in conjunction with the President’s travel, has dimmed such prospects.

Even the biggest opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), could not speak in favor of the controversial bill, despite the apparent benefits of direct primaries.

After much deliberation, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, governor of Kebbi State and Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), decided that the indirect primary was still the best option, claiming that political parties should be able to choose the best option for them.

 

He also said that a direct primary would be too time-consuming and inefficient, and that it would place an undue burden on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which oversees political party primaries.

 

However, Aisha Dukku, the Chairman of the House Committee on Electoral and Political Matters, said at a stakeholders’ meeting on Wednesday that the new electoral bill had gone back and forth five times in the previous Assembly because some people felt they weren’t carried along, assuring that this time, all stakeholders were carried along from the beginning.

While political observers believe it is in the President’s character to keep his decision close to his chest, some stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian said all indicators point to the President not signing the bill, which is one of the reasons he delayed granting audience to the principal officers this week before his trip to Turkey.

“The Presidency will hopefully communicate the President’s eventual choice and reasons for it to Nigerians through a press release on Sunday or Monday after his return from Turkey,” a source said last night.

“If there was going to be any communication rejecting the bill, the President would have triggered the process before lawmakers went on recess, from which they wouldn’t be back until later in January, by which time the process for the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states would have started,” the source said. So deferring the decision till the last possible moment constituted a coup by the President against the legislators.”

In the meantime, the National Assembly has the power to overcome a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote if the President fails to sign the measure into law within the necessary 30 days.

“The current leadership of Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila do not have the political will to dare Mr President and veto the bill, even though the bill favors them and they have the numbers to push it through,” the source continued, “even though the bill favors them and they have the numbers to push it through.”

“While it is in their best interests to limit governors’ powers by enacting the direct primaries contained into the bill, the ninth Assembly is unwilling to question its toga of being a rubber stamp with this bill.”

The Senate’s spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, reaffirmed this on Wednesday when he stated that the National Assembly will not go to fight with the President over the electoral bill. He said, however, that regardless of the executive’s view on the electoral bill, the legislative will do what is right for Nigeria.

“When the President takes the choice, whatever the generality of the National Assembly thinks, we will all know,” Basiru stated on Channels Sunrise Daily. I believe it is too soon to try to drag us into a conflict with the President.”

The Senate spokesperson responded to the portrayal of the National Assembly as a rubber stamp for the government by saying that if making legislation customized to the country’s progress is perceived as a rubber stamp, then the legislative body agrees to be labeled such.

“If some people are expecting the National Assembly to function like an opposition parliament, we are pleased to disappoint them.” Section 4 of the Constitution lays out a clear path for us to follow.

“Today, the National Assembly is a bipartisan legislative assembly, with members from both the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).” Our judgments are made not on the basis of party considerations, but rather on the basis of the people’s overall considerations.

“I think we’re glad to disappoint those who conceive of the National Assembly as a fighting organization; we’re a conglomerate of Nigerians chosen to represent the Nigerian people for the purpose of drafting laws.”

“If some people are expecting the National Assembly to function like an opposition parliament, we are pleased to disappoint them.” Section 4 of the Constitution lays out a clear path for us to follow.

“Today, the National Assembly is a bipartisan legislative assembly, with members from both the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).” Our judgments are made not on the basis of party considerations, but rather on the basis of the people’s overall considerations.

“I think we’re glad to disappoint those who conceive of the National Assembly as a fighting organization; we’re a conglomerate of Nigerians chosen to represent the Nigerian people for the purpose of drafting laws.”

Meanwhile, INEC has warned Nigerians that the National Assembly and the Presidency are the only ones who can get a new electoral framework in time for the 2023 general elections. INEC Commissioner Festus Okoye, speaking at the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room national stakeholders’ forum on elections in Abuja, said the new electoral bill was a good sign for the country because it received contributions from civil society organizations (CSOs), the Attorney General of the Federation’s office, and the country’s electoral body.

According to Okoye, the country is operating under the existing electoral legal framework because the amended act is still in force, adding that smart card readers and other electronic devices must be properly incorporated into the electoral framework to reduce human interference in the electoral process.

“As far as the Commission is concerned, it is our business to implement the law,” he said. “It is the business of the National Assembly, the Nigerian people, and the Presidency to make a determination on the state of the law; our business is to ensure that we develop the necessary capacity to implement the improvement of the law.”

“The new electoral act is a good sign,” says INEC, “but we are still operating under the existing electoral legal framework because the new one that we want to introduce is still in the works.” “Any projections we make will remain tentative until the President signs the new electoral bill into law or the National Assembly uses its legislative power to bring it into law,” says INEC.

Ebere Ifendu, President of the Women in Politics Forum, said direct primaries were exactly what Nigerian women had been asking for. She added that the mode will encourage more women to enter politics because every member of a political party will now have an equal opportunity to vote for their preferred candidates.
“President Buhari must sign the electoral bill into law because he has made promises,” she added. “He told us that we will have a more credible electoral process, and I want to believe that the President is a man of honor.”

Ene Obi, the Situation Room convener, requested the President to sign the new electoral bill as soon as possible so that preparations for the 2023 general elections can begin.

Obi encouraged INEC to begin a clear, well-defined, and easy process of implementing the new election law, noting that the bill has new provisions that enable for the use of technology in voting, collation of votes, and transmission of results.

Former Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki has also urged President Buhari to sign the law in order for the country’s elections to be more free, fair, and transparent.

Saraki noted that one of the best legacies the President could leave behind is a stronger democratic institution, noting that the 8th Senate, which he led, amended the Electoral Act four times between 2015 and 2019.

“As a leader on the African continent, Nigeria must always ensure that the voices of all Nigerians — particularly our youth — are really heard in government,” he said. This is only possible if our electoral laws are regarded to be trustworthy.

“We all want to develop a country with strong democratic values that inspire investors’ trust.” It all starts with a sound electoral act. There are approximately 25 amendments in the modified statute on the President’s desk. “On direct primary, there are only four sub-sections that are problematic,” Saraki remarked.

“Nigeria’s democracy stands to gain far more from the other revisions than it stands to lose from the controversial subsections,” he claims.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has also added its voice to the appeal for President Buhari to sign the election reform into law, claiming that it will be his most lasting legacy.

The suggestions in the bill, according to CDD, a pro-democracy, policy, and research think tank, will truly improve the country’s electoral system and the political party’s candidate selecting process.

With the effective incorporation of technology into the electoral process, President Buhari’s commitment to enhancing Nigeria’s election will be bolstered by legal backing for electronic voting and transmission of election results.

The Centre feels that the next essential stage is the assenting into law of the Electoral Bill 2021, particularly given the two off-cycle elections in Ekiti and Osun States in 2022 and the general election in 2023, according to a statement signed by its Director, Idayat Hassan.

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