President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, notified the National Assembly of his resolve to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 in line with the provisions of Section 58(1) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The president in a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly, exclusively obtained by THISDAY, clearly highlighted his reasons for refusing to sign the bill into law.
Buhari, whose letter to the lawmakers was obtained by THISDAY on the last day of the 30 days stipulated in the constitution for him to communicate his position on the bill, stressed that political parties should be allowed to freely exercise right of choice in deciding which of either direct or indirect primaries to adopt in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities might permit.
He argued that direct primaries as envisaged by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 would significantly raise the cost of conducting primary elections by political parties and could have negative implications on the outcome of elections.
In the letter titled: “Withholding of Assent to Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021,” Buharistated: “Further to the letter dated 18th November, 2021 forwarded for Presidential assent, the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, as passed by the National Assembly, I have received informed advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the government, and have also carefully reviewed the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the circumstances.”
He pointed out that arising from the review, it was worthy to note that the conduct of elections for the nomination of party candidates solely via direct primaries as envisaged by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, “has serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences, which cannot be accommodated at the moment considering our nation’s peculiarities.”
This, Buhari further said, “also has implications on the rights of citizens to participate in the government as constitutionally ensured.”
He explained: “The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, seeks to amend certain provisions of the extant Electoral Act 2010. Part of the objective of the Bill is the amendment of the present Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 to delete the provision for the conduct of indirect primaries in the nomination of party candidates such that party candidates can henceforth only emerge through direct primaries.
“The conduct of direct primaries across the 8,809 wards across the length and breadth of the country will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties as well as increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC, who has to deploy monitors across these wards each time a party is to conduct direct primaries for the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative posts.
“The addition of these costs with the already huge cost of conducting general elections will inevitably lead to huge financial burden on both the political parties, INEC and the economy in general at a time of dwindling revenues.”
Furthermore, the president held that the indirect consequences of the issues of high cost and monetisation were that it would raise financial crimes and constitute further strain on the economy.
It will also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilise all party members for the primaries, he said.
According to him, this would not be healthy for the sustenance of multi-party democracy in Nigeria.
“In addition to increased costs identified above, conducting and monitoring primary elections across 8,809 wards will pose huge security challenges as the security agencies will also be overstretched, direct primaries will be open to participation from all and sundry and such large turn-out without effective security coordination will also engender intimidation and disruptions, thereby raising credibility issues for the outcomes of such elections.
“The amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices. Political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of association. Several millions of Nigerians are not card-carrying members of any political party.
“Thus, the emphasis should be on enabling qualified Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice during general election as a means of participation in governance and furtherance of the concept of universal adult suffrage or universal franchise.”
Additionally, he noted that the proposed amendment might also give rise to “plethora of litigations based on diverse grounds and issues of law including but not limited to the fact that the proposed amendment cannot work in retrospect given that the existing constitution of the parties already registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), permits direct, indirect and consensus primaries.
“This real possibility, will, without doubt, truncate the electoral programme of the nation as another electoral exercise is imminent towards a change of Government in 2023. Nigeria is at the moment still grappling with the issues of monetisation of the political process and vote buying at both party and general election.
“The direct implication of institutionalising only direct primaries is the aggravation of overmonetisation of the process as there will be much more people a contestant needs to reach out to thereby further fuelling corruption and abuse of office by incumbent contestants,who may resort to public resources to satisfy the increased demands and logistics of winning party primaries,” he argued.
Buhari also insisted that direct primaries would be subjected or susceptible to manipulation or malpractices as most parties cannot boast of reliable and verified membership register or valid means of identification, which therefore means non-members could be recruited to vote by wealthy contestants to influence the outcome.
“Rival parties can also conspire and mobilise people to vote against a good or popular candidate in a party during its primaries just to pave way for their own candidates. Whereas where voting is done by accredited delegates during indirect primaries, the above irregularities are not possible.
“The major conclusions arrived at upon the review are highlighted hereunder, to wit: Asides its serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences, the limitation or restriction of the nomination procedures available to political parties and their members constitutes an affront to the right to freedom of association.
“It is thus undemocratic to restrict the procedure or means of nomination of candidates by political parties, as it also amounts to undue interference in the affairs of political parties.
“Indirect primaries or collegiate elections are part of internationally accepted electoral practices. More so, direct primaries are not free from manipulations and do not particularly guarantee the emergence of the will of the people especially, in circumstances like ours,where it is near impossible to sustain a workable implementation framework or structure thereof.
“In the premise of the above, I hereby signify to the National Assembly that I am constrained to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 in line with the provisions of Section 58(1) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“It is my considered position that the political parties should be allowed to freely exercise right of choice in deciding which of direct or indirect primaries to adopt in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities may permit. Please accept, the assurance of my highest consideration and esteem,” Buhari stated.
Wike: N’Assembly Can’t Veto Buhari’s Refusal to Sign Electoral Bill
Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, has said the National Assembly lacked the temerity to veto President Muhammadu Buhari’s withholding of assent tp the Electoral Act amendment bill.
He said the reason was because it was part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) scheme to allegedly deny Nigerians free, fair and transparent election in 2023.
Governor Wike spoke yesterday at the flag-off of Chokocho-Igbodo Road in Etche Local Government Area of the state.
According to him, the only way for Nigerians not to repeat the 2015 and 2019 mistakes of voting the APC-led federal government into power was to send them packing in 2023.
The Rivers State governor recalled that, “Three weeks ago I told Nigerians that there is a conspiracy not to have a free, fair, transparent election in 2023 and that conspiracy was very clear. And I told Nigerians, Mr President will not sign the Electoral Act amendment bill.”
Wike stated that having known the modus operandi, style and strategy of the APC, it was obvious to him and all discerning minds that the clause on direct primaries was inserted into the Electoral Act amendment bill as a ploy for the president to refuse assent to the bill.
He said the APC members were afraid that if results were transmitted electronically, they would not survive the 2023 general election.
His words: “What APC resolved in the meeting they had was that their problem is not necessarily direct primaries, but the electronic transmission of result in 2023. If they allow that, obviously APC will lose the election in 2023 and they told themselves that the only way we 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.”
He accused the APC governors and their National Assembly members of allegedly deceiving Nigerians that they were engaged in battle of supremacy over the issue of direct primaries, whereas they had secretly agreed to scuttle the possibility of transmitting election result electronically in 2023.
The Rivers governor said, unfortunately, the National Assembly does not have what it takes to veto the president’s refusal to assent to the bill, because they were not interested in protecting the interest of Nigerians and ensuring that elections were free and fair with the electronic transmission of election results.
“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 this your refusal.”
The governor maintained that because APC did not consider the interest of Nigerians as priority, its leaders were immersed in crisis, jostling for benefits that could fan their personal egos.
He said the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was different, because it was waxing stronger as a true political party, and working everyday in improving the socioeconomic conditions of the people in PDP-controlled states.