Hopes of possible resolution of the confusion around the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 were dimmed as the two chambers of the National Assembly Wednesday differed on the way out of the impasse.
The upper legislative chamber, had in collaboration with the House of Representatives November last year, as contained in clause 87(2), made direct primaries as the only option for political parties in electing candidates for general elections.
But refusing to assent the Bill, President Muhammadu Buhari said the provision was undemocratic and serious infraction on Constitution of the various political parties which has different options of direct , indirect and consensus arrangements for such elections.
According to the president, signing the Bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.
He added that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally ensured.
And as a way out, the Senate concurred with observations raised by the president by rescinding the mandatory direct primaries imposed on political parties for nomination of candidates.
In doing this, the Senate as listed on its order paper for Wednesday plenary, added indirect and consensus options to the mandatory direct provision earlier proposed.
Specifically, the upper legislative chamber in Clause 84(2) of the report approved direct, indirect primaries or consensus as procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions.
It also approved the recommended Clause 84(3) that “a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party.”
Clause 84(4) further provides that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall adopt the procedure outlined below; (a) In the case of nominations to the position of Presidential candidate, a political party shall, (i) hold special conventions in each of the 36 states of the federation and FCT, where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at designated centres in each State Capital on specified dates.”
The clause provides that a National Convention shall be held for the ratification of the candidate with the highest number of votes.
The amendment followed a motion for its re-committal to the Committee of the Whole.
Senate Leader Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North)
In his presentation, Abdullahi recalled that President Buhari had signified withholding his assent on the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 which was passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the President Thursday, 18th November, 2021.
Senator Abdullahi noted that the rational for withholding assent bordered on his observation in Clause 84.
He, however, explained that the motion for re-committal of the Bill to the Committee on the Whole was against the backdrop of the “need to address the observation by Mr. President C-in-C and make necessary amendment in accordance with Order 87(c) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended); and relying on order 1(b) and 52(6) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 ( as amended).”
Accordingly, the chamber rescinded its decision on the affected Clause of the Bill as passed and recommitted same to the Committee of the Whole for consideration and passage.
Taking a slightly different position however, the House of Representatives altered the controversial section 84 of the Electoral Act amendment Bill, leaving political parties with the option of adopting either direct or indirect primary mode in nominating candidates for elective positions.
At the resumption of plenary Tuesday, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had hinted that the president’s concerns would be addressed, and the Bill returned for his assent.
Back from a closed door session that lasted about one hour Wednesday, the Speaker announced that the House would go straight into consideration of the single clause adjustment, and a motion to that effect was moved by Chairman Rules and Business Committee of the House Abubakar Fulata.
The adjustment which affected clause 84(2) of the original Bill to the effect that “procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties shall be by direct or indirect primaries” was subsequently approved in a Committee of the Whole of the House, presided over by Gbajabiamila himself.
‘We were not cowed’
However, against the perception that the parliament was cowed into taking President Buhari’s proposal, the House through its spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, insisted the Green Chamber acted to save democracy, noting that beside the controversial clause, there were so many other inherent benefits in the Bill as far as electoral reforms were concerned.
“We did not jettison direct primary; we only made it an option. Political parties are left with whichever options they prefer according to their realities. There are so many other benefits in the Bill,” Kalu said.
On whether the House’s action was not a sharp contrast to the desires of majority of Nigerians, the lawmaker noted that “the president’s reasons were placed on a good scale, in view of the times we are in before taking the action, as well as being guided by the limited time available to the nation’s electoral umpire.”
CSOs reject consensus
And in their reactions, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Wednesday rejected the Senate’s decision to introduce a completely new mode of “consensus” as a procedure for candidates’ nomination.
They, however, commended the National Assembly for being swift on resumption to review its position on direct primaries as the sole mode for nomination of candidates in the Electoral Bill 2021.
The CSOs stated this in a joint press statement signed by Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS),Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) in Abuja.
Others include; Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NNNGO) and Inclusive Friends Association (IFA).
They described the consensus mode as antithetical to democratic principles and that it would result in the subversion of popular will.
They further said: “It violates the rights of aspirants to equal participation in party primaries and limits the choice of voters to candidates who did not emerge from democratic primary elections. Judging from experience, consensus has occasioned a litany of litigations in Nigeria’s electoral process.”
“We call on the Senate to, in line with the popular will of Nigerians; adopt the position of the House of Representatives which now recognizes direct and indirect primaries as procedure for nomination of candidates.
“With this development, a harmonisation committee will now have to be constituted by the leadership of the National Assembly to harmonize the divergent positions of both chambers thereby delaying the speedy conclusion of the process.
“We therefore call for the immediate withdrawal of this new introduction which is alien to the original Electoral Bill 2021 to speed up the work of the harmonization committee and conclusion of the amendment process on or before the 21 January 2022 deadline.
“As indicated in our earlier statement, any further delay will undermine public confidence in the process and therefore unacceptable,” they said.
Yiaga Africa, others
Also in a separate position, the Board Chair, Yiaga Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu said, “it is obvious the Senate continues to hoe to its side. The addition of the glaring undemocratic consensus option is a survival strategy. The aspiration of a greater number of citizens is for options that expand the democratic space and not constrict it.
“They have to quickly go to conference to resolve the difference and our hope is that the National Assembly will transmit a democratic electoral bill to carry the hopes of Nigeria people for inclusive, people centric electoral law.”
Similarly, Director of Programmes Yiaga Africa Cynthia Mbamalu said the group lauded the National Assembly for prioritising the review of the contentious clause 84 on direct primaries in the Electoral Bill 2021 to enable speedy transmission to the president for assent.
She said considering the urgency of this Bill, it is important the harmonisation committee is constituted immediately to do the needful.
She, however, noted that in line with citizens’ demand for transparent and credible primaries, the House of Representatives’ version recognising direct and indirect mode of party primaries should be adopted.
“Consensus candidate nomination introduced by the Senate is contrary to the principles of democratic and transparent primaries, limits the right of aspirants to equal participation in primary elections and forces candidates on the people,” she said.
In a similar reaction, a former Secretary General, Organisation of African Trade Unions Unity (OATUU), Owei Lakemfa, said: “It is a game. Many of those in power and can engineer a consensus, want indirect primaries while those out of power or the corridors hope for some luck with direct primaries.
“I know an ex-governor who favoured indirect primaries while in power, but now campaigns for direct primaries. Those who argue that direct primaries would be too expensive have not told Nigerians why and what is considered too expensive.
“For instance, how much did direct party primaries cost in the Lagos State gubernatorial primaries viz-a-vis indirect primaries in many states?
“The fact is that most of the parties are not built on democratic foundations so cannot deliver on democratic primaries whether direct or indirect, and certainly would not deliver on democratic dividends.
“I returned from observing elections in Venezuela six weeks ago and observed elections in countries like Zimbabwe and my conclusion is that elections are simple processes, but are difficult in our country because that is the system put in place.”
And to a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Ismaeel Ahmed, the decision to afford parties options in electing their candidates is a welcome development.
Ahmed told Blueprint that that the party had always believed that political parties should have options in nominating and selecting their candidates for elections.
“The party’s position has always been the same that the National Assembly should allow political parties option on how to nominate their candidates and the president said once that is removed and it is sent to him, he is ready to sign it. So we are excited about the National Assembly’s response to the president’s advice.”