As the National Assembly resumes plenary Tuesday, there are strong indications that both chambers would set up conference committee this week for harmonisation of amendments made on Section 84 of the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) 2021 Electoral Bill under consideration.
President Muhammadu Buhari had refused assent to the Bill, citing limited choice on mode of primaries by political parties among other reasons.
But the two arms of the National Assembly will at plenary Tuesday set a harmonisation conference committee to resolve the logjam.
This is coming amidst rising concern by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Nigerians over the negative impact the delay could have on the conduct of the 2023 elections.
For instance, at a meeting with political parties, INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the speedy passage of the Bill was “crucial to our preparations for future elections.”
Yakubu also said he was optimistic of the commitment of both the Executive and the Legislature to getting the proposed law in place in good time.
“On the Electoral Amendment Bill currently before the National Assembly, the Commission is encouraged by the Senate President’s assurance to give priority attention to the bill when the National Assembly reconvenes from its recess today, and the commitment by the President to assent to the Bill as soon as the issue of mode of primaries by political parties is resolved.
“We look forward to a speedy passage of the bill, which is crucial to our preparations for future elections. As soon as it is signed into law, the commission will quickly release the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election based on the new law,” the INEC boss had said.
Accordingly, on resumption last week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, expunged Clause 87(2) which contained the provisions and replaced it with Clause 84 which widened the options.
But while the Senate in clause 84 , makes provision for three options of Direct , Indirect and Consensus as possible mode of primary elections political parties can use in electing their candidates for general elections , the House of Representatives’ version limited the options to Direct and Indirect primaries.
In getting the re-amended bill transmitted to President Buhari for assent within available time frame ahead of the 2023 general elections, the lawmakers told Blueprint that conference committees will be raised at both Chambers this week for the required harmonisation of positions.
Leader of the Senate Yahaya Abdullahi made the position known in a telephone conversation Monday.
He said the laid down parliamentary procedures would be followed in harmonising amendments made by both chambers on mode of primaries for political parties as contained in section 84.
” The most importantly thing has been done by providing required options as far as party primaries are concerned as observed by Mr President in the letter of refusal of assent on the bill.
“While the Senate came up with three options, the House of Representatives recommended two. These obviously require conference committees to be set up at both Chambers in due course for harmonisation of amendments made, final adoption by both chambers and speedy transmission of the Bill to the President for assent,” he said.
The Senate’s version of the amendment which included consensus as one of the options of primary election for political parties, may be finally adopted by both chambers since is provided for in the Constitution of many of the political parties and even mentioned by President Buhari during media chats on some television stations early in the month.
And against this backdrop, Nigerians have called on the National Assembly to quickly harmonise and reach a common ground on the contentious issues in the Bill.
They also demanded that any clause that may give President Buhari another excuse to refuse assent to the Bill should be avoided.
Speaking to Blueprint, a civil society leader on the platform of Good Governance Initiatives (GGI), Comfort Oloyede, said: “With less than 12 months to the general elections, INEC needs to know the direction to follow so as to begin preparations in earnest for the election.
“We cannot afford to leave loopholes that politicians might explore to render the 2023 elections invalid.
“This is the time to shelve personal aggrandizement and work in the overall interest of the nation. Nigerians expect the national assembly to quickly harmonise and reach a common ground on the contentious issues in the electoral amendment bill currently before the legislators.”
Also speaking, a civil servant, Avoku Lawani, said: “We cannot continue to wait as the efforts and resources put into it might come to naught. They should be encouraged to pass it into law. And if need be, they should veto Mr President if he refuses to give assent. We should be dealing with other areas of our elections that might throw up new challenges and not wasting time on things that we ought to have forgotten since.
“The implication is that there might not be free and credible poll because lots of candidates will go to court to challenge the provisions they feel prevent them from winning. And that could cast negative shadow on the Commission. So, they should be focused on addressing the controversial clause in the bill.”
Another respondent who is an Abuja-based businessman, Alhaji Adamu Bala, said: “For me, I will suggest that they handle the issue in such a way that Nigerians will be satisfied with their handling of the matter that touches directly on Electronic Transmission and speedy passage of the amendment clause awaiting assent by President. Those areas are too germane to be allowed to suffer untold hardship. The earlier he signs the Bill into law the better for Nigerians.”
Yaiaga Africa, IPC
Also, Director of Programmes Yiaga Africa Cynthia Mbamalu urged the lawmakers to look into the critical issues with respect to the Electoral Bill 2021 as a matter of urgency.
She said the first is the need for the immediate constitution of the harmonisation conference committee to harmonise the proposed amendment, especially as it relates to clause 84 on the mode of party primaries.
She said the second is the need for the harmonisation committee to adopt the amendment providing either direct or indirect primaries as the only mode of party primaries in line with the House of Representative’s review of clause 84.
“We are already running out of time with respect to the passage of the Electoral Bill into Law for full implementation and enforcement ahead of the 2023 elections.
“We have an opportunity to have the new Electoral Act operative from the end of January 2022 ahead of the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, to give INEC, stakeholders and citizens the opportunity to test the new Act, integrate its implementation and ensure proper familiarisation of the new provisions of the Act ahead of the general elections.
“A further delay on this process poses grave threat to the credibility of the 2023 general elections and will be detrimental to citizens’ confidence in the electoral process and trust in this government.
“The National Assembly should conclude its process and re-transmit the Bill to the President for assent. Nigerians are watching and waiting. We are running out of time,” she said.
Similarly, Director International Press Centre Lanre Arogundade said they should just have the harmonisation conference and proceed to clean up the bill for immediate re-transmission to the president.
He said: “It is no longer and ordinary race against time but a very fast one at that. The process of the NASS sending the bill back to the President and him asserting must be concluded by the end of this month.”