Within days of the passage of the 2021 Electoral Bill, it became obvious that the presidency was uncomfortable with the provision that makes it mandatory for political parties to nominate their candidates only through direct primaries. What followed, however, was the outsourcing of responsibility rather than an attempt to find a solution. First, it was reported that the president had written the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, seeking his advice. And then the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, or his agents leaked a memo he sent to the president asking him not to assent.
If these efforts were designed to insulate the president from the decision he eventually took, they did not help. If anything, they made the president look weak and the decision-making process at the highest level of government in our country rather tawdry. By withholding his assent to the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill, the president has exercised his veto power, a reactive instrument that blocks change rather than offer practical leadership on a serious issue. Yet, it is most unfortunate that this is the fifth time President Muhammadu Buhari has derailed the electoral act amendment process, despite mouthing platitudes about transparent elections.
Meanwhile, if the president was better served, the contentious amendment would not have been introduced in the first place. Section 87 of the electoral act 2010 (as amended) already provides for both direct and indirect primaries leaving the choice to the parties. What the House of Representatives did was to remove ‘indirect’ making it mandatory that party candidates be nominated by direct primaries. The Senate did not even see any need to alter the provision in their own version and only latched on to it after the harmonization conference between the two houses. So, all these arguments being canvassed by the presidency could easily have been dealt with at the stage when the joint committee of the two legislative houses were concluding on the bill. Since the current National Assembly leadership works closely with the presidency, I am sure a consensus could have been reached before its passage. And the veto that now endangers other provisions critical to transparent elections would not have been necessary.
For a man who came to power on the strength of the deployment of technology in the electoral process, it is difficult to defend President Buhari and the cynical manner he has handled the electoral act. On four different occasions in 2018, the President declined assent in a manner that was shameful. At that time, the insinuation was that he and his party felt uncomfortable with certain provisions such as the immediate transmission of voting results from polling units to collation centers and a mandate for INEC to utilize full biometric accreditation of voters with smart card readers and/or other technological devices.
The drama of that period is like what we are currently witnessing. The Senate had passed its version of the electoral act (amendment) bill in March 2017 while the House of Representatives came out with its own version in January 2018. Then, like now, it was the House version that was different. In that House bill, the National Assembly poll was scheduled to hold first while the presidential election would come last. What the honourable members did was to take away the constitutionally guaranteed powers of INEC in pursuit of a self-serving agenda. The argument then was that the only way for lawmakers to survive was to have their election held before that of the governors. The usurpation of the powers of INEC to fix an election timetable provided President Buhari the basis for rejecting the first bill in 2018.
However, when the sequence of elections was removed by the National Assembly, the president still rejected the second bill on grounds that the lawmakers had removed some clauses contained in the original bill, including provisions for the use of card readers. Obviously, a clerical error. When a corrected copy of the bill was sent to the president, he treated it almost like a term paper submitted by erring students to a stern lecturer, invariably telling the National Assembly members that they don’t know their job. “Section 5 of the Bill, amending section 18 of the Principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of the figure ‘30’ for the figure ‘60’ is to be affected. Section 11 of the Bill, amending Section 36 should indicate the subsection in which the proviso is to be introduced,” the president wrote in his 6th December 2018 letter (more like lecture) to the lawmakers on why he was withholding assent. “Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85 (1) should be redrafted in full as the introduction of ‘electing’ to the sentence may be interpreted to mean that political parties may give 21 days notice of the intention to merge…The definition of the term ‘Ward Collection officer’ should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalised and undefined term ‘Registration Area Collation Officer.’”
Like obedient students, the lawmakers effected the corrections demanded of them, but despite all the rigmarole that lasted several weeks, the president eventually withheld assent “principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.”
Now, we are back to Ground Zero! After some huffing and puffing and the drama of ‘collecting signatures’ to override the presidential veto, the Senate yesterday resolved to toe the line already taken by the House of Representatives and deferred further action on the bill till their resumption in the new year. While the current brouhaha is over clause 87, it must be noted that the only thing the National Assembly did was to remove ‘or indirect’ to make it compulsory for parties to use only direct primaries for the nomination of candidates. But whatever may be the misgivings over the mode of primaries, the more important clauses in the bill are Number 43 (on ballot boxes and voting devices), Number 52 (on conduct of poll by open secret ballot) and Number 63 (on counting of votes and forms). The challenge now is how to save these important clauses when the National Assembly eventually resumes in January. And the man who should be very concerned is President Buhari.
A week before the President was sworn in for a second term in May 2019, his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, said the preoccupation of his principal would be building up a legacy. “The second term is a term for legacy building. The President would do all that will stand in good stead in the memory of Nigerians as a President that came, that saw and that conquered,” Adesina said. But since legacies are forged in enduring policies and important legislations that directly impact the people, there is little evidence that the president is mindful of the judgement of history on all his signature promises. That he would dither on electoral reforms on his way out is even more tragic.
All said, the abiding consistency of President Buhari in his approach to electoral law amendments indicates a reluctance to allow positive change. What is particularly worrisome is the fact that all the amendments the president has vetoed have to do with provisions that strengthen democratic practices. The irony, therefore, remains that a president who came to power with a pledge to uphold and enhance democracy has ended up habitually blockading our democratic best intentions. Now that he is being hailed by his ‘friend’, Governor Sam Ortom of Benue State, I hope it is not too late for the president to work towards a quick passage of the electoral act when the National Assembly resumes in January.
Yewande Sadiku’s Vindication
Ms Yewande Sadiku left a to-die-for job as executive director at Stanbic IBTC to take up an appointment as executive secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC). The position was one she didn’t ask for nor was she even consulted before the public announcement. She nonetheless accepted the offer as a call to national duty. Despite her best efforts to institute reforms and raise the profile and relevance of the critical federal government agency, Sadiku was smeared by damaging (but spurious) allegations in a country where people believe the worst of public officials.
When her tenure was coming to an end earlier this year, the social media was awash with stories of how Sadiku was ‘arrested’ when she simply voluntarily reported to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and other anti-corruption agencies to respond to allegations levelled against her. Since those whose reputation are assailed in such manner are usually left to carry the stigma, even when they may be innocent, the whole idea was to leave a question mark on Sadiku’s integrity. It is therefore commendable that the ICPC has chosen to exhibit professionalism by releasing a statement on their findings. In a letter dated 16th December and addressed to the CEO of NIPC, the ICPC confirmed receiving a petition against Sadiku and other officials.
According to the ICPC, the allegations levelled against Sadiku could be summarised as “fraudulent abuse of office; waste and mismanagement of public funds by the executive secretary of the NIPC through incessant tours and travels within and outside Nigeria without adding value to the commission”. She was also alleged to have “embarked on foreign trips without express approval of the governing council of the commission; used the commission’s fund to repair her damaged personal vehicle”, as well as received “illegal foreign leave allowance”.
Following investigation, according to Akeem Lawal, ICPC director of operations, “none of these allegations was established, and the striking out of suit No FAC/ABJ/CS/249/2019 by his lordship, Hon. Justice A.R. Mohammed of the federal high court of Nigeria, Abuja division, brings the investigation to a close.”
It is noteworthy that Sadiku was subjected to various investigations, court cases and union actions. But the coordinated attacks to which she was subjected fall within a pattern and were intended not only to tar her but also to scare honest and dedicated professionals from our public service. Should that happen, Nigeria will be the loser.
It is, however, remarkable that Sadiku didn’t crack under the intense and painful attacks, but instead managed to institute a spectacular shift at the agency. This despite the constant distraction it took to clear her name. Which is why the vindication of Sadiku by ICPC goes beyond her. It is a vote for hope.
Right of Reply: Why Akande Wrote Memoir
By Oyewole Akande
Dear Olusegun Adeniyi,
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed reading your article, ‘Akande, Tinubu, Buhari and 2023.’ There have been many articles on Bisi Akande’s book over the last week. Few of the writers had bothered to read the book and even fewer of them showed the depth of thinking that you brought to your writing. Thank you.
Let me now respond to the comment in your opening paragraph that the book was written “to warn, albeit in a subtle manner, that President Muhammadu Buhari (who eulogised Akande at the ceremony) has a responsibility not to renege on a certain political agreement that facilitated his ascension to power in 2015”. I am Chief Akande’s nephew, and I was a member of the family committee that helped him with the writing and publication of the book, and I can say confidently that the 2023 elections played no part in the timeline of the release of the book.
As the author said in the preface, this was a project that started in 2012. Indeed, he first mentioned the idea to me in 2008. Our committee was set up in 2014 to help choose an editor to help him structure his thoughts and help with editing of his writing. The delay in getting the book to market was because of the failure of the first editor to complete the project and the need to appoint a new editor – Dare Babarinsa – in 2017. The original brief to Babarinsa was to have the book ready for Chief Akande’s 80th birthday in January 2019, but unfortunately many delays, from all sides, meant the book was launched almost three years later.
My point is that essentially the book was written in its current form by 2015, which is where the story ends. Therefore, it cannot be said to have been written in anticipation of events that would happen six years afterwards.