The National Assembly should not override President Muhammadu Buhari over the stalemate on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has cautioned.
According to him, since 2010, the country have not had any substantive improvement on electoral laws, while in the 2021 Electoral Bill, there were a lot of substantive things.
Jega said this on Sunday night Abuja during a Citizens’ Town Hall meeting on Electoral Bill 2021 organised by Yiaga Africa and development partners.
At the event, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State highlighted the position of governors saying they were not against direct primaries.
Jega said, “With the way the provisions of the bill stand, the National Assembly should do the needful, rather than contemplating overriding the President by removing the contentious provisions.”
He said that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill contained quite a lot of good things that could enhance electoral integrity.
According to him, what was key was to give INEC the law to improve ahead of the 2023 general election and also the off-season elections before the 2023 polls.
He said, “The challenge is what the National Assembly introduced in the Electoral Bill which is without serious contemplation. It is very important that we have a lot of legal framework.
“I think clearly that the electoral process would have better integrity if we do direct primaries appropriately.
“Any governor that manipulates direct primaries can also manipulate the primaries indirectly.”
He also said that INEC made 31 recommendations to the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act to conduct credible elections, but the National Assembly only approved 25 of the recommendations.
On his part, Sule said the 36 state governors “are not afraid of direct primaries as being alleged by some Nigerians.”
He said what they opposed was limiting the choices of the people.
“In the APC constitution, we have three options: consensus, direct primaries and indirect primaries.
“The option should be left open and it will not be a surprise that some parties may even adopt direct primaries,” Sule said.
He said that governors were happy with the contributions made into the bill and from what he had heard, everyone was saying the same thing, thus the issue of the direct primaries should be removed.
Sule said, “I am not the closest (person) to the President but working with the President all this while, I can say that President Buhari would sign the bill into law once the right things are done.”
Also, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Apata, said, “I am so disappointed with the way things have turned up. Everything about the Electoral Bill spelt progress but we can’t get it right if steps are not taken.
“Everything about the bill spells progress for the country. The bill should have been passed long ago. The President and the National Assembly being of the same party should have ironed this out to avoid this logjam.”
The NBA president also said that the booby trap set may catch up with the nation and send the country back to square zero.
He, therefore, urged the National Assembly to take out the provision of direct primaries and transmit immediately to the President for assent, who should be given the benefit of the doubt.
The Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said the timely passage of the bill would be in the interest of deepening democracy and national development.
Itodo said the non-passage of the bill into law had robbed Nigerians the opportunity of implementing important innovations for the forthcoming FCT council election and the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
On her part, Samuela Isopi, the EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, said getting the electoral laws right was in the interest of democratic development.
“What is good for Nigeria is good for the world”, she said.
On his part, the Executive Director, The Albino Foundation, Jake Ekpelle, said he had never voted till he was 58 years and now that he is 61, meaning that he had been disenfranchised for 58 years because the electoral law put it as INEC may not have taken care of PWDs’ interest.
He said, “Now that the new bill put “is” as ‘shall’, it means that INEC is being mandated to ensure that the PWDs are mainstreamed into the nation’s electoral system.
“I hope to see a time the PWDs would be elected deputy governors, governors, vice president and one day be elected the president of Nigeria,” he said.
Also, the National Chairman, Inter Party Advisory Council, Yabagi Sani, said the National Assembly didn’t carry political parties and other stakeholders along.
He said despite the advancement of democracy in the United States, it still operated delegate system and not direct primaries, hence the lawmakers should remove the contentious clauses.
On her part, a former presidential candidate, KOWA Party, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, said, “We should look beyond the letter and look at the spirit of the conduct of elections itself. I would like to join the cause to remove direct primaries clause, if that is the problem so the bill can be passed.”
The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said that time was running out and that the National Assembly must remove the controversial bits of the electoral bill, and get everything ready ahead of the 2023 elections.
He wondered why Nigeria was not keying into the ECOWAS and African Union resolutions that electoral law should be ready one year before elections.
Also, the Chairman of the Partners for Electoral Reform, Ezenwa Nwagwu, said, “There are some elite conspiracy around not giving Nigerians a law that can strengthen electoral integrity.
“The way it was done in the past was to delay the passage till when it was too late and Nigerians would be forced to say, after all we have something on the ground and the old law that didn’t help the nation’s democracy would be used”, Nwagwu said.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dachung Bagus, said that consultants contracted for the job were responsible for some of the drafting errors in the bill.
“We apologise for the drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps sighted in the Electoral Bill 2021,” he said.
Also, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, wondered why the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who claimed to be a victim of electoral fraud before his eventual emergence as President, was now finding it difficult to ensure leaving a legacy of electoral development.