Don���t Be An Enemy Of Democracy, Sign The Amended Electoral Law ��� Moghalu To Buhari

Against the backdrop of the fresh division in the National Assembly over the desirability of consensus as a primary option for parties, DARE ADEKANMBI looks at the issues and how stakeholders suggest the matter can be addressed.

Whether in parliamentary or presidential democracy, the basic role of the legislature, the arm of government that in Nigeria prides itself as being the oldest of the three, is to churn out laws that enhance the health of democracy and promote good governance.

But what happens when the citizens, individually and through the civil society groups, clamour for improvement in the law guiding the country’s elections but the lawmakers are reluctant to bring up such law, unwilling to make a legislation that will help to some extent sanitise the filthy electoral process?

Are such lawmakers up to some game? Are they afraid of a crushing defeat at elections? Are they doing the bidding of their godfathers? Is it a position of their party that they filibuster to make it impossible for the new law to apply in the next elections?

There are some of the questions raised by the new hurdle placed in the way of amending the controversy-dogged electoral amendment bill by the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who has been serially accused of protecting a godfather’s interest over the development.

If anything, the fresh impasse has further affected the image of the All Progressives Congress and its lawmakers in the legislative institution as being cold to reformation of the electoral processes.

During the eighth National Assembly led by Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, the lawmakers did make far reaching amendments to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and presented same for the assent of President Muhamamdu Buhari who declined assent, saying it was brought too close to the 2015 elections. Buhari said INEC had already begun the process of the election with the extant electoral law.

After Saraki and Dogara were got rid of following their stiff opposition to Buhari’s policies and programmes, among other things, no one would have expected that the current leadership of the National Assembly which are products of Buhari and his party, would be pandering to any other wish that that of Nigerians who have keyed into the clamour by non-governmental organisations.

Even Buhari on two occasions had publicly expressed his readiness to bequeath to Nigerians an electoral process which will ensure votes count and those in government enjoy real legitimacy by being popular, truly and fairly elected through credible ballot.

At a virtual democracy summit convened by the United States President, Joe Biden, Buhari had said, “As we countdown to our next general election in 2023, we remain committed to putting in place and strengthening all necessary mechanisms to ensure that Nigeria will not only record another peaceful transfer of power to an elected democratic government, but will also ensure that the elections are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner.”

In refusing to sign the Bill sent to him by the current leadership of the National Assembly, President Buhari gave cogent reasons which touch on the freedom of parties as voluntary organisations to determine their mode of primaries.

After initial threat to override the president, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, assured Nigerians they would re-work the Bill in line with the issues raised by the president, particularly the controversial Clause 84 which deals with mode of primaries and re-send to him.

Division over desirability of consensus option

Not many anticipated that the simple exercise of re-working the bill would be mired in a fresh controversy as is the case now. While the Senate inserted direct, indirect and consensus, which are the three modes of primary known in most democracies, the House of Representatives only recognised two, direct and indirect.

The division in the modes passed in the amended versions of the Bill in both chambers has set tongues wagging over the intention of the lawmakers. While some analysts has read ulterior motive into the action, others believe the gray area should be harmonized by the Conference Committee of both chambers.

A group of civil society organsiations has slammed the Senate for introducing consensus mode in the amended Bill, saying it is contrary to the democratic principles and capable of encouraging the subversion of the will of party members.

In a statement, the group, which include organisations such as Yiaga Africa and International Press Centre (IPC), “We reject the decision of the Senate to introduce a completely new mode of ‘consensus’ as a procedure for candidates’ nomination. The consensus mode is antithetical to democratic principles and will result in the subversion of popular will.

“Furthermore, 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, a consensus has occasioned a litany of litigation in Nigeria’s electoral process.”

“The Senate and House of Representatives recommitted the Electoral Bill 2021 with the proposed amendment to Clause 84 dealing with the nomination of candidates. While the Senate voted for direct, indirect and consensus mode as a procedure for the nomination of candidates, the House of Representatives voted for the conduct of direct and indirect primaries as the acceptable mode of nomination of candidates.”

“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 harmonisation 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 reform process and, therefore, unacceptable,” they said.

But the Executive Director of Adopt A Goal for Development Initiative, a group committed to the sanitising of the electoral process, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, put the blame at the doorstep of Speaker Gbajabiamila.

“We wish to urgently call the attention of Nigerians and our international partners on electoral matters to another plot by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to unnecessarily prolong the passage of the electoral act bill.

“It is disingenuous for the Speaker to create another gap for disagreement and delay after the House has agreed to accept the recommendations put forward by the president after vetoing the electoral bill.

“We, therefore, urge Nigerians to hold the Speaker responsible if this duplicitous and self-serving act again truncates the process of passing the bill.

It has become apparent that the Speaker may be pursuing a selfish interest while taking advantage of his privileged position, which is unacceptable.

“We had expected the Speaker and the President of the Senate to reach a joint position on the review and passage of the bill and not what we saw with this latest passage.

“We urge the two chambers to harmonise the bill immediately, transmit it to the president by Monday and save Nigerians another needless round of headaches,” he said.

Also commenting on the development, Mr Femi Aduwo, who is the Executive Director of Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI), said the insertion of direct primary as the only means in the original bill was the handiwork of Gbajabiamila.

“Gbajabiamila inserted the controversial clause in the Bill. He has not denied it. The reason he did is very simple. A particularly presidential aspirant in APC is afraid that under indirect primaries, he will never get the ticket because some governors are against that aspirant. It is very embarrassing. Every party should be free to choose the mode that suits them.

“The issue of consensus should not generate any controversy. Nigerians should see anybody acting as a clog in the wheel as enemy of democracy and Nigeria’s enemy number one.

“The conference committee of the two chambers should expunge the word ‘consensus’ from the clause, instead of foot-dragging on it. But if they agree on the use of consensus mode, then they both include it. We don’t want a situation where consensus should be another issue again. There are some good provisions in the Bill that we can’t allow to die through wasting of time,” Aduwo suggested.

What image for APC and 2023 elections?

With the APC in overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, the delicate issue of the Electoral Amendment Bill is capable of smearing the image of the party if allowed to drag on and the new law unusable for the next round of elections.

While the controversy issue of direct primary raged, the Director General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Salihu Lukman, did  accuse members of the APC in the National Assembly of smuggling the controversial clause into the Bill, saying it was not originally in the Bill.

“It is worrisome that APC members in the National Assembly are the ones pushing for this amendment. Rather than leaders of the party negotiating among themselves on what needs to be done to produce internal agreement to resolve all challenges facing the party, increasingly, structures of the party are being abandoned and other structures outside the statutory organs of the party are being used to attempt to address perceived problems”, Lukman added.

“It was during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after the public hearing in July 2021 that the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila moved motion for the amendment to allow direct primaries to be part of the amendment.

Gbajabiamila, while declaring his support for direct primary, said it would give more bite to the not-too-young-to-run law which he described as a mere paper tiger since promulgated.

APC Senator from Kebbi South District, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, during the week, also accused Gbajabiamila of introducing a compulsory direct primary in the Bill.

“We are hearing that that law (direct primary) was intended for an individual. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know but I must say and maintain that the process was not painstaking enough,” Na’Allah said on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Thursday.

INEC’s jeremiad

The electoral umpire whose job is to be regulated by the new law has let out a loud cry, saying time was already running out on the applicability of the amended law for the next round of elections.

INEC said it desired to have the new law in place between 12 to 18 months of the start of elections. The first round of elections holds on February 23, 2022, about 13 months away.

The commission has said it would not release a general timetable for the general election until work is completed on amendment and a new electoral act is birthed.

What should NASS do, going forward?

For Professor Tunde Oseni, international scholar and professor of Politics and International Relations at the Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State, solution lies in the three modes of primary being included in the amended Bill.

“The initial decision to make it mandatory for parties to adopt only direct primary is restrictive and democracy is not supposed to be a restrictive system.  At the political level, political parties are formed primarily to get power, and in the process of trying to get power, they have to nominate members internally, and make sure that such nominations or recruitment of those who would represent them are properly done according to the law.

“So politically, it is always a good kind of controversy as to which mode a political party should adopt. Some parties will say they want to go for direct primary, where all members of the party are involved from the grass roots. Some will say they want indirect primary because direct primary is expensive to run. Some will say okay, even indirect primary is also expensive because they have to mobilise and all that. Some will say in other to have some kind of smooth running and in order to have democracy that is not acrimonious, we should go for consensus.

“In my own thinking, at the political level, these three approaches are good. But it is not about the one you adopt; it is the use to which you put the one you adopt. Any of the three could be democratic actually.

“If a party thinks that direct is okay, why not? Indirect is okay or I want consensus. Democracy is supposed to be a system of choices, multiple choices. So, my take is if the House of Representatives and the Senate read the mood of the president and also the law. You cannot have a one-way approach of looking at law, particularly an electoral law that is going to shift political and legal dimensions of democracy. You have to give it some kind of holistic approach; you have to look at the other arguments,” Oseni said.

He identified lack of consultation between both chambers as the missing link in the fresh controversy dogging the amendment of the bill, saying they should have aligned their positions before going ahead to amend the bill in line with the opposition raised against the vexatious Clause 84.

“There should have been proper consultation between both chambers, particularly when you are trying to amend the bill because there will be some kind of liaison officers representing the interest of the presidency, then political parties even both the majority and minority parties should have a way of consulting each other.

“It is out of oversight that the Senate is passing a version and the House, another version at the same period,” he said.

On the insinuation that the lawmakers are dilly-dallying over the amendment to ensure the provision on electronic transmission of election results does not see the light of day, Professor Oseni said it was not impossible.

“It is not impossible on the part of political parties or lawmakers to try to do that. If you look at the electronic transmission of results, it was controversial at the beginning, and at the end of the day, they said it shouldn’t be the only way of transmitting results. You have to accommodate as much choices as possible and that is why at the end of the say, electronic transmission of result is fantastic, but it is not the only choice that electoral officials have to transmit result to either local government or their headquarters.

“So, I think that we should just give them benefit of doubt and say that this dilly-dallying is not deliberate and they would harmonise and accommodate even the consensus approach in the final version so that it will not lead to political logjam as well as incompetence even on the part of INEC because that is the only law, apart from the constitution, that guides the action of INEC. If that law is not properly backed, harmonised and scrutinised and assented to by the president, then it could be a problem, a clog in the wheel of the progress of INEC.

“So, I think the two outfits are also reading the mood of the people and also not trying to play on the intelligence of the people. They have to ask themselves: are we really interested in electoral democracy that is smooth, free, fair and credible?” the scholar said.




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