Following the rejection of the direct primary mode of electing candidates for elections by state governors, the battle has shifted to Aso Rock where parties are pushing to get President Muhammadu Buhari to do their bidding. Will President Buhari succumb to the lobbying by governors or stand by the parliament? This piece evaluates the issues.
It was a flurry mass at the time. They came simultaneously, all weighty, sensitive and controversial. They needed equal attention and thorough dissecting. But, perhaps, that was not materially possible and so, one escaped scrutiny and now, blazing saddles.
The issues were the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, Electoral Amendment Bill, Electronic transmission of election results and the direct primaries mode of election of candidates of political parties in general elections.
While the PIB had its unique challenge and was subdued eventfully, the two sensitive clauses of electronic transmission of election results and direct primaries system subsumed in the Electoral Amendment Bill are still generating controversies.
But amid the issues, both chambers of the National Assembly, NAS, Senate and House of Representatives, last week, successfully passed the bill into law and barring any unforeseen circumstances, the amended piece of legislation would be sent to the Presidential Villa for assent.
Even though the e-transmission of results got the nod of the majority even after its rejection by the Senate, the direct primary system is seriously getting knocks and may have prompted a string of lobbying.
Sources gathered that the growing disagreement over the matter is likely to delay President Buhari’s assent.
It was said that there are pressures on the President to withhold his assent to the bill, but whether he would succumb, especially to the governors’ pressure is quite unclear.
The choice of direct primaries is not going down well with many politicians in both the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Though Senator Ike Ekweremadu, three-time Deputy Senate President, had in 8th Assembly, mulled the adoption of direct primary, NAS still didn’t summon up the courage to push it through until now.
The Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, while contributing to the debate during the consideration of the Electoral Amendment Bill on July 16, 2021, proposed the eternal removal of “ indirect primaries” as had been recommended by the House Committee on Electoral Matters.
The Committee had in Clause (section) 87 titled “Nomination of Candidates by Parties,” recommended thus:
“ A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct or indirect primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which may be monitored by the Commission. The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.’’
But an amendment came from Gbajabiamila who represents Surelere 1 Federal Constituency. It read thus: “In subclause (1), line 2, leave out the words “or indirect” anywhere where it appears in the bill”.
This was put to vote and the majority favoured it, leading to its adoption. That was how direct primary evolved, giving credence to the ingenuity and the intellectual wizardry of both the Speaker and the entire House membership.
Senate’s error, backtrack
Realizing their error, however, the Senate which had taken a different route in the electronic transmission of election results earlier in the conference committee for harmonization, backtracked and concurred with the House on the clause. That was not all. It also adopted the option of direct primary for the selection of candidates for political parties in elections.
With the adoption of both clauses, future election results will be transmitted electronically. Also, political parties will henceforth select their candidates through direct primaries.
Meanwhile, while opposition is mounting against direct primary advantages, Newsflash Nigeria learned, abound.
According to the proponents of this model, including many political analysts and keen observers of social events, it is the most transparent mode of nominating a candidate in any election.
It is more participatory as it allows for mass participation. It will address the selection of candidates – where candidates are selected instead of elected. It will allow for more women and youth participation in the political process. Direct primaries will checkmate and send into oblivion godfatherism in Nigerian politics. Internal party democracy in all registered political parties will be enhanced.
Bill ready for assent
Briefing newsmen on the matter, spokesman for the lower chamber, Benjamin Kalu, said the document would be ready for presidential assent next week.
He said: “The beauty of bicameral legislature was displayed today where the two houses of the parliament agreed on this fundamental position that has to do with clause 87 as well as clause 52 for the House and clause 53 for the Senate. This bordered on the issue of transmission of results as well as direct or indirect primary by the political parties.
“One of such is returning power to the people where this government of the people, by the people and for the people will be seen operating fully for the benefit of the people. That was why the two chambers accepted that for the benefit of the people, the principle of the direct primary will outweigh that of the indirect primary.
“The question is where is the legislation heading next? It will go to the Clerk of the National Assembly from where it will go to the President. The matter, in the eyes of the parliament, has been decided.
“We have asked the bureaucrats to pass the ball fully to the Executive. I am sure that within 7 days or thereabout, the legislation will be migrating to the President who is interested in ensuring that democracy in our country is strengthened. This, he has shown in the recent elections in the country where he wanted the people to speak and let the voice of the people be the voice of democracy. We are on the side of Nigerians and all that they want.”
Asked what NAS would do should the President withhold his assent, Kalu ruled that out, saying the President had been enthusiastic about deepening the tenets of democracy.
“In the doctrine of separation of power, the parameters and mandate of our office are limited to what we have done. We cannot predict Mr President or his next action. Nigerians, by the provisions of the constitution, mandate us to amend laws that we feel need attention to be able to meet the current needs of the nation. There are guidelines in making legislation and we have fulfilled that. The ball has been passed to the executive.
“Whether or not we still have an option open to us if the President takes a position that we are not convinced about. The law is clear on that in our constitution and that vetoing the President if the need arises. But in this case, we will cross the bridge when we get there. There is no need to pre-empt the President by reminding him of the powers of the parliament which are not in dispute at the moment.
“Let us allow the President to look at this legislation. Many didn’t believe the President was going to sign the PIA. Many also thought we had embarked on a jamboree. Today, we have the PIB turned to PIA and Nigerians are happy about it. I can assure Nigerians that because the President is interested in moving our democracy forward, he will do what Nigerians want because there is no reason for him not to do so. If for any reason he finds anything that we overlooked and brings it back to us, there is still sufficient time for us to look at that and take it back to the President.’’
My interest —Gbajabiamila
At a meeting with the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, who paid him a courtesy visit, last Thursday, Gbajabiamila highlighted his interest in the direct primaries mode.
“If I know my return will depend on some few men, I may care about you. But if I know that my return will depend on my accountability and representation to the people, I will do the right thing.
“It is important for this generation to open the door of leadership to the next generation. We must allow every Nigerian to participate fully in the process of leadership. I, therefore, stand with a direct primary.”
For now, many lawmakers are speaking tongue in cheek about the bill. Some who spoke to newsmen in confidence said they are waiting for their parties to react.
But two PDP House members, Serguis Ogun and Ben Igbakpa, kicked against the direct primary.
Ogun, who represents Uromi/Esan Federal Constituency, said primaries should be at the discretion of the political parties.
“Primaries should be the prerogative of the political parties. This is an interference in the function of the political parties. Direct party primary is expensive hence the small political parties will struggle to implement it. It is also going to be a huge financial burden on INEC in terms of personnel deployment and logistics to monitor the primaries,” he said.
Similarly, Igbakpa, who represents Ethiope Federal Constituency, said: “Indirect primary is better, less expensive, easy to organise in terms of logistics, security and other necessary aspects. Direct primary is going to be rancorous. It will have security challenges. It is akin to telling the entire people of the constituencies to come to Abuja. I don’t know what the proponents want to achieve. What is INEC coming to do in the internal affairs of political parties? Maybe, very soon, INEC will start telling political parties how much they will sell their nomination forms and all that. These are the internal affairs of political parties”.
Having successfully passed the bill into law at the national assembly level, all eyes are now on President Muhammadu Buhari to see whether he would give his assent to the bill.
Whichever way it goes, the President stands two risks: He will either be criticised by politicians in both extremes if he succumbs to pressure or lauded by proponents of the bill.