Deji Elumoye and Sunday Aborisade
The Senate on Wednesday, dumped its insistence on the mandatory direct primary mode of electing candidates of political parties as contained in the 2010 Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2021 passed by the National Assembly last year.
President Muhammadu Buhari however declined assent to the bill asking the nation’s parliament to give political parties opportunities to adopt other options apart from direct primary.
The red chamber at plenary on Wednesday, bowed to the request of the president and re-amended the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, passed on November 18, 2021.
The chamber expunged the controversial provision in Clause 84(2) and replaced it with direct and indirect primaries or consensus as procedure for electing and nominating candidates by political parties for the various elective positions.
It also approved the recommended Clause 84 (3) that “a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party and shall adopt the procedure outlined below:
“(a) In the case of Presidential primaries, all registered members of the party are to vote for aspirants of their choice at a designated centre at each ward of the Federation.
“(b) Similar procedure as in (a) above, shall be adopted for Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Federal and State Constituencies.
“(b) Special Convention should be held to ratify the candidate with the highest number of votes at designated centres at the National, State, Senatorial, Federal and State constituencies”.
Clause 84(4) further provides that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall adopt the procedure outlined below:
“(a) In the case of nominations to the position of Presidential candidate, a political party shall:
“(i) hold special presidential convention at a designated centre in the Federal Capital Territory or any other place within the federation that is agreed to by the National Executive Committee of the party.
“(ii) The aspirant with the highest number of votes at the end of voting shall be declared the winner of the presidential primaries of the political party and the aspirant’s name shall be forwarded to the Commission as the candidate of the party”.
Clause 84 (6) provides that where there is only one aspirant, or a consensus candidate, the party shall convene a special convention or congress at designated centres on a specified date for the confirmation of such aspirant.
Meanwhile, both chambers of the federal parliament would now set up a conference committee to harmonise the differences in the version of the bill passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
While the Senate approved the direct, indirect and consensus arrangements as the mode of party primaries, the House of Representatives expunged the option of consensus from the version it passed.
The option of consensus candidate which both houses have a differing opinion on, would necessitate the setting up of a conference committee by the two chambers.
The conference committee are expected to harmonise both positions and report back to the two chambers at plenary on Tuesday next week.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, told journalists after plenary that the bill would be transmitted to the president next week.
Gaya said: “We expect the conference committee to meet this week. We will expect their report at plenary next Tuesday. The National Assembly will transmit the clean copy to the president before the end of next week.”
The amendments followed a motion for its re-commital to the Committee of the Whole.
The motion was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North).
The Senate Leader, in his presentation, recalled that President Buhari had signified withholding his assent on the Electoral Act No. 6 2010 (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, 2021 which was passed by the National Assembly and forwarded to the President on Thursday, 18th November, 2021.
Abdullahi noted that the rational for withholding assent bordered on his observation in Clause 84.
Buhari had in the letter dated December 13, 2021, and addressed to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government after a thorough review.
According to the president, signing the bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.
He added that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally ensured.
Abdullahi, however, explained that the motion for re-commital of the bill to the Committee on the Whole was against the backdrop of the “need to address the observation by Mr. President C-in-C and make necessary amendment in accordance with Order 87(c) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended); and relying on order 1(b) and 52(6) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 ( as amended)”.
Accordingly, the chamber rescinded its decision on the affected clause of the bill as passed and recommit same to the Committee of the While for consideration and passage.
Speaking after the bill had been passed, the President of the Senate, Lawan, pledged that the red chamber would work with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to achieve free, fair and credible elections.
Lawan therefore urged the electoral umpire to take advantage of the proposed legislation, when assented to, and give Nigerians an election that they would be proud of.
He said: “This is one bill that Nigerians particularly are so interested in because it is one sure way of enhancing our electoral processes and producing leaders at various levels of governance.
“What we have done today is to respond to the observation of Mr President and because our constituents and other stakeholders on the need for us to expedite action on addressing those observations made by Mr President and we have done that very patriotically.
“Today as the bill stands, there is provision for all possible options for selection of candidates from presidency to the councillorship.
“The available options we have are: the direct primaries, indirect primaries and consensus candidature.
“What this means is that political parties are now, once this becomes law, challenged to ensure that they choose what is appropriate, what is suitable for them when it comes to the processes of producing their candidates.
“I will urge that we should practise all these three so that we are able to develop them. Because there is advantage in each just as there could be disadvantage in all of them.
“Ours is to ensure proper and appropriate application of these models, if we don’t, as practising politicians, if the parties don’t, and try to go round the circles and may be cutting corners, these processes will continue to be disadvantaged at all times.
“With this, we also hope that INEC will take advantage of all the available amendments including what they suggested to the committees will be amendments that will enhance their activities, performance.
“We are very optimistic that once the clean copy of this bill is sent to the president, he will assent to the bill and that will mark a very important moment for the politics, democracy in this country.
“We will still be around to ensure that INEC receives every possible support from the National Assembly for INEC to conduct the 2023 elections successfully, transparently and with the integrity that Nigerians will all be proud of when it comes to either off season elections or the general election in 2023.
“Laws alone will not be alone, we could have the best laws if we don’t operate them properly, they may not mean much.
“I urge practitioners, politicians and INEC to ensure that we obey and operate the laws as provided in the electoral act.”