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Lawmakers lose out as Buhari refuses to sign Electoral Act Amendment Bill, gives reason

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Federal lawmakers who had been angling for direct primaries for political parties in the country may have lost out as President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to append his signature to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill sent to him by the National Assembly.

The President in a letter to the lawmakers had explained his reasons for withholding assent, even as there had been agitations by some sections of Nigerians for the lawmakers to invoke the veto powers as the deadline for the president to sign the bill neared.

According to the President, it would be better to allow each political party determine its mode of choosing standard bearer for elections, a position that had also been maintained by the governors.

The President, in the letter, said the prevailing situation in the country would not allow him sign the bill.

According to him, the high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens’ rights, and marginalization of small political parties are among other reasons for his decision to reject the bill.

The president said that it would be better to allow each political party to determine its mode of selecting candidates for election while avoiding the attendant negative ripple effect that comes with a direct primaries system.

In the letter titled: “Withholding of Assent to Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021,” Buhari stated: “Further to the letter dated 18th November 2021 forwarded for Presidential assent, the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, as passed by the National Assembly, I have received informed advice from relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of the government, and have also carefully reviewed the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the circumstances.

“The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, seeks to amend certain provisions of the extant Electoral Act 2010. Part of the objective of the Bill is the amendment of the present Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 to delete the provision for the conduct of indirect primaries in the nomination of party candidates such that party candidates can henceforth only emerge through direct primaries.

“The conduct of direct primaries across the 8,809 wards across the length and breadth of the country will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties as well as an increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC, who has to deploy monitors across these wards each time a party is to conduct direct primaries for the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative posts.

“The addition of these costs with the already huge cost of conducting general elections will inevitably lead to a huge financial burden on both the political parties, INEC and the economy in general at a time of dwindling revenues.”

The President also disclosed the security challenges that come with the preparation of direct primaries while considering the understaffed conditions of the various security agencies.

Read also: Situation Room wants NASS to use veto power, if Buhari fails to sign Electoral Act Amendment Bill

“In addition to increased costs identified above, conducting and monitoring primary elections across 8,809 wards will pose huge security challenges as the security agencies will also be overstretched, direct primaries will be open to participation from all and sundry and such large turn-out without effective security coordination will also engender intimidation and disruptions, thereby raising credibility issues for the outcomes of such elections.

“The amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices. Political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of association. Several millions of Nigerians are not card-carrying members of any political party.

“Thus, the emphasis should be on enabling qualified Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice during general election as a means of participation in governance and furtherance of the concept of universal adult suffrage or universal franchise.

“This real possibility, will, without doubt, truncate the electoral programme of the nation as another electoral exercise is imminent towards a change of Government in 2023. Nigeria is at the moment still grappling with the issues of monetisation of the political process and vote-buying at both party and general elections.

“The direct implication of institutionalising only direct primaries is the aggravation of over-monetisation of the process as there will be much more people a contestant needs to reach out to thereby further fuelling corruption and abuse of office by incumbent contestants, who may resort to public resources to satisfy the increased demands and logistics of winning party primaries,” he argued.

Buhari also insisted that direct primaries would be subjected or susceptible to manipulation or malpractices as most parties cannot boast of reliable and verified membership register or valid means of identification, which therefore means non-members could be recruited to vote by wealthy contestants to influence the outcome.

“It is thus undemocratic to restrict the procedure or means of the nomination of candidates by political parties, as it also amounts to undue interference in the affairs of political parties.

“In the premise of the above, I hereby signify to the National Assembly that I am constrained to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 in line with the provisions of Section 58(1) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“It is my considered position that the political parties should be allowed to freely exercise right of choice in deciding which of direct or indirect primaries to adopt in the conduct of their primary elections as their respective realities may permit,” Buhari stated.

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