Electoral bill: Senate, House bow to Buhari
•Widen scope of primaries, approve direct, indirect, consensus options for political parties •Amendment unanimously approved in Senate •Opposition kicks in House •House prioritised safety of democracy —Spokesperson
THE Senate and the House of Representatives on Wednesday concurred by expunging mandatory direct primary from the Electoral Act bill for parties to elect their candidates for the 2023 general election.
In separate sittings, the two chambers of the National Assembly bowed to President Muhammadu Buhari by instead approving direct, indirect or consensus primaries for parties to elect their standard-bearers.
The Senate had in collaboration with the House in November 2021, as contained in Clause 87(2), made direct primary the only option for parties in determining candidates for elections.
However, in refusing assent to the bill, President Buhari said the provision was undemocratic and a serious infraction on the 1999 Constitution (as amended) of the various parties which have different options of direct, indirect and consensus arrangements for such elections. According to him, 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 negatively impact the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally ensured. In concurring with President Buhari on observations raised, the Senate, as listed on its order paper for Wednesday, added indirect and consensus options to the mandatory direct provision earlier approved. Specifically, the upper chamber in Clause 84(2) of the report approved direct, indirect primaries or consensus as procedure for the nomination of candidates by parties for 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.”
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 conventions in each of the 36 states of the federation and FCT, where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at designated centres in each State Capital on specified dates.”
The clause provides that a convention shall be held for the ratification of the candidate with the highest number of votes. The amendment followed a motion for its re-committal to the Committee of the Whole.
The motion was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi.
ALSO READ FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
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, November 18, 2021. Senator Abdullahi noted that the rationale for withholding assent bordered on his observation in Clause 84. He, however, explained that the motion for re-committal 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 Whole for consideration and passage.
Meanwhile, contrary to the earlier hard stance by some lawmakers, when the motion was put into vote after consideration it was unanimously adopted by all senators.
On its part, the House reamended clause 84(2) , following the representation of the bill as promised by the speaker, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila Gbajabiamila had earlier informed the House that the “bill was considered by the committee of the whole on Wednesday 19, 2022. We will now move for the consideration of the observation made by the president in his letter.”
The speaker had, before commencing the proceedings, cited relevant rules of the House guiding the process, noting that the House was constrained by the rules to only consider the item which formed the basis of the president’s refusal to grant assent.
Gbajabiamila stated “It is this letter that has brought us where we are, and in line with the provision of our rules, we are in order to recommit and reconsider based on the observation officially communicated to us as a House. The relevant rule here is Order 12 Rule 20 which the sub head is a reconsideration of bills.
“And it says ‘any bill referred to the House of by the president withholding assent may be reconsidered through a substantive motion by the House which has been. The motion shall include all the clauses objected to by the president which shall be reconsidered in the committee of the whole,” which is what we are about to do. And I believe there is only one clause objected to by Mr President.
“Sub-section 3, ‘if necessary, the House may rescind its decision on this affected clause and reconsider the bill in the committee of the whole.
“So, basically our rules have tied our hands. We cannot even go outside that clause to inject any other thing even if we so desire.
“We would go straight to Clause 84, which reads, “a political party seeking to nominate candidates for election under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions
“That establishes that primaries would be held and it goes on in subsection (2), “the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries,”. This is the original copy that came to the House.”
The re-amended clause was voted and carried by the House. However, an opposition lawmaker, Honourable AwajiInombek Dagomie Abiante, raised a point of order demanding that all the clauses be taken one after the other and members allowed to make inputs.
He said: “There are still clauses left in the bill requiring that every presidential candidate must hold a special convention at state levels, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. I read: ‘A political party that adopts the system of indirect primary for the choice of its candidates shall adopt the procedure outlined below:
“In the case of nomination for the position of presidential candidates, a political party shall hold special conventions in each of the 36 states of the federation and FCT, where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at designated centres in each state capital on specified dates’.
“Mr Chairman, if you go further, a national convention shall be held for the ratification, so you don’t elect at the national convention. The election of the presidential candidate would remain at the various state levels. That is what this English says, sir. And it is not the way the primaries have been held. This is not the intent of the electoral act that has been passed that was referred back to us to continue to consider the inclusion, to give Nigerians the option of direct or indirect. This thing still negates the principles of what we have always done here. And it is my suspicion, Mr Chairman, that it is intended for this Electoral Act not to be signed. These are all obstacles that have been put on the way of Nigerians to actually determine who governs them so they can provide effective leadership.
“Mr Chairman, we have to take all these clauses one after the other and allow members to make inputs.”
However, Gbajabiamila, in his response said: “As a seasoned legislator, I have read the rules of the House to you and you know that we are confined to the observations made by Mr President. We have a near-perfect document. It may not be perfect, but we have a near-perfect document. We adjourn to plenary.”
Speaking with newsmen after the plenary, the House spokesman, Honourable Benjamin Kalu, stated that the safety and advancement of democracy was prioritised in the decision to toe the line of the president in the amendment, adding that sticking to the guns would have been counterproductive.
Kalu noted that though the concept of direct primary was a laudable one that should be considered by the country in its journey to electoral and political maturity, it was important that such step was not used as a stumbling block to the attainment of other important reforms already embedded in the amendment which the president also agrees with.
He urged Nigerians to keep faith with the parliament as the bill, when signed into law, can still be amended in the future, saying: “no law is cast on stones.”