Tension persists over electoral bill

•Senators indict governors •CSOs to storm NASS •Ubani, scholars, others warn on consequences of Buhari not signing bill •Do the needful, Adebanjo, Northern coalition task NASS

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari returned to Abuja on Sunday from Turkey but there was no word on what he may do with the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. 

Unless it was signed Sunday, it will remain a case of declining assent as the deadline for the president’s signature has expired. 

His arrival coincided with a warning issued by Civil society Organisations (CSOs), on Sunday, to besiege the National Assembly as the clock ticked over the expiration of the 30- day window allowed by the constitution for the president to assent to the bill forwarded to him by the National Assembly about a month ago. 

President Buhari did not take any action on the bill before he left for the TurkeyAfrica Summit last week from which he returned to Abuja Sunday. 

The presidency was muted over the fate of the bill when the Nigerian Tribune reached out to its spokesmen at the weekend. 

Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), declined comments just as Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), said he had no information. 

However, before Buhari left for the summit, there had been fears that he may not sign the bill because of pressure from mainly governors elected under the All Progressives Congress (APC), who are stoutly opposed to the provision that makes direct primaries the sole means for political parties to select their election candidates. 

This is despite the hope expressed by the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan that President Buhari would sign the bill even though the Senate president also conceded that Buhari has the right to do otherwise. 

According to sources, main stakeholders in the corridors of power are reportedly stupefied by the perceived sudden cold feet developed by the authorities over the passage of the bill with the inclusion of the direct clause in the amended electoral law sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent 30 days ago. 

The ambivalence of the presidency on the issue is said to have created mutual suspicion and unease between the executive and the legislature, with the domino effect on the machinery of government. 

Aside the plan by the CSOs to ‘storm the National Assembly to veto the bill, which has split the governors and members of the National Assembly, due to the clause on direct mode of primaries for parties to pick their candidates for elections, some prominent individuals said the president would lose an opportunity to leave a legacy of credible electoral process at the expiration of his tenure in 2023. 

 

Override president if, CNG tells NASS 

On its part, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) called on the National Assembly to override the president if he failed to sign the bill. The spokesman for the coalition, Abdul-azeez Suleiman said there should not be any argument about this procedurally because if the president fails to sign the Bill, there is another gateway in which the National Assembly could override his decision. 

“Even with the loss of confidence by Nigerians in the ability of the federal legislators to stand their ground, this Bill appears to be their baby. They are closer to the people than the presidency and they know what grassroots anger could translate into. Still, I think, since there is still time to go before the time allowed expired, it would amount to hypothesis to make a remark in anticipation. 

“What is important is that at least, a time has been fixed within which to expect the assent. What reasonably needs to be done is wait and hope it is signed without alterations that could cause suspicions and discontent. 

“There two major provisions in the Bill that are by all means fundamental to to the establishment of a solid democratic elections process and President Buhari will reclaim his statesmanship if he passes them,” the coalition said. 

The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), had written a letter to the President, casting doubt on the imperative of signing of the bill over the inclusion of the mandatory direct primaries. 

Malami’s office confirmed that it had officially written its legal opinion to President Buhari on the bill. 

The Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, to the AGF, Dr Umar Jibrilu Gwandu told the Nigerian Tribune that the minister had given appropriate legal advice to the president on the issue in the ordinary course of business and the exercise of his constitutional responsibilities as a legal adviser to the federal government. 

 

History will judge Buhari on to electoral credibility ― CSOs 

The CSOs’ threat to besiege the premises of the National Assembly if President Buhari withheld his assent to the bill, came against the backdrop of a statement by the Presidency that President Buhari would soon make his stand known on the bill. 

They claimed that the ambivalence of the president on the bill has created tension in the country, as well as portrayed him as not acting in tandem with democratic ideals and norms. 

The statement was signed by Executive Director Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye; Jude Feranmi (Convener, Raising New Voices Initiative); Maryam Ahmed (Programme Officer, Centre for Liberty): Kenneth Eze (Convener, Speak Out Africa Initiative); Simi Olusola (Executive Director, the Nigerian Alliance) and Obinna Eze Nwagbara, Executive Director, Youth and Students Advocates for Development Initiative (YSAD). 

“This is a low hanging lifetime opportunity for the President to salvage his terrible electoral credential, but from Monday morning, we will turn to the National Assembly to act in the national interest and pass the bill expeditiously before they embark on the Christmas recess. 

“Consequently, the next step is for us as CSOs to take our advocacy to the National Assembly to step in, exhibit courage, recall the bill and ensure they override the president with an accelerated passage before Christmas. 

“The ninth National Assembly has deferred too much to President Buhari almost to the point of ridicule, so if the president does not respect and reciprocate this gesture, history will be kind to them if they override the president and salvage their own political future,” they stated. 

 

Do the needful if Buhari fails to assent to Electoral Bill, Adebanjo tells NASS 

Acting leader of Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo urged the National Assembly to do the needful under the constitution if the president fails to assent the bill. 

The elder statesman said this in a phone interview with the Nigerian Tribune on Sunday. 

The Afenifere Leader noted he would be surprised if President Muhammad Buhari assented to it. 

“It is now left for the legislature to do the needful if he does not sign under the constitution. I don’t expect him to sign. If he does, I would be surprised,” he said. 

Reacting, a former second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Tony Ubani said whatever decision President Buhari eventually takes on the bill as forwarded to him by the National Assembly has a lot of implications for the Nigerian leader. 

“If the President fails to assent to the bill, it will prove to every doubting Thomas that the president never meant well for Nigeria. It will further prove that the President does not want to entrench free, fair and credible electoral process as a legacy. This act will further paint him in history as a man who came to decimate and destroy Nigeria completely. 

“If he signs it, some of his deficiencies will be overlooked and forgiven. It will stand for him as a legacy. However, the National Assembly owes the country the onerous duty to override the president’s veto if he fails, refuses and or neglects to assent to the bill. That act will put the names of the Assembly members in gold as an enduring legacy. Time is ticking for each party in this whole saga.” 

Similarly, a former member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Bosun Oladele said he expected President Buhari to sign the Amendment Bill because only two days ago, he was at the legislative lecture to encourage the legislators to prioritise “things that will deepen our democracy.” 

Speaking on the matter, Dr Akinboyede Lijoka of the Department of Political Science and International Studies, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria said it is not unusual for any president to refuse to assent to a bill, as standard practice in every presidential system of government. 

However, he noted that President Buhari was persuaded by the governors not to sign the Electoral Act 2021 (Amendment) Bill because their usual control of the structure of their political parties will be eroded. 

“Governors are fighting for their survival. For the lawmakers that passed the bill, they are equally fighting for their survival. The majority of them do not control the structure of their political parties at the state level. 

“So, those who are not in the good book of the governors are not likely to return to the National Assembly. For the lawmakers, only direct primaries can give them some level of opportunity to return to the National Assembly or to become governors. 

“With the way things are, the president is not likely to assent to the bill. But since the lawmakers are fighting for their survival, the ball is in their court to do the needful. They can override the president through their two thirds votes as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). 

“The House overrode former President Obasanjo over the Privatization Bill in 2005. No doubt, the development will further strengthen the nation’s democratic process,” he recalled.  

Also, an APC lawmaker, who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune in confidence, said he was not surprised over the prevarication by President Buhari over his needed presidential assent to transform the Bill to an Act. 

The senator, who said his sympathy is for President Buhari however said those he described as the hawks in his cabinet, in league with the governors have since moved in and convinced him not to sign the Bill. 

He said: “I must tell you, nobody is sure of what is going on again. We are just waiting, we are expecting him back today (Sunday) from Turkey. But the governors may have won the battle. I have told you before that President Buhari is for Direct Primary but the governors have used their contact person in his cabinet to sway him to buy into their agenda

Senator representing Oyo South, Kola Balogun however differed. 

He appealed to his colleagues to be patient as he expressed the hope that Buhari would not decline the Bill his presidential assent. 

A leader of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Sani faulted the position of the Attorney General and Minister of justice on the bill as it affects the direct primaries by political parties. 

Accordingly, the ACF chieftain said: ”I do not see how the provision for direct primary would affect the party’s constitutions which provide for both direct and indirect primaries. If the president assents to the Bill, it means only direct primaries are allowed. Simple. 

“The place of Attorney General and minister of Justice in our democracy is to help improve our multiparty democracy with substantive and NOT technical justice. 

“President Buhari should avoid the impression being created that the governors and the Attorney General Minister of Justice can usurp the functions of the National Assembly in legislative matters. The minister is writing as if President Buhari is not a product of direct primary.”

A former acting governor of Kogi State and ex-Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Abdullahi Bello, also noted that delay by the president in giving assent to bill portends danger.

“In my opinion, it will do no one harm if we try the new concept of direct party primary as the only option, even though there are still the highest possibilities of state governors and other political gladiators to abuse this new process any time it comes into operation. There is no harm in trying the new opinion. Let’s hope that Mr President signs it before midnight.

“If otherwise, I urge the National Assembly, being the people’s representatives, to veto the bill into law if they want to be on the side of the people of this country at this moment, and if they want to be counted on the side of progressive positive history as our democracy matures.”

A prominent politician, Dr Eddy Olafeso while commenting on the bill, claimed that President Buhari “has always been running against the tide and progress,” even as he declared that “it could have been a historical opportunity for him to straighten and strengthen our democracy.

“I will be pleasantly surprised if he signs the bill. He has the opportunity to fulfil his promise of bequeathing a free, fair electoral legacy. What is he waiting for? The man seems to always be,” he stated.

But a political scientist, Dr Gbade Ojo said if the President signs the bill, it will amount to usurping the power of political parties to decide the modalities they want to adopt in picking their candidate.

He added that if such assent is challenged by smaller parties, the courts rule in their favour and invalidate such assent by the President. Ojo, however, expressed doubt that the President will go against the wish of the governors, who are unfavorably disposed to it, and assent to the bill.

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