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Politics of Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Source: www.guardian.ng

NASS snubs APC governors, passes electoral bill with direct primaries

National Assembly, Abuja National Assembly, Abuja

Despite spirited attempts by governors on the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) to scuttle lawmakers’ resolution on direct primaries as legal mode for political parties to pick their candidates for general elections, the National Assembly, yesterday, passed the much anticipated Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021after both the Senate and House of Representatives deliberated extensively on the report of the Conference Committee on the bill when the lawmakers resumed plenary after a three-week recess.

On Monday night, the APC governors, operating under the aegis of Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF), rejected the lawmakers’ position necessitating the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee to summon the National Assembly caucus of the party to a meeting over proposed amendments to the Electoral Act.

But all those overtures failed as the Senate yesterday, passed the harmonised version of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The passage followed the consideration of the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on the bill.

In line with customary legislative procedures, the two chambers had in September set up Conference Committees to reconcile disparities in the versions of the bill as passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North), who chaired the Conference Committee in the Senate, while presenting the report, said the bill when passed and subsequently assented into law by the President, would regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory elections.

Abdullahi disclosed that the committee at its retreat, considered and adopted 21 clauses in the bill. “The bill is now ready for passage and Presidential assent.

“It is imperative to point out that with the successful harmonisation of this bill, a process that started from the seventh Assembly through to the eighth Assembly has now been completed by the ninth Assembly.”

Accordingly, while adopting the conference committee report, the Senate approved the re-amended clauses to provide for direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions.

Shortly after the Senate’s approval, the House of Representatives also passed the bill, completing the process of amending the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

The adoption of the report by the committee was not without controversy, as the Minority Leader kicked against the adoption of the report. He accused the Femi Gbajabiamila-led House of rushing the consideration of the report without giving members opportunity to review the report.

He was, however, ruled out of order by the Speaker, who informed him that consideration of harmonisation report does not require debate.

In all, 21 clauses were harmonised, including the contentious clause 52; which makes provision for Electronic Transmission of Election Result (ETR).

The lawmakers settled for the Senate version, which empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and grants it the discretion to deploy Electronic Transmission of Results.

On the nomination of candidates by political parties as contained in Clause 87, the National Assembly again adopted and passed the version of the Senate on direct primary as against indirect arrangement or leaving the option open for the political parties to decide.

On October 12, the Senate had bowed to pressure and given INEC the sole power to determine the mode of transmission of results. This followed the reversal of its earlier decision that INEC may consider the electronic transmission of results “provided national network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure” by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and approved by the National Assembly.

Briefing newsmen, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, urged Nigeria to commend the National Assembly for the quick harmonisation of grey areas as 2023 elections beckons.

Kalu explained that both chambers adopted direct primaries because it far outweighs the indirect primaries, which he noted was not in consonant with the tenets of democracy.

The report was laid by Akeem Adeyemi when the House dissolved into the committee of the whole. Adeyemi, who is a co-chairman of the House-Senate joint conference committee, said the seven-man committee set up by the House had met with its Senate counterpart on the Electoral Act amendment act and arrived at the report presented.

Kalu assured that President Buhari would not waste time in assenting to the amendment once it gets to his table.

A clean copy of the amended bill will be transmitted to President Buhari for assent within seven days, the House spokesperson has disclosed.

Kalu said the lawmakers have done their part and it is now left for the President to assent.

“Today, we have asked the bureaucrats to pass the ball to the executive. Within seven days or thereabout, this particular piece of legislation will be migrating to the President, who is interested in seeing that democracy is grown in Nigeria.

"This he has shown by the recent election that took place in Nigeria, where many who depended on him to call the shots from Abuja were disappointed.”

This development has set the progressive governors on a collision course against the lawmakers. While direct primaries, favoured by the lawmakers, involve the participation of all party members in the selection of party candidates, the indirect primaries, which is the governors’ choice, involves the use of delegates who are usually leaders and members of the executives at the ward, local government and state levels, to elect the party’s candidates at a congress or convention.

Speaking with newsmen on Monday night at the end of the meeting held at Kebbi State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, Kebbi governor and Chairman of the PGF, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, said the governors expressed strong reservations about the National Assembly resolution on direct primary.

Strong indications emerged that the PGF may prevail on President Buhari to withhold assent to the bill. The harmonised copy of the Electoral Amendment Act Bill, which empowers INEC to transmit election results electronically, is to be sent to President Buhari before the end of the year.

The Kebbi governor, who faulted the National Assembly’s insertion of direct primary into the law, maintained that political parties should be allowed to pick the option best suited for them. Bagudu noted that the resolution was against the spirit of Executive Order signed by President Buhari, which frowns on large gathering in the wake of the global pandemic.

He further argued that direct primary was too cumbersome, unwieldy and would overstretch the limited resources of INEC, statutorily mandated to oversee primaries conducted by political parties.

He said: “We discussed the pros and cons. There has been concern that political parties are voluntary organisations. We express the concern that political parties be allowed to choose from the options that they so desire. There is an Executive Order, signed by Mr. President against large gathering. These are issues we discussed and hope that the best be achieved for Nigeria.”

Bagudu continued: “Direct primary involves supervisory role by INEC. So, if multiple political parties are doing their primaries, INEC resources will be overstretched, and I think the chairman of INEC had even commented on that.”

Asked when the APC would conduct its national convention, he said: “It is work in progress. We just finished a big milestone. The state congresses and the appeal processes have been concluded. I believe very soon, the party will inaugurate all the state executives."

Among APC governors in attendance at the parley, which ended 11:00p.m. on Monday were Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa), Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Mohammed Yahaya (Gombe), Mohammed Abubakar (Jigawa), and Mai Mala Buni (Yobe), who also chairs the APC caretaker committee. The deputy governors of Lagos, Ogun and Kaduna states represented their respective governors.
MEANWHILE, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has described as unacceptable the approval given by the National Assembly for the adoption of direct primary election by political parties in the nomination of candidates for elections.

In a statement released last night by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the opposition party said no party has the right to impose its will on another on the method to adopt in primary election.

“It is the inalienable right of each political party, within the context of our constitutional democracy, to decide its form of internal democratic practices, including the processes of nominating its candidates for elections at any level.

“The PDP also believes that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party as the direct primaries amendment, a practice of the APC, sought to achieve.”

The PDP, however, said it shall, within the next 48 hours, make its final decision in respect of this amendment known.