The 2021 Electoral Act Bill hit the rock yesterday.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who declined assent to the bill, hinged his refusal on political, moral and constitutional factors.
In his letter to the national Assembly, the President explained that he reject the bill, following consultations and advice from relevant ministries, department and agencies.
The letter will be read to senators and House of Representatives members today at plenary session where the reasons adduced by the President will be debated.
The reasons President Buhari induced high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the shadow polls, violation of citizens’ rights, marginalization of political parties, likely litigation and manipulation of the exercise.
The President reasoned that it would be better to allow each political party to determine its mode of choosing standard bearer for elections.
There was disquiet among stakeholders, including elder statesmen, legislators, former governors, lawyers, and other notable politicians.
The pressure on the national Assembly to override the President’s veto also intensified.
However, some senators confided that the Upper Chamber is not likely to veto the President, following his refusal to assent to the bill.
Also, sources close to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said the agency will deploy the 2010 Electoral Act for the 2023 general elections.
The retention of the direct primary clause in the proposal bill, which was passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to the President, has been a bone of contention between the Federal legislators and governors.
While the legislators pushed for a constitutional backing for direct primary, the governors had stormed the Aso Villa, Abuja, urging President Buhari to decline assent.
The federal lawmakers argued that the direct primary will foster a popular participation and internal democracy in the political parties.
But, the governors objected, saying that parties should be at liberty to select any mode as stipulated by their constitution.
The bill was transmitted to the President on November 19, 2021. The 30 days provided by the Constitution for signing or rejection of the bill expired yesterday.
There was confusion over Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives were in the dark as they had no access to the letter.
It was learnt that the letter may be delivered by hand today to Senate President Ahmad Lawan and the House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.
It was gathered that the letter was kept under wraps to avoid leakage before the next legislative day.
According to a source, who spoke in confidence, a veto by the President will not hinder INEC from conducting 2023 elections.
The top source said: “There is no doubt that the new Electoral Bill is vital to 2023 poll. INEC has been callingfor the speedy passage of the bill into law.
If the stalemate persists, INEC has no choice than to use the existing Electoral Act 2010( as amended)for the 2023 elections.
“So, in essence, our plans for 2023 poll are intact. We cannot be distracted by the politics over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.”
On April 29, the INEC chairman said the 2023 general elections were exactly one year, nine months, two weeks and six days or 660 days from today.
“By the principle established by the Commission, the 2023 General Election will hold on Saturday 18th February 2023 which is exactly one year, nine months, two weeks and six days or 660 days from today,” he said.
As at press time, the President’s letter to the National Assembly was kept under wraps.
It was learnt that the letter will be delivered today by hand to the Senate President and House Speaker.
A ranking Senator said: “When we asked sone of our principal officers, they said they have not seen the President’s letter.
“We later got to know that it will be delivered by hand before plenary on Tuesday to prevent leakage.
“We don’t know why we are experiencing a hide and seek over a presidential letter in a democracy.”
A member of the House of Representatives said: “No one has seen the letter. It is frustrating but I hope we will stamp our feet to prove a point that we are all equal in the National Assembly.”
Afenifere leader Pa Ayo Adebanjo faulted the President’s decision, saying that it is consistent with his style. He said President Buhari is not a democrat.
He alleged that the president has his game plan, which many people are yet to see.
Adebanjo said if the National Assembly is serious, they should override the decision.
Faulting some of the reasons for rejecting the bill, the elder statesman said democracy is not cheap; hence, it was ridiculous for him to decline signing the bill due to the high cost of primaries.
He said: “The question of high cost should not arise at all. Any good thing is expensive and all over the world, democracy is very, very expensive. “
He said it was wrong for the president to advance security challenge as one of the reasons for withholding his assent, asking why should we be talking security challenge six years after he has been the president?
According to him, the reasons adduced by the President were just mere excuse for not doing the right thing.
A human rights lawyer, Frank Tietie, said the reasons given for its rejection were not tenable.
Tietie, Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic
Rights, who spoke on Arise Television last night said the president should have signed the bill and Tietie for amendment as far as direct primaries were concerned.
Tietie said: “I have taken seen those reasons and I say that they lame excuses and not tenable to have rejected that bill that would have enhanced Nigeria’s democracy.
He added: “Those reasons are not tenable and it’s unfortunate that
President Buhari is losing the chance to transform our electoral process. Right now, the nation is in a serious dilemma and debacle.”
“The options available to the National Assembly are not too many. It is only to override the veto of the president, but this can only be through the two-third majority and I doubt if the current legislators can do that.”