The excuse President Muhammadu Buhari adduced in 2018 for refusing to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law was that it was too close to the 2019 general election. It, therefore, remained unsigned for two years until the lawmakers had another opportunity to tinker with it. Against groundswell of expectations from Nigerians who had called for electronic transmission of election results to be included in the Electoral Bill, the National Assembly rejected it until public outcry forced the legislators to rescind its decision.
On Tuesday 9th November 2021, the National Assembly passed the much anticipated Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 which contains the provision for direct primaries for the selection of party candidates. The Presiding Officers of the National Assembly had exuded confidence that President Buhari would sign the bill into law as he was himself a product of direct primaries and even visited the president on his return from his foreign trip to prepare the ground for his assent. The Bill was therefore transmitted to the president on November 19 2021 in accordance with Section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution. It was therefore a shock for everybody when the president withheld his assent to the Bill.
In his letter dated December 13, 2021, the president explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of Government after a thorough review. He said 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 adding that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in the government as constitutionally ensured. According to Buhari, with Direct primaries, there will be a plethora of litigation from party members and stakeholders, just as he said that allowing the process would fuel corruption.
A showdown was therefore expected between the Executive and the Legislature with the public looking forward to the lawmakers using their veto power to override the president’s action. On Tuesday, December 21 2021 when the President’s letter was read on the floor of the Senate, the Senators had even gathered 70 signatures of those who were ready to veto the president.
However, rising from a closed-door session to deliberate on President Buhari’s letter and take a position on his refusal to sign the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment bill, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan announced that the Senators had agreed at the meeting to consult with members of the House of Representatives when they resume in January because the lawmakers in the lower chamber had already gone on break. Lawan said Senators will also consult with their constituents who are major stakeholders in the decisions taken at the National Assembly.
Nigerians have been reacting to the failure of the National Assembly to use its veto power immediately but rather decided to wait till January before it decides on what to do. While many said the lawmakers had always failed to act in the interest of the people that voted them into office, some however agreed with the reasons proffered by the president for withholding his assent.
Dr Jezie Ekejiuba, Human Rights lawyer and President, Voters Rights International, said, “What we are practicing here is not democracy, but dictatorship. If we are practicing democracy, the national assembly would be on the side of the people because direct primaries is all about democracy. Direct primaries is where members of the political parties participate in the selection of their candidates the same way they do during the general elections. What members of the National Assembly have done is against the people they represent, which is why after collecting signatures, they chickened out. By January they won’t do anything again and there is nothing the people can do. The President rejected the bill because of direct primaries when most people want it. Indirect primaries is when they pay money to some members of the party leadership to decide the candidates, which is not the practice of true democracy. No matter what it costs to practice democracy, we should do it since we have adopted the system”.
Elder statesman and immediate past Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum ( ACF), Anthony N Z Sani, argued that “the rejection by President to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill has surprised many Nigerians for two reasons: It was President Buhari who insisted on direct primary by his party in 2019 and subjected himself to the direct primary while state governors under APC refused and conducted their own party primaries using indirect primary. As a result, many legislators under APC and some of us thought he was for direct primary and mobilized for its support. For the president to now turn against direct primary has stunned many Nigerians, especially his supporters.
“The second surprise is the fact that the president’s rejection has created the impression that the government is at war with itself as APC, the ruling party controls both the Executive and the National Assembly. The president’s letter to the National Assembly has also ignored the important advantages of direct primary which include improvement of internal democracy by doing away with power and abuse of incumbency by governors and money bags who deploy their powers and hijack delegates during the indirect primary. Rather, the president’s letter dwelt so much on fear. For example, the security challenges have been around for quite some time in Nigeria and have been reduced under this regime by the day, yet there have been general elections in this country. When the letter talks of the high cost of direct primary, it feigns ignorance of the fact that direct primary takes place either at polling unit or ward level by only registered party members who are far fewer than registered voters. The direct party primary could not possibly be more than the general elections. What is more, INEC has said it needs N305b for elections against the N500b being bandied about to frighten the government away from the direct primary.
If smaller parties do not have the wherewithal to compete under our nascent multiparty democracy, they are at liberty to merge with the big political parties. And the high nomination fees charged by a progressive party like APC has been designed to reduce the number of aspirants to a manageable level. Violation of citizens’ right must be seen in proper context, individual right is never absolute. The issue of likely litigation does not hold water because if any law by a political party conflicts with that of the nation like the Electoral Act, the federal law would prevail. Consultations with stakeholders is good for the health of democracy. Yet, it is not good for our democracy for the president to give an impression that other vested interests have usurped the constitutional functions of the National Assembly. I am not in support of the notion that NASS should override the president. I would rather prefer both the executive and the majority of APC legislators to go back to the drawing board and sort out their differences with a view to coming out with a common position.”
Eric Omare, a legal practitioner and immediate past president, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide, in his view however said: “I agree with the reasons advanced by President Buhari for the rejection of the Electoral Bill but not with his approach. I feel that he should have communicated his decision earlier than now and if possible maintain a more cordial communication with members of the National Assembly. As far as I am concerned the President’s reasons for rejecting the bill resonate with the thinking of a lot of Nigerians including myself. As for the position of members of the National Assembly, I think the issue has to do with national interest and not ego fight between the Executive and the Legislature. They should carefully look at the issues raised by the President and act in the national interest. I do not see the sense in contemplating the option of veto to pass the bill into law. There is no basis for that option. I advise that they should take a second look at the bill and remove the controversial direct primaries and send it back to the President for assent.”
According to Prince Nyekwere is Chairman of, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt Branch, “the National Assembly (NASS) members are representatives of Nigerians from the various Federal Constituencies and Senatorial Districts. It is assumed that the Electoral Bill as passed by the NASS represents the feelings and aspirations of the majority of the Nigerian people. The reasons adduced by the President for refusing to assent to the Electoral Bill are not well received by the majority of Nigerian people who truly believe in democracy. In this circumstance, the NASS members ought to override the President. However, from experience, I am afraid the current NASS will not have the courage to override the President’s veto as their loyalty is more to their political parties and politics rather than national interest and our common good.
OC Higher King, lawyer, and rights activist, said, “It is very unfortunate. I don’t think those advising the President are doing so properly and the President depends on advice. For the lawmakers to chicken out because of political leaning is quite unfortunate. Initially, they refused to put some of these clauses in the Amended Electoral Act and some of us shouted and suddenly they came back and put them in and we praised them. But now some persons are advising the President not to sign, I don’t understand. I don’t know why they are not working in synergy. The President has been talking of genuine democracy, fairness, and repositioning INEC. I don’t know why when the opportunity comes, they are not taking it. Is it that those in authority don’t want to do something to better the lives of Nigerians?
For Darling Nwauju, Spokesman, Niger Delta Rights Advivates, ”what the President has done is to withhold assent pending reworking of the contentious section 58 of the Electoral Act. In my own opinion, the President did not veto the Bill. So, it’s left for the National Assembly to choose to either rephrase that section or go ahead to override Mr. President. It is also too early in the day to accuse any set of lawmakers of chickening out. On resumption of plenary in the new year, action will return to the two chambers of the National Assembly.”
Senator Victor Umeh who represented Anambra Central Senatorial district in the eighth Senate said that the real reason President Muhamnadu Buhari refused to sign the new Electoral Bill into law was that his party was not comfortable with the inclusion of the electronic transmission of election results, and the use of Bi- Modial Voter Accreditation System, BVAS. According to the former National Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, “Buhari’s citing of direct primaries as the reason for declining assent to the Act was a diversionary tactic to deceive gullible and less politically literate Nigerians. Buhari and APC are just trying to use indirect kick to kill the new Electoral Act. Remember that in the eighth Senate we passed the bill three times and the President rejected it. He wants to run away from the electronic transmission of election results and the use of BVAS which are two important contents of the new Electoral Act. The real reason the APC-dominated National Assembly included direct primaries was to give the President an excuse to withhold assent from the bill, and that’s what he has done. It is regrettable that the current members of the National Assembly lack the willpower and determination to upturn the President’s veto. I have been there and I know them. None of them can oppose the President. They have not shown they can stand on their own to oppose Mr. President even though the Constitution gives them the power to do so. It will be foolhardy for anyone to expect that when they come back in January that they can upturn the President. I however urge the National Assembly, for the sake of our democracy, to quickly rework the rejected Bill and amend the clause on direct primaries, making it optional based on the party’s choice and return the same to the President for his assent.
“If NASS wants to help the cause of democracy, they should immediately amend the clause on direct primaries and make it direct/indirect primaries and allow parties to make their choice. Another thing is to strengthen INEC and give it more powers to monitor party primaries and where there are no free, fair, and credible primaries, INEC report will make the outcome of such exercise invalid and the affected party will not be included in the main election. There is not much difference between direct and indirect primaries, what actually matters is the process. Party leaders and administrators who determine the outcome of each one are the real problems in the system. Direct or indirect primaries is not the problem, the problem is the party leaders that control the system and determine the process”.
A former member Representing Oron Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Mr. Peter Linus Umoh submitted that the Senate did not chicken out from overriding President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto. Umoh, a lawyer and former Speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly said, “the lawmakers did not chicken out. The National Assembly is made up of two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate president said they will consult with their constituents and with the lower chamber. Nigerians should wait and dialogue with their representatives during this Christmas holidays so that by the time they resume from recess they will be better equipped with knowledge of what to do.
A chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prince Richard Ozobu, described President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Amendment Bill as an action done in the national interest. Ozobu explained that Buhari, who gave reasons for his veto, had studied the amendment bill and consulted widely before declining assent. He said; “The President acted in the national interest. We have elected leaders who determine on our behalf what constitutes national interest. So, the leader has considered the national interest to withhold his assent. You can observe that most of the political parties are even decided on the issue of direct and indirect primaries. The President has acted in a way he thinks is in the national interest. For the President’s veto to be overridden, it is not a simple thing. This is about the third or fourth time the bill is rejected by the President. This is what happens in a presidential system of government. Members of the National Assembly who voted against it must change their votes. The National Assembly needs 2/3 majority vote to override the President’s veto, but they did well to decide to go on recess and consult more with their constituents on the president’s decision. This is democracy in action.”
Convener, Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Association, Murtala Abubakar, said “the rejection of the new electoral bill by the President is not surprising to me because President Buhari has never opposed any position taken by the Nigeria Governors Forum. What is surprising, however, was the lack of sufficient political will by the National Assembly to veto the President given that the intent of the Bill in the first place was to give Senator Ahmed Bola Tinibu an edge during the primaries over the governors who have constituted themselves into a big political monster.”
Former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Idada Ikponmwen (rtd) said the President was wrong in not assenting to the bill and wants the National Assembly to override the president. He said “I am optimistic that this National Assembly that has the courage to pass this bill will also have the same courage to override the president. The decision of the president ought to be overridden because it is ill-advised. It is a wrong view that direct primary is not the way to go, government is an issue that is much more fundamental. You cannot place a party constitution against the constitution of the country. The Constitution in Section 14 already talks about sovereignty residing on the people of Nigeria. It says that sovereignty flows from the people of Nigeria. It is the people that are sovereign and the power of government flows from the people so people are cardinal to our democratic system as evidenced in Section 14. If that is so, everything within the system must reflect the importance of the people.”
On his part, Dr. Washington Osifo, a lawyer and lawmaker-elect into the Edo State House of Assembly, advised against overriding the president’s decision. He said: “No matter what, the president has done the right thing in line with my thinking. I am on the side of those who think that the president should not assent to it. On the issue of direct primaries, I think that the proper thing to do is what the president has done because when you look at the provisions of our constitution, the right to make a choice is fundamental and that right was almost taken away by members of the National Assembly when they brought that amendment to reflect that parties must align to one choice made for them and it must be direct primary. For me that is not what democracy is all about, democracy is about freedom. What makes the contest thick is that party A may choose an option different from party B and at the end of the day they are driving a process that makes democracy dynamic. In the constitution of my party APC, it is there that you can make your choice out of the three options which include consensus, indirect primary, and direct primary. But on the argument that it would be expensive, Direct Primary is the most cost-effective of the three and the one that is least manipulative. The indirect can easily be manipulated and it encourages corruption.”
Chairman, Ilana Omo Oodua, Prof Banji Akintoye, through his Communication Manager, Maxwell Adeleye said, “that’s a confirmation of our agitation. Nigeria is now a commercial enterprise that has already expired and the major financier is no longer interested in restructuring. The majority of the Yoruba people have made up their minds that we are no longer interested in Nigeria, what we want is an independent Yoruba nation. When we get to our own nation, the spirit of nationhood will guide us. There can never be a perfect nation, but the spirit of nationhood, one culture, one language, one spirit will guide us. There is no way a country like Nigeria will develop because there is no loyalty to the nation from the people. Buhari is only loyal to his ethnic group. And for the Senate, it’s only a Senator who doesn’t want another term that will not be loyal to the governor of his state. Only such a Senator can stand and say no but a Senator that knows his seat is not safe will not talk. They are not safe, EFCC may pick them up. The solution is that there is nothing to reform in Nigeria. Nigeria is long dead and we want our own nation.
According to Hon John Mafo, a lawyer, and former information commissioner in Ondo State, “by withholding his assent, the President, surprisingly, but pleasantly listened to the voice of reason which has brought great relief to Nigerians. Talking of a possible move by the National Assembly to override the President’s veto, that would be a bad joke taken too far! The gamble or was it a gimmick to use the popular desire of Nigerians for electoral reforms that would enhance transparency, to smuggle in the clause on the controversial, highly provoking, and vexatious direct primary was a trap that failed to produce the expected result as Nigerians read between the lines! Some people in the National Assembly, for selfish reasons, wanted to impose the expensive idea of the direct primary on political parties, thinking that Nigerians in the euphoria expected to follow the announcement of electronic transmissions of results would fail to look at the accompanying evil of direct primaries and the dangers associated with it, which by far outweighs the problems identified with delegate elections. But Nigerians spotted the booby trap and the President called the bluff of the lawmakers! All the talks of overriding the President’s veto are just empty boasts that will fade at the point of reality. The only party that has direct primary as one of three options in its constitution is the APC; yet a cross-section of APC governors openly lobbied against the inclusion of the system in the Electoral Act.
National Organising Secretary of Afenifere, Apagun Kole Omololu, argued that “President Buhari does what he likes and with his cohorts are intentionally programming us for dark ages practices. They know they can not win a free and fair election, hence the suppression of the people’s will. Many legislators stole the people’s votes to get to the National Assembly, so they have no mandate and no responsibility to the people. Our legislators are wolves in sheep’s clothing. This is the period they should have used to redeem themselves. Since we can not get to Aso Villa, let the wolves be rested assured that we are waiting for them at home.
For Ambassador Yemi Farounbi, ”Perhaps, it is too early to say that the Senate has failed to override the president because what the senate said was to act in conjunction with the House of Representatives, so let’s wait till January whether they will able to muster the courage to do the needful and stand by what they believed in. The pathetic thing really is that it wasn’t about whether it is compulsory for a direct primary within the party, it is a contest within the elites, a contest between those in the legislative arm that want to have a second term because experience has shown that sometimes, the results of direct primary don’t have an effect on the result of the election. We saw how Andy Uba won the APC primary and did not win the election. What we want to see is whether this senate is just trying to be apron of the presidency or they have enough courage to stand by what they believed. If they are unable to stand by what they believe, they will lose every respect they can ever get from the populace. So it is a test of their integrity, a test of their political independence, it is a test whether they are just a rubber stamp or a political counterbalancing. We will see that when they come in January.
Chief Akin Osuntokun, former Special Adviser on Political Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo said, “it shows how powerless the National Assembly is to challenge the presidency when the need arises. And probably such act showed that the National Assembly lacks relevance. I understand that the president had reservations for some items in the bill, but he ought to have called the attention of the lawmakers to the area rather than withholding assent on the entire bill. It is not all about direct or indirect primary but how our election is to be conducted transparently. So, I did not expect the National Assembly to confront the presidency. The senate, through the majority of APC members of northern extraction, had initially rejected electronic transmission of results, so if you look at the situation we are in presently, the lawmakers have shown that they are an appendage of the executive arm.
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of Labour Party, Comrade Arabambi Abayomi said, President Buhari’s refusal to assent the Electoral bill was the right step in the right direction because the Bill violates the constitution of the political parties to determine their own method of choosing candidates for elections. The legal department of the National Assembly is fully aware that the Supreme Court has declared that a political party is a voluntary association and the National Assembly does not have the liberty to regulate the internal workings of political associations, like other associations. The National Assembly cannot be setting rules of engagement for various associations.
Proponents of direct and indirect primaries know that both have their challenges, likewise, a consensus arrangement is also not without challenges. On the question of the National Assembly overriding the President, unfortunately, we have a ‘yes men’ National Assembly that can not veto the bill and meet the expectations of Nigerians. As far as I am concerned, going by the activities of the Lawan and Gbajabiamila leadership in the last 30 months, it’s obvious that there exists an unholy alliance between the legislature and the executive which has done more damage than good for the country.
This bunch of 9th National Assembly for instance does not subject Buhari’s requests to serious scrutiny, rather they are always in a hurry to do the bidding of the presidency to the detriment of Nigerians.
As a confirmation that the 9th National Assembly leadership is a rubber stamp, this is the fourth time the bill would suffer a setback from the Executive and they failed to override it. As a National Political figure and stakeholder in the Nigeria Project, I pass a vote of no confidence in the leadership of both the Red and Green Chambers. In conclusion, the 9th National Assembly leadership is the worst in Nigeria’s history.
Mr. Alaowei Cleric, a lawyer and Chairman Board of Trustees, Centre for Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Crusade, CHURAC however hailed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari. He said: “I am in support of President Buhari. The President just did the noble thing to rescue the country from a renewed electoral malpractice waiting to explode. The direct primary will surely take us back to the era of electoral brigandage. Our political system is not mature yet to have only direct primary. In a multi-party democracy such as ours, compelling political parties to have only one mode of conducting party elections is not only undemocratic but also unconstitutional. It is also too costly to conduct a direct primary, especially by the smaller political parties. Looking at the pros and cons of the clause, I am in total agreement with President Buhari. I can safely say that, allowing direct primary in the Electoral Act will pose a threat to our democracy. Mr. President must be commended. On second thought, I think that the inimical direct primary clause imported into the Bill is an APC gimmick, ostensibly to frustrate the innovations in the entire Bill. I’m sure they never wanted the Bill with the introduction of electronic transfer of election results. They have to surreptitiously introduce this direct primary clause in order to have an excuse of avoiding assent to the Bill. The National Assembly should immediately include indirect primary to that clause and send it back to the President for assent. The lawmakers still have time to do it before the next cycle of elections in the country.”
Adetunji Olagboyega, NANS coordinator, Southwest (Zone D) Adetunji Olagboyega: ”It is rather confusing that the Presidency that would come out to claim we have enough manpower and capable hands handling the security of the nation in the face of banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, terrorism, etc will now suddenly say the same manpower is no longer sufficient and capable of ensuring a hitch-free intraparty electoral process. We shall not subscribe to the fallacious argument that it is a reason for which direct primary is not possible. Intra-party elections are not wars and we condemn any deliberate action to heat up the polity just because the President is not ready to assent the bills. All other excuses given by the Presidency in the letter addressed to the National Assembly are not tenable and are considered inconsequential. We will mobilize our members to ensure that what is supposed to be an enduring legacy of this administration is not truncated based on the interest of very few shenanigans.
“In essence, we are of the position that direct primary election as the process of selecting political parties’ flag bearers is the best policy so as to further guarantee the freedom and right of the Nigerian people to determine who appears on the ballot paper during the general election.”
Hon Danjuma Sarki, PDP chieftain in Kaduna state, said “it is rather unfortunate and appalling for Buhari to decline to sign the long-awaited electoral bill. He has once again lost a good opportunity to deepen our democracy and give the electorate a more participatory room for electing credible and popular leaders of their choice. The president has missed the opportunity to write his name in gold in the annals of the history of strengthening our democracy. As for the lawmakers, it is no longer news that they are rubber stamps. They lack the courage and the principle to do the right thing or what the generality of Nigerians want. They are so shamefully answerable to the whims and caprices of the executive. It is embarrassing that despite the long period of time they spent deliberating on the bill and the accompanying drama in both chambers of the National Assembly they just chickened out like kids. What it implies is that they can not stand to defend the yearnings and aspirations of their constituents whenever the need arises.”
Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, CHRICED, Ibrahim Zikirullahi said “It is just so unfortunate that President Muhammadu Buhari with the little opportunity he has to write his name in gold, has again jettisoned it. I sympathize with him because he has allowed those who never had the interest of Nigeria at heart to control and destroy all he has ever labored for in his life which was to have a good name. That name is not only so battered now but also tattered. He only wants to hear from his aides who can never tell him what he doesn’t want to hear.
“The electoral act is not saying anything apart from giving the citizens a sense of belonging. And what that means is that if you truly say you are running a political party that is built on the collective of the people, then the people henceforth should be deciding who gets what within the political parties. Of course, we have seen how they are running political parties like a private entity where few godfathers and moneybags take charge and decide who gets what and who will never get anything. This Electoral Act would have changed that trend because you will now know that for you to get a mandate, you must reach out to the people. For me, it is a huge joke when you want to distance the political party from the people. And few of you can just sit down and appoint who will be governor, and who will be a senator. It’s not done anywhere in the world. And despite all the challenges we are going through, this is an opportunity for Buhari to again show to the world that he meant well for Nigeria. He allowed the so-called Progressive Governors and the rest to direct him and destroy his name”.
Chairman, Conference of Northern States Civil Society Networks, Comrade Ibrahim Waiya, said, “We see this decline by the President to assent the Electoral Bill as a denial of the rights of the citizens to be involved in the Nigerian democratic system because this is an opportunity for the citizens to participate in the electoral process to produce their party’s candidates for elections. We are trying to improve on the system but this decline by the President is taking us back. We are now waiting to see what the NASS will do when they resume in January. We want them to use their veto power to pass the bill into law”.