Our legislators have to realize that throwing away the baby with the bathwater would have long-term consequences for us all.
President Muhammadu Buhari presents the 2021 budget proposal of N13.08 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly on Thursday, October 8, 2020. [twitter/@NigeriaGov]
I was half expecting President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 into law, especially since the man labels himself a “reformed democrat” these days.
So I wrote this beautiful piece, urging the nation’s number one citizen to go on and write himself into the annals as the one man who changed the course of our elections for good.
Except that no one in Aso Rock read my piece nor did the president give two hoots about history books and all that jazz.
On December 20, the president wrote the National Assembly (NASS) to say he was withholding his assent and gave reasons for doing so.
One reason the president tendered bothered on the direct primary election provision in the bill.
In the president’s esteemed reasoning, political parties should be allowed to decide how they elect candidates for elections.
According to the president, the prevailing security situation in the country would not allow him to sign the bill into law.
Among other reasons, the president cited the “high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens’ rights, marginalization of small political parties,” etc.
In refusing to sign this bill, however, the president conveniently threw away the baby with the bathwater.
The direct primary proviso, which allows all political party members to vote during primary elections–as opposed to handing super delegates the power to choose election flagbearers–is not all that the electoral amendment bill is about.
I also understand that a lot of politicking went into the president’s rejection of the bill. All kinds of vested political interests mounted enormous pressure on the president to dump the bill for all it’s worth.
Even some members of the national assembly who belong to the president’s political party may have been complicit.
The electoral bill the president rejected had about 25 amendments. It also provided for the electronic transmission of election results. What was not to like about that?
There are many other clauses in the rejected bill that could do our democracy and elections a world of good.
What should the lawmakers do now? For once, I would go with former Senate President Bukola Saraki who says: “We cannot sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
“At this point, two options are open to the National Assembly. They either veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent.
“Whichever option our legislators choose can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022.
“Anyone that has been following the mood of the nation knows that Nigerians desire to have a new electoral law that will lead to having a credible, free, fair, and peaceful process of electing our leaders.
“They want a system that will ensure that their votes truly count in the election of those who govern them.”
So, yes, reforming our electoral system is a continuous process. For the moment, any small wins would do. The national assembly should remove “direct primary” from the bill and send the rest to the president in the new year.
Again, I go with Saraki here, who says: “As representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly must take a decision in the interest of our nation and its long-term democracy. The option of not doing anything after the refusal of the assent by the president is not an option.”
True. We shouldn’t have expected a 79-year-old man who will soon retire to his farm in Daura, to do our electoral system any favours.
To stand at akimbo and watch like the Ostrich as the presidency refuses to lift a finger in making our elections free, fair and transparent, is not an option. We have come too close now to return to Egypt.