How to be was not to be

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Lekan Sote

Two things prevented the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), from putting his assent to the Electora Act Amendment Bill that came from the National Assembly.

The booby-traps of electronic transmission of election results and direct primaries that could take the process of choosing candidates for elective offices further to the grassroots.

The former checkmates the manipulation of election results, and the latter substantially bypasses political godfathers by voiding Section 87(2,3,4) of the Electoral Act that allows political parties to choose between direct and indirect primaries to determine candidates for elective offices.

It could eventually lead to the amendment of Sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the Constitution so candidates that could only be presented by political parties could be replaced by independent candidates that need no political parties.

It’s a real wonder that members of the NASS found the spunk to pass a Bill that could amount to political suicide for themselves. Maybe President Buhari could sense the danger and didn’t want his to be the hand that will tighten the noose to hang the political class.

But, more importantly, is that some suspect that the President may think that both provisions may somehow lead to the withdrawal of the privileges of Northern Nigeria, which he always looks out to protect. And he is trying to hold out as much as possible.

But, as the Yoruba would put it, “ekun meran,” the literal translation of which is that the leopard has snagged the prey. Those more proficient in the use of the English language would say the die is cast.

Some Nigerians have suggested that in the twilight years of his regime, President Buhari should be thinking of bequeathing a legacy worthy of a statesman and not the expediency of a politician who is counting the pedestrian gains of parochialism and narcissism.

Some argue that even if the President eventually assents the Bill as is and it becomes an Act of Parliament, he would have lost the glory befitting a statesman because he dillydallied.

That is a little harsh, but he will be deserving of an esteem lower than history would have bestowed upon him if he had assented Bill without fuss within the 30 days allowed by the Constitution.

The respect accorded him after he bestowed on Bashorun MKO Abiola, a man who sponsored a coup against him, the honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and declared June 12 Democracy Day and public holiday is a pointer to what could have been.

It gets even worse if the NASS eventually vetoes him because he returned the Bill to them without his assent. The NASS that has hitherto acted as his rubberstamp will come up roses as a House of honourable statesmen.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who had thought all along that the President would not assent the Bill, says, “Three weeks ago I told Nigerians that there is a conspiracy not to have a free, fair, transparent election in 2023 and that conspiracy was very clear. And I told Nigerians, Mr President will not sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.”

Governor Wike added categorically: “The (All Progressives Congress had) realised… that their problem is not necessarily the direct primaries, but the electronic transmission of (election) results in 2023.”

Senator Ajibola Basiru, the spokesman of the Senate, said he would have been surprised if the President assented the Bill, as he argued that the President’s action “violates the spirit of democracy.” Also, the signatures of at least 73 Senators who were willing to override the President’s veto were said to have been collected.

Former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso asserted: “The governors and other powerful people will never approve the direct primaries because the power will get out of the government houses and land in the hands of voters and members of the (political) parties.”

Just as well, because Garba Shehu, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, revealed that President Buhari returned the Electoral Act Amendment to the NASS with the request to remove the clause that provides for only direct primaries because it is unconstitutional.

In his letter to the NASS the President claimed that the amendment has “serious adverse, legal, financial, economic and security consequences which cannot be accommodated, considering our nation’s peculiarities.”

He added: “It also has implications on the rights of citizens to participate in the government as constitutionally ensured… It will lead to significant spike in the cost of conducting primary election by parties… The security agencies will also be overwhelmed,” and “The emphasis should be on enabling qualified Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice…”

Also, he thinks “The proposed amendment may also give rise to a plethora of litigation on diverse grounds and issues of law, including, but not limited to, the fact that the proposed amendment cannot work in retrospect, given that the political parties already registered with Independent National Electoral Commission that permits direct, indirect and consensus primaries.”

Those who claim that President Buhari does not know what he is doing do little justice to him. He does exactly what pleases him and his friends. This argument against an amendment that leaves an option of no option is brilliant.

In their reaction to the President’s action, some civil society organisations, who preferred the direct primaries argued that “The withholding of assent by the President to a Bill that relevant stakeholders have spent time and resources to put together undermines public confidence and trust in the electoral system.”

Ebullient Senator of the Eighth Senate, with the splendid name of Dino Melaye, who boasted that the President will find out that Nigeria is not a Banana Republic, said he would lead a protest that Nigerians had not seen before, as he reminded the President that “This country belongs to us all.”

But Prof Itse Sagay, Chairman of President Buhari’s Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, thinks “the idea of direct primaries is absolutely unacceptable, dangerous and could even threaten the future of our democracy and the country. I agree with (the President) on why he declined to assent the Bill.”

In the end, the Senate and the House of Representatives took advantage of the yuletide period to temporarily step down their initial plan to veto the veto of the President so that only the direct primaries option remain in the amended Bill.

If they thought January 2022 would not come, they made a mistake. It’s just a few days away for them to resume sittings and meet the mess they have refused to clear. Tomorrow is as pedantic as the sun; it must surely come.

As laudable as the NASS’s tinkering with Section 87 of the Electoral Act to impose direct primaries so that political parties vote for those amongst them who will contest elections is, it is unnecessary.

Taking the choice between direct and indirect primaries away is unilateral and limiting. One agrees with the President that the amendment reduces the choices available to the political parties.

One question that people are asking is, “Did the NASS deliberately lump the direct primaries with electronic transmission of election that it wanted to stall?”

Anyway, the legislators must keep the electronic transmission of election results clause: The President said nothing about it.

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