AHEAD of the 2023 general elections, stakeholders, Monday, said the National Assembly retransmitting the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari stands in the interest of Nigerians.
This was part of the discussion by some panelists at the Townhall Forum on the Electoral Bill 2022 organised by Yiaga Africa.
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega, maintained that the Nigerians yearn for new electoral law before the 2023 general elections.
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However, Jega joined those calling for removal of direct primary from the Bill currently with the NASS, but cautioned NASS on overriding the President.
He also asserted that NASS can focus on the Bill and retransmit it to Mr President within 10 days, which he pointed that with Mr President assenting to the people the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process will be boosted as their votes will count.
He said: “The country will be better if we go to the next election with a new electoral law. The bill contains good things that will enhance the electoral process.
“Electoral integrity improves voter confidence. The bill has substantial improvement to the current law that we have. We must ensure that the bill become laws as soon as possible in order not to affect INEC preparations.
“With new electoral legal framework, it will improve the integrity of the 2023 elections. Direct or indirect primary, under normal circumstances, you do direct primary appropriately.
“Some members of the National Assembly know the governors manipulate the process so, they want direct primary elections.
“I will want a situation where we can have a direct primary and do it well. If you are doing direct primary, you need a register where INEC will know those who vote and are actually registered members of the party. Any governor that manipulates direct primary can also manipulate the indirect primary.
“We are wasting time. It should not be a matter of ego. When they (NASS) resume, in 10 days they can do everything concerning the bill. What we are saying is that you can’t throw the baby with the bathing water. If you want to override the president, what about the errors identify? So, the national assembly should ensure the errors and concern of the president are corrected.
He also disclosed that INEC made 36 recommendations and out of these, the “National Assembly adopted 25 without correction. Additional Five recommendations were adopted partially. These amendments INEC recommended are part of the bill.
“The lawmakers think direct primary will solve problem they have with governors but they will not. How they manipulate the indirect primary is through control of the delegate list and they can do the same thing.
“Let this bill be pass immediately. They should drop this issue of the direct primary”, he said.
However, the former INEC boss submitted that conducting elections in Nigeria is a difficult thing, but expressed optimism that with a good legal framework put in place the process will improve.
Being one of the panelists, the National President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, also stressed that NASS should be meticulous in effecting corrections and discard the contentious issue of direct primary and retransmit the Bill to Mr President.
However, Wabba warned that if the right thing is not done the 12 million workers who are members of the NLC and a formidable force during elections will be mobilized along with other Nigerians in protest to ensure the right thing is done.
Also speaking during the panelists’ discussion, a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon Nnenna Okechukwu, asserted that the inclusion of the direct primary was to give power back to the people, but Okechukwu pointed that the Speaker of the House said NASS will effect necessary corrections and remove provision of direct primary.
She said: “National Assembly will as a matter of urgency, do what Nigerians want. The National Assembly will do what they must do to ensure the new legal framework is enforced.”
Meanwhile, the Spokesman of the Senate, Sen Ajibola Basiru, explained that inclusion of direct primary in the Bill was meant to give power of choice to Nigerians.
According to Basiru, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, said, they will repackage the bill retransmit it to the President.
“We have not abandoned the Electoral Bill. One, is to see the contentious provisions before the Bill is presented to the President but this would be after consultation and that would be agreed upon by the National Assembly.
“The second one is to see whether the provision of Section 58 of sub-section 5 the constitution can be invoked that would arise by virtue of our decision and that would necessitate passage of the Bill by two-third majority at the legislative process being read. We are concerned of the passage of the Electoral Bill.
“There are a lot of good things in the bill. We will repackage the bill, address the issue of the errors which was an administrative issue and send it back to the president”, he said.
Meanwhile, the Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon Benjamin Kalu, commended the Civil Society Organisations for having an eagle eye to identify critical errors, which Kalu promised that NASS will effect the corrections and retransmitted to the President.
It will be recalled the President Buhari’s letter which was read on the floor of the Senate on 21 December, 2021 dated 13 December, 2021, where he raised concerns upon refusing assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, especially on the issue of direct primary to be conducted by political parties, which he made it clear that it will bring about limitation of choice on candidates to be voted for as flag-bearers.
He added that the issue will also lead to expensive electoral process, increase in violence and insecurity, and others.