Abuja -. Unless President Muhammadu Buhari signs the fresh amendment to the Electoral Act into law by Sunday, himself, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, National Assembly members, governors, their deputies and other statutory delegates in the ruling All Progressives Congress may not be able to vote in the forthcoming primaries.
Others who may be disenfranchised during the primaries, as applicable to all the 17 other political parties, include the National Working Committee members, state party chairmen and secretaries, local government chairmen, their deputies, councillors and party chairmen in the 774 local government areas.
This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission stressed that political parties were expected to submit their delegates’ lists not later than seven days to the primaries.
This implies that since the APC presidential primary starts on Sunday, May 29, if the President does not sign the bill into law by Sunday (tomorrow), the political office holders, including Buhari, may not be able to vote unless they have been voted as delegates.
It also means that if the President does not sign the bill into law by today (Saturday), the political office holders in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party won’t be able to vote unless they are voted as delegates since the party already fixed its presidential primary for May 28 and 29.
Consequently, there is heightened tension in the APC and the PDP over the delay by the President in signing the bill into law.
Some party chieftains, including the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu; the majority leader in the House of Representatives, Ado Doguwa; and the Ndudi Elumelu-led minority caucus in the House, told The PUNCH on Friday that there could be confusion and crisis if Buhari did not sign the bill promptly.
“Our caucus calls on all Nigerians, the civil society, the international community and all lovers of democracy to prevail on President Buhari to immediately sign the amendment to the Electoral Act, 2022 and save our nation from an avoidable crisis,” Elumelu said in a statement.
Doguwa also said, “I am aware that the amended clause has been transmitted to Mr President for his assent. I am optimistic that Mr President will assent to it without hesitation whatsoever. It’s an amendment that was well-intended and meant well for the smooth selection of candidates in the various political parties. Any legislation transmitted by the National Assembly to Mr President for assent takes 30 calendar days before counteraction can be contemplated by the parliament. It’s my hope that Mr President will do the needful before it gets out of hand.”
On account of this, the APC also called on INEC to extend the deadline for the primaries, saying the parties were under pressure based on the commission’s “stringent timelines.”
Meanwhile, to reverse what they termed “fundamental error” in the Electoral Act, 2022, the National Assembly hurriedly passed an amendment to Section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act, which states, “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.”
This implies that if the amendment does not become law, only elected delegates can vote at the convention, thereby disenfranchising thousands of party chieftains.
Having hurriedly passed the amendment into law to make the office holders statutory delegates, with the House of Representatives passing the bill for second and third reading at the same sitting to concur with the Senate, the lawmakers hoped the President would promptly sign it so they and other statutory delegates could vote.
However, as of the time of filing this report, the President, who travelled on Thursday to the United Arab Emirates on a condolence visit and to renew ties with the country, had yet to sign the bill into law. He is expected back in the country today (Saturday).
Parties must submit delegates’ lists seven days to primaries, INEC says
Relying on the provisions of the Electoral Act, however, INEC has stressed that the law mandates political parties to submit their delegates’ lists to the commission not later than seven days to their primaries.
This implies that for the major political parties, the APC and PDP, if they decide to adopt indirect primaries, the identified political office holders will be disenfranchised, unless they have been elected as delegates at the primaries.
Speaking on the issue, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, said Section 82(3) of the Electoral Act, 2022 made it mandatory that the primaries must be conducted in a democratic manner and allowing for all members of the party or duly elected delegates to vote in support of candidates of their choice.
“By Article 4.5 of the commission’s Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Political Party Primaries, a political party that adopts the indirect primary mode shall make available to the commission, not later than seven days to the date of the primary, the list of persons that will form the delegates that are eligible to vote for nomination of the party’s candidates to contest every eligible position.
“The list of delegates shall be accompanied by the list of aspirants and the list of the party’s electoral panel conducting the primary. Some of the political parties have concluded their congresses and primaries and are waiting for the access code to upload the list and personal particulars of their nominated candidates.”
Okoye noted that the political parties were abreast of the Electoral Act and the Regulations and Guidelines of the commission, adding that any political party that failed to comply with the provisions of the Act would not be included in the election.
He added, “The political parties are aware that under Section 84(13) of the Electoral Act, where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of the Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.”
Govs lobby Buhari against signing amendment bill
Having begun handpicking the delegates who will elect the presidential candidate of the APC, governors on the platform of the party are now lobbying Buhari not to sign the recently amended Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
The National Assembly had last week amended Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act to allow statutory delegates to vote at party primaries.
The statutory delegates include the President, Vice-President, serving and former members of the National Assembly; serving and former governors and deputy governors; members of the National Working Committee and state party chairmen and secretaries of political parties.
The President’s delay in signing the amended Act means that as the law stands, only non-statutory delegates will be allowed to vote, except if the APC opts for the direct primary method or outright consensus.
According to the APC guidelines, the statutory delegates are to be elected from each of the 774 local government areas. Each local government is expected to produce three delegates, bringing the number to a total of 2,322 delegates.
Saturday PUNCH, however, learnt that across the states, no real congress was taking place. Rather, the governors are only drawing up so-called unity lists, while in states that the APC has no governors, the faction loyal to the most senior minister or senator will select the delegates and submit the names to the national leadership of the APC.
A member of the National Assembly, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The governors will now be fully in charge. Even the President does not have a single delegate. The 2,322 delegates who emerge from the congresses will just be anointed by the governors and they will be the ones to determine the next presidential candidate of the party.
The National Assembly member explained, “As things stand, over 1,000 statutory delegates will not be allowed to vote at the primary, including the 373 members of the National Assembly, who are members of the APC, except Buhari assents the bill. This has given the governors too much power.
“They are now lobbying the President not to sign the Electoral Act, because this is the only way their excesses can be neutralised. Some of Buhari’s ministers, who blame the National Assembly for their failed ambitions, are also pushing the President not to sign it. The only thing that can change the calculation is if the party opts for direct primary.”
The President is currently in the United Arab Emirates and is expected to return today (Saturday).
Attempts to get a response from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, proved abortive as he neither responded to calls nor a text message on Friday.
However, a Presidency source said Buhari was also angry with the National Assembly for double-crossing him last February.
The President had while signing the Electoral Act in February called on the National Assembly to expunge Section 84(12), which bars all government appointees from taking part in any party primary.
Buhari subsequently sent a request to the National Assembly to that effect. However, the Senate rejected the President’s request, while the House of Representatives did not consider it. Also, after a Federal High Court ruled that the section in question was illegal, the National Assembly appealed the judgment, insisting that ministers, commissioners and aides should not be allowed to contest elective offices unless they first resign.
“The National Assembly double-crossed the President in February. This is why it cannot confidently lobby him for help now. Politics is give and take. Buhari may be magnanimous enough to amend the law now, but the National Assembly has no right to make any demands. Besides, the National Assembly should have amended Section 84(12) as a show of good faith,” a Presidency source stated.
It’s electoral ambush to alter timetable now, commission tells APC, IPAC
Responding to calls for the commission to extend the June 3 deadline, the latest coming from the APC after the Inter-Party Advisory Council made a similar call about a year ago, INEC said there was no cogent or verifiable reason for it to shift the deadline.
Okoye said it would be an ambush for the commission to shift the deadline.
He said, “The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (Prof Mahmood Yakubu) has been clear and consistent that the timetable and schedule of activities for the conduct of primaries are firm and fixed.
“The commission is not in any way contemplating any form of amendment or alteration. It will amount to an electoral ambush to alter the timetable when some political parties have concluded their congresses and primaries and their candidates have emerged.
“All the political parties are complying with the timelines of the commission and there is no cogent or verifiable reason to tamper with the timetable. IPAC is not a registered political party. IPAC members are proceeding with their congresses and primaries, and have indicated concretely their readiness and resolve to complete all activities relating to their congresses, conventions and primaries on schedule.”
IPAC National Chairman, Yabagi Sani, told Saturday PUNCH in a telephone interview on Friday that it was still on its request to INEC to extend the deadline for party primaries.
“We are on it, certainly. We haven’t reached a conclusion yet,” he said.
Asked if IPAC was hopeful that the commission would accede to its request, Sani, who is also the National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party, said, “Let’s wait and see how it will play out, but we believe that we will have some good news.”
Speaking further on the call for an extension of the deadline for the primaries, Okoye noted that the conduct of party congresses and primaries was only a small subset of the activities being undertaken by the commission.
He added, “The commission was methodical, rational and flexible in drawing up the timetable and schedule of activities. The days that some stakeholders believe are free are not free days.
“The framers of the constitution and the law gave the commission the discretion to fashion the timetable and schedule of activities to accommodate other activities. The commission is conscious of its constitutional and legal responsibilities and will not create room for unnecessary pressure, panic and mistakes.”
CSOs slam political parties for demanding extension
A coalition of civil society organisations has slammed some political parties for pressuring INEC to extend the deadlines.
The CSOs include the Electoral Hub, Yiaga Africa, Ayisha Osori, Adopt a Goal Initiative, Abuja School for Social and Political Thought, Emma Ezeazu Centre for Accountability and Good Governance, Partners West Africa, Nigeria; Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Gender Development Initiative, Sesor Empowerment Foundation and Speak Out Africa Initiative.
The CSOs said in a statement on Friday, “We currently watch with dismay various attempts by political parties to pressurise the electoral umpire to suit their ends, and by so doing, alter the time stipulations of INEC. We are also dismayed at the backhand attempt by the National Assembly to intrude in this process with their last-minute amendment to the new Electoral Act, 2022, which just became operational as of February 25, 2022, the implementation of which only just started.
“We categorically state that any attempt to alter the present timeline is tantamount to indirectly shifting the general elections forward and away from February 25 and March 11, 2023 earlier fixed by INEC, a move which Nigerians will vehemently resist. We are, therefore, demanding that in the interest of transparency, accountability and integrity of the elections, INEC as an impartial umpire should maintain its timetable, which was released on February 26, 2022.”
Also, INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Adamawa State, Kassim Geidam, said at a state-level stakeholders’ meeting on Friday that the new Electoral Act foreclosed an extension by INEC.
He added that out of the 39,770 permanent voter cards printed for new registrants and delivered to all the 21 local government areas of the state, only 3,641 had been collected by their owners.
He said as of Monday, females had a population of 2,942,748 as against the male population of 2,903,003. This, he said, should reflect in the number of elective offices women would occupy in the 2023 general elections.
He added that 70 per cent of the 5.8 million new registrants were youths, which highlighted the critical role young people play in the electoral process.
Meanwhile, panellists at a one-day roundtable on Friday called on INEC to extend the timeline given to political parties for the conduct of their primaries in preparation for the 2023 general elections.
According to them, political parties have now “become confused and stranded” over the comprehensive list of their delegates as they are unsure whether or not the President will sign the 2022 amended Electoral Act into law.
The roundtable organised by the Abuja School of Political and Social Thought had as its theme, ‘2023 Elections: Strengthening INEC oversight on internal democracy of political parties’.
The participants agreed that it had become pertinent that INEC should accede to the demands of the political parties and extend the timeline for the conduct of the primaries.
Members of the panel included its chairman and Director of ASSPT, Dr Sam Amadi, and Senior Fellow, and author of ‘Revolutionary Aesthetics and the African Literary Process’, Prof Udenta Udenta.(Punch)