As controversies surrounding the passage of the Electoral Act amendment bill continued, the House of Representatives through a resolution last week, summoned Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a meeting on a yet to be announced date, where some of the issues are expected to be addressed. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on the implications
Issues before the bill was passed
In the House of Representatives, there are issues surrounding certain clauses in the latest Electoral Act amendment bill, one of which was the proposal that INEC should transmit results of election through electronic means. Another was the propriety or otherwise of compelling political parties to uniformly adopt the use of direct primaries in selecting candidates for electoral offices.
Those critical differences was later to necessitate a conference committee from the House, as the green chamber passed same and other clauses away from the position earlier taken by its Senate counterpart.
After the meeting of the conference committees of both chambers of the National Assembly, a harmony was reached, leaving the electronic transmission of election results, as well as the use of direct primaries by political parties as key clauses in the passed bill.
Controversies over direct primaries
After the passage, however, issues around the use of electronic platform for transmission of election results, which as it were, was left to the discretion of INEC in case there are challenges took the back seat, while the compulsory suggestion that all political parties adopt the use of direct primaries in the selection of candidates for polls became the major subject of debate.
While some stakeholders saw same as a way of plurality in the participation of political party members’ to select who they want, others hinged on the perceived high cost implications in applying the suggested method.
Buhari’s letter to INEC, others
With the House beating its chest that the National Assembly had done its own bidding as far as the amendment bill was concerned, all eyes moved to President Muhammadu Buhari. Tongues wagged on whether it may be another era of rejection, as was the repeated case during the life of the 8th National Assembly.
Rather than outright veto, however, the President reportedly wrote the electoral umpire, seeking its advice. In a letter dated November 29th, 2021, signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the President requested the INEC Chairman and the office of the Vice President, Attorney-General of the Federation, the Minister of Finance and the Inspector General of Police to provide considered views on the bill by Friday December 3, 2021.
While the debate lasted, The House of Representatives last Thursday passed a resolution, inviting the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission to interface with the House Committees on Electoral Matters and Appropriation for possible consideration of the cost in the 2022 Appropriation Act.
This was out of rumoured concerns that the direct primaries method may be too expensive for the Commission to bear or monitor all through the thousands of council wards across the country, and at a time the 2022 budget was still pending with the National Assembly.
Sponsor of the motion which led to the resolution, Hon. Leke Abejide who also chaired the Customs Committee of the House described the bill as “very critical to the sustainability of our democracy as the aspect of direct primaries will open up the political space for the youths and largely the members of all political parties to participate in all electoral processes, starting from primary elections to the general elections”.
The lawmaker recalled the countless complaints of the cost implications of direct primaries but insisted that the benefits outweighed the cost implications. “However, it is pertinent to give opportunity to Chairman, Independent Electoral Matters Commission (INEC) to interface with both Committees on Electoral Matters and Appropriation in order for the Nation to know what it will cost the country through INEC in order to put to rest the insinuations of different figures flying around that is so humongous to undertake direct primaries which may not be correct after all”, he noted.
Prior to the latest debate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gbajabiamila said deliberate efforts must be made to prepare the children and youth of Nigeria to become the leaders of tomorrow we desire them to be, a reason he alluded to as why he supported the direct primaries project.
According to him, such efforts must take into consideration, involving them in governance and expanding the democratic space to accommodate many young people. Gbajabiamila was speaking at the National Children’s Dialogue to mark the 2021 Universal Children’s Day in Abuja, as he explained that this was the reason he championed an amendment to the Electoral Act, for the use of Direct Primaries by political parties as a method of choosing candidates for elective offices.
Gbajabiamila stated that with direct primaries, a youth with leadership qualities had equal chances of becoming a candidate for an elective office just like any other person, adding that this was one of the surest ways of securing the future of Nigeria, by giving people with multiple ideas the opportunity to be at the very top of governance.
“That debate on direct primaries, which I championed, is about the future of our country. Our position in the 9th House of Representatives is that everyone must have equal opportunities to participate in governance and the democratic process…
“Our young people must have a seat at the high table and we must create the enabling environment for them to be in leadership such that a young man with bold ideas can come out to vie for any position, be it legislator, governor or any other office. That can only be achieved through direct primaries, which will give a fair chance to the youth of this country to be involved in governance”, he stated at the event.
Did INEC Okay move?
Reports that emerged over the weekend suggested that INEC may have advised President Buhari to sign the bill into law. One of the reports said in a reply to the President’s request to be guided, the nation’s electoral umpire reportedly told Buhari that certain provisions in the bill had substantial capacity to lay a solid foundation for more improvements in Nigeria’s electoral process.
And the Reps’ summon
If INEC true to the reports, advised the President to sign the bill into law, analysts are asking questions on what use the House Representatives’ invitation to the Chairman was. But what if the President for the umpteenth time vetoed the bill? The coming days will provide answers to this question.