Amid heightened anxiety over the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari on the Electoral Act amendment bill, the Presidency said on Saturday evening that the President would make his decision known soon.
This is as the 30-day period within which the President is expected to assent or withhold his approval to the bill ends today. The bill was transmitted to the President on November 19, 2021 after both chambers passed it.
There has been widespread public debate over the inclusion of mandatory direct primaries for political parties to elect their candidates for elections, a clause that has become the most contentious part of the bill.
Prior to the amendment, political parties had the liberty to decide on the mode of primary for candidates for elections to emerge.
The National Assembly had insisted on the mandatory direct primary, while expressing optimism that the President would assent to the bill. They argued that the clause would guarantee free, fair and credible elections as well as enable card-carrying members of political parties to have a say on the emergence of their parties’ candidates.
Several civil society organisations, analysts and individuals have also expressed support for the direct primary, saying it would take power back to the people and strip governors and influential party members of the power to solely decide the fate of aspirants through the delegate (indirect primary) system.
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 CSOs, on Friday in a statement urged the President to assent to the bill, and that if he withheld assent, the National Assembly should veto the bill.
Reports indicated that governors were opposed to the direct primary as it tends to deprive them of the opportunity to produce their successors and clinch senatorial tickets should they decide to retire to the National Assembly as has become a growing trend.
The governors’ opposition was said to have necessitated the expanded Tripartite Consultative Committee meeting set up by the President between the executive, led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo; the legislature, led by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; and the APC executive, including some governors. The meeting however failed to reach a compromise as the legislators stuck to their guns.
Meanwhile, as the nation awaits the President’s decision with bated breath, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, on Saturday told Sunday PUNCH in an interview that the President had been fully briefed on the bill and would make his decision known to the National Assembly soon.
Shehu said, “Mr President is fully briefed on the bill, especially on the contentious issues therein and would shortly make his decision known to the National Assembly as to whether to sign the bill or withhold his assent.”
The President had a few weeks ago written to the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to seek their advice on the bill.
Reports indicated that INEC advised the President to sign the bill. The Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Jega, had appeared before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations, where he reportedly told the lawmakers that the parties would bear more burden, especially financially if the bill became law.
On his part, the AGF told the President that restriction of parties to direct primary would cause confusion, as exclusively reported by The PUNCH on Friday.
…all eyes on Presidency, National Assembly goes on break this week
As of Saturday afternoon, it was learnt that Buhari had yet to sign the bill into law or communicate his decision to the National Assembly.
The National Assembly would have gone on Christmas and New Year break but for the delay in the passage of the 2022 Appropriation Bill.
While both the Senate and the House of Representatives had threatened to veto the bill if the President failed to assent to the bill, the move may be delayed till January, as the National Assembly plans to go on recess after the passage of the Federal Government’s budget on Tuesday.
Sources in the Presidency told Sunday PUNCH on Friday that the bill had still not been assented to by the President and no communication had been sent to the National Assembly, even as Buhari had travelled to Turkey along with his wife and seven ministers. They are however expected back in the country today.
“The President has not even done anything on the bill not to talk of transmitting it back to the National Assembly,” one of the sources told one of our correspondents. “Even after the deadline, he can still sign it. However, I think he may likely write the National Assembly for them to do some further corrections (amendments).”
In the bill passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to Buhari on November 19, 2021, the lawmakers had restricted political parties to direct primaries in the selection of candidates a clause that has generated controversy even within the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Buhari, who received the bill on November 19, has until December 19 (today) to sign it or communicate to the National Assembly his feelings and comments about the bill.
But if after 30 days, the President refuses to sign the bill and the National Assembly is not in support of the President’s amendments, the Senate and the House of Representatives can recall the bill and pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President.
Veto the bill like you did for NDDC, group tells lawmakers
It said the National Assembly should stop making Nigerians feel the President must sign the bill before it could become a law, when the constitution empowered them to veto the bill if the President refused to sign.
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy group, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, has advised the National Assembly to invoke its powers as enshrined in the constitution and veto the bill if the President fails to assent to it.
The National President of VATLAD, Igbini Odafe, in a statement on Friday and titled ‘Electoral Act amendments: National Assembly and INEC must stop misleading and instigating Nigerians against President Buhari,’ said Nigerians should hold the ninth Assembly responsible if its leadership failed to override Buhari in case he declined assent to the bill.
VATLAD said, “Section 58 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, particularly section 58 (4 and 5), states that ‘Where a bill is presented to the President of Nigeria for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent. Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House of the National Assembly by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President of Nigeria shall not be required.’
“The fact and truth remains that by the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, President Buhari has no strict obligation to assent to any bill passed by at least two-thirds majority of 469 members of the National Assembly.
“As aptly provided in the constitution, why should the leadership and at least two-thirds majority of members of this ninth National Assembly be misleading Nigerians? They are making the citizens believe that President Buhari must sign these proposed amendments to the Electoral Act before it can become law or an Act of the National Assembly to be used in the conduct of the 2023 general elections to ensure truly free, fair and credible elections.
“They should veto the bill if it is true that over two-thirds majority of the 469 members of the National Assembly passed the amendment bill.”
Odafe added, “We hasten to remind Nigerians that in June 2000, the National Assembly invoked its constitutional power to pass the NDDC Establishment Bill into law when former President Olusegun Obasanjo withheld his assent to it. So, there is no basis for this ninth National Assembly to continue to act like it is dependent on President Buhari for this bill to become a law.”
After the House passed the bill on November 9, 2021, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, had stated that the lawmakers have the powers to veto the President.
Kalu said, “Whether or not we still have any option open to us if the President takes a position that we are not convinced about; the law is clear on that in our constitution and that is vetoing the bill if the need arises. But in this case, we will cross the bridge when we get there.
“I can assure Nigerians that because the President is interested in moving our democracy forward, he will do what Nigerians want, because there is no reason for him not to do so. If for any reason he finds anything that we overlooked and brings it back to us, there is still sufficient time for us to look at that and take it back to the President.”
When contacted on Saturday, Kalu in his response to one of our correspondents’ enquiries implied that the President had till Sunday to decide on the bill. “Tomorrow is the (December) 19th,” he wrote.
At the Senate, the All Progressives Congress members had also held a closed-door meeting after the bill was passed.
Those in attendance included the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; his deputy, Ovie Omo-Agege; principal officers and other members of the APC in the red chamber.
A senator who attended the parley told The PUNCH, “We also resolved at the meeting to veto the bill if the governors mount pressure on him to withhold assent to the bill. We are determined to deepen internal democracy within our political parties and ensure that our electoral system is transparent and credible.”
Credit: THE PUNCH.