President Muhammadu Buhari is under pressure to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, it was learnt yesterday.
Governors are urging the President to decline assent until the conflict over the direct primary is resolved.
However, leaders of civil society groups, who organised a protest in Abuja, advised the president not to pander to the wishes of governors who opposed the primary mode from the onset.
The National Assembly had transmitted the Bill to the president on November 19, following its passage.
The President has until December 19 to either sign or decline assent.
According to a source, there is suspense as “the president has expanded his scope of consultations with stakeholders” before taking a final decision.
The source said senators and House of Representatives members are under pressure from governors to review the Electoral Act and retain the indirect primary.
It was also learnt that the Presidency may seek a review of the Act, if the pressure persists.
However, the pressure forced senators to split into different caucuses on the demand of governors and some forces in the presidency have created division among senators.
In one of the caucus meeting, some ranking senators said they can back down on direct primary, if a proviso is added or agreed upon to give the Right of First Refusal to serving senators or members of the House of Representatives.
But members of the House of Representatives were adamant yesterday.
They invited the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to explain the likely cost implication of direct primary.
An unconfirmed report said N500 billion additional cost may be incurred by the commission, if direct primary is adopted.
Although, the president had requested for comments from INEC on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the agency has not acted on the president’s request.
Also, it was learnt that some forces in the presidency had been uncomfortable with the cost and security implications of direct primary.
The forces were said to be pushing for a review of the Act by the President.
A principal officer in the Senate, who spoke in confidence, said: “We are under intense pressure from governors and some stakeholders to review the Electoral Act and drop direct primary.
“It has got to a ridiculous extent that each of the 36 governors is now engaging National Assembly Caucus in every state.
“While President Muhammadu Buhari was still consulting, we were surprised that some forces in the Presidency have joined the fray to prevail on National Assembly to retain indirect primary.”
A ranking member of the Red Chamber said the pressure has forced senators to meet at different caucus levels.
The senator said: “On Thursday (yesterday) alone, I attended three different meetings bordering on demand from the National Assembly to jettison direct primary.
“We know the governors are jittery. We also deliberately included direct primary in the Electoral Act to checkmate the excesses of these governors and godfathers imposing candidates on the parties.
“In one of our meetings, some senators tabled another request as a condition for any review. The affected senators said they can back down on direct primary, if a proviso is added or agreed upon to give the right of First Refusal to a serving Senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
“We may however, be heading for a stalemate because members of the House of Representatives appeared unwilling on Thursday to review the Act.”
A principal officer said: “Some governors are engaging our members but our position remains the same. We are unyielding.”
Prof. Yakubu is to appear before the Committees on Appropriations and Electoral Matters to speak on the matter.
The House resolution followed a motion of urgent public importance moved yesterday during plenary by the lawmaker representing Yagba East/Yagba West/Mopa-Moro Constituency of Kogi State, Rep. Leke Abejide.
It was unanimously endorsed at the session, which was presided over by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.
Abejide called attention to the speculation making the rounds that it would cost over N500 billion for political parties to conduct direct primaries ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The cost implication may likely decide the fate of the bill still awaiting the President’s assent.
He said as the umpire supervising both the primaries and the main elections, the INEC chairman would be the appropriate official to clear the air on the cost implications of direct primaries.
Abejide added: “We all know the importance of direct primaries.
“Some people say it will cost N500 billion. This is mere speculation because the cost of direct primaries may be within the budget of INEC.”
He said the best time to invite Yakubu would be now that the 2022 Budget was still pending before the National Assembly.
He explained that this would help the legislature to decide on appropriate budgeting.
Giving his directive after the motion was passed, Gbajabiamila said: “Committees on INEC and Appropriation, please invite the INEC chairman so that he can give us the possible cost implications of direct primaries.”
A source in the Presidency said: “A lot of horse-trading is going on as expected in a political environment like this.”
When contacted, a National Commissioner of INEC said: “We are yet to meet on the President’s request for our input on the Electoral Act. In fairness, we are not supposed to give advice. As a commission, we are ready to work with any Electoral Act passed into law.”
A coalition of Civil Society Organisations in the Civil Society Partners on Electoral Reform (CiSPER) and Alliance of Civil Society Organisations for the Expansion of Electoral and Democratic Space (ACESS Nigeria) have urged the president to speedily sign the Electoral Bill into law.
The CSOs leaders, who visited the National Assembly to register their concern and urged the president “to rise above the partisan, unpopular and narrow political interests of a few politicians, to immediately assent the Electoral Bill into law.”
In a letter to the President by Executive Director, Adopt A Goal for Development, Ariyo-Dare Atoye; Programme Officer, Center For Liberty, Maryam Ahmed; Convener, Raising New Voices, Jude Feranmi; and the Executive Director, The Nigerian Alliance, Simi Olusola, said signing the bill will be an opportunity for him to etch his name in Nigeria’s democratic history as an advocate of electoral reforms.
The letter reads: “As you celebrate your birthday in a couple of days (17 December 2021), history beckons on you to present the signed Electoral Bill 2021 as a perfect gift to Nigerians. This is indeed a glorious opportunity for you, Mr. President, to etch your name in Nigeria’s democratic plate as an advocate of electoral reforms.
“The opportunity has therefore come for you to show fidelity to your words and reject all manner of excuses being made by a few persons who want to continue with the business-as-usual politics. It is gratifying that INEC has said publicly that: ‘It is the constitutional and legal responsibility of the commission to give effect to laws passed by the National Assembly.’
“It is clear that direct primaries will not impose any additional burden on INEC beyond what it ought to have been doing at every stage of the more demanding, complex and opaque indirect mode. In addition, the problem is not really about the system of primaries but the character of the political players.
“Mr. President, in addition to giving your assent to the Bill, we urge you to advise the political parties to embark on internal reforms, adopt digitisation of membership, operate a standard register and make a success of the direct primaries with acceptable guidelines.
“We, however, concede that after testing the exclusive use of direct primaries in the coming governorship primaries in Ekiti and Osun states, the process could be re-evaluated to assess the impacts and challenges. We must continue to learn and get better, but never afraid of taking bold steps.
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said President Muhammadu Buhari would never assent to the bill.
Speaking on AIT yesterday, he said: “The president will not sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. The signs are already there. It is dead on arrival. The president does not disappoint people.”
He noted that the disagreement between members of the national lawmakers and APC governors over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was devised to frustrate it.
The governor wondered why the president would be seeking INEC’s advice on a law that was already passed by the National Assembly.
Wike said the current Senate and House of Representatives controlled by the APC lacked the capacity to use veto power to override President Buhari if he refused to accent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.