The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, on Sunday told the National Assembly that overriding President Muhammadu Buhari over the Electoral Act amendment Bill is not the best option.
Jega said this on Sunday at the citizens’ townhall Electoral Bill 2021, organised by Yiaga Africa and partners.
According to him, the country will be better off if it goes into the next election with a new electoral law because it will enhance the integrity and the preparation of conduct of elections.
He said that the Bill contained quite a lot of good things that could enhance the integrity of the electoral process apart from issues of direct primaries because Nigeria has not had a substantive improvement on the electoral law since 2010.
“On direct primaries, clearly the electoral process will have better integrity if we do direct primaries appropriately, Members of the National Assembly know that governors manipulate the indirect primaries and think that if they move into direct primaries they will be able to free themselves from that kind of manipulation.
“However, we need to interrogate this situation very well, so my suggestion is to give INEC the law to begin preparation for the 2023 elections.
“The simplest way to do that is not to override the president but to drop the issue of direct primaries until we can ensure that parties can really hold direct primaries.
“ You cannot throw the baby away with the bath water, so let’s not because of the direct primary miss out on other good things in the law.
“This is so that we can have a law that can be assented to, so that INEC can prepare for the 2023 elections,’’ he said.
Jega urged the National Assembly to do the needful rather than contemplating overriding the President by removing the contentious provisions.
Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, in his remarks, said that the 36 State Governors are not afraid of direct primaries as being alleged by some Nigerians.
Sule, however, said that what they opposed was a method that could limit the choices of the people.
“In the APC constitution, we have three options: consensus, direct primaries and indirect primaries.
“The option should be left open and that it would not be a surprise that some parties may even adopt direct primaries.
“Governors are happy with the contributions made into the bill and from what I have heard, everyone is saying the same thing, so the issue of the direct primaries should be removed.
“I am not the closest to the president but working with the president all this while, I can say that President Buhari would sign the bill into law once the right things are done,’’ he said.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata, expressed disappointment at how things turned out with the Bill.
Akpata said that everything about the Electoral bill spelt progress but the right steps needed to be taken to get it right by thinking before implementation.
“Am saddened that everything is not going to work and then we go back to square zero.
“Everything about the bill spell progress for the country. The bill should have been been passed long ago.
“The president and the National Assembly being of the same party should have ironed this out to avoid this logjam.”
He advised the National Assembly to take out the provision of direct primaries and transmit the bill immediately to the president for assent.
The Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said that Nigeria had about 399 days to the 2023 elections and the timely passage of the bill would be in the interest of deepening democracy and national development.
Itodo said that anything other than that would rob Nigerians the opportunity of implementing important innovations for the forthcoming FCT council elections and the governorship election in Ekiti and Osun states.
On her part, Samuela Isopi, EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, said that it is in the interest of democratic development to get the electoral laws right.
“What is good for Nigeria is good for the world,” she said.
On his part, the Executive Director, The Albino Foundation, Jake Ekpelle, said that the law would enhance inclusivity and help Persons With Disability (PWDs) exercise there franchise unlike before.
Ekpelle said that he never voted till he was 58 years because PWDs were always disenfranchised but with the new law INEC would care for the PWDs’ interest.
“Now that the new bill mandates INEC to ensure that PWDs are mainstreamed into the nation’s electoral system, I hope to see a time PWDs would be elected deputy governors, governors, vice president and one day be elected the president of Nigeria,” he said.
Also, the National Chairman, Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Engr. Yabagi Sani, said the National Assembly didn’t carry political parties and other stakeholders along.
He said in spite of the advancement of democracy in the United States, it still operates delegate system and not direct primaries, hence the lawmakers should remove the contentious clauses.
On her part, a former presidential candidate, KOWA party, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, also called for the removal of the direct primaries clause, since that was the problem so that the bill would be passed.”
The President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said that time is running out and that the National Assembly must remove the controversial bits of the electoral bill, and get everything ready ahead of the 2023 elections.
He wondered why Nigeria is not keying into the ECOWAS and African Union (AU) resolution that electoral law should be ready one year before elections.
Also, the Chairman of the Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), Ezenwa Nwagwu, said that there were some elite conspiracy around not giving Nigerians a law that could strengthen electoral integrity.
“The way it was done in the past was to delay the passage till when it was too late and Nigerians would be forced to say, after all we have something on ground and the old law that didn’t help the nation’s democracy would be used,” Nwagwu said.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dachung Bagus, said that consultants contracted for the job are responsible for some of the drafting errors in the bill.
“We apologise for the drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps sighted in the Electoral Bill 2021,” he said. (NAN)