#Electoral Bill: 76 Senators Declare Readiness To Override Buhari’s Veto

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FOR the first time since the Senate was inaugurated in June 2019, no fewer than 76 senators,  yesterday, indicated their readiness to go against the veto of President Muhammadu Buhari to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

As tension enveloped the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, the 76 senators drawn across party lines, Vanguard gathered, wrote down their names as those interested in overriding President Buhari’s veto.

The senators took the decision after, Senate President Ahmad Lawan read President Buhari’s letter withholding assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment bill that was passed by the National Assembly.

President Buhari in the letter dated December 13, 2021, and addressed to both the President of the Senate, Senator Lawan and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said he withheld assent because of imposition of direct primaries for picking candidates on political parties violates the spirit of democracy.

With direct primaries, which he said was undemocratic, there would be a plethora of litigation from party members and stakeholders, the process would fuel corruption and encourage over monetisation, cause a huge financial burden on political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the economy and security agencies.

Buhari, who explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government after a thorough review added that signing the bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.

The letter was read during the start of the plenary by Senate President Lawan after the senators came out from a closed-door session that was held from 10.42 a.m. to 11.42 a.m.

On a day that President Buhari’s letter generated mixed views in the polity, the move generated tension in the Senate.

Vanguard gathered that three ranking Senators from South-South, North-Central and North-East respectively went round the Chamber with lists to collate those who are against overriding President Buhari’s veto.

Vanguard gathered that 76 Senators across the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Young Progressives Congress, YPP, have already written down their names. The number is three more than 73, which is two-thirds of the 109 members of the Senate required to override the president’s veto.

According to a source, the President of the Senate who was worried over the development at the Chamber insisted that everybody must be available, but the Senators disagreed with him as they said no to his position, as some senators complained that Lawan did not handle the situation properly.

Senate delays passage of 2022 budget

To express their anger over the rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment bill, the senators refused to pass the 2022 Appropriation bill that was slated in the order paper as the second report to be considered.

The Senate was to receive the Senator Jibrin Barau-led Committee on Appropriation’ report.

A source told Vanguard that the President of the Senate at the meeting told the Senators that the 2022 Budget would first be considered today (yesterday) at plenary, but the Senators vehemently refused to accept his submission as they have resolved that the Electoral Bill must be tackled before the issue of the budget will come up.

Meanwhile, the Senate, yesterday,  dissolved into a closed-door session twice to deliberate on the letter of President Buhari.

The move to break into an Executive session at 1.57 p.m.,, which lasted for 45 minutes was sequel to a point of order raised by Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), who came via Order 14 and 15, who said that the closed-door session became imperative because the Senate after, yesterday’s session would commence the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Gbaja shuts down motions to debate President’s rejection

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Speaker Gbajabiamila averted a stormy session by shutting out debates on the letter, which he shifted to next year and assured his colleagues that the Electoral amendment bill would survive.

This was after the legislators passed the 2022 budget.

Miffed by President Buhari’s rejection of the electoral bill, Mr Solomon Bob representing Abua/Odual and Ahoada East Federal Constituency of Rivers State, at a point during the plenary raised a point of order, pleading with the Speaker to allow the House to debate the matter.

“Mr Speaker, you read correspondence from the President. We need to at least be able to exercise our rights as a House of the people. That bill that has come back to us we invested a lot of energy into it,” he said.

In his response, the Speaker said there was a lot to still discourse ahead, asking him to wait until the House resumed in January.

“When we come back, we will look at the issue. We cannot rush it. We have the Appropriation bill, Finance Bill and all that,” Gbajabiamila said.

Similarly, the Minority Leader,  Ndudi Elumelu, at a point called the attention of the speaker to the bill, saying that since the House was adjourning till January 18, 2022, it would be patriotic to debate the withholding of presidential assent.

He said: “Mr Speaker, on the issue of the electoral bill, you said that the National Assembly will find a way to resolve the issue. Nigerians are looking up to us. If we wait to resume before we can talk to Nigerians, it will be too late. We can suspend our rules and look at the bill and amend that clause, this I think will make Nigerians see us as good representatives. This is my submission.”

Responding, the Speaker said that the National Assembly was a bicameral legislature, meaning that even if the House decided to make a decision, it would not be valid until a concurrence was secured with the Senate.

“We run a bicameral legislature. Whatever we do here today comes to nothing if it is not done on the other side. While your point is well noted, it is not practical,” he said, pleading with his colleagues to wait till the House resumes next year.

Bill must survive — Gbaja

In his remarks to round off the last plenary session of the year, Speaker of the House, Gbajabiamila who expressed disappointment that the bill returned to the National Assembly unsigned, however, assured that it must survive.

He said: “By the time we resume next year, we will be closer to the end of our tenures, with national elections rapidly approaching. In the past, election years have witnessed a decline in governance activities as political pursuits cloud the calendar. That will not be the case this time around. As you are aware, we have a legislative agenda in this 9th House of Representatives, which we tagged ‘Our Contract with Nigerians’.

I expect that we will do everything within our power to keep the commitments we made in that document so that when we appear before our various constituencies, we can stand tall in the knowledge that despite challenges and difficulties, we did what we promised to do, and given a chance again, will do even more.”

On direct primaries, we agree with Buhari — Afenifere

Buhari’s letter drew mixed reactions, yesterday, with the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, saying it aligns with the President on direct primaries,  noting that the country’s electoral process was expensive.

Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi said: “Our position is that primary elections should be left to the political parties to conduct. It does not have to be direct because of the peculiar nature of Nigeria.

“As things are now, our electoral process is expensive and if you now add this, you are complicating it the more because rich men will buy the delegates and that is why we say this is the time for independent candidacy.

“Our position is that the amount of money must be brought down considerably.  If the reason the president is withholding his assent is because of direct primaries, to that extent, we agree because the cost of our electoral process is too much. That is Afenifere’s position.”

Override Buhari’s veto,  LEDAP tells NASS

The Legal Defence and Assistance Project, LEDAP, called on the National Assembly to rise up to its responsibilities as representatives of the masses and veto President Buhari’s assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, for the interest of our democracy and good governance.

National Coordinator, LEDAP, Mr Chino Obiagwu, SAN, said: “On November 19, 2021, the National Assembly transmitted the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to President Buhari for assent. However, despite the long wait, the President refused to assent to the Bill, which many Nigerians believe will provide a robust legal framework that will make the country’s political and electoral process more inclusive and credible.

“Among other issues, this Bill seeks to resolve matters relating to the use of modern technologies in the country’s electoral process as well as prescribes the adoption of direct primaries for political parties as a means of selecting candidates for general elections and party positions as contained in articles 52 and 87 of the bill respectively. It can be recalled that this Bill went through several deliberations and inputs from various stakeholders before it was finally passed by both Houses of the National Assembly in October 2021.

“Various reports indicate that President Buhari withheld his assent to the Bill due to the provision of the Bill that prescribed direct primaries for all political parties on the grounds that direct primaries will lead to an ‘increased cost of monitoring the primaries of various parties across the country; marginalisation of small parties; possible litigation; security challenges of monitoring direct primaries, violation of rights of citizens; and possible manipulation of the primaries’.

“On the contrary, LEDAP is of the view that direct primaries will guarantee inclusiveness and participation of all members of the political parties in the selection of candidates for various elective offices such as the nomination of party flag bearers for general elections as well as party officials at congresses and conventions.

“The indirect primaries hitherto practised by most parties only allow a few money bags and selected privileged few to participate in the nomination processes for candidate selections at the party level. It is expected that the adoption of direct primaries by all political parties will allow only popular candidates to win the party primaries rather than leave it for the highest bidder.

“Consequently, as an NGO which seeks to promote the rule of law, LEDAP calls on the National Assembly to immediately veto the assent of the President by virtue of section 58(5) and 59 (5) of the Constitution which empowers the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority of its members to veto the assent of the President for ordinary and money bills respectively.

“We reiterate the fact that by section 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the National Assembly is empowered to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria. Therefore, in line with their oath of office and responsibilities, the National Assembly is being called upon to veto the President’s assent and pass this Bill into Law as a new Electoral Law will address the problems of candidate imposition by political parties which is the bane of our political process which often leads to electoral fraud and electoral disputes.”

Buhari’s reasons for rejecting assent misleading — Falana

Activist and lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, said:  “The reason adduced for the rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill is grossly misleading.  Section 87 of the current Electoral Act provides for either direct or indirect primaries.

In fact, the APC used direct primary for the emergence of its presidential candidate in 2019. In other words, President Buhari is a beneficiary of direct primary.

‘’By rejecting the Bill on the ground that it provided for direct primary the President decided to throw away the baby and the bathwater. Thus, the President rejected electronic voting which he had endorsed when he admitted that he is a beneficiary of electronic accreditation of voters by the use of card readers.

“With respect, direct primary is in consonance with section 223 of the Constitution which has imposed a duty on political parties to elect their officers through democratic elections. There is no provision in the Constitution for the imposition of candidates by money bags through indirect primaries.

“The INEC has submitted a bill of N305 billion for the entire 2023 general elections. So who conjured the figure of N500 billion for the primaries to give the impression that it is an expensive venture? In any case, since electronic voting had been adopted by the National Assembly it was going to be used for both primary and general elections. So the cost would have been significantly reduced. The fear of insecurity is a red herring in that political parties have continued to hold huge rallies even in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Federal Government.

“Having rejected to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill in 2018 and 2021, President Buhari has confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt that his administration will not allow the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct credible elections in 2023 and thereafter. That is going to be the tragic legacy of the President and the ruling party that were campaigning for electoral reforms before the 2015 general elections.

“The challenge before the National Assembly is to invoke the provision of section 58 (5) of the Constitution to pass the Bill into law by the resolution of a two-thirds majority of the members. However, if the National Assembly cannot muster the required two-thirds majority, Section 87 of the Act which allows direct or indirect primaries should be left intact so that the other provisions of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 can be passed again by the legislators and assented to by the President.”

Direct primaries are constitutional — Adegboruwa

In like manner, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, who cited various parts of the 1999 Constitution, said “The reason adduced by the President for withholding his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill is not supported by the Constitution which created the political parties in the first place.

‘’The registration of political parties is regulated by INEC in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral Act. Thus, the constitutions of all political parties are to conform with these laws and not the other way round. It is the political parties that will amend their constitutions to conform with the provisions of the Electoral Act.

“Since the President assumed office, he has withheld his assent to virtually all amendments of the Electoral Act, even though he promised electoral reforms during his campaigns. What this means is that the President prefers to retain all the manifest flaws bedevilling our electoral system, from which he and his ruling party are benefiting to the detriment of our democratic advancement.

‘’I, therefore, urge the National Assembly to invoke the provisions of section 58(5) of the Constitution to pass the Bill into law, through the two-thirds majority of both Houses.”

NASS inclusion of direct primaries in bill deliberate to cause disaffection — PANDEF

Speaking on the issue, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, stated that the National Assembly deliberately included the issues of direct primaries in the amendment of the Electoral Act, knowing it would cause disaffection.

National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Mr Ken Robinson,  said: “The president has expressed reservation over the issues of direct primaries and we are aware of the top lobbying and persuasions that have been going on. Governors and others at the hierarchies of politics did not like the issues of direct primaries.

“Of course, they have used cost implication and security implications as an excuse, but the fact is clear that the National Assembly itself, there is the insinuation that that provision of direct primaries was included knowing that it would cause these disaffections in the system and probably lead to the president not signing the bill.

“We hope to be proven wrong. We hope that the National Assembly would quickly in national interest expunge that clause and re-forward the bill to the President for assent within the shortest possible period.”

We’re not scared of direct primaries — Govs 

Meanwhile, Chairman of Nigeria’s Governors Forum, NGF, Dr Kayode Fayemi, yesterday, debunked the allegation that the governors were the reason behind President Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

NGF Chairman, who is also the governor of Ekiti State said that President Buhari neither objected to the direct mode of primaries nor approved the indirect way of conducting primaries, rather he wants all the political parties to make their choice on the best way to elect their candidates for elections.

Speaking to State House correspondents after meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Fayemi said that governors were not scared of the use of direct primaries as the sole means by political parties to select election candidates.

Dismissing suggestions that the president had danced to their tune by declining assent to the bill, he told correspondents that state governors do not care whether the mode of primaries is direct or indirect.   The APC governors had recently voiced their opposition to the clause making direct primaries mandatory for parties.

He said as someone who had gone through both systems during his first and second primary elections to pick his party’s ticket, he is comfortable with either mode.

“What is important is to ensure that whatever process you choose in your particular circumstance, still provides a process that is as free as possible.

“It’s a not completely free process, but at least there is something that is called substantial compliance in electoral law. And if it meets substantial compliance, I think all of us should be happy with that.  We shouldn’t really dwell too much on that. There’s been this exaggerated expectation that direct primaries are going to provide all answers to whatever electoral challenges that we have faced.

“And we all know that that is false.   Direct primary has its own challenges, indirect primary has its own challenges, a consensus approach is also not without challenges, but options should be provided.

“That’s all I think Mr President has said and whether governors are happy or not, it’s really immaterial to governors whether it’s direct or indirect.”

Addressing the criticisms trailing the use of the federal government’s intervention funds by states, Governor Fayemi affirmed that such funds have been applied to tackle critical challenges by the recipients.

He further said: “Well, governors are elected to tend to the affairs of their states, and protect their citizens in the best manner possible. You would recall that the bridge finance that we negotiated with the federal government was precisely that to bridge the gap that was created by the repayment of the previous facilities, around bailouts, around budget support, and on excess crude support, which Mr President approved in 2017.

“The repayment of those loans had commenced because CBN wanted the money back. And because that would have left us with a very deep hole in virtually all the states, we then negotiated for these to address specific things in relation to workers welfare, in relation to infrastructure development, in relation to improving on the enabling environment for investments in our states, and these are the things that states are spending it on.”

Ortom  commends Buhari says his decision is best for country

Meanwhile, President received support from unusual quarters with Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State commending him for declining assent to the amended Electoral Act over the inclusion of direct primaries by political parties in the Act.

Ortom said:  “I must also commend President Buhari for withholding assent based on the process of primaries of the various political parties, and his appeal to the National Assembly to reconsider the clause that allows only direct primaries.

“All the reasons that the President advanced to support his decision to withhold his assent are deeply appreciated. I can assure you that as a veteran politician who had the privilege of witnessing direct and indirect primaries in various parties and also witnessed consensus arrangement, the President’s decision is best for this country.

“It was almost a unanimous position by the political parties that the issue of primaries should be the responsibility of the political parties as enshrined in their various constitutions. So I commend President Buhari for listening to us because you can recall that I was one of the first people that advised the President to withhold his assent and also appealed to the National Assembly to reconsider that clause.”

Fintiri berates Buhari  over non-signing of Electoral Bill

However, Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State criticised President Buhari and the APC-led  Federal Government for attempting to subvert democracy, accusing him and his cabinet of staging a coup against democracy.

Fintiri, who made the accusation while receiving members of APC including a member of Adamawa State House of Assembly who decamped to PDP in Mubi South LGA of the state, said, the Buhai’s action was informed by the innate fear by APC of losing the 2023 election at all levels.

“We are not surprised by the action of Buhari and APC because of the level of decadence that this government, particularly the Federal Government, has brought into our systems such as destruction of our economy, destruction of infrastructures, security and youth development

“They are ganging up to destroy our democracy by encouraging the President not to assent to the electoral bill because they are afraid of 2023.”

Rework electoral bill, return for Presidential assent, MBF urges NASS

Meantime, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, has urged the National Assembly to quickly affect the necessary amendments to the Electoral Act as raised by President Buhari and send the legislation back to the President for assent.

National President of MBF, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, yesterday, said: “At this particular time, if the observations that President Buhari made are genuine, the members of the National Assembly are mature nationalists, let them make the necessary amendments to the legislation so that we can be on the same page.

“At least the most important thing Nigerians want is that there should be the transmission of elections results directly from the polling stations to the collation centres. This will cut out all those points where results are changed and manipulated.

“So the issue of primaries of political parties whether direct or indirect should be left for the political parties.

The National Assembly should make the necessary arrangements and amendments and send the Act back to the President on time so that he doesn’t come and use the kind of excuse which we experienced in 2018 when he said the time was short because Nigerians will certainly not be happy with anything of such. So that should be done quickly because within a week they should be able to do that. They should do it and send it back to him and let’s see what will happen.”

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