By Chukwudi Nweje And Lukman Olabiyi
Following the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign and pass into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, some lawyers in the country and leaders of some of Nigeria’s leading socio-cultural groups have advised the National Assembly on the next step to take.
While some of the lawyers are urging the National Assembly to prove its independence by vetoing the President on the issue, leaders of such groups as Afenifere and the Middle Belt Forum are doubtful whether NASS members can pull that off.
Lawyers who spoke on the options available to the National Assembly members, in the face of the President Buhari’s refusal to assent to the amended Electoral bill include Kunle Adegoke (SAN), Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), ex-Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, Dave Ajetomobi, Kabiru Akingbolu and Jiti Ogunye.
Adegboruwa and Ogunye, urged the National Assembly to override President Buhari’s veto by invoking the provisions of Section 58 (5) of the Constitution to pass the Bill into law, through two-thirds majority of both Houses.
Although the President is entitled to the discretion of his assent to any Bill presented to him, however the reason adduced for the exercise of such presidential discretion must be legal and valid. They insist that the discretion has not been properly exercised in the national interest in this particular case.
Adegoke and Akingbolu stated that the option before the National Assembly is to either reconcile their views with that of the President and pass the Bill, taking into consideration the areas of disagreement, or to garner enough votes of the members to veto the President’s decision.
However, they both agreed with the President on the objection he raised for not signing the bill. They asked: “What happens to the freedom of political parties to determine their internal affairs? Whereas the 2010 Electoral Act recognises direct and indirect primaries for political parties to choose from, why impose only one method on all parties?” They observed that the idea of direct primary is too expensive and not practicable.
In his own analysis, Ajetombi said the current NASS has proved to be “an annex of the Presidency,” and expressed his doubts about their ability to override the President’s veto of the bill, adding that it would be foolhardy of them to do so.
“I do not see any way that NASS will act on the bill; they can only make noise but at the end of the day, the bill may have been killed for good,” he said. “It is expedient for the old law to remain as that will enable the ruling party to continue in power.”
On their part, the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) and Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, said that the best way out of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 logjam is for the Senate to expunge the contentious direct primary clause and represent it for assent.
The MBF President, Dr Pogu Bitrus, said the Senate does not have the spine to override President Muhammadu Buhari on the bill. He added that the Senators were only grandstanding when it threatened to veto the bill. “When they said they were collecting signatures, we knew it was all a political statement,” he said.
He warned Nigerians not to allow the debate on the contentious direct primary provision to overshadow the critical aspect, which is the electronic transmission of election result. He urged lawmakers to do the needful to avoid a repeat of the 2018 mistake when President Buhari-amended electoral bill was passed too close to the 2019 general elections.
On the issue of direct primary, he said the constitution of the political parties vests them with power to select their candidates for elections. He also wondered why Buhari was suddenly opposed to a system he benefited from. National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Jare Ajayi also, charged Nigerians and the National Assembly not to allow the vital aspects of the bill to be thrown into the waste-bins.
He said President Buhari did not have to wait till the eve of the constitutional time frame he is allowed to either assent or return the bill to reject it when he knew from the beginning that he would not assent to the bill. He noted that both direct and indirect primaries were prone to abuses and would always be manipulated by moneybag politicians