We should assume that common sense has eventually prevailed concerning the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which was earlier vetoed by President Muhammadu Buhari, with the re-amendment by the Senate, wherein the controversial and vexed compulsory direct primary for political parties was removed. It is the right thing the Senate has done. Political parties, which the law has given the sole right to present candidates for elections, ought to have the right too to determine the process to pick the candidates. You cannot push a man and also determine where he lands.
Compulsory direct primary inserted into the Electoral Bill that President Buhari rejected ought not to have featured in the first place. There was no basis for that. Even though one has issues with the policies and actions of President Buhari, one thinks he was right in rejecting direct primary as the only mode of selecting candidates for election. The way political parties pick their candidates is not really the main problem in the country’s electoral system. It is political parties’ affair and many Nigerians are not members of political parties. The main problem in Nigeria is the general election, where every eligible voter participates but which has not been so transparent, most times, as to produce the right winners. Therefore, the National Assembly should be more interested in the mode and process of election.
One is under the suspicion that direct primary provision was not borne out of the love members of the National Assembly have for Nigerians and the electoral system. It appears more of a self-preservation mechanism wherein politicians, nay lawmakers, want a process or system that would protect them or guarantee their easy nomination for election. The provision is more selfish than nationalistic.
For the avoidance of doubt, the direct primary provision would be a disaster in choosing candidates for elections. Apart from the huge financial involvement, which President Buhari pointed out, direct primary would not produce real candidates, eventually. What happened in Anambra State, in the so-called All Progressives Congress (APC) direct primary for the last governorship election, is a case in point. The court saw the folly in the process and has declared that the so-called exercise was a fraud. It wasted no time in ruling that the person the “direct primary” produced was never a candidate in the election. Direct primary is fraught with manipulation, even more than indirect primary. What politicians need is to get more phantom supporters to enlist as members. In Anambra, Andy Ubah claimed that, in the APC direct primary that gave him the party’s ticket, he recorded 230,201 votes, only to get a paltry 43,285 votes in the main governorship election. That is the teaser about direct primaries.
Those who had urged the National Assembly to override President Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Bill were not just playing to the gallery but also did not wish the country well. Trying to override the President would have been an effort in futility. It was obvious that those who claimed to favour direct primary would not have been up to the two-thirds needed to pass the bill when the chips were down. Such an attempt would have killed the Electoral Bill finally. It would have been like the third term provision of yesteryear, when the National Assembly, for the sake of one provision, rejected an entire constitution amendment. Rather than expunge the third term provision from the constitution amendment and pass the rest, the National Assembly rejected the entire Bill. It was really unintelligent.
Repeating such a mistake with the Electoral Bill would have impacted negatively on the country’s electoral process. The attempt to override the President’s veto would have failed. The other provisions in the Bill, like the electronic transmission of results, would have also died with it. This would not have augured well for the country. Electronic transmission of result in the Electoral Bill is one provision that would help the country’s electoral system. When election results are transmitted successfully from polling booths to a central collation system protected from hackers, there is guarantee that the final result would produce the will of the people, to an extent. The physical and hard copy transmission of election results from the voting units to collation centres has been a source of election rigging in the country. In the process of this physical and hard copy transmission, figures are changed. Also, fake results written by those who would not want to play by the rules are delivered at the collation centres, while the authentic results never make it.
With electronic transmission system, therefore, election result at every polling unit, agreed and certified by election officials and political parties’ agents on ground, would be sent to the central collation centre, where the machine would automatically compute them and final result released. This should interest Nigerians more than the direct primary nonsense, which is for the politician. Everything should be done to ensure that electronic transmission of result becomes law, for the benefit of the country’s elections. This is why kudos should be given to the National Assembly for burying its ego and opting to expunge direct primary provision from the Electoral Bill. Given a choice between direct primary and electronic transmission of election result, Nigerians would surely go for the latter.
We expect that there would not be further drama or shenanigans about the Electoral Bill, now that the National Assembly has bent over to remove the direct primary provision, which President Buhari found unsuitable. We expect the President to assent to the Bill. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had said that its delay in releasing the timetable for the 2023 elections was caused by the uncompleted work on the Electoral Bill. It is incumbent on President Buhari to assent to the re-amended Bill when it is transmitted to him. There should be no further excuse to delay it.
One says this because of what happened in the past, during the 8th National Assembly, when personality clashes and beefs between the National Assembly leadership and the Presidency stalled the Electoral Bill’s amendment. President Buhari had returned the Bill many times, giving one reason or another, and, eventually, declined signing it on the excuse that it came close to the elections. Some of the reasons he gave included drafting errors, order of elections and, finally, timing. It was all politics. That bad politics ensured that electronic transmission of result, which was one of the salient points in the Electoral Bill, did not see the light of day.
We hope that President Buhari’s political advisers and the gods of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would not find another fault in the now re-amended Electoral Bill and ask him not to assent to it. President Buhari owes Nigerians electoral reforms that would bring credibility to elections. Previous governments did their bit in this regard. The President Goodluck Jonathan administration gave fillip to the quest for better elections in the country with the Card Reader system, which graduated to Biometric Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). This reform has contributed in making elections better. The introduction of electronic transmission of result, through the current Electoral Bill, would add to the progress in our election system, especially coming at a time when the INEC has started online voter registration that does not require people to queue at the offices of the election umpire in order to be registered as voters.
In future, we expect electronic voting to finally sound the death knell for election fraud in the country. If we have mechanisms to ensure that the will of the people prevails in elections, this will bring to an end the rule of fraud that has been our lot during elections. Electronic voting and electronic transmission of results would go a long way in making our elections credible.