… as Buhari’s ‘no-action’ on Electoral Act shuts out statutory delegates
Stakeholders in 36 states, FCT count gains in naira, dollars
It’s payback time for lawmakers’ intransigence – Insiders
BY TIMOTHY AGBOR AND MOYINOLUWA BAMIDELE-LUCAS
Reality has suddenly dawned on many presidential aspirants said to have been wrong-footed by the impasse which has trailed the Electoral Act 2022 in the last two weeks, The Point can authoritatively report.
Contrary to the picture which now stares them in the face, the aspirants, the majority of who are deep-pocketed, are said to have shelled out huge sums in varied currencies, both local and foreign, criss-crossing the country in a bid to convince and secure assurances from would-be delegates.
However, as things stand, they might have been engaged in a wild goose chase as the numbers of delegates to finally decide their fate have shrunk considerably, owing to what federal lawmakers called serious omission in the now controversial Electoral Act.
Rebuffing President Muhammadu Buhari’s “earnest, sincere and fatherly request in the nation’s interest” by members of the National Assembly to immediately re-consider some provisions of Section 84 is responsible for the current logjam over the Electoral Act, 2022, The Point’s findings have shown.
“Blame the lawmakers. After all, one boasted here that he wrote the Electoral Act. It is payback time for their intransigence. They saw only one side of the coin and didn’t care to look at the other side of it.
“The Americans say ‘what goes around comes around.’ Let us get this straight; the President has a plethora of legal advisers, led by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. You should never expect the President to treat their advice with levity,” a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party from Delta State told The Point on condition of anonymity.
He blasted the 109 senators, in particular, for such a monumental oversight, saying in a bid to entangle others, the lawmakers entangled themselves.
“From Day One, it would seem the senators had a preconceived idea of what they wanted to achieve. But you can see the result now. The President pleaded with them to rework the provisions but they rebuffed him. But the President’s advisers were able to convince him beyond doubt of the implications of certain provisions in the Law.
“Blame the lawmakers. After all, one boasted here that he wrote the Electoral Act. It is payback time for their intransigence. They saw only one side of the coin and didn’t care to look at the other side of it”
“The other time, the President was persuaded to assent to the Bill because of the pressure of time and because of public outcry by CSOs and the Human Rights community. Even the umpire, in a particular instance, called for a quick assent to the Electoral Act. The President signed and then pleaded with them to “immediately”, according to the letter that was read in the chamber, amend an obviously unwholesome provision. But they blatantly and arrogantly rebuffed him and refused his entreaties.
“It is now a legal matter, from Abia Court to the Court of Appeal and now to the Supreme Court. Do you think the President would be in a hurry to sign it? Well, I don’t think so. I rather think it may be payback time, and honestly, I don’t see him hurriedly assenting to the Amended Act even though he could have a rethink and change his mind overnight. That is a possibility though, but I doubt very much,” he stated.
A legal practitioner and former Commissioner for Local Government Affairs in Osun State, Kolapo Alimi, while alluding to the dilemma that parties were facing now, said a party that “chooses to work with the extant law and goes ahead to conduct some of its primaries, would feel cheated if the President should sign the Amended Act on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, when his own party would begin its primaries.”
Alimi said, “That President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to sign the Amended Electoral Act can’t be said to be a delay because there is a timeline of 30 days for the President to sign any bill passed by the National Assembly. So, the President is still within that window. But, that’s looking at it from the legal perspective. On the other way, if we look at it from the political perspective, it shows that it’s time for the President to take revenge, especially considering the attitude of the National Assembly not amending Section 84(2) of the Electoral Act which the President recommended before he traveled. The National Assembly declined.
“So, the amendment of Section 84(8) or thereabout to include statutory delegation is a payback from Mr. President and so, it has its own effects. The effects are that it’s only the elected delegates that can vote during the primary. Let me say it has no effect on the general elections but on the primaries. The delegates that are qualified, according to law, are the adhoc elected delegates to vote in all the primaries – Governorship, House of Assembly, National Assembly and even Presidential.
“Taking into consideration the fact that some political parties have held their primary on Saturday, some had on Sunday and some will be having on Monday, since the President has not signed, we have to go by what the law says by using the adhoc elected delegates alone, leaving the statutory ones like members of the National Assembly, House of Assembly, Governors, the President, the Vice President, the Senate President and so on and so forth; that’s the implication. But, after the emergence of candidates of political parties, it has no effect on the general elections.
“What it means is that the Amended Electoral Act that President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to sign has already been put to use by some political parties but the inclusion of statutory delegates as amended has not been put to use. What we are still using is the Electoral Act of 2022. You know since they did not carry out the recommendation of the President as to Section 84 of the Electoral Act – the inclusion of the Ministers, Commissioners and so on, that they can vote and be voted for at the primary, and that to contest an election, they don’t need to resign – they (National Assembly) have now discovered that they have shot themselves in the leg and they now quickly amended the Electoral Act to suit their interest. Now, the President is tactically declining. So, it’s payback time.”
While admitting that the President could still sign the Amended Act, he suggested that it might be after the primaries.
“It won’t be fair for the President to sign now maybe Monday or Tuesday because some political parties would have been shortchanged because some have already started their primaries. Like the PDP, to my knowledge, all over the country, except in two or three states, they would have had their primaries for House of Assembly and House of Reps on Sunday. And they would be having that of the Senate and Governorship Primaries tomorrow and if the President should sign the Amended Electoral Act after they (PDP) might have concluded and APC has shifted their own, it means the President could be alleged to have been biased.”
Asked if the pending court cases against the new Electoral Bill could have adverse effects on the general elections, Alimi said, “The present court cases over the Electoral Act will not affect the General Elections. The court matters seeking that some can be in office and still contest have even been superfluous because the President has already made the directives that those who want to contest should resign and the same goes for the governors who had directed members of the cabinet to resign if they have political ambition.
“Even if the court should give judgment in their favour and for that Electoral Section to be deleted, the President and Governors still have the prerogative to ask any member of their cabinet to resign if they have political ambition. So, the general elections are intact,” the legal practitioner added.
Muiz Banire, SAN, a lawyer and activist, said, “It is simply that all statutory delegates cannot vote. Only delegates elected for the purpose of the convention and congresses will be able to vote.”
Speaking in the same vein, another legal practitioner, Dayo Shobowale, contended that not signing the Amended Act before the presidential primaries would confer undue advantage on the Northern section of the country.
“If President Buhari doesn’t assent to the Amended Electoral Bill before presidential primaries are conducted, the North would produce more delegates than the South, and accordingly, the zone (North) would produce the flagbearer of any political party.”
Shobowale said, “I will not subscribe to the word delay that you mentioned. It is something I will not subscribe to. It’s just an amendment to include some people as delegates. The only issue is that if it’s not signed, there is every tendency that as it stands now, you have more delegates from the North than the South. So, that means that the North will determine the flagbearer for each of the political parties that would want to contest the presidential election.
“So, that’s something that is major about it and I don’t see it as a delay because the President just returned to the country yesterday (Saturday).
“When it comes to politics, a lot of intrigues are involved. Just like some people would always say, it’s “politricks”, which are many tricks. What is happening is that self-interest has overridden the national interest. So, by the time they are talking of amendment, you will ask yourself, why are they amending now? By the time the Electoral Bill was put together before it was signed into law, why were these factors not considered? Why now? This Act passed a lot of processes; first hearing, second hearing and different reviews, so, why is it now that this story is being taken? So, that’s why it’s politricks.
Everyone is interested in their interests. That’s why the President must be very careful to be fair to all.”
The lawyer and don also noted that the court cases against the electoral amendment would not affect the general elections.
“The litigations presently on can’t affect the general elections because if the Electoral Act doesn’t contravene the Constitution, which is the grand norm, the best you can do is to ask for clarification. And even if it does, that section or aspect, which contradicts the constitution, will be null and void. It does not condemn that,” he said.
Section 84 as an albatross
The amended Electoral Act was delivered to the President penultimate Friday. Interestingly, the President assented to a Health related Bill last week but nothing was said of the amended Electoral Act.
Trouble over Section 84 of the Electoral Act 2022, described as an “albatross”, started brewing the very day President Muhammadu Buhari signed it into law, in February.
A reliable source told our correspondent that, but for the pressure of time and the outcry of almost all stakeholders over the delay in signing the Electoral Act, the President would have preferred the National Assembly to do a more thorough and tidier job on it before signing.
He had picked a few holes in the new law even though he lavishly commended the positive values the law would add to the electoral process in Nigeria.
Before the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, he penned his signature to the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act that was considered as almost jinxed.
But he was quick to voice his disapproval of some provisions in Section 84 of the new law.
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Lagos, who would not want his name mentioned, told The Point that but for the noise about time factor, the President would probably have returned the Bill to the National Assembly in February.
“The day President Buhari signed the Electoral Act, you could see that there was trouble brewing. The President is not a man of many words. So he made his observations official by writing to the National Assembly to delete Section 84(14) of the new electoral law. But the lawmakers felt they had gotten what they wanted and never knew they would need the President again.”
In his letter to the Senate, the President had said, “I write with reference to the recent assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) 2022, and to draw your kind attention to some salient issues contained in the Act and to seek your immediate legislative action thereon.
“I have carefully studied the content of the recently assented Electoral Act (Amendment), 2022; I must admit that there are positive provisions that could revolutionise election process in Nigeria, particularly, through the introduction of new technological innovations that will in turn guarantee the Constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively.
“The recently assented Electoral Act has improved and engendered clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduced to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.
“I, therefore, commend the legislative wisdom of the National Assembly which is in line with our policy to bequeath Nigerians and posterity, a landmark legal framework that paves the way for a credible electoral process that we would all be proud of.”
Buhari added, “I, however, will kindly draw your attention to the provisions of Section 84(12) of the Act, which I believe, constitutes a fundamental defect as it is in direct conflict with extant Constitutional provisions.
“Section 84 (12) of the Act constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at conventions or congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the election.”
According to the President, the provision introduced another set of qualifications and disqualifications apart from what the Constitution stipulated.
“This provision has introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that are ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection,” he said.
While reacting to the development back then, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ajibola Basiru, told newsmen that.
“His request would be looked at as appropriate. We will look at it, get legal opinions and know the legislative action to take. He has assented to the bill and it has become law. He should send an executive bill,” he said.
Also, the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, had said, “We will always look at the important elements of any communication from Mr. President and give it the required attention. That, we promise the Presidency and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Only Buhari’s assent can save ‘unintended error’
“aking into consideration the fact that some political parties have held their primary on Saturday, some had on Sunday and some will be having on Monday, since the President has not signed, we have to go by what the law says by using the adhoc elected delegates alone, leaving the statutory ones like members of the National Assembly, House of Assembly, Governors, the President, the Vice President, the Senate President and so on and so forth; that’s the implication”
On Tuesday, May 10, a flurry of activities swept through the Senate. At the end of the day, the Upper Chamber amended the Electoral Act to allow the President, NASS members, Local Government Chairmen and Councilors to have the right to vote at party congresses, primaries.
The ‘statutory delegates’ as they are called, are all those elected to any political office who were shut out by the extant Electoral Act.
The Senate that fateful Tuesday worked at a frenzy to ensure they participate and vote in the conventions, congresses or meetings of political parties.
This followed the expeditious consideration of the bill during plenary, which scaled first, second and third readings, respectively, and was passed during plenary by the chamber after consideration by the Committee of the Whole.
The bill is intended to essentially amend the 2022 Electoral Act No. 13. It was sponsored by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central).
Omo-Agege, in his presentation, said the bill sought to amend the provision of Section 84(8) of the Electoral Act.
According to him, the provisions of the section “do not provide for the participation of what is generally known as ‘statutory delegates’ in the conventions, congresses or meetings of political parties.”
He added, “The extant section only clearly provides for the participation of elected delegates in the conventions, congresses or meetings of political parties held to nominate candidates of political parties.
“This is an unintended error, and we can only correct it with this amendment now before us.”
Speaking after the bill to amend the 2022 Electoral Act was passed, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said that the amendment became imperative in view of the deficiency created by the provision of section 84(8) of the extant Act.
He said, “The amended Electoral Act of 2022 that we passed this year, has a deficiency that was never intended and that deficiency will deny all statutory delegates in all political parties from participation in congresses and conventions.
“And, therefore, such a major and unintended clause has to be amended before the party primaries starts in the next eight days. This is emergency legislation, so to speak.
“Our expectation is that the National Assembly – the two chambers – would finish with the processing of this amendment of this bill, between today (in the Senate) and tomorrow (in the House of Representatives), and then the Executive will do the assent.
“That is so important to enable every statutory delegate to participate in the party primaries right from the beginning that will start on the 18th of May, 2022.
“So, this is an emergency effort to ensure that nobody is denied his or her rightful opportunity as a delegate, especially the statutory delegates, and these are those who are elected.”
Whether Buhari would accede to their request remains to be seen.
Since the priority of both groups seems to be different on the controversial Section 84 of the Electoral Act, the waiting game may continue until the court decides the matter.