By OBINNA EZUGWU
The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to delay his assent to the amended version of the Electoral Act 2022, just days to the primary election of political parties, has created confusion, and could trigger constitutional crisis, with the looming unlikelihood of June 3 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deadline for primaries.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition party, had scheduled its presidential primary for May28 and 29; state house of assembly primary for May 21; house of representatives, May 22; senate, May 23, and governorship, May 25, 2022. But the failure of Buhari to accent the new Act could put paid to the party’s plans, even as some states such as Imo, Abia and Enugu risk not being able to produce any candidates amid controversy over their 3-man ad-hoc delegates list.
On its part, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will hold its presidential primary from May 29 to 30; governorship and house of representatives, May 26; senate and state houses of assembly, May 27. But days to the events, there is confusion over Section 84(8) of the amended Electoral Act 2022, with respect to statutory delegates.
Statutory delegates are all elected officers, former political office-holders and current political office-holders, former party officeholders and current party office holders. The senate and the house of representatives had on Wednesday, fortnight ago, passed the amendment to the act to recognise statutory delegates as voters during primaries, congresses and conventions of political parties.
During the plenary, Ahmed Lawan, senate president and presidential hopeful, described the amendment as emergency legislation and the omission of statutory delegates as a”fundamental error.”
He stated, “The National Assembly will finish with the processing of this amendment on this Bill between today in the Senate and tomorrow in the House of Representatives, and then the Executive will do the assent within the week.”
Before the amendment, the section did not provide for statutory delegates, including elected councillors, local government chairmen and their deputies, party chairmen in local government are as and six Abuja area councils, state and federal lawmakers, governors and their deputies, President and Vice-President, National Working Committee members, state party chairmen and secretaries, as voters at the primaries.
Section 84 (8) initially read, ‘A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidates shall clearly outline in its constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.
However, the parliament amended the section by adding “…in addition to statutory delegates already prescribed in the constitution of the party in the amendment.”
The assembly had expressed confidence that Buhari would sign the new bill the following week, but the president who jetted out to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, signed into law the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2022, but shunned the electoral act, a development observers opined could be an attempt to pay the lawmakers back for turning down his appeal to expunge the controversial Clause84(12) of the Electoral Act 2022, requiring government appointees to resign from office before participating in elections.
The clause reads: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.” Buhari had, while signing the amended bill into law in February, urged the parliament to expunge clause, but his request was turned down.
“For the president, the decision to delay his assent could be an attempt to pay the national assembly members back for what they did with the controversial Section 84 (12) of the electoral act he signed,” said Chidi Anthony, a legal practitioner.
“But the point is that he would be jeopardizing the entire process and won’t just hurt the national assembly.”
Should the president eventually fail to sign the reworked bill into law, statutory delegates would be excluded from voting at the primaries of all parties, which would mean that only about 2000 ad-hoc delegate selected political parties, instead of over 7000, will be able to vote at the forth coming presidential primary elections. Many people believe this may be the ace for the president and governors to impose their preferred candidates.
For the ruling party, it would mean that as opposed to having 7,800 delegates for the special convention, the number would be slashed to 2,384. But for the PDP, things would be complicated.
The opposition party’s National Working Committee (NWC) had opted to use only the three-man ad-hoc delegates for the state congresses/primary elections and only the 774 national delegates for the national convention and presidential primary election, but this would go contrary to the provisions of its constitution (as amended in 2017), as it concerns quorums and up for litigation.
Article 25 of the PDP Constitution provides that quorum for a state congress shall be two-thirds of the members of the state congress, while Part 10 Article 6 provides that the quorum for a national convention shall be two-thirds of the members of the convention.
Three-man ad-hoc delegates for the State Convention and 774 national delegates for the National Convention fall far short of the quorum stipulated in the party’s constitution.
“In Enugu State, over 2,500 delegates constitute the State Congress, while the ad-hoc delegates are only 780. This is way below the two-thirds stipulated by the PDP Constitution as amended, ” noted Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
“The PDP should be mindful of the constitutional and legal land mines posed by its decision and their far-reaching implications in order to avoid the Zamfara scenario on the entire candidature and structure of our party across board and throughout the country.”
Ekweremadu, who is aspiring for governor in Enugu, is contesting the state’s three-manad-hoc delegates election in at a federal high court in Abuja. The case has been adjourned to May 27, 2022 for judgment. If the court voids the election, it would mean that the state won’t have ad-hoc delegates and should Buhari not sign the reworked bill, it cannot rely on statutory delegates either.
It is already the scenario in Imo State. On May6,2022, a federal high court in Abuja restrained both the Imo State PDP and INEC from recognising the outcome of the 3-man Adhoc delegates election held on April 30 or any other date, an order the PDP failed to vacate in its application on May 17, leaving the party with no other options but the statutory delegates, which may not exist still.
On Friday, the Abuja court reaffirmed its earlier order, noting that it would nullify any primary election conducted in the state if the party violate its valid and subsisting order and conduct any primary election with the already voided list or any other ad-hoc list pending the determination of the suit by the court.
On its part, INEC which is also a party to the suit has stated that it would abide by the court order and will not accord any recognition to any ad-hoc Delegates list or the result of any primary election in the state conducted with any adhoc delegates list.
For Imo PDP, it’s a race against time. And in the neighbouring Abia, it’s equally a complicated scenario as Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, among others, square up for the party’s soul ahead of the governorship election, which the senator had declared interest in, but Ikpeazu has other plans about succession. On Wednesday, governorship aspirants and other stakeholders of the party in the state warned the Dr. Iyorchia Ayu-led NWC not to accept any list of delegates from the state.
Abaribe, while addressing a press conference at the PDP National headquarters in Abuja on behalf of other aspirants, said the warning has become imperative as no ward congress to elect the 3-man Adhoc delegates took place in the state. According to him, the congress, earlier scheduled to hold on 30th April 2022, was cancelled due to a court order.
“It was re-scheduled to hold on May 4th 2022. It also failed to hold on that date because of a public holiday declared in Abia State and since then none has been held,” he said.
Abaribe said they had also heard speculations that a list of ad-hoc delegates is in the custody of the NWC which is derived from a congress allegedly held on 6th May 2022, a development they said was not true.
Consequently, the stakeholders called on the NWC to disregard any list, “especially now that INEC has come forward to clarify that it neither received any communication from the PDP National Chairman and the National Secretary to participate nor did it monitor any such exercise as required by both the INEC Guidelines for Political Parties.”
The aspirants then called on the NWC to use only statutory delegates for the forth coming primaries to avoid a looming disaster for aspirants at all levels in Abia State.
“We are therefore herein our party’s Abuja National headquarters to alert the party and the Nigerian public of this ugly development, which if not stopped, could spell doom for the party ahead of the 2023 general election not only in Abia State but in the Southeast as a whole,” Abaribe concluded.
In the event that Buhari withholds his assent, the PDP in these states would be in trouble, even as the scenario has clearly thrown parties into confusion over the exact number of delegates that would vote during the presidential primaries.
“If Buhari does not sign the new amendment to the Electoral Act, it means only the 774 ad-hoc delegates elected across political parties, APC and PDP inclusive, will be able to vote at the forthcoming presidential primary elections,” said a PDP youth leader, Emma IkUmeh, @emmaikumeh.
“Suffice to say, statutory delegates will not be able to vote at the presidential primary elections. The dynamics is indeed changing and by this development, it is becoming more difficult to know who will emerge as presidential flag-bearer.”
On Thursday, the House of Reps minority caucus asked the President to immediately sign the one-item amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 to avert an imminent political crisis in Nigeria.
The caucus said it had noted with grave concern, Buhari’s delay in signing the amendment to Section 84 (8) of the Act, adding that, it had “thrown the nation into serious confusion and constitutes a huge threat to our democracy and the smooth conduct of the 2023 general elections.”
The opposition lawmakers urged the President to note that any further delay in signing the amendment to the Act “to give political parties a sense of direction” in the conduct of primaries for the election of candidates for the 2023 general elections “has the capacity to derail our entire democratic process and destabilise our dear nation.”
This was contained in a statement issued on Thursday by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, titled ‘2023: Minority Reps Task Buhari to Sign Amendment to Electoral Act to Avert Political Crisis.’
“Our caucus calls on all Nigerians, the Civil Society, the International Community and all lovers of democracy to prevail on President Buhari to immediately sign the amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 and save our nation from an avoidable crisis.”
The Majority Leader of the house Alhassan Ado Doguwa, also begged Buhari to immediately do the needful in order to avert a crisis.
Last week, Benjamin Kanu, House spokesperson, noted that the judicial interpretation of the section in question had disenfranchised all statutory delegates.
“As you know, the constitution recognises a set of people as statutory or automatic delegates and most constitutions of the parties recognise that – people like Mr. President, former governors, National Assembly members etc. Through judicial interactions, we have found out there is a missing link in 84(8) if left to be as it is,” he said.
Calls for Extension
Amid the uncertainty, several stakeholders including the ruling APC and the Inter-PartyAdvisoryCouncil(IPAC), have asked INEC to extend the June 3 deadline for party primaries, a request which the electoral body has continued to turn down.
On Tuesday, fortnight ago, IPAC, which is the umbrella body of the 18 political parties eligible to field candidates for the next general elections, demanded extension of the deadline for the conduct of the presidential convention, primaries and congress.
National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party and Chairman of IPAC, Engineer Yabagi Yusuf Sani, presented the political parties’ request on Tuesday, at a meeting with INEC organised by the latter. Before Engr. Sani’s presentation, Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu had in his opening remarks said the June 3 deadline for conduct of primaries remained sacrosanct.
But the national chairman of ADP, regardless, called for 37-day extension and suggested August 4 as the deadline, which Mahmood rejected, insisting that the commission would not shelve its June 3 deadline earlier given the leadership of the political parties as he noted that any review would disrupt its schedule and put it under unnecessary pressures.
On Thursday last week, the APC, citing the controversy over delegates list, restatedthe call for an extension by at least a month.
Felix Morka, the party’s National Publicity Secretary,who spoke on Arise TV, had said, “It is not just the APC but all other parties unanimously did request an extension of time which has yet to be granted.
“The reason is that the pressure we feel based on these stringent timelines is not exclusive to our party. It is shared by other parties as well.
“So, a little bit of extension will be helpful even though we cannot guarantee that INEC will make that decision but we are hoping they would because if they did, it would not significantly affect the timelines imposed by the Electoral Act.
Similarly, a chieftain of the APC, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, warned INEC against stampeding the various political parties into conducting their primaries. According to him, the insistence of INEC that political parties must conclude their primaries before June 3, 2022 “is unreasonable and illegal.”
He said it was hypocritical that INEC, which had postponed many elections on the very day of the elections, would refuse to shift ground on the deadline for primaries.
“Party primaries are an integral part of the democratic process, and it is bewildering that INEC is not even interested in debates between aspirants, which remains a huge opportunity to define party platforms,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
He also argued that while INEC had the power to draw election timetables, it had no such power over the timetable for parties’ primaries.