The current impasse on the amended electoral law is symptomatic of the general crisis surrounding our democracy and political development. Most Nigerians had thought and believed that with the passage of the Electoral Bill by the National
Assembly, the political uncertainty over the law would come to an end with President Buhari doing the expected needful by signing.
However, with the passage came its own controversies and challenges, as new political bickering has emerged which provide a convenient situation to dodge the inevitable.
Last week the House of Reps, followed the path of the President, by passing a resolution to summon the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu to appear before its committees to explain the alleged N500 billion cost-argument by the opponents of direct primaries.
Before then, President Buhari had written to the same INEC for their position on the question of direct primaries contained in the Electoral Act. The fact is that the issue is no longer about the new law and its usefulness to our election process, but sadly about INEC, and its ability to supervise the primaries of political parties.
The journey of amending the electoral law has been tortuous and checkered. Last amended a decade ago, the present process began in the first term of President Buhari during the 8th Assembly led by Dr. BukolaSaraki. Four times the bill was passed by the NASS and sent to the president, and four times it was returned to the National Assembly, which lacked the majority to override the president’s veto, as it was dominated by the his party, the APC.
The last amendment which came three months to the 2019 general election was rejected because it was too close to the polls and did not allow INEC, the electoral body sufficient time to practice its operation before the national election, with a promise to ensure its enactment after the polls to bequeath a legacy for future elections.
However, that commitment by the government now hangs on the balance, as the introduction the Section 87 dealing with the mode of primaries by political parties, is again threatening to torpedo the entire hope of delivering credible elections in the country. Recent outcomes of governorship elections in Ondo, Edo and Anambra states give clear indication of the necessity and desirability of the amendments to legalise electronic methods.
Earlier, the senate had attempted to undermine the bill by discarding the use of electronic transmission of results, which has been a very positive and successful innovation in the process with poll results already known before their announcement, thereby eliminating the scourge of result manipulations, and that it could only be deployed with the recommendation of NCC and approval of the senate provoking a national uproar.
But common sense later prevailed as the senate’s position was in direct conflict with the constitutional provisions empowering INEC as the electoral umpire. Sadly, what seemed like an end to the crisis has turned out to be the beginning of another that may ultimately jeopadise the whole exercise, and set in motion a political confrontation between the executive and legislature over the bill in the event of a veto by the president.
The new provision was introduced by the Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, with senate concurrence, and the NASS has threatened to override any veto by the president, which is likely to create a needless political tension in the run up to 2023.
The problem seems to be between the incumbent governors who control the party machineries and former governors and legislators, who generally are beholden to the dictate of governors. The issues are not about conducting free and credible polls, but how to determine who gets what and where.
In our considered opinion, the Electoral Act amendment has been compromised and politicized and can hardly stand up to the public confidence and expectations earlier bestowed on it to meet the high standard of improving the democratic regime. What could have preserved the integrity the of the new law would have been for Mr. President to sign the Bill into Act and then, sent further amendments, if any, to the NASS as happened in the case of PIA.
This would have removed the lobby and jobbering by the leadership of the NASS and the governors of the APC, who have visited the President to canvass their respective positions. What is unfortunate in all these is that the public good and interest is completely ignored.
Without doubt, this Bill had the greatest public input of any legislation since 1999, because of the importance of credible polls for the sustenance of democracy, and how to address general public concern over the deterioration in the outcomes of our elections.
In this context therefore, the president should sign the Bill to bring a closure to the uncertainty and stop this simmering fire from possibly erupting into an inferno. Whatever are the perceived inadequacies of the law should be taken up in an amendment. The country will not cease to exist after 2023, as some of the present actors may still be politically active then.
In our view the present debacle over the electoral law is selfish and ill-motivated and orchestrated to derail the progress already made by INEC to deepen our electoral process.