President Muhammadu Buhari has finally acceded to the plea of governors elected under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by declining to assent the Electoral Act Amendment Bill over the mandatory adoption of the direct primaries as the only mode of primaries to be used by political parties.
The president communicated his decision to the National Assembly via a letter to the Senate, according to ThisDay.
The National Assembly had passed the bill on 9 November and transmitted it to the executive arm of government on 19 November.
The bill, amongst other things, provides for the electronic transmission of election results and compels political parties to adopt the direct mode for their primaries.
While electronic transmission has been accepted by all parties and stakeholders, there has, however, a divergent opinion on the issue of direct primaries.
Members of the ruling APC in the National Assembly favour the direct primaries, while governors elected under the platform of the APC and members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have expressed their opposition to it.
The deadline for the president to sign the bill into law or veto it and communicate his reasons to the National Assembly elapsed on 19 December (Sunday) without any decision from the executive arm of government.
But according to the aforementioned newspaper, President Buhari on Monday told the National Assembly that he declined assent to the bill because of the controversial direct primary, which virtually all political parties had rejected.
According to the letter, the president noted that political parties had their various constitutions that stipulated the mode of primaries that should be adopted. Mandating direct primaries, the president said, would be a violation of the rights of political parties and their members.
He also bemoaned the cost associated with the conduct of direct primaries, saying small parties will be marginalised.
The letter read: “The amendment as proposed is the violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices of which political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of association.
“The president said the prevailing situation in the country will not allow him sign the bill. Among other reasons, the president cited high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens’ rights, marginalisation of small political parties,” the report reads.
“Buhari also notes that adopting direct primaries has implications on the rights of citizens to participate in the government, as constitutionally insured.
“According to the president, the conduct of direct primaries will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties, as well as the increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC.
“He explained that the direct consequences of the high cost are monetisation and that it will drive and increase financial crimes and constitute further strain on the economy.
“In his view, it will also stifle smaller parties without the enormous resources required to mobilise all party members for the primaries, a situation which he says is not healthy for the sustainance of multi-party democracy in Nigeria.”
The president was also said to have cited other concerns such as security and litigation issues that may arise from adopting direct primary.
The letter read: “The president further states that security agencies will also be overstretched, as direct primaries will be open to participation from all and sundry.
“Such large turnout without effective security coordination will also engender intimidation and disruptions, thereby raising credibility issues on the outcomes of such election.
“President Buhari also says the proposed amendment might give rise to a plethora of litigations based on diverse grounds and issues of law, including but not limited to the fact that the proposed amendment could not work in retrospect, given that the existing constitution of the parties already registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) permits direct, indirect and consensus primaries.
“Buhari said his decision is based on informed advice by relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government, and careful review of the bill in light of the current realities prevalent in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the circumstances.”