On Monday 20th December President Buhari wrote to the National Assembly that he was withholding his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. In a letter dated 13th December that was read to the Senate and the House of Representatives on the 21st of December, the President focused on the clause that imposed direct primaries as the only method for political parties to choose their candidates.
This issue goes to the heart of the ‘D’ in IDEAs – Democracy, and we were fortunate to have Clement Nwankwo, the Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) who is also a senior lawyer and human rights activist on the programme to discuss matters arising from the presidential veto. He emphasized that there were important provisions in the Bill that would have a direct bearing on the conduct of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission and the credibility of those elections, such as the electronic transmission of results. He agreed with Ayo that INEC was presently transmitting results direct from individual polling stations to its headquarters, and even making those results available to political parties and the public, but reminded her that the Supreme Court had held that as there was no legal backing for the electronic transmission of results in the existing Electoral Act, those results could not be used as the basis for litigation. The Amendment Bill would remove that difficulty and make it mandatory for the results at INEC headquarters to be available to the public.
He said that the Bill made provision about the timelines for elections, for increased use of technology, and for improved access to polling stations for persons with disabilities: these were more important to the conduct of elections than the issue of party primaries.
Clement deprecated the way the President had delayed until the last possible minute before rejecting the Bill instead of signalling his rejection within one or two days, which would have allowed the National Assembly the opportunity to address his views about direct or indirect primaries before the legislators went on recess. That delay is the reason why some are looking beyond the given reason, particularly against a background where the President had rejected Electoral Act amendments on several occasions, and wondering whether there isn’t some other reason for the President’s action. Discussing Ayo’s question about possible bad faith in the introduction by the House of Representatives of the clause making direct primaries the only way to select candidates, Clement said that both direct and indirect primaries had been in the Bill before the House removed the indirect primaries option at the last minute and the Senate had then acquiesced, but that the issue was more of a tussle between politicians, that direct primaries were being imposed on everybody else just because legislators and governors or party leaders had problems settling their differences.
He said that there were no fresh issues in the Bill relating to limits on spending, although these were issues that had not yet been addressed. If election reforms were to be taken incrementally, these were issues that might be taken up at the next stage of reform.
Clement urged that the most practical solution should be found, and given that the question of primaries was not fundamental to the reforms and conduct of credible and transparent elections, the National Assembly should listen to the President’s objections and see how the Bill could be enacted before the next set of elections.
As ever, we’d love to know what you think. Though it’s probably more important to let your elected representatives in the National Assembly know what you think! Do you think the other amendments in the Bill are more important to the conduct of credible elections than the method by which political parties choose their candidates? Or do you think it’s worth letting the whole Bill fail over the issue of direct primaries? Do you see a lack of good faith in the introduction of the direct primaries clause and the delay by the President in waiting to the last minute before indicating what his decision would be?