By Yaya Ademola
FOR the fifth number of time on 19th November, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law. The main problem for the declined assent was an attempt by the Legislators to expunge the provision of conduct of indirect primaries in the nomination of parties’ candidates so that they could only emerge via direct primaries. Put differently, Section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, being amended states: (1) A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions. (2) The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.
Thus, the National Assembly wanted to do away with indirect primaries. According to President Buhari, expunging indirect primaries provision and limiting political parties to direct primaries option alone could be very prohibitive and suicidal. For instance, conduct of direct primaries across 8,809 Wards across the country will be very expensive for the parties, especially non-main political parties; it will constitute logistics problems for INEC to monitor and create security challenges, as security agencies will be unduly overstretched for presidential, gubernatorial and legislative positions. On this, if the truth must be said, Mr. President’s grounds were reasonable and logical.
In the process to retaining indirect primary and instituting consensus arrangement, the executive unnecessarily foot dragged the signing of the bill into law. Meanwhile, there were other underlying explosives laden in the bill that Mr. President and his Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in particular, refused to see for amends. For instance, they refused to attend to Section 84(12), “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”; and (13) “Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.”
This Section takes away so much from the executive and in fact, denies all its appointees their democratic rights to partake in the affairs of who becomes what in their political party and forces them to abdicate their position if they intend to seek political office. The President eventually signed the Electoral Law Amendment Bill into law on 25th February, 2022, barely a week to the expiration of the last window he had to sign as required by law of the land. Having assented to the 2022 Electoral Law, it now dawns on the executive to appeal to the National Assembly to immediately commence a process to amending Section 84 (12) in particular. Since members of the National Assembly were elected and not appointed, they are, in no way, affected by the provision. Little wonder that a letter from the President to the Senate on 1st March, 2022, seeking amend to Section 84 (2) was thrown out on 9th March at its second reading and passage.
On 19th March, 2022, in suit FHC/MU/SC/26/2022 instituted by one Nduka Edede of Action Alliance (AA) at the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, presided over by Justice Evelyn Anyadike, the nullified Section 84(2) of the Act and ordered the Attorney General of the Federation to delete it from the 2022 Electoral Law. The National Assembly has, however, frown at this development, insisting that the court has no such power to dabble into the matter and vowed to appeal the judgement.
This ensuing confusion largely informs why some Ministers who are appointees but seeking political office in 2023 have refused to resign their appointments in line with the provisions of the original 2022 Electoral Law. They may, however, meet their waterloo at the party screening level, as the party would most likely play safe should the Federal High Court Ruling authorising AGF to expunge the controversial Section 84(2) from the Electoral Law fails to eventually fly at the Supreme Court.
In Osun where there is a one-stand alone gubernatorial election in July 16, 2022, INEC timetable for 2023 general elections, necessitated by the 2022 Electoral Law, has unsettled the ruling APC. Before the timetable delivery, the political permutations and agenda of Governor Gboyega Oyetola and his men were to railroad every APC politician and political office holder and seeker to concentrate on Oyetola re-election bid. Having secured 4+4 agendum, the next plan was to alienate and overrun every politician in the State House of Assembly and National Assembly that has any political leaning with Rauf Aregbesola and be replaced with Oyetola’s men as final political relegation of the Minister of Interior in Osun politics. March 30th, 2022 statement from Mr Francis Famurewa, Osun APC East Senatorial leader is a testimony to this assertion. It reads, “Sequel to the new timetable released by INEC on the primary/emergence of candidates for the National Assembly and State House of Assembly, the Osun East Senatorial officers met in Osu, Atakumosa West Local Government on March 4, 2022 and resolved the following: The INEC timetable has unwittingly put the party in a sensitive situation, which needs to be properly managed to ensure the success of the party in the July 16 gubernatorial election. The Oyetola 4+4 project is very much sacrosanct and should be the focus of all party members. APC members should not allow the new timetable cum personal to make us lose focus of the bigger picture which is 4+4 agenda.”
But it won’t be an easy ride for Oyetola and his men. An attempt to overrun some areas, especially where the alleged Aregbesola men hold sway and are popular could have some backlashes that will jeopardise the so-called 4+4. The truth of the matter is that the new timetable has endangered 4+4 original agenda. Now, everybody is concentrating his/her resources and energy to secure one position or the other, hiding under the banner of 4+4. How does a political appointee who has resigned his/her appointment in agreement with the 2022 Electoral Law relegate his political ambition to background for somebody 4+4 personal ambition? Who does that? Interestingly, there’s a roadblock to movement of aggrieved party aspirants from one party to another as the 2022 Electoral Law has empowered INEC to have custody of all political parties membership lists latest by 4th May, 2022. This month of May will be interesting as the primaries that will produce candidates for these elections hold this month and the outcome of those who eventually emerge as candidates of APC in the State and National Assembly will go a long way to shaping July 16 gubernatorial election direction.