The Electoral Bill and its Concerns

INEC card reader

By Chinedum Anayo

After much pondering and consulting, it is evident that the President of Nigeria has let go of his assent to the New Electoral Bill sent to him by the Legislature. This New Electoral Bill addressed a couple of election issues in Nigeria, such as Electronic transmission of results and Direct Primaries.

Unfortunately, the President returned the Bill to the National Assembly without his expected assent citing his objection to the idea of direct primaries as posited by the legislature. The President opined that direct primaries would be highly undemocratic. He expressed concerns that the suggested mandatory use of direct primaries will amount to the violation of the rights of citizens and will lead to the marginalisation of smaller political parties.

The President added that political parties should decide the best way to pick their candidates for elections, explaining that his bearing was based on mindful scrutiny and consultations. Many would say the reasons cited by the President are rather subjective, but I would agree with the President on the issue of Direct primaries as discretionary. Political parties should be given the sole authority to choose their candidates however they find requisite.

It is also important to note that the House of Representatives and the Senate had initially differed on the framework of the electronic transmission of results, but after persuasion from the public, the Senate changed its direction. There was never any fuss about direct primaries between the both chambers of the Legislature.

It is now obvious that both the INEC office and the Office of the Attorney General had advised the President to abruptly reject the Bill.

Occasionally, this rejection is not final as there are supplemental actions existing.

The National Assembly subsequently presented to its members, the President’s resolve to veto the Electoral Act Amendment Bill of 2021. Therefore, what aftermath can we anticipate? The decisive option available to the National Assembly as enumerated in Section 59 (4) of the Nigerian Constitution is that “Where the President, within thirty days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds-majority of members of both Houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.” Profoundly, the Legislature can override the President’s veto.

But will this current Legislature, where the Presidents party (APC) is dominant, override his veto? Clearly, it is unlikely. The constitution plainly expressed the independence of the legislature and the peak of its powers under Section 4, but this 9th Assembly is more than hesitant on issues that affect the executive; The Presidency.

What is the way forward?

Accurately, the proposed direct primaries subvert the principles of the Constitution and the rights of political parties.

The President’s focus on one unit of this bill out of others is very clear now. In the 2023 general elections, the President would want to show Nigerians a distinction about his government.

If this deed has no prospects, the National Assembly has an essential role to play in this finding.

First, as required by law, they could look at this Bill again, make the necessary rectifications and send it to the President for his assent, or they could just override his veto, only for the sole purpose of doctrinal democracy.

President Buhari’s rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill is not only subjective but for the case of direct primaries, also didactic.