Udora Orizu writes on the pros and cons of direct primaries for parties, which was recently approved by the National Assembly in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill
The National Assembly, last week finally passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and has transmitted it to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. If Buhari assents to the Bill within the constitutional time frame of 30 days, the legislation will govern the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives, in the harmonized version adopted the electronic transmission of election results in line with the position of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The lawmakers also resolved that political parties should adopt direct primary as mode of electing their candidates for elective offices.
The Bill seeks to address a plethora of issues peculiar to Nigeria’s political sphere, such as the cost of politics, godfatherism, internal democracy, the use of technological innovations to ensure free and fair elections.
With the atmosphere already warming up for the 2023 general elections, many Nigerians have applauded the move by the lawmakers to rescind it’s earlier decision and allow INEC adopt electronic transmission of election results. However the move by the lawmakers to change the primary mode of electing political candidates from indirect to direct has generated controversies among stakeholders who see it as an infringement on the independence and internal democratic workings of individual political parties. In simple definitions, a direct primary is one whereby members of a political party choose their party’s candidates while an indirect primary is one whereby party members elect delegates from among themselves who in turn decide the party’s flagbearers for upcoming elections.
The Passage of the Bill
The passage of the Bill followed the consideration of the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila had last month constituted a conference committee to meet and harmonise the differences in the Senate and House versions of the Bill. The lawmakers re-amended certain aspects of the Bill contained in Clauses 43, 52, 63 and 87, respectively.
In his presentation, the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, who chaired the Conference Committee said the Bill when passed by the National Assembly, and subsequently assented into law by the President, would regulate the conduct of Federal, State and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory Elections.
He disclosed that the Conference Committee at its retreat had considered and adopted twenty-one clauses in the bill.
“It is imperative to point out that with the successful harmonisation of this bill, a process that started from the 7th Assembly through to the 8th National Assembly has now been completed by the 9th National Assembly. The bill is now ready for passage and Presidential assent. I am happy to state that most of what we call “citizens top priorities” on the Electoral Act Amendment, including the use of technology have been addressed by the Electoral Bill, 2021″, the Senate Leader said.
Accordingly, while adopting the conference committee report last Tuesday, the Senate approved the re-amended clauses to provide for direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions. At the House, the report was approved at plenary same day, after it was laid by the Co-Chairman of the Conference committee, Hon. Akeem Adeyemi.
Minority Caucus, PDP Kick
However, following the laying of the report, the Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu raised a Point of Order under Privilege, saying members should be given copies to go through whether there were differences or not.
He was of the opinion that the House should set a date that would enable members to consider the reports, adding that it was a good judgment that the House Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Hon. Hassan Fulata moved a motion for the suspension of the consideration of the report.
Elumelu noted that he didn’t see any need for the House to hastily consider the report, insisting that members should be given time to go through the report.
Responding, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said it was the harmonisation committee report for the House to adopt.
The Speaker insisted that everyone was aware of what the report contains, stressing that the two point of divergence in the Bill had even been recommitted in the Senate.
Gbajabiamila added, “We must all agree that the Electoral Act is something that we need to wave running behind right now. Nigerians have been asking for this day since June. You know that this House is adjoining till Tuesday because we need about two extra days for the committee’s to complete their work on the budget.
“So when you want to push this to next week – to the week after, we don’t have that luxury of time. The reason why the Electoral Act was not amended last time was because we thought it was too late in the day and we shouldn’t be shifting the goalposts when it’s almost time for election. We have primaries coming in the summer of next year. I think, you know, time is of the essence and particularly because the issues are so clear, discussion of yours is a bit dilatory.”
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in a statement by the former National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said it received the news of the passage of the harmonised Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which among other things, provided for direct primaries for nomination of candidates for elections by political parties with shock.
It further stated that no political party has the right to impose it’s processes on another, alleging that it was what the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled National Assembly intends to do with the amendment.
PDP stated: “Our party holds that it is the inalienable right of each political party, within the context of our constitutional democracy to decide its form of internal democratic practices including the processes of nominating its candidates for elections at any level.”
Ologbondiyan further stated that the PDP also believes that no political party should force its own processes on any other political party as the direct primaries amendment, “a practice of the APC sought to achieve.”
Similarly, indications emerged that the governors on the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) are not comfortable with the resolution of the National Assembly on the direct option as mode of primaries for political parties to pick their candidates for general elections.
The APC governors operating under the aegis of Progressives Governors Forum, (PGF) at the end of their meeting last week rejected the National Assembly resolution. Though the meeting, according to the sources ended with an understanding shared by governors and federal legislators that direct primaries being actively canvassed by the lawmakers is not entirely unacceptable, the Caucus concluded that with the expected assent of President Muhammadu Buhari on the just-passed Electoral Amendment Bill, the party leaders are ready to stick together on direct primaries.
Pros of Direct Primaries
The adoption of direct primary option, even though has not gone down well with some segments of the political class, readily reminds Nigerians of Option A4 used in the third republic. It was one of the most successful mode of conducting both primary and the election proper in 1993 and led to the most credible election in the nation’s history.
Speaking on the pros of the direct primary mode of electing candidate, the House Spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu said that following extensive stakeholder consultations and engagements on electoral reforms, it was clear that the delegate-based primary election method is not only unpopular, but is inefficient in producing credible candidates.
According to him, direct primary will help check god-fatherism, enhance intra-party democracy and reduce the commercialization of elections in Nigeria
In the statement titled, ‘the relevance of the amended clause 87 of the electoral Act and the re-engineering of the political space by the Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila-led House,’ Kalu said indirect primaries have enabled god-fatherism and corruption attendant to this twisted form of aristocratic democracy.
He also said that indirect primaries have created a system where unpopular political candidates rely on buying delegates to vote them or their cronies at party primaries, hence a diligent primary election which is to choose credible candidates that would most likely be acceptable to the electorates.
While reminding all political players that direct primaries is in the best interest of democratic advancement as a nation, Kalu reiterated that the conduct of party elections by direct primary remains the most transparent mode of nominating a candidate in any election.
Kalu said, “Direct primaries marks a true return of power to the people. It is more participatory, creating a level playing ground for all aspirants and allowing the emergence of popular candidates. Direct primaries will increase the participation of women and youth in the political process. It will help check god-fatherism, enhance intra-party democracy and reduce the commercialization of elections in Nigeria.The House is pleased that the Senate has agreed with its position on direct primaries as well as the electronic transmission of election results. The harmonization of both chambers of the National Assembly on these issues is a clear indication of the maturing of our democracy.”
Though it is believed that direct primaries moves us closer to the wish of people, there are permutations in some quarters that members of the National Assembly, are not doing it because they believe in democracy or love the people, but rather it is for their own interest, because Governors have been said to use indirect primaries through delegate system to ensure many of them don’t return so they believe direct primaries will help them.
Also, some are of the view that if the objective is to forestall hijack of the nomination process, indirect primary is much more relevant and difficult to manipulate. Analysts also pointed out that most political parties may find this option very difficult because, except for the two major parties, PDP and APC, most other parties don’t even have registers of their members.
Another disadvantage is that the option of direct primaries, which will require elections in all wards, may require the kind of financial resources that most political parties may not be able to afford. The direct primary option is also believed to be made lame when grassroots party members await signals from their leader on who to vote for which they loyally abide to.
Speaking to THISDAY, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Mr. Festus Okoye explained that the monitoring of the direct primaries of the 18 registered political parties in the country has financial and security implications, stating that it will require about 17,618 officials to supervise only the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in one day.
He further explained that monitoring the direct primaries of the 18 political parties registered so far would involve much staff.
“If a political party decides to organise its primaries at the Registration Area (Ward) level, the commission must deploy monitors to the 8,809 Registration Areas in the country. If the party decides to organise its presidential, governorship, National Assembly, and state assembly primaries at different times and on different days, it means that the commission must deploy four times to monitor the primaries of the party. If a political party decides to organise its primaries at the local government level, it means that the commission must deploy monitors to the 774 local government areas of the country.”
Despite the huge logistics challenges, Okoye said the commission would surely work out the modalities for the monitoring of the primaries as soon as the law is assented to.
Will President Buhari Assent to the Bill?
The choice of direct primaries is not going down well with many politicians in both the ruling All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party.
The House Spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, speaking to journalists last week expressed optimism that Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill will be expeditiously assented upon transmission to the President. While Nigerians are anxious that President Buhari assents to the Bill as quickly as he receives the transmitted copy from the National Assembly, only time will tell if he will sign it into law.