Interrogating the Ogbanje/Abiku Spirit of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill

Perhaps , being a pragmatist who having weighed all the odds against the concept of direct primaries for the nomination of candidates for political offices by parties , such as the humungous cost of executing the task, and the risk posed to the lives of potential voters owing to the alarming level of insecurity of lives in the polity, as well as the undemocratic element in the bill that smacks of imposition , amongst other reasons, president Mohammadu Buhari had to demur from appending his signature to the electoral act amendment bill 2021.
It is a document that he has five (5) times sent back to the sender hence l have named it Ogbanje/Abiku.
I will elucidate on that aspect later because it is the easy part.
The hard part that president Buhari is confronted with is the challenge of convincing majority of Nigerians that his action is altruistic and not hypocritical . But how can what was transmitted from Aso Rock Villa via a memo to the senate on Monday the 21st day of December, 2021 not be hypocrisy and bad news for democracy in the optics of the long suffering Nigerian electorate that have been dying for the day that their votes would start counting?
Of course president Mohammadu Buhari does not share their sentiments hence he withheld his assent of the Electoral Act Amendment bill, 2021 as passed by NASS.
That is perhaps owed to the fact that in his position as the president and commander- in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria, he knows what we all do not know, so he has his reasons which he has tried to put across to us.
And the justifications are that Direct Primaries is an undemocratic practice as it would be tantamount to an imposition on political parties ; it is too expensive-lNEC already has a budget proposal of not less than N305b excluding the cost of direct primaries; and the high level of insecurity, (driven by terrorism) particularly in the entire northern region of our country at this point in time, would disenfranchise folks who may be unable to go out to queue up in the open for direct primaries since it would expose them to potential terrorists attacks etc.
As cogent as president Buhari’s reasons appear on the face value, to most Nigerians, the failure to assent to the bill that would allow direct primaries which could have enabled the masses have more say in who governs them, as opposed to the current process of vesting such powers on delegates that are susceptible to manipulation by the governors who appoint them , is simply terrible news that was broken to them on the 21st day of December , of the 21st year in the 21st century.
To me, it is certainly a Lost Opportunity for president Buhari to write his name in gold by being the one who moved the process of electioneering in Nigeria a few notches higher than where he met it in 2015 when he assumed power as president.
The singular act of signing that bill into law had the capacity to erase all the negative actions and inactions attributed to president Buhari from the first time he served in a political role as governor of northeastern state (1975-76) federal commissioner (minister) of petroleum resources, (1976-78)military head of state(1983-85) , chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund,PTF(1994-99) and his current position as president of the federal republic of Nigeria since 2015.
The assertion above is validated by the fact that it is the critical efforts made by his predecessors particularly on the reform of the electoral process, that elevated them to the high esteem in which Nigerians currently hold them.
Particularly worthy of mention, is the late president, Umaru Yar’adua (2007-2010) who laid the foundation by setting up the justice Lawal Uwais committee on electoral reforms after he admitted that the process that ushered him into power in 2007 might have been flawed. Credit also goes to his deputy , Goodluck Jonathan who took over from him as president, and implemented some of the Uwais committee’s reformative recommendations which culminated into the electoral law of 2010, that is currently in the process of amendment.
Given the narrative above, it behoves of president Buhari to take the electoral process to The Next Level which is the mantra of the ruling party at the center , APC when it was campaigning for the re-election of president Buhari in 2019.
Before dwelling further on the political nitty gritty, let us examine some issues in leadership from the optics of the private sector to see if we can make some extrapolations for the political arena. And l would like to commence by posing the question: what are the authentic and altruistic reasons that drive people into aspiring to occupy office (public or private) if not to take the entity higher to the levels beyond the point at which they took over the mantle?
As a Chief Executive Officer, CEO of a bank, oil/gas exploration firm, consumer goods manufacturing company or telecoms outfit, one’s goal is to leave the organization with a better and bigger balance sheet/profit; production of more barrels of oil/gas at less cost , churning out more fast moving consumer goods to cover larger market size and spread of services to much wider audience leveraging robust network infrastructure to expand into wider market size by onboarding more subscribers to grow the base, as the case may be.
Now, in the world of politicians, what would be the equivalent deliverables?
I would assume that it is the provision of the proverbial dividends of democracy. And this entails services such as , good roads for ease of transportation, abundant and affordable houses to enable more people have roofs over their heads, adequate supply of portable water for sustenance of health and avoidance of water borne diseases, well equipped hospitals for improved public health care and longer life expectancy and finally , high quality educational institutions at all levels for the acquisition and spread of better knowledge in the society, amongst others.
And all the outlined dividends of democracy can only be made possible within the frame work of a thriving liberal democracy which is only be obtainable if the democratic space is made more open and transparent.
And one of the ways of making the political atmosphere more friendly and less fractious, is through increased citizens participation in the process of choosing their leaders. Which is what direct primaries by political parties for choosing their candidates would engender.
Given the dwindling turn out of voters in elections, which using as a barometer, the Anambra state gubernatorial election in November 6, held barely a month ago, where only about 10% of registered voters turned out to vote, (a clear indicator of the waning interests of the electorate in engaging in the civic responsibility of voting) it would become clearer that public interest in the political process of electioneering needs to be shored up.
The experience in Edo state about a year prior to the Anambra state governorship contest that is not significantly different, simply demonstrates that there is a pattern of low voter turnout reflecting apathy by potential, but reluctant voters in Nigeria who are skeptical of the process of elections.
And the adoption of direct primaries in the manner that candidates would emerge from within the parties could have given Nigerians the desired shot in the arm that could have spurred more interest in politics.
It is a no brainer to identity the culprit for the dwindling number of Nigerians going to the polls as partly , the lack of transparency in the electoral process that is mired in violence and therefore off putting to majority of the electorate. It is also the reason that high caliber personalities that abound in our country and would have loved to be candidates in political contests, since they are competent, have been giving politics a wide berth.
Now , allow me return to why l have dubbed that piece of legislation causing ruckus in the polity , Ogbanje/Abiku.
The fact that the electoral act amendment bill is a piece of legislation that has five (5) times been sent back and forth between the legislative and executive arms of government, makes it an Abiku to Yoruba people or Ogbanje in lgbo land.
For the benefit of those not familiar with African mythology, it is about a child born but with a predestination to die each time he/she is birthed . So tagging the electoral act amendment bill Ogbanje or Abiku is owed to the fact that NASS has conceived and given birth to the bill and sent it five times to president Buhari who has equally sent it back to the sender five times .
How else can one characterize a process that could have unshackled the political system that is presently defined by opacity, particularly with respect to elections and internal democracy within the political parties, that should have been given a lease of life; instead it has been shot down by the same president for a record five times.
So ,while the electoral system remains obfuscated , through continued prevarications by the political class under the watch of the current leadership in Aso Rock Villa , less Nigerians would engage in the chore of voting as long as they believe that their votes would not count. That simply implies that democracy would either stand still or recede.
That is not a place where our democracy should be especially after 21 years of continuous practice.
Hence, l wondered aloud in a previous article published by the cable on January 4, 2016 and subsequently on other mass media platforms with the title: “Are Elections Giving Democracy A Bad Name ln Nigeria?”
Permit me to reproduce an excerpt:
”Given the unprecedented spate of violence in the 2015 general elections that ushered change of rulership to an opposition political party in Nigeria and the brigandage that eclipsed recent elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states leading to inconclusive governorship elections, all arms of government in Nigeria need to rethink the role of violence viz-a-viz integrity of elections in our fragile democracy.
According to Kofi Annan, former UN scribe ,one of the most striking developments of the last quarter of a century is the spread of elections. In his view, “Commonwealth was both a witness and an agent of this remarkable phenomenon. When it adopted the Harare Declaration in 1991, nine of its members were under military or one party rule. By 1999, all had become multiparty democracies”.
Annan’s analogy reflects exactly the situation in Nigeria because in 1991, our country was under the yoke of military jackboot but by 1999, multi-party democracy had returned and it has consistently remained back-to-back for unbroken sixteen years.”
”Going further, the former UN scribe lamented thus: “Unfortunately, after the initial period of genuine change, rulers learned that elections did not necessarily have to mean democracy: elections could be gamed to remain in power, sometimes indefinitely.”
”Sadly, the scenario described above by Annan generally reflects the state of affairs in Nigerian political space which is now characterised by deadly battles to supplant popular votes with imposition of candidates using the force of violence by elements in and out of govt that are undemocratic.”
”Most striking is Annan’s conclusion that when elections are rigged, it does three things to democracy: firstly it confuses legality with illegitimacy, secondly it confuses repression with stability and thirdly, it confuses an electoral mandate with a blank cheque.”
The former United Nations , UN scribe Annan’s conclusion is damning and disconcerting. More so because the current faulty electoral process in Nigeria that direct primaries could rectify is an archetype of what Annan was referring to.
So , restoring confidence in the sanctity of our political parties process of electing candidates into public office is one sure way of curing the malaise of voter apathy which adoption of direct primaries amongst other provisions could have engendered thus conferring integrity on elections so that it would no longer give democracy a bad name as Kofi Annan queried . Unfortunately, the opportunity has been lost one more time on December 21, 2021.
That is ostensibly due to some elements embodied in the bill deemed to be undemocratic by the powers that be; the high cost of conducting direct primaries in an economy where authorities are struggling to pay civil servants salaries; and a country that is experiencing very disturbing levels of insecurity of lives and properties in most parts, making life look like hell on earth.
At least , the above is my understanding of the official reason adduced by Mr. president in his 21/12/21 memo to the NASS.
Let us not forget that a similar chance to do the needful, (as the youths would put it)was also lost in 2018 patently because the passage of the bill according to Aso Rock demagogues was too close to the date of 2019 general elections.
Although both reasons for bucking in 2018 and 2021 appear to be absurd to most Nigerians outside the orbit of Aso Rock Villa , the ball as the saying goes ends at the president’s table.
Vox populi , vox dei is a latin wise crack which translated into English language is: the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Mr President appears not to be a fan of that aphorism as he seems ready to shake off the flaks being generated by his decision not to harken to the voice of the people as dexterously as a duck would feel at home inside a lake.
Otherwise, he may find himself looking like a fish out of water when the chips are down and he incurs the ire of the people via heightened activities of civil society advocacy groups currently urging the National Assembly, NASS to override the president by activating the relevant portions of the constitution that empowers it to so do.
It is unsurprising that, those that are disappointed by the decision of president Buhari to withhold assent to the bill, believe there are more to it than meets the eyes.
Firstly, it is argued that the long term benefits of the decision to sign the bill into law for the purpose of deepening democracy far outweighs the short term benefits of yielding to the antics of those who want to maintain the status quo ante by wiping up fear and panic sentiments that might have tied the hands of president Buhari.
On the issue of fear mongering, Mr President might have been told that approving direct primaries which was incidentally the process applied during the party primaries that earned him the opportunity of being the APC flag bearer in 2015, would expose the party to the type of defeat which it suffered in recent elections in both Edo and Anambra states gubernatorial elections when technology was leveraged .
Secondly , the hawks around mr president might have also rationalized to him that in the event that the ruling party at the center, APC suffers a loss to the main opposition party, PDP, in 2023, president Buhari may not have a restful retirement in his farm in Daura which he has stated multiple times in various for a that he is looking forward to.
But, applying trend analysis in assessing the fear that might have been sown into the mind of president Buhari, the chances of mr president going to jail after he exits office in 2023 on account of his stewardship is near zero.
Here is why: neither ex-presidents Olusegun Obasanjo nor Goodluck Jonathan (two of the surviving presidents since return of multi party democracy in 1999) are in jail.
Also ,Vice Presidents under the aforementioned presidents , Abubakar Atiku and Namadi Sambo are not in incarceration.
Not even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation , SGF (Ufot Ekaete, Babagana Kingibe , Anyim Pius Anyim) during any of the listed administrations are in prison for what they did or did not do while serving in those roles/capacities .
Yes, there is usually public opprobrium for poor performance in office. But there is also evidence that those who leave positive legacies end up having good footprints in the sands of time.
In the realm of those who left positive legacies is the likes of Umaru Yar’adua, who is currently being applauded for the electoral reforms that he introduced and which the current administration has been unable to build upon.
Incidentally , president Buhari is a beneficiary of Yar’adua’s positive legacy of reform introduced into the process of elections. That is simply because it would have been impossible for an opposition candidate to have won the presidency in 2015, were it not for the card reader machine , and biometric accreditation system introduced and used for that election.
Further more , although the relationship between ex presidents Obasanjo and Buhari is now frosty , the former is on record to have been the latter’s cheer leader during 2015 presidential contest . What is more, ex president Jonathan that lost power to the incumbent, is now such a big deal to the current president to the extent that he and the party that kicked Jonathan out are being rumored to be considering the former president as the next president when Buhari quits the stage in 2023.
In light of the scenario above , it has been established that there is camaraderie amongst the past and present presidents of Nigeria.
So, if anyone or group of people told president Buhari the lie that his freedom would be in jeopardy when he leaves office, so he should make it impossible for the ruling party to be defeated , (except he is caught with his fingers in the cookie jar and which is unlikely, as stealing is not one of his vices) he should figure out that they are doing so in pursuit of their personal or group agendas that are not necessarily in the best interest of our beloved country.
And Nigeria is bigger than them.
One clear fact that everybody should be cognizant of is that Nigeria is unlike South Africa where ex president Jacob Zuma is currently in jail.
So, contrary to the situation in South Africa, our past presidents appear to be protected and insulated from being sent to the penitentiary for the actions that they took or did not take while in office because there may be an unwritten pact to that effect : just like the rotation of presidency between the north and south hashed out during the 1994/5 Abacha convened constitutional conference .
My guess is that the esprit de corp between present and past presidents not to jail each other after office might have been woven or hashed out during council of state meetings which features ex heads of government at the centre -the military and civilians alike.
So, why should president Buhari be frightened, assuming one is correct in the notion that it is one of the underlying reasons for demurring from signing the bill as it was presented with direct primaries mandate contained in it ?
Once again, I would like to crave the indulgence of readers to allow me share my understanding of president Buhari’s expressed concerns about the electoral act amendment bill, 2021 in his now famous correspondence with the NASS one – by-one with the hope that it might create further illumination on the matter from president Buhari’s optics using the prism of a democracy enthusiast like me.
On the fear of insecurity, my take is that if folks are expected to vote in the general elections , they can vote during direct primaries.
So although the fear of disenfranchisement of people in the violence stricken areas is real, the challenge can be dealt with in the same manner it was handled during 2019 general elections . Why is it suddenly an anathema to hold direct primaries in crisis prone areas and expect to hold general elections in the same place?
On the high cost of conducting the elections, my take is that if the president can authorize the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN to commit estimated N1.3 trillion intervening in a variety of sectors of the economy, why not make similar investments towards reforming the electoral system which is the very foundation that a new Nigeria could be built as such reforms have the ability and capacity to shift our country from third to first world as was the case with Singapore when Lee Luan Yew carried out extensive reforms that literarily overhauled the country .
In a worst case scenario, the present price tag of N305 billion annual budget of INEC could be doubled to accommodate direct primaries and it would still be less than the over one trillion naira that president Buhari through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC spends in subsidizing fuel pump price year-on year.
On the question of whether direct primaries should be applied in shortlisting candidates for political office contests by the parties which mr president deems as a possible infraction on some principles of democracy, my take is that given that it is the preference of the critical mass of Nigerians to adopt the direct primaries system which had worked for president Buhari in 2015, why not allow it to be incorporated into the statutes book since it has been proven to work better than the current system that is being resented by the electorate to the extent that it has triggered voter apathy?
If you ask me, Mr President’s non acceptance of direct primaries (as enshrined in the bill passed by NASS) ostensibly because the rule is undemocratic, would be tantamount to crying more than the bereaved simply because Nigerians prefer it as demonstrated by the hue and cry in the polity after he failed to assent to the with direct primaries component .
Ideally , the current uproar against his decision to veto the bill should guide , mr president.
Given the opportunity to choose between removing fuel subsidy and direct primaries, l can wager a bet that Nigerians would choose to forgo fuel subsidy for a robust electoral reform. If in doubt, President Buhari should try conducting that referendum as former military president Ibrahim Babangida did with Structural Adjustment Program, SAP which he threw open in July 1986 for public debate by Nigerians before its adoption.
In any case , what do l know ?
After all, I am only being patriotic and intellectual on the matter rather than being politically correct in a system that runs on the currency of selfish and group interests.
Apart from the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation, Abubakar Malami and INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu who president Buhari acknowledged as those he sought their opinion on the matter , pundits have accused governors of influencing the president’s decision to reject the bill.
Tellingly, governors and legislators had drawn a battle line on who would outwit each other on the question of whether direct primaries should be enshrined into the electoral act in the process of amendment . With president Buhari finally withholding his assent, the leaders of the sub national entities seem to have triumphed over the legislators.
Uncharacteristically, the governors are appearing to be humble in victory by being reticent since 21/12/2021 , when president Buhari communicated his refusal to append his signature to the document that had been subjected to a series of back and forth movements between the upper and lower chambers of NASS.
Does the muteness of the governors suggest that their victory may be pyrrhic? Considering the outrage of Nigerians when they kicked against the expunging of electronic transmission of election results from the polling units to the collation centers introduced by the lower chamber, but which was watered down by the upper chamber , by basically stripping INEC of its independence, before it was finally restored in the current bill rejected by president Buhari ; the legislature should be leaking its wound.
It may be recalled that NASS had transmitted the bill to the president on November 19th with December 19th (one month long) deadline for him to sign-off on it or his failure to give consent may be vetoed by NASS, by passing the act into law if it feels strongly that majority of Nigerians are in support of it.
Being a product of a consensus of opinion and therefore the desire of a broad spectrum of Nigerians, the bill truly commands mass appeal.
But the NASS is unlikely to veto president Buhari’s rejection of the bill (as presented) because it is beholden to the presidency which is another evidence of the general perception of the convergence of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government that in a truly democratic system, are supposed to be independent of each other.
The first and only time that NASS exercised its power of veto since the return of multi party democracy in Nigeria in 1999 was with the Niger Delta Development Corporation, NDDC bill under the watch of then president Olusegun Obasanjo and during the senate presidency of Anyim Pius Anyim.
The NDDC bill only became law after Niger Delta state governors (whose interests were at stake)encouraged their law makers in NASS to mobilize the support of their colleagues from other regions in order to garner the 2/3 majority votes of members in both the red and green chambers required to over rule the president by vetoing him.
Today, the reality is different.
Whose overall interest is at stake or who will benefit if the concept of direct primaries is introduced into the statues book? The masses .
Who is supposed to protect their interest? Their elected representatives in NASS.
But the passage or otherwise of the Electoral Act Amendment bill
Is being treated as a family affair by the party at the center, APC that is clearly monolithic and does not only have control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, but also boasts of the highest number of governors in the country, so it takes no prisoners.
In broad terms , in the present circumstances, the governors are with the president, so who is on the side of the electorate that would galvanize the legislature into transforming itself from boys to men?
One thing that is curious to me and which has remained a sort of puzzle is that most of the governors allegedly pushing the agenda for indirect primaries that would enable them to continue to control the political parties of which they are basically the piggy banks or Automated Teller Machines, ATMs is that most of them are exiting the stage as governors in 2023. With the exception of governor-elect , Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra, Godwin Obaseki of Edo , Gboyega Oyetola of Osun and Abdulahi Sule of Nasarawa states as well as Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara state , not forgetting Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state and Babagana Umara Zulum, the rest of the governors are completing their second them in 2023.
So, l am intrigued as to how the present crop of governors will profit from the control of the political parties by the governors that would succeed them.
I am expressing that curiosity because it is basically through indirect primaries that governors can wield influence over who becomes the president,senator or house of representatives member .
As most of the current governors are in the terminal stages of their tenure, after which some of them that may not make it as the President, Vice President of Nigeria or party chairman end up as senators, it does not add up that they want to bestow so much power on the governors , a power block that they will be exiting in 2023.
But then , politics and politicking are never straightforward calculations.
As such whatever the agenda may be, hopefully , president Buhari would sign the reworked bill into law early in January after NASS might have extracted the portion that is not acceptable to the president , which to the best of my knowledge is the compulsory conduct of direct primaries by political parties.
It is critically important that the legislators make haste so that the amended electoral act may not become too late to be applied in the fast approaching 2023 general elections which is the reason the bill was passed by NASS, but not signed into law by president Buhari in 2018.
As things currently stand , the prayer point of all Nigerian men/women of goodwill as we cross over into the new year by God’s grace , should be that the electoral act amendment bill, 2021 would not become an Ogbanje or Abiku in 2022.

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