The Independent National Electoral Commission has offered a “general” endorsement of the Electoral Bill but made an apparent suggestion to President Muhammadu Buhari to consult with political parties and security agencies over the controversial direct primaries provision, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
The National Assembly had on November 19 transmitted the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari, who, statutorily, has 30 days to assent to or veto the proposed law. The bill, which repeals the extant Electoral Act 2010 as altered, seeks to make direct primaries the only means for political parties to select their candidates for elections and legalise electronic transmission of results, among other provisions.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, had on November 29 written INEC, seeking its “detailed and considered view by December 3 to inform” the decision of Mr Buhari on the bill, presidency sources confided in PREMIUM TIMES.
Especially regarding the direct primaries provision, which outlaws the delegate or indirect system, the bill has caused a split in the ruling party, APC. While the APC-controlled National Assembly leadership and Bola Tinubu camp prefer direct primaries, there is a tendency, including a number of governors, that want the delegate system to remain in the law book.
In the extant Electoral Act 2010, as altered, direct primaries, delegate system, and consensus are allowed as processes of selecting candidates for elections by political parties.
“It is the considered view of the Commission that, generally, the Bill contains substantial provisions that could lay a strong foundation for the improvements of the electoral process,” INEC said in a December 3 letter to the presidency, exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES.
“Among others, provisions on early submission of candidates for election, electronic transmission of results, and the power of the Commission to review declarations made under duress or are inconsistent with the law will contribute immensely to better management of elections, increased public confidence in the electoral process and overall democratic consolidation in our country.”
However, the INEC letter signed by chairman Mahmood Yakubu appeared to suggest to the president to make wider consultations, making an apparent reference to the issue of the primaries, which concern political parties.
“Being a multi-stakeholder activity, these matters cannot be determined by the Commission alone without consultation with political parties which shall be responsible for conducting pre-election activities involving their members and the security agencies that have the responsibility to secure the process,” INEC said.
The failure of INEC to make direct reference to primaries and offer a position buttresses the sensitivity of the matter, which lies at the heart of strategies of opposing camps within the APC towards clinching the presidential ticket for 2023 elections.
“There is no way any aspirant can defeat Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu) in a process that requires members from ward to ward to queue behind his poster or agent and that of others,” a senior government official, who is also a pro-Tinubu strategist said, asking not to be identified by name to protect his job.
“Not many politicians can come out to openly mobilise against Asiwaju, even if they covertly don’t like him. But in a delegate system, they can go against him; at least, that is a secret system.”
Meanwhile, the opposition PDP wants Mr Buhari to assent to the bill, the spokesperson, Kola Ologbodiyan told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The bill contains other germane issues and we cannot allow the APC to foil the process because we want to battle against the direct primaries provision,” Mr Ologbodiyan said.
“The party may challenge the direct primaries later, no party should foist a system on others. But sign the bill first.”
Mr Ologbodiyan said the president did not consult with PDP as a stakeholder.
Apart from INEC, the presidency also sought the views of the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Inspector-General of Police, and Vice-President.
The AGF’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, said he had no information on the response of his principal, Abubakar Malami, to the request for advice by the President.
Presidency spokespersons, Garba Shehu, Femi Adesina and Laolu Akande, did not comment for this report as they did not return calls to their phones.
But a senior State House official, who agreed to speak “in strictest confidence” because he has no authority to discuss with the press on the matter, suggested that Mr Buhari favours direct primaries, allowing members to decide who their parties present for elections.
“What I can tell you in strictest confidence is that Presidency is clearly dissatisfied with the seeming isolation of the people and party members from the party selection process as it is,” the official said. “And the President is determined to correct this as a legacy.”
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