By Akinwande Soji-Ojo
Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, has said his colleagues are not afraid of direct primaries as being alleged by some Nigerians.
Governors and legislators are said to be at loggerheads over the direct primary clause in the Electoral Bill, which President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to.
Speaking on Sunday at the citizens’ townhall on Electoral Bill 2021, organised by Yiaga Africa and partners, Sule said what they opposed was limiting the choices of the people.
He said: “The governors are not against it. As a matter of fact, going back to 2019, a lot of the states chose whether to do direct or indirect primaries within the same political party. A good example is Niger State; they conducted direct primaries.
“It’s not that the state governors are against direct primaries. What the governors said when we had our meeting is ‘why do we want to box ourselves into just an option in cases there is going to be another problem?’ There are so many states right now that even if you say direct or indirect primaries, they can’t do any. Like Zamfara, because of the security situation we have right now and so many other states.
“Direct is similar to what you’ll call general election. So, what we said was that ‘why don’t you leave the options open?’ The Electoral Bill is more than just the direct or indirect primaries. There are so many important things there. Why are we boxing ourselves to either direct or indirect?
“In our own party, the APC, if you look at our own constitution, it actually says three options. The very first option is consensus. If consensus is not possible, you can do indirect, if that one is not, you can do direct.
“So, we say give the political parties the opportunity. By the time the opportunities are given, you’ll be shocked that in the 2023 elections, a lot of states will still do direct primaries.
“The governors are only saying options should be provided. Don’t box us into just one option. In case something comes up that that option is not possible, are we going to go back to the constitution, or are we going to have concessional issues?”
Speaking, the immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, cautioned National Assembly against overriding President Muhammadu Buhari over the Electoral Act amendment bill.
“With the way the provisions of the bill stands, the National Assembly should do the needful rather than contemplating overriding the President by removing the contentious provisions,” Jega said.
He said that the Electoral Act bill contains quite a lot of good things that can enhance electoral integrity, adding that what is key is to give INEC the law to improve ahead the 2023 general elections and also off cycle elections before the 2023 polls.
“The challenge is what the National Assembly introduced in the Electoral Bill which is without serious contemplation.
“It is very important that we have a lot of legal frame work. I think clearly the electoral process would have better integrity if we do direct primaries appropriately.
“Any governor that manipulates direct primaries can the manipulate the primaries indirectly,” he said.
Jega further explained that INEC made 31 recommendations to the amendment of the 2010 Electoral Act to conduct credible elections, but National Assembly only approved 25 of the recommendations.
Also, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Apata, said: “I am so disappointed with the way things have turned up. Everything about Electoral Bill spelt progress but we can’t get it right if steps are not taken.
“Everything about the bill spell progress for the country. The bill should have been passed long ago. The president and the National Assembly being of the same party should have ironed this out to avoid this logjam.”
The NBA president also said the booby trap set may catch up with the nation and send the country back to square zero.
He, therefore, urged the National Assembly to take out the provision of direct primaries and transmit immediately to the president for assent, who should be given the benefit of doubt.
The Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, in his submission, said the timely passage of the bill will be in the interest of deepening democracy and national development.
Itodo said the non-passage of the bill into law rob Nigerians the opportunity of implementing important innovations for the forthcoming FCT council elections and the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States.