The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 passed by the National Assembly has dominated talks in the Nigerian political scene for some time, from the issue of electronic transmission of results to the hotly contested adoption of direct primaries in Section 87 currently dominating the scene.
The passage of the bill by the National Assembly has set Lawmakers on a collision course with the state governors who have vehemently opposed the adoption of direct primaries as the official mode of primaries.
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 which has been sent to the President for his assent, can still be passed into law, should he fail to sign it by the 19th of December, 2021. A simple two-thirds majority of the National Assembly will be sufficient to pass the bill.
Although the President is said to be receptive to the idea of direct primary, he has written to INEC and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN, for advice on the raging issue.
Speaking in an interview, Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, confirmed that the President sought the view of others on the matter of the direct and indirect primaries.
“The President will consult with those who he believes are important to his decision and who can advise him on the Electoral Act. And he will meet them. But I cannot draw boundaries or name specifics and say this is who the President might meet. He ultimately decides,” he said.
The adoption of direct primaries contained in Section 87 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 states that: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Bill shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the commission.”
Some political commentators have speculated that the move by the Lawmakers could be seen as one to checkmate the governors who all but control the state structure and machinery through “appointment” of delegates who carry out their overlord’s bidding.
NASS Members Speak On Adoption Of Direct Primaries
Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC Kabir Gaya (APC, Kano South) gave credence to the speculation when he spoke on the adoption of the resolution of direct primaries.
He said, “Sometimes, governors have delegates and they decide who will be the next House of Representatives member, the next senator.
“The best legislators are those who come back often, because of experience. But these days, because of what is happening, because of interference in indirect primaries, you find out that only 30 per cent will come back to the National Assembly. Of course, you are losing 70 per cent. You are losing experienced people.
“In the National Assembly, the more you come, the more experienced you become. This is a means of empowering the legislators.”
Although the direct primary resolution was not included in the initial version of the amendment bill, a motion was moved by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Femi Gbajabiamila to adopt direct primaries as the sole avenue of selecting candidates.
Revealing his motive for moving the motion during a meeting with some youths, Gbajabiamila said the adoption of direct primaries will bring about accountability, as aspiring political office holders will not be beholden to a few select delegates, but to every member of the party.
The Speaker also conceded that although the motion might not please some political elites, the masses were fully behind the adoption of direct primaries.
He said: “If I know that my return will depend on a few men, I may care about you. But if I know that my return will depend on my accountability and representation to the people, I will do the right thing. It is important for this generation to open the door of leadership to the next generation. We must allow every Nigerian to participate fully in the process of leadership. I, therefore, stand with Direct Primary.
“That’s why I said at different fora that I’m for direct primaries. We have to do this for the sake of the institution. When you gather yourselves (as youths), chances are that you’ll win. Democracy is a government of the people. Democracy is not just a general election. It starts from the primaries.”
While Speaker Gbajabiamila seems optimistic on the prospects of direct primaries, Gov Samuel Ortom of Benue state was quite pessimistic, saying it would cause more problems than planned, pointing to the financial resources and the personnel that would be required to effectively carry out direct primaries for all parties across the states of the nation.
Ortom advocated for the status quo to remain unchanged, wherein political parties have the discretion to choose which process will be suitable to select candidates running for office
“The electoral law should allow political parties to adopt any of the processes suitable for them in conducting their primaries. The adoption of direct party primaries will only give the governors more power to do whatever they want,” Ortom said.
Considering the fuss being generated by the mode of primaries to be adopted in forthcoming elections, The Quest Times takes a look at the pros and cons of both the direct and indirect primaries.
Direct primaries can be described as the process where card-carrying members of the political party are involved in selecting candidates who will run for election.
The process which is carried out at the ward level has been hailed as the most democratic option, as every party member has an equal say in whoever emerges as a candidate.
It is also seen as transparent, as it is seemingly impossible to control or dictate to every party member, unlike in the indirect primary option, where delegates lists are sometimes carefully curated to include those who will carry out the desires of the political strongmen. In some instances, party conventions and congresses are turned into auctions, where delegates flock to the highest bidder.
Others have also argued that it will deepen political participation in women and youths, as every registered party member will be equally involved in selecting candidates, and can easily mobilize among themselves to push candidates who represent their interests. In its ideal form, the direct primary option will see party power taken from the grip of political strongmen and godfathers and returned to the masses who make up the political parties.
One issue with the adoption of direct primary is the lack of up-to-date party membership records by both parties.
Former Kaduna-Central Senator, Shehu Sani speaking on both drawbacks said, “The negative side is that Nigeria political parties do not have a database of their members. Secondly, there are security challenges in the direct primary because almost everybody will come and line up. This is going to be done at the ward offices of the parties and we don’t have the security apparatus that will be able to protect such a process.
“It could be chaotic since almost everybody is going to come and line up, even non-members of the parties can be mobilised to join the line,” he said.
Also despite being touted as a transparent option, some eye-raising incidences have shown that the direct primary option may not always be straightforward, as the recent Anambra gubernatorial elections showed. The All Progressives Congress candidate, Chief Andy Uba emerged via the direct primary option, where he polled 230,201 votes from a total of 348,490 votes, but could only muster 43,285 votes to come in third on election day. You are left to wonder where did the 186,916 go?
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu emerged as the All Progressives Congress, APC, gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 general elections, courtesy of a direct primary in which he polled 970,851 votes, but on election day, he got a lesser 739,445 votes.
Its detractors have also described it as being too financially intensive, as more staff and logistics would have to be put in place to see it successfully carried out.
Also, the case of an executive order signed by President Buhari on large gatherings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic was also cited as a reason against the adoption of the direct primary option.
Speaking after a November meeting of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) in Abuja, its Chairman, the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Bagudu revealed that the APC governors rejected the adoption of direct primaries, insisting that political parties should be allowed to choose which option best suits the party.
He argued that the adoption of the direct primary will stretch INEC’s resources to the limit.
Gov Bagudu said, “We discussed the pros and cons. There has been concern that political parties are voluntary organisations. We express the concern that political parties be allowed to choose from the options that they so desire. There is an Executive Order, signed by Mr President against large gatherings. These are issues we discussed and hope that the best will be achieved for Nigeria.
“We also noted that our ward congresses were results of direct Primaries. The process involves multiple roles by INEC. IF we have to involve INEC, their resources will be overstretched.”
Painting a clear picture of the effect of direct primaries on INEC’s resources, its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information & Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye said the Commission will require around 17,618 officials to supervise direct primaries involving APC and PDP alone in one day.
According to him, “If a political party decides to organise its primary at the local government level, it means that the Commission must deploy monitors to the 774 local government areas of the country.
“The monitoring of direct primaries has financial and national security implications. The ad-hoc staff must be harvested from ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) or the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) or the universities or other sources as may be determined by the commission and supervised by a certain category of our staff.”
Despite the disclosure by Okoye, the commission has stated its readiness for the direct primary option, should the Electoral Amendment Act Bill be signed into law by President Buhari.
Speaking on the issue, the National Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakub said “Since it emerged that the direct primary clause was included in the Electoral Act amendment Bill, many of you have been asking the Commission for its position. The issue is not about our position but the process.
“In the exercise of its constitutional power, the National Assembly has passed the Bill into law: awaiting presidential assent. Once the process is concluded, the Bill becomes law and every person and authority in Nigeria, including the Commission, must obey.”
The indirect primaries election is the system where delegates who are elected at ward level, are placed with the mandate of selecting the candidates who will run for office at the state and national levels.
It has been described as undemocratic and heavily aids corruption and abuse of power, as political power brokers tussle among themselves to ensure their followers who will dance to their tunes, make the delegate lists.
Considering that it has been the most widely used system post-1999, the clamour for its removal by the populace can be understood.
Although it’s not without its pros, compared to the direct primary mode, it is less capital intensive and relies on lesser resources.