Though President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to sign into law the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, passed this week by the National Assembly, which, among other things, makes direct primaries mandatory for all parties for the election of candidates, state governors across party lines are firming new plot to scuttle the amendment.
The governors, who felt the alteration would strip them of their power of deciding candidates for all elective positions in their parties, mounted pressure on the lawmakers to drop the amendment. But the lawmakers refused to back down; they went ahead to add mandatory direct primaries to the bill.
For the lawmakers, the amendment would strip the governors of their massive influence over delegates and restore the powers of all the members of the parties, with regard to selecting candidates for elections.
“This amendment, if signed by the President, will also stop the governors from removing federal lawmakers at will. They just sit in their offices and decide who will return and who will not return. They have been doing this for over 20 years,” a Senator, who pleaded for anonymity, said last night.
The Senator eagerly pointed to how Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State stopped all the state’s three senators in the Eight Senate from returning to the Ninth Senate.
But the state governors have not given up. They want their powers over delegates/selection of candidates retained and are ready to do anything to achieve this.
As a source put it last night, “the governors are ready for total war on this amendment.”
Sources close to one of the governors said: “The governors are waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to return from France so that they can pressure him to withhold assent to the bill. They believe they can convince the President to stay on their side. They are very sure that the President will send this bill back to the National Assembly.”
Another source also said the governors “are not ruling out legal actions” in case the President decides to sign the bill.
He said: “This is a Constitutional issue. Any law against the Constitution becomes invalid. Constitutionally, the political parties have the right to decide their mode of primaries to select candidates. Making direct primaries mandatory is unconstitutional. In any case, democracy is also about choice in any selection process. It is undemocratic to limit the political parties to direct primaries.”
But one of the Senators, who led the mandatory direct primaries, said insinuations that it was undemocratic and unconstitutional “is a ruse.”
He adds: “Democracy is also about people having a say in selecting candidates for elections.”
Speaking with newsmen last Monday night at the end of the meeting held at Kebbi State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, Kebbi governor and Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, PGF, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, said the governors were unhappy about the National Assembly’s resolution on direct primaries.
The Kebbi Governor, who faulted the National Assembly’s insertion of direct primary into the law, maintained that political parties should be allowed to pick the option best suited for them. Bagudu noted that the resolution was against the spirit of the Executive Order signed by President Buhari, which frowns on large gatherings in the wake of the global pandemic.
He further argued that direct primaries were too cumbersome, unwieldy and would overstretch the limited resources of INEC, statutorily mandated to oversee primaries conducted by political parties.
He said: “Direct primaries involve supervisory role by INEC. So, if multiple political parties are doing their primaries, INEC resources will be overstretched, and I think the chairman of INEC had even commented on that.”
The PDP leadership is also opposed to mandatory direct primaries.
The PDP said, “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.”
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 the APC sought to achieve.”
The Director-General, Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), Dr Salihu Lukman, also alleged that APC lawmakers pushing for direct primaries were out to hoodwink the party.
The APC chieftain said understandably, part of the sentiment informing the actions of members of the National Assembly was that “Nigerians have little or zero confidence on the disposition of party leaders, who are alleged to be under the direct control of governors.”
Lukman stressed that largely because of this perception, there was an ongoing media campaign blackmailing governors; that they were the ones perpetrating all the bad practices associated with the indirect methods and therefore the reason why they were against the adoption of direct primary.