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Governors’ Chair Fayemi, Benue Governor Ortom Praise Buhari for Withholding Assent to Electoral Bill

Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom, have reacted to President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal of

Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and his Benue State counterpart, Samuel Ortom, have reacted to President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal of assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, saying the decision was in the interest of the people.

Fayemi, however, denied insinuations that they were behind the president’s rejection of the bill, saying they were not afraid of direct primaries.

Fayemi, who spoke with newsmen on Tuesday after a meeting with Buhari at the State House, Abuja, dismissed insinuations that the president had danced to the governors’ tune by declining assent to the bill. He said the governors did not care whether the mode of primaries was direct or indirect.

The NGF chairman said as someone, who had gone through both systems during his first and second primary elections to pick his party’s tickets, he was comfortable with any of the modes chosen. He, however, observed that by declining assent, Buhari stood on the side of the people, as he was neither for nor against direct primaries but wanted all options provided for, adding that the president’s courage must be commended for standing on the side of the people.

Fayemi stated, in answer to a question, “I don’t know what you mean by governor’s being happy. At least, as the governor, who has gone through a series of elections, my election to office during my first term was via a direct primary that took place in all the 177 wards in my state. And my election to my second term in office was via an indirect primary.

“So, I’ve tasted both. And I can tell you that it really doesn’t matter to any governor whether you have primaries via direct mode or an indirect mode. What’s governors’ interest and concern is that opportunities are given for an inclusive process. And I think that is what Mr. President’s letter has brought out.

“Mr. President has not objected to direct primaries, neither has he endorsed indirect primaries. He has only said, be fair to all; let all options apply and what you decide should be determined by your own local and peculiar circumstances, being mindful of questions of security, finances, and internal democracy.

“So, I think we all should commend the courage of Mr. President to stand with the people. And the president, you know, just like me, is not afraid of whatever mode you decide to use. When I chaired the primaries, the historic primaries that brought him in as a presidential candidate, I was the chair of that primaries in 2014, it was indirect primaries.

“But in 2019, when he was coming back, he came back via a direct primary. So, Mr. President has also tasted both. And I don’t think he’s somebody to be lectured about the pros and cons of either processes. What is important is to ensure that whatever process you choose in your particular circumstance still provides a process that is as free in a manner as possible.

“It’s not completely free process, but at least there is something that is called substantial compliance in electoral law. And if it meets substantial compliance, I think all of us should be happy with that. We shouldn’t really dwell too much on it. There’s been this exaggerated expectation that direct primaries is going to provide all answers to whatever electoral challenges that we have faced.

“And we all know that that is false. Direct primary has its own challenges, indirect primary has its own challenges, a consensus approach is also not without challenges, but options should be provided. That’s all I think Mr. President has said and whether governors are happy or not, it’s really immaterial to governors whether it’s direct or indirect.”

Fayemi said he was at the Villa as Chairman of NGF to brief the Buhari on issues concerning the states and commend him for trying to stem insecurity in the country.

He said, “Well, it’s customary, I mean, as Chairman of the Nigerian governors, to always exchange notes with Mr. President from time to time, especially, in the yuletide season like this, I always find time to come and say hello to Mr. President.

“But yes, there will always be issues to discuss between the sub-nationals and the president of the federal republic, to commend him for his efforts in trying to stem the tide of insecurity in our country, and to also deal with the economic challenges that we are confronted with.

“On our part as governors, we have had cause during the year to raise issues about insecurity in various domains. We have had cause to raise issues about economic challenges that the country is experiencing; we have had cause to raise other governance-related issues.

“And Mr. President has responded to many of those issues, he has stepped in the bridge, he has assisted us as states, even most recently, he had supported as with bridge finance, to address some of the economic difficulties that states are experiencing. And it’s always appropriate to express our gratitude, even if we continue to raise concerns about aspects of our governance that we still want him to do more on.”

Asked what the president felt about his visit, Fayemi said, “Oh, it’s always enlightening to meet with the president, as you know. I came to see the president in my capacity as the chairman of the Nigerian governors and to express, as I said, gratitude for his approval of the bridge finance, and also to let him know some of the steps we are taking in our various states to also fundamentally address this lack of revenue, because we have a challenge in this country, and tokenistic support will not do what the federal government does not have the resources to, neither do we have the resources in our various states.

“So, we need to look for creative measures that would allow us to be able to raise funds that we can use to tackle the challenges of the moment – the challenge of infrastructure gap, the challenge of educational inequalities of our children that are out of school in parts of the country, the challenge of security.

“If we don’t have the resources, we would continue to have difficulties in managing people’s expectations. And the truth of the matter is, the country is not as buoyant as most people think it is. And one of our suggestions to Mr. President is clearly that we need to create the enabling environment that will give those who can provide such support for the country the confidence to want to invest in the future of Nigeria. Those are the things that I discussed with Mr. President.”

However, Ortom, a member of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who spoke on Tuesday in Makurdi, said the National Assembly needed to reconsider the direct primaries clause in the bill.

Commending Buhari for refusing assent to the electoral bill, Ortom stressed that the electronic transmission of results would deepen democracy and add value to the electoral system.

CSOs Sad, Want Parliament to Override Buhari

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country expressed sadness and disappointment at President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. They, therefore, called on the National Assembly to override the president’s veto in the next 30 days.

The CSOs recommended to the legislature what to do, In a statement signed by Yiaga Africa, International Press Centre (IPC), Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS), Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).

The statement said, “The National Assembly, as a matter of national emergency, should either override the president’s decision or remove the contentious clause (s) from the bill and transmit the bill back to the president for assent within the next 30 days.

“The National Assembly should ensure that all clerical, editorial, and cross-referencing gaps in the current bill are resolved before transference back to the president.

“The president should expeditiously assent to the revised bill upon receipt from the National Assembly.

“Civil society groups, media, and development partners must sustain the effort to protect the will of the people and safeguard the electoral reform process from policy capture and manipulation.”

They said what was more disappointing was the fact that the president delayed his response until the effluxion of time required for assenting to the legislation, the date the National Assembly was proceeding on the Christmas and New Year holiday.

According to the CSOs, “The president’s decision to withhold assent to the bill will have serious implication for INEC as it prepares for the FCT Area Council election, the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, and, ultimately, the 2023 general election.

“The non-conclusion of the electoral amendment process will mean that these elections will be conducted using the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), denying INEC the opportunity to test the efficacy of some of the new innovations introduced in the proposed Electoral Bill 2021.

“This is apart from the delay the commission will have to contend with in the required effort to review its guidelines, regulations and manuals in accordance with certain provisions of the bill.

“Furthermore, based on the revised timelines for specific electoral activities in the bill, INEC and other stakeholders will have to grapple with logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties in the run-up to the 2023 general election. We reckon that this may not bode well for Nigeria’s electoral democracy, hence the clamour for the speedy conclusion of the electoral reform process.”

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale and Juliet Akoje in Abuja

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