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Nigerian Governors Working to Scuttle Electoral Reform, Lobby Buhari Not to Sign Electoral Bill

After crippling the local government system across the country, a situation believed to have laid the foundation for the current widespread insecurity, some governors have continued to do all within

After crippling the local government system across the country, a situation believed to have laid the foundation for the current widespread insecurity, some governors have continued to do all within their reach to prevent President Muhammadu Buhari from signing into law, the Electoral Amendment Bill, adjudged to be in the best interest of the nation’s democracy.

The main reason the governors have been putting pressure on President Buhari not to sign the bill into law, as the December 19 deadline for the president’s assent draws near, is because it would whittle down their powers as ‘godfathers’ in their respective states as well as break their selfish control and financial manipulation of the local government system, THISDAY can reliably report.

This, nonetheless, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has warned that a prolonged delay in assenting to the new Electoral Bill might hinder preparations and smooth conduct of upcoming elections, including the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States, scheduled for June and July, 2022.

INEC has further expressed concerns over the proposed area election for the Federal Capital Territory in February next year, which it claimed could be affected too if the issues around the bill were not resolved and signed quickly.

INEC’s worry, however, came at the same time that the Convener of the Civil Society Situation Room, Mrs. Ene Obi and the Executive Director of the Policy and Legislative Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr. Clement Nwankwo made a case for the president to urgently sign the Electoral Bill into law.

Similarly, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) on Monday, said proposals in the Electoral Bill 2021 would improve Nigeria’s elections and the political party’s candidate selection process and therefore urged President Muhammadu Buhari to sign it.

Unfortunately, since the two chambers of the National Assembly harmonised their positions on the mode of election to be adopted for primary election and forwarded same to President Buhari for his assent, some governors had been uncomfortable and had been visiting the president to convince him on why the idea was not ideal not, especially, given its cost implications.

Although the INEC too had once posited that direct primary was a far more expensive mode of primary election, however, noted quickly that it was not any of its business but that of the political parties to address, adding also that if the parties had been funding indirect primaries, then, it is their business to find a way to fund indirect primaries.

Interestingly, last week, there were speculations that the president, after a lot of pressure, had rejected the amended electoral act bill as forwarded to him by the lawmakers, forcing the presidency and the legislature to issue rebuttals on the reports, saying, “We are not aware”.

Yet, the governors were said not to have relented from stalking the president on why he should not sign the bill, even when this was believed to be stalling the INEC from preparing for other off-season elections, starting from January, when Ekiti State governorship primary election has been slated to hold and February, when the FCT area poll was billed to hold.

According to THISDAY findings, “The 36 governors want to ensure that they continue to collect local government allocations, which they mismanage. And as we all know most of them are always in Abuja every month, they wait, collect fund from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) and they disappear.

“Their over 20 years of disinvestment in the local government system is what has led to the rise in insecurity, banditry, kidnapping and increase in social vices across the country.

“Now, these governors are moving to scuttle the electoral process for their own selfish gains. They control their election, they control the local government election, now they want to control the National Assembly and that of the president as well and they are putting pressure on Buhari not to sign and if Buhari does not sign the bill into law, it would have dire consequences for electoral reform,” the source, who wanted to remain anonymous, claimed.

However, corroborating THISDAY’s findings, National President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Ambali Olatunji, recently alleged that the illegality perpetrated by governors was responsible for the destruction of the local government system in the country.

Ambali argued that the root of insecurity as well as socio-economic challenges bedeviling the country was traceable to the mismanagement of the local government system by state governors.

According to him, “As at today, you can no longer move from one state to another without initially asking if you will get home safely. Insecurity in the south, east, west and north. This is not the Nigeria of our dream. We are bedeviled by abject poverty, joblessness, hopelessness, threat to the nationhood.

“Everybody now resorts to ethnic agitation. We have come this far, because Nigeria is no longer working. The nation has failed the masses. At 61, Nigeria has abandoned her constitutional role in guaranteeing security and peace in the country.

“This can be traced to the systematic decay and destruction at the local government level. Local government system is the most strategic, most relevant, most popular and most acceptable tier of government in the country.”

He also called for direct funding of the local governments, saying allowing state governments to be in charge of local government fund was synonymous to giving same food to a lion and a dog and you ask them to go and share them.

Also, an expert in Electoral Law and Justice, Dr. Akin Oluwadayisi and member of the Center for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), at the weekend, urged Buhari to sign the bill into law before the deadline expires.

According to him, Section 14(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) declares that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government itself derives all its powers and authority, adding that it would be through direct participation in political parties’ primaries which the proposed legislation promotes, that the participation by the people in their governments shall be ensured.

“Indirect primaries deny them this right of grassroot participation,” he added.

The law expert noted that political parties over the years had failed to allow direct election of delegates, when primaries are conducted, and argued that if INEC was given the powers to supervise the process, it would not only ensure credibility but also build confidence of the people in the future general elections that would be conducted.

“The governors in Nigeria have been tested with the required true democratic involvement of local governments but failed through selfish interest, dominating control and financial manipulation of the local government authority,” he said.

According to him, allowing indirect primaries into the legislative bodies was to further empower the governors to play the role of gods in determining the future of Nigeria’s democracy, good governance and sacrifice direct participation of the electorate’ desires.

Oluwadayisi, therefore, stressed that the bill would benefit the political parties, especially, the ruling party more in that when the party members were given the freedom to choose active and responsive legislators, their performances and delivery would go a long way to promote the party’s image and collective interest of the people, who have chosen them.

On the dangers of delaying the bill, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, while speaking as one of the panelists at a Situation Room Stakeholders Forum in Abuja, said the Commission would find it difficult to adjust its plans if the Electoral Bill was suddenly signed midway to the series of off-season elections scheduled within the first half of 2022.

He said: “We as the electoral management body need to be prepared early enough. As a today, we have a number of elections that we are going to conduct. We have the the FCT Area council elections that we are going to conduct in February and then we have the Osun and Ekiti governorship elections that are going to take place in June and July.

“So we need to have a hold-on-to new electoral legal framework so we can begin to prepare, do procurement and also begin to design our guidelines and regulations before we get close to the 2023 general election,” he said.

He said the implications of a new Electoral Act would be that INEC would have to draw new guidelines and regulations in readiness for the 2023 general election in the country.

According to him, INEC would reach conclusions on how to carry out monitoring of party primaries and the cost implications after the political parties would have decided on nature of primaries and submitted same to the commission.

He added that one of the landmark issues as far as the amended Act was concerned, was the deepening of the democratic process through the introduction of technology in the electoral process, adding that with a new electoral legal framework coming into effect, political parties would adjust their guidelines and processes to align with the law.

“If the new electoral legal framework comes to force, political parties are going to conduct their primaries early in 2022 and presupposes that they will also have a guideline for the conduct of party primaries,” he said.

In her remarks, Obi said though it might not be possible to have a perfect law for the nation’s elections, but the new electoral legal framework was definitely something that could move the country forward in the right direction.

Also, Nwankwo said Buhari would be doing colossal damage to whatever legacy he might leave behind if he failed to heed the yearnings of Nigerians and sign the Electoral Bill into law.

“We know that the President has spoken to everyone that he needed to and consulted with everyone that he wants to consult with, so if he doesn’t sign the Bill, it is his decision and not that of anyone else,” he said.

Another panelist and gender rights campaigner, Mrs. Ebere Ifendu, said women were excited about the newly amended Electoral Act, because some of innovative ideas brought in to further the cause of women participation in governance in Nigeria.

Ifendu, however, flayed the recently concluded national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which she alleged failed to uphold the party’s constitution that provided 35 per cent affirmative action for women inclusion in party offices.

The CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, in a statement in Abuja, also called on President Buhari to sign into law the Electoral Bill 2021, saying this was necessary to represent the most significant legacy of his presidency.

“With the successful integration of technology into the electoral process, a legal backing for electronic voting and transmission of election results will further President Buhari’s commitment to improving Nigeria’s election.

“This will surely be President Buhari’s legacy for Nigerian people. CDD believes that the next critical step that must be taken is for the assenting into law, the Electoral Bill 2021. This is particularly as we head to two off-cycle elections in Ekiti and Osun States in 2022 and the 2023 general election,” she said.

Hassan, who noted that the Senate had, on October 13, re-amended certain aspects of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill contained in Clauses 43, 52, 63, and 87, respectively, said, “Interestingly, the legislative document represents another beautiful outcome from the collaborative efforts of the Senate and House of Representatives,” she said.

According to her, with the direct primary election, every registered member of the parties will directly determine their candidates, adding that the CDD believed this would reduce the floodgates of litigation that usually trailed the idea of consensus or imposition of candidates by political godfathers and party owners.

Meanwhile, the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) by INEC, has entered its 10th week in the second quarter, recording 4,681,206 as fresh registration while Completed Online and Physical Registration stood at 2,228,993.

INEC in a weekly update, announced that the new update was as at 7:00 am yesterday December 13, 2021.

A breakdown of the type of registration that made up the completed online and physical registrations of 2,228,993 showed that 922,188 were Online, while 1,306,805 were Physical.

The update also revealed that Male (Completed Registration) was 1,124,294 while Female (Completed Registration) was 1,104,699.

For Persons Living With Disability (Completed Registration) was 21,910 and for the Youth (18- 34 years) it stood at 1,586,018.

Obinna Chima in Lagos, Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

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