Tunde Opalana, Abuja
Relieved that the National Assembly eventually transmitted the much-awaited amended Electoral Bill, a cross section of Nigerians have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to leave a major legacy of reforming the nation’s electoral process by assenting the bill.
Making the appeal to the President , Nigerians across various divides urged him not to allow the recently passed bill suffer the same setback that the previous one suffered when he refused to assent to it due to some disagreeable clauses.
They noted that the National Assembly had to bend backward to accommodate the part giving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the final say on the mode of transmission of election results despite what seems to be the obvious position of both the executive and the legislature. They urge the President to side with the people and give them what they want by assenting to the bill.
Enjoining the President not to allow his disagreement with aspects of the just-passed bill, if any, to stop his assent, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Paschal Njoku, said the position that the federal lawmakers took was in line with the wishes of the majority of Nigerians that they represent. He noted that even after assenting to a bill there is always a provision for amendment.
“I know that many governors, especially of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are not happy with the direct primaries imposed on political parties by the amended bill and I believe the President will likely be on the same side with them, but that is not a reason for him not to assent to it.
“Many democracies of the world, like the United States of America go by direct primary; so there may actually be nothing wrong with it, but even with his opposition, he can assent to it and then seek amendments later. We need to move forward.”
Tokunboh Adisa, a university teacher wondered why some Nigerian leaders would refuse to do what is right even when they know that is the right thing to do. “I am still at a loss why the President refused to sign the Electoral Bill the last time, and I hope such will not be repeated this time around, because if care is not taken he can still hide under such flimsy excuses and refuse to sign it again but I hope that will not happen.
“I am especially concerned because the government did not get what it wanted, due to the popular outcry; otherwise they were going to shoot us on the foot by rejecting electronic transmission of result. But how can we be sure that the President will not because of that find a reason not to sign it?
“But from what I see of the people, there is determination to ensure the right thing is done and the right platform is put on ground to have a credible election. So the best thing for all of us is for him to sign the bill; it will be good for all of us.”
Ahmad Yusuf, a human rights activist and expert in constitutional law, said but for the electronic transmission of election result and the use of technology, the result of the just-concluded Anambra State governorship poll would probably be different.
According to him, “the result of the Anambra State election was a shock to many people, even though the turnout was low. The use of technology, especially the electronic transmission of result and the use of BVAS machine made a lot of difference and I think we should think more of this and embrace more of technology.
“The President should sign this quickly, even though I expect an amendment to the bill soon to accommodate electronic and disapora voting, but we will celebrate what we have for now and wish he signs immediately.”
A security expert and consultant, Prince Ehize Oribhabor, reasoned that signing the amended electoral act at this time would not only put the President in the good books of many Nigerians, but give his political party, the APC, a major campaign instrument and make the people to believe that they do not have ulterior motive on the 2023 election.
“Actually, I will say signing the electoral bill into law is in the interest of the President and the APC, his party, because refusing to sign it gives the impression that they have something they are afraid of, but signing it will give the impression that they are on the side of the people. So, if I were in his shoes I will sign it without delay,” Oribhabor said.
An anonymous serving Senator said: “This amendment, if signed by the President, will also stop the governors from removing federal lawmakers at will. They (governors) just sit in their offices and decide who will return and who will not return. They have been doing this for 20 years.”
A chieftain of the APC and Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Chief Osita Okechukwu, appealed to Buhari to assent to the Electronic Transmission and Direct Primary.
He said: “I’m sincerely afraid that the controversy, hyperbole and cacophony of voices over direct primary may wittingly or unwittingly scuttle the entire Electoral Bill, and thus throw away the baby – BIVAS and the bathe water, Direct Primary. Mr President, please avoid this booby trap against electronic transmission.”
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) categorically said there should be no justification for the President to withhold assent.
NEF spokesperson, Dr. Hakeem Baba – Ahmed said: “the President should respect the democratic process as well as his recurring comments that he intends to leave a better electoral process in 2023.
“There is no reason why President Buhari should not assent to these amendments.”
Niger Delta philanthropist, mobilizer and grassroots politician, Joel-Onowakpo Thomas, who is also a chieftain of APC and its House of Representatives candidate in the 2019 general election, said the direct mode of primaries “will put an end to hijacking party structure by moneybags to enable them impose candidates on the electorate.”
He enjoined all Nigerians, no matter their political persuasions, to unite against electoral malpractices.