Buhari may sign Electoral Bill today, seeks lawmakers’ assurances to amend Clause 84

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All things being equal, President Muhammadu Buhari, has agreed to sign the reworked Electoral Act Amendment Bill and may in fact sign the bill today but on the condition that the National Assembly would amend the contentious Clause 84, which is said infringes on the constitutional rights of certain category of people. The contentious aspect bars political appointees from contesting elections and voting as delegates, either at conventions or congresses, after assenting to it.

The president, who already met with the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly was awaiting assurances from the leadership of the National Assembly to amend the bill after signing it into law. “The President wants to put this behind us but simply wants assurances so as not not to allow this to continue to be a distraction on the country. He doesn’t want other good aspects of the bill to continue to suffer.”

Also, the president is expected to meet with governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) tomorrow at the State House, Abuja, to address concerns relating to the proposed February 26 national convention of the party.

But this is not going to be before a meeting of the APC governors tonight in Abuja, where they want to take a final look at the situation and issues relating to the convention before engaging the president tomorrow, and ultimately a decision.

Buhari, last night, decided to lay the issues stalling the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to rest, when he seized the initiative and met with the leadership of the National Assembly with a view to finding a middle ground and closing the deal once and for all.
The president was said to have earlier met with the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, and the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who is the Chairman of the amendment committee, deputised by Wase, on how to resolve the controversial Clause 84 of the new amendment.

According to sources, the president had only asked if they would be willing to expunge the contentious aspect after he signs the bill so that the political turf could be cleared of the electoral bill crisis. According to a source with knowledge of the ongoing conversation, the president is seeking comfort and assurances that the aspect that infringes on the constitutional rights of Nigerians would be brought in conformity to the constitution through an amendment after he has signed to avoid further delay to the take off of the bill.”

But as at last night, THISDAY could not glean from the leadership of the National Assembly if they had agreed to the president’s proposal, but feelers from the Villa, indicated that once the Buhari gets the assurance of the the legislative leadership to address the grey area, he would move swiftly to sign the bill, possibly today.
There had been misgivings about the new amendment, which had also fuelled speculations on whether or not the president would sign it into law.

The latest speculation was stoked by rumours that some governors, especially, those of the ruling APC, were not comfortable with the new amendment and had planned to prevail on the president to also veto it, as he did in the last one.

This is because the harmonised version of the Electoral Bill recently passed by the legislature and considered the final agreed version by both Senate and House of Representatives, had inserted a controversial Clause 84 into the amendment bill.

The implication of the Clause 84 was that all political appointees in President Buhari’s government would no longer be eligible, either as voting delegates or aspirants during the conventions or congresses of their political parties.

Also, by the provision at issue, political appointees were further barred from voting as delegates in a convention or seeking nomination in the primaries of their political parties.

Unlike what was obtainable in the past, when most APC ministers and commissioners took leave of absence to contest their party’s primaries and later went back to their jobs after they lost, that grace was no longer available with the new proposal.

According to Clause 84 of the recommitted bill, “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the convention or congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election.
“Where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this Act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election for the particular position in issue.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act or rules of a political party, an aspirant, who complains that any of the provisions of this Act and guidelines of a political party have not been complied with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political party for election, may apply to the Federal High Court for redress.

“Nothing in this section shall empower the courts to stop the holding of primaries or general election under this Act, pending the determination of a suit.”
Unfortunately, there was a lacuna in the new law, which encouraged infringements on the inalienable rights of citizens to vie for elective offices.

The Supreme Court had pronounced at different times that any law inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution is ultra vires and, to that extent, null and void.
Sources, however, believed that the clause was meant to clip the wings of the governors, who, through appointments, often controlled those who became automatic delegates and determined the outcome of congresses.

Sources further claimed that the idea was originally from the House of Representatives, pushed by a principal officer from Lagos as an agenda to serve some interests. The senate was said to have concurred, just to keep the “one house” impression by the National Assembly.

But the fear being expressed by many was that, with a clause that clearly breached the provision of the constitution, the president might be forced to veto the electoral act amendment bill again, and that if that happened, a new electoral law might not be ready for the 2023 elections, hence the new rapprochement by the president.
Buhari had declined assent to the first amendment bill over the provision of direct primary as the only mode of choosing candidates by political parties.

The bill earlier passed by the National Assembly on November 18, 2021, provided: “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.”
But Buhari, in declining assent, disclosed that he would only give assent to the bill if the lawmakers provided options for the conduct of primaries by political parties.

The president also cited several disadvantages of the provision to the system, including security and possible manipulation by incumbent officeholders, who might be seeking re-election, as well as political parties’ inability to muster funds for it.

Buhari Meets APC Governors Tomorrow

However, the president’s meeting with governors over the national convention tomorrow, was initially scheduled to hold last Tuesday but was called off shortly before the president proceeded on a four-day official visit to Brussels, Belgium, to attend the EU-AU Summit.
Sources told THISDAY at the weekend that the rescheduled meeting, which is at the instance of President Buhari, is to look at the national convention of the party fixed for Saturday, February 26, 2022.

Some stakeholders have been pushing for a postponement of the convention citing logistical challenge and planning issues. They pointed out that the February 26 date was no longer feasible. Ultimately however it is the President’s decision to make whether to go ahead or not. And as at this early morning he had not made that call.

The meeting with the President, which will be led by the Chairman of the Interim Committee of the party and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, with 20 other APC Governors in attendance, would now table another possible date and other logistics for approval by President Buhari.

The interim leadership of the party was said to be pushing for the convention to be moved by two weeks to mid March but it will have to seek the approval of President Buhari in his capacity as the National leader of the APC.
This was the same step Buni-led interim committee took last December, when it approached the President to approve the February 26 date, which President Buhari gladly did.
The same scenario may play out as the President might accede to the extension of the date for the convention being proposed by some of the party leaders.

APC Governors Meet Tonight

Worried by the turn of events over the national convention of APC, governors elected on the platform of the party are billed to meet tonight in Abuja, to take a final stand on the matter as well as decide whether to go ahead or shift the date of the convention.

Some of the governors, whom THISDAY gathered were unhappy with both the president and party leadership, hinted that the meeting tonight would be the final one on the convention and that the outcome may be unpleasant as a majority of them were ready to go all out.

Party sources, who also hinted at some of the happenings in the APC, however, pointed at the Imo State Governor, Uzodinma and his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, as the arrowheads of those pushing for a postponement of the convention.

According to party sources, the duo of Uzodinma and Bello, were the ones orchestrating the postponement, because they were said to be comfortable with the current caretaker committee through whom they’ve been able to push many agenda and were therefore striving hard to ensure they stall the convention.

“Isn’t it unfortunate that people, who had no idea how this party came about are the ones causing the current commotion in our party? Can you imagine Hope and Bello holding the party to ransom over completely self-serving reasons, which do not even align with collective interest.

“I hope the meeting of the governors tonight is not going to be where they would throw it all out through the window, because this is absolutely ridiculous. What is the sense in the postponement of the convention, when we can actually tidy up everything in two or three days?

“Really, what do we need to get this done? With a unity list, the convention would be over in no time, because we’d be going only to ratify the list. So, why stalling the entire party and by extension the country?

“Why is the chairman acting as if he is not in charge? The whole thing is just disappointing and honestly, I’m ashamed how the governors allowed two people without a stake in the party to drive them to this shameful station,” said the party source.

Stakeholders Insist Convention Must Go on as Planned

Already, many stakeholders of the APC had claimed that except the president said otherwise, the proposed national convention of the party was unlikely.

ThisDay further gathered at the weekend that although some members of the party, who were opposed to the convention holding as scheduled, had begun to shop for an injunction to stop the exercise, the caretaker committee leadership of the party was also ready to go ahead with convention plans nonetheless.

This is as the youths of the party, under the aegis of Progressive Youth Movement (PYM),had declared their readiness for the APC national convention on February 26, if the caretaker committee could not carry out the task.

At the same time, some stakeholders in party had listed a few of the factors believed should guide the choice of the new chairman of the party, citing particularly, a corruption-free individual without cases with any of the anti-corruption agencies.

However, with the convention not likely to hold again, THISDAY gathered that the only person, who could have approved that the exercise goes on or be postponed at this stage was President Buhari, who unfortunately, has remained quiet about it until the Tuesday meeting was slated.

While some members of the party had expressed concerns over the level of preparedness for an exercise that is scheduled to hold this weekend, including the zoning of offices and the sales of nomination form that have yet to take off, THISDAY gathered that all of those would be resolved in no time the moment Buhari gives a direction on the convention.

But whether or not the president agrees to go ahead with the convention as scheduled for this weekend after tomorrow’s meeting, some members of the party were alleged to have started shopping for an injunction to stop the exercise from holding.

APC Youths Offer to Assist with Convention

Meanwhile, leader of the Progressive Youth Movement, Mustapha Audu, in an open letter to Buhari, the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) and the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), lamented that overriding personal interest had made it impossible to conduct the national convention of the ruling APC.

He, however, maintained that, “The country is watching, and Mr. President has been promised a date of February 26th, 2022, for the APC National Convention. Any attempt to move this date shows that there is no regard for honesty or integrity, and this dents our image in the eyes of all Nigerians.”
According to him, the convention date was decided over two months ago and the caretaker committee has had more than enough time to put its house in order.

“We want to reassure Mr. President that we, as young stakeholders, stand ready to conduct the National Convention come February 26th 2022 if the current CECPC cannot carry out the task,” the APC youth said, decrying that the schedule of activities released by the caretaker committee for planning towards the conduct of the convention had all been violated.

He said these included the February 14 sale of forms date, release of zoning arrangements, the return of completed forms, which was supposed to be the deadline date.

His words: “Holding a convention is not a difficulty as we carried out the previous ward, local government, state congresses and national convention within 12 days in 2018 between May 2nd and May 14th, 2018.

“However, the overriding personal interest this time around has unfortunately made it nearly impossible to conduct the national convention in over 20 months since the establishment of the CECPC in June 2020.”

Also, a document titled: “Our Position On Consensus National Chairman” by some concerned members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and South-South Emerging Leaders’ Forum (SELF), had stated that the party would converge for the national convention and that the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led committee would hand over the baton of leadership to a set of newly-elected executives.

According to the document, members said that their views were no longer needed as executive committee members, notwithstanding the fact that top of the convention’s checklist was the election of a new national chairman, after the controversial suspension of Adams Oshiomhole left a huge vacuum in 2021.

“In fact, reports from some quarters have attributed to the plethora of internal conflicts and unending chaos at some state branches to the lack of an arrowhead, who will steer the activities of the party.

“To them, the APC needs a leader, who will bridge the gaps across different ranks of the political group and maintain a cohesive force to retain power in the 2023 general election.

“So, for the sustenance of a zoning arrangement that is workable, the party stalwarts have decided to allow the North-Central zone to produce the next Chairman, thus eliminating Northeasterners and people from other geopolitical zones from the race.

“This entails that contestants with an edge include Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (Niger State), Senator Umar Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa State), Mallam Saliu Mustapha (Kwara State), ex-Governor George Akume (Benue State), Mohammed Etsu (Niger State), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa State) and former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Abu Bawa Bwari (Niger State).

“As Nigeria’s biggest political party shops for a new Chairman, we hereby examine some factors that may determine, who wears the crown from the North Central zone,” the stakeholders said.

According to the document under “Integrity test”, the stakeholders said, “Since the 2023 election is fast approaching, some have said the party may shoot itself in the leg by producing anyone, who has corruption cases hanging around his neck.”

This, according to the proponents, was to avoid providing the opposition with an opportunity to rubbish the party’s integrity.

They urged leaders of the party not to elect as chairman, some former governors and individuals, who have been indicted for financial crimes by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies.
They said it would be out of place for the APC to elect as national chairman and head of the National Working Committee (NWC), a person, who is indicted by the EFCC and other like agencies.

Another criterion listed is the alleged intra-state rivalry, stating that political observers had contended that the failure of some states to produce a consensus candidate might thwart the chances of some candidates.

They equally cited the age factor, saying, “If the words of President Muhammadu Buhari are to be banked on, age might be a factor in the chairmanship race.”

They argued that the president, while hosting members of the APC National Lobby Group, at the State House, said it was time to give younger elements in the party the benefit to aspire to leadership in the party.

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