There is uncertainty over the delegates’ lists of political parties, including the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, following the delay by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in signing the amendment version of the Electoral Act.
Chieftains of the major political parties, who spoke to The PUNCH on Thursday, said the President’s assent to the amended Act would enable parties to know the exact number of delegates that would vote during presidential primaries as statutory delegates were excluded in the existing version of the law.
The PDP has scheduled its presidential primary to hold on May 28 and 29, while the APC will elect its presidential candidate at its shadow election taking place on May 28 and 29.
Almost two weeks to the primaries, the parties are not certain whether or not statutory delegates will vote with the President’s delay in signing the amended Electoral Act.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had on Wednesday passed the amendment to the Act to recognise statutory delegates as voters during primaries, congresses and conventions of political parties.
The National Assembly after passing the amendment said it expected the executive to sign it last week without delay.
Before the amendment, the section did not provide for statutory delegates, including elected councillors, local government chairmen and their deputies, party chairmen in local government areas and six Abuja area councils, state and federal lawmakers, governors and their deputies, President and Vice- President, National Working Committee members, state party chairmen and secretaries, as voters at the primaries.
Section 84(8) initially read, ‘A political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting.
But the parliament amended the section by adding “…in addition to statutory delegates already prescribed in the constitution of the party in the amendment.”
During the plenary, the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, described the amendment as emergency legislation and the omission of statutory delegates as a fundamental error.
He stated, “The National Assembly will finish with the processing of this amendment on this Bill between today in the Senate and tomorrow in the House of Representatives, and then the Executive will do the assent within the week.”
But on Thursday, there was concern about the President’s delay in signing the amended Electoral Act one week after it was transmitted to him.
The President failed to sign the amendment of the Act. Instead, he signed only the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2022 into law and immediately travelled to the United Arab Emirates. He, however, said nothing about the electoral bill which he has less than 10 days to sign going by the APC’s timetable
Nobody has exact number of delegates for presidential primary – VON DG
Speaking to The PUNCH, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria and Chairman of the Kebbi State Screening of the APC Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, explained that the number of delegates remained dicey because the President had not signed the amendment.
He said, “Nobody has the exact number of delegates electing the presidential candidate because the issue of statutory delegates has not been settled.”
“In the event that Mr President refuses to endorse, then we will be left with three delegates per 774 Local Government and Area Council of Nigeria, which is 2,322. This delegate issue is only applicable if the leadership of our great party adopts the indirect mode of electing our presidential candidate. Otherwise, our constitution and the Electoral Act provide for direct, indirect and consensus.
“All I know is that the Senator Abdullahi Adamu-led National Working Committee of our great party is law-abiding and believer in the doctrine of rule of law; accordingly will follow the provisions of our party’s constitution, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the 2022 Electoral Act and other extant laws.”
President’s delay has caused confusion, threat to 2023 polls – Reps majority caucus
Also on Thursday, the House of Representatives Minority caucus asked the President to immediately sign the one-item amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 to avert an imminent political crisis in Nigeria.
The caucus said it had noted with grave concern, Buhari’s delay in signing the amendment to Section 84(8) of the Act, adding that, it had “thrown the nation into serious confusion and constitutes a huge threat to our democracy and the smooth conduct of the 2023 general elections.”
The opposition lawmakers urged the President to note that any further delay in signing the amendment to the Act “to give political parties a sense of direction” in the conduct of primaries for the election of candidates for the 2023 general elections “has the capacity to derail our entire democratic process and destabilise our dear nation.”
This is contained in a statement issued on Thursday by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, titled ‘2023: Minority Reps Task Buhari to Sign Amendment to Electoral Act to Avert Political Crisis.’
The statement partly read, “As representatives of the people, the Minority Caucus urges Mr President to avert an imminent political crisis which has the capacity of exacerbating the security situation in the country by immediately signing the Amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 and leave a legacy of a credible electoral process to the nation.
“Our caucus calls on all Nigerians, the Civil Society, the International Community and all lovers of democracy to prevail on President Buhari to immediately sign the amendment to the Electoral Act 2022 and save our nation from an avoidable crisis.”
Buhari must do the needful before it gets out of hand – Reps Majority leader, Dogowa
Reacting to the President’s delay in signing the bill, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa Doguwa, begged Buhari to immediately do the needful in order to avert a crisis.
The PUNCH contacted Ado-Doguwa, who led the debate for the proposal at the second reading, on Thursday to react to the delay and the consequences for the forthcoming party primaries.
While noting that the lawmakers provided for statutory delegates in Section 84(8) of the Act for good reasons, the lawmaker noted that the National Assembly could only veto the President on the bill after 30 days.
The Majority Leader said, “I am sure the President, as a faithful democrat, would not undermine constitutional democracy. What we did in the said amendment was to address a perceived lacuna to also cure in our electoral legal framework.
“I am aware the amended clause has been transmitted for Mr President for his assent. I am optimistic that Mr President would assent to it without hesitation whatsoever. It’s an amendment that was well-intended and meant well for the smooth selection of candidates in the various political parties.
“Any legislation transmitted by NASS to Mr President for assent takes 30 calendar days before counteraction can be contemplated by the parliament. It’s my hope that Mr President would do the needful before it gets out of hand.”
Attempts to get a response from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, proved abortive as he did not respond to calls on Thursday.
We are tired of saying something – PDP
Asked by The PUNCH to speak on Buhari’s delay in signing the Electoral Act Amended, National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Debo Ologunagba, said, “Nothing to say. We are tired of saying something.”
Asked if the PDP was preparing statutory delegates for its primaries, Ologunagba said, “We are prepared for the election.”
On the number of statutory delegates the party has, he said, “I don’t have that answer right now but we are prepared for the election.”
Explaining the controversy, the Spokesman for the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, said last week that judicial interpretation of the section in question had disenfranchised all statutory delegates.
He stated, “As you know, the constitution recognises a set of people as statutory or automatic delegates and most constitutions of the parties recognise that. People like Mr President, former governors, National Assembly members etc. Through judicial interactions, we have found out there is a missing link in 84(8) if left to be as it is.
“It will disenfranchise people who ordinarily should be automatic delegates. That’s why in the wisdom of the house, there was a little restructuring towards the end of that particular subsection 8 and we decided to add to statutory delegates already prescribed in the constitution of the party. So, that was what the House did today. Section 84(8) has been amended to accommodate more people who would have been disenfranchised.”
APC renews call for extension of INEC deadline amid pressure
Amid the uncertainty over delegates’ lists, the APC has renewed its call for the Independent National Electoral Commission to extend its deadline for the conduct of primaries by at least one month.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, said this in an interview on Arise Television on Thursday.
He said, “Essentially, for the purpose of the Presidential primary, the delegates consist of three elected national delegates from each of the local governments in the country.
“They constitute the bulk of the delegates. There are other levels of statutory delegates that are also listed to participate in the primary later this month. We simply gather at the national convention before the main act which is the votes that will be cast for preferred aspirants.”
Morka, however, said the APC, just like other parties, would be happy if the INEC extended the deadline for the conduct of primaries.
“It is not just the APC but all other parties unanimously did request an extension of time which has yet to be granted. The reason is that the pressure we feel based on these stringent timelines is not exclusive to our party. It is shared by other parties as well.
“So, a little bit of extension will be helpful even though we cannot guarantee that INEC will make that decision but we are hoping they would because if they did, it would not significantly affect the timelines imposed by the Electoral Act. As a matter of fact, the timelines we are dealing with now are based on INEC guidelines, not the Electoral Act. So, there is a bit of room if INEC could grant a couple of weeks or even a month of extension, that will be very helpful to ease the pressure we feel currently,” Morka added.
More pressure on INEC
Also, a chieftain of the APC, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, warned INEC against stampeding the various political parties into conducting their primaries.
According to him, the insistence of INEC that political parties must conclude their primaries before June 3, 2022 “is unreasonable and illegal.”
He said it was hypocritical that INEC, which had postponed many elections on the very day of the elections, would refuse to shift ground on the deadline for primaries.
“Party primaries are an integral part of the democratic process, and it is bewildering that INEC is not even interested in debates between aspirants, which remains a huge opportunity to define party platforms,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Olawepo-Hashim said while the Electoral Act remained clear that political parties have 180 days to election to submit their nomination, which is in August, it seemed what “INEC wants is just for parties to gather somewhere and select candidates anyhow.”
He also argued that while INEC had the power to draw election timetables, it had no such power over the timetable for parties’ primaries.
No hotel accommodation plans for delegates, says Osinbajo team
Meanwhile, the Osinbajo Campaign Media Team has said there is no plan to provide hotel accommodation for delegates of the APC.
The campaign team said this in reaction to a report (Not by The PUNCH) which alleged that accommodation would be provided for 7,000 delegates to boost the chances of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the APC presidential primary.
Special Adviser to the President, in the Office of the Vice-President, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, was alleged to have made the announcement while wooing delegates in Minna for the Vice President.
Faulting the report, Osinbao Campaign Media Team, in a statement, said, “For the records, Senator Ojudu at no time made such a claim and the Osinbajo Campaign team has no such plans. Such reported offers of free accommodation and free food should be ignored.
“The Vice President continues to spend time interacting directly with the APC delegates and stakeholders across the states answering their questions on issues of politics and governance. It is the plan and intention of the Osinbajo Campaign Team to keep engaging the APC delegates on the major issues of the day, exchanging ideas on how to move the country forward and forging a partnership of stakeholders whose collaboration would go beyond the 2023 elections.”