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INEC awaits President’s action on Electoral Act

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is awaiting the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari on either direct or indirect primary for the 2023 elections.

The National Assembly has forwarded the Electoral Bill 2021 to the President for assent.

But, the direct primary has led to a sharp disagreement among the National Assembly, governors and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Although a meeting was convened at the Presidential Villa at the instance of the President to resolve the dispute over direct or indirect primary, it ended in a stalemate.

The two chambers of the National Assembly went ahead to pass the Electoral Bill 2021 into law.

The decision of the President will, however, determine the mode of primary to adopt by the electoral commission.

Yesterday, APC governors converged on Kebbi State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, as from 8:45pm to deliberate on the contentious issue.

Former Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Chief Anthony Sani, said Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors’ and lawmakers’ opposition to direct primary is devoid of morality and wisdom.

He said the direct primary would not only put an end to plutocracy and abuse of incumbency but also reduce the prevalent incidence of imposition of candidates often associated with governors and money bags during the indirect primary.

A National Commissioner of INEC, who spoke in confidence, said: “We actually do not have a choice in this matter. We are awaiting the final decision of the President.

“Any mode of primary signed into law by the President is what we will adopt.

“We will require a lot of logistics if it is direct primary. It means we have to supervise the primaries of all registered parties from Ward to Local Government, State and National levels. Certainly, we need huge resources for direct primary.

The bill was forwarded to the President in a November 18, 2021 letter, which was signed by the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Ojo Olatunde Amos.

The letter reads in part: “ In consonance with the provisions of the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, I wish, with due respect, to forward to Your Excellency, the authenticated copies of Electoral Bill, 2021 for your consideration and assent.

“After Your Excellency’s assent, one copy of the signed Bill should be retained in your office while the other two are to be returned for our further action, please. With my highest regards.”

A ranking senator said: “With the transmission, the governors have lost the battle to reverse our decision on the direct primary which we took in the overall interest of our democracy.

“Our position is that we must put an end to impunity and imposition of candidates. Let all those who want to contest in 2023 emerge through a free and fair process.

“We won’t allow any group of people to sit in a place to fix candidates for elective offices.”

It was, however, gathered that governors have been lobbying to prevail on the President not to sign the bill into law.

The battle has shifted to the Presidential Villa, with the governors and the National Assembly selling the merits and demerits of direct primary and indirect primary.

A presidential source said: “It is now left to the President to scrutinise the bill with strategic members of his cabinet and advisers.

“The President cannot rush into the signing of a bill into law. After a careful study, he will make his position known to Nigerians. The truth is that the mode of primaries is just an aspect of the bill.”

A governor confirmed that most governors have a preference for indirect primary because of cost.

“Left to the governors, we want indirect primary because it is cost-effective and it will reduce intra-party crisis to a manageable level.

“The direct primary will cost all the parties much money which they cannot afford. It is a populist approach but it can lead to squabbles within the parties. This approach may lead to litigations, which can hamper the conduct of the 2023 elections.

“We are also selling our idea to the President to withhold assent until the indirect primary clause is restored to the bill.

“Forget the excuses of senators and members of the House of Representatives on imposition. Are governors not closer to the grassroots than they are?

“Can any of the lawmakers win a primary without the backing of his governor? Whichever method is adopted, a governor will still be in control.”

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