It is ironic that many of the federal lawmakers that failed to get the nod of their parties to contest the next general elections are blaming their misfortune on the provision of the Electoral Act 2022, which was passed by them. A provision in the new act forbids elected public officials (statutory delegates) from taking part in the process. Hitherto, statutory delegates were allowed to participate in the nomination process. TONY AKOWE examines the grouse of the lawmakers
It is no longer news that many lawmakers will not be making a comeback to the National Assembly next year because they did not secure the ticket of their parties to re-contest their position. A few others are not coming back because they either secured tickets to contest other positions or they simply did not re-contest because of the principle of zoning in their constituencies or failed to get the ticket of the higher office they wanted. Some others have left the parties on whose platform they won their last election because their parties failed to give them return tickets.
Many have argued that the lawmakers were mere victims of the law they passed which tactically excludes them from voting at their party primaries. But, the lawmakers believe that the position on the Electoral Act was meant to give Nigerians a free, fair and credible electoral process which however did not work out the way it was planned. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila is not happy that despite efforts by the National Assembly to revolutionalise the Electoral Act and ensure a level playing ground for all participants in the electoral process through the use of direct primary, several members failed to get a return ticket to the House. Gbajabiamila said the fact that some members failed to get return tickets does not mean that they were rejected by their people. He said it is unfortunate that they were not even given a fair chance to participate.
The speaker said: “When we fought for direct primaries we knew exactly what we were saying. It is essential to the practice of democracy that elected representatives must, at intervals, return to the electorate to give an account of their stewardship and seek a renewal of their mandate to serve. This periodic renewal of the mandate gives democratic governments legitimacy. All of us, members of the House of Representatives have not been exempted from this process. Unfortunately, as is always the case in electoral contests, some of us who sought the nomination of our parties to return to legislature have not gotten it. Others who sought nomination to contest other positions have also fallen short in that quest. It is rather unfortunate that the process went the way it went. I make bold to say here that the legislature has once again suffered losses. The loss is not for members who lost; it is a loss to democracy, to the institution and the country.”
Gbajabiamila who appears to be speaking the minds of the aggrieved federal lawmakers said: “If it means anything, I know and I am aware that many of our members did not lose their primaries because they were rejected by their constituents. Many of our members lose because of the process; the process which we foresaw in the House of Representatives. The current delegate system is unfortunately not what a delegate system is supposed to be. Many of our members lost because they were not even given a fair chance. We have good legislators, both here in the chambers and back home, who are probably not coming back because of this process. When we fought for direct primaries in this house, we knew exactly what we were saying. It pains me very deeply that the process has gone the way it has gone. We will continue to push and continue to fight for our members, for democracy, for the institution and for this country. It is necessary to note that the process by which the Electoral Act became law has highlighted valuable lessons that we will do well to take cognisance of. These lessons should inform and motivate us to improve the National Assembly’s law-making process.”
Many Nigerians have argued that the lawmakers were probably carried away by the euphoria associated with the mode of primary that they failed to realise that they were tactically removing themselves from the selection process. Section 84(8) of the law signed by the president did not take cognisance of the statutory delegate to vote at party primary and convention, as it was in the previous act. The new Section 84(8) states that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primary for the choice of its candidate shall clearly outline in its constitution and rule the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting”. They, however, realised too late that the provisions of the section meant that statutory delegates which include the president, the vice president, governors, deputy governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives, as well as members of state Houses of Assembly will not be part of those to participate in the nomination process. Greater attention was on the section of the law that excluded political appointees from the process. The section which has come to be regarded as Section 84(12) states that “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 nomination of candidates for any election.”
However, when the lawmakers realised that they will not be part of the process, they cut short their break to try and amend the law to provide for statutory delegates to vote at the primary. Across party lines, the lawmakers were united in the need to provide for statutory delegates to vote at the primary. By May 11, ahead of the party primary the House of Representatives passed the amended Section 84(8) which was passed earlier the previous day by the Senate. The law went through an accelerated passage going through First, Second and Third Reading the same day and was transmitted to the president the following day for assent. The amendment sent to the president reads: “A political party that adopts the system of indirect primary for the choice of its candidates shall clearly outline in its constitution and rules the procedure for the democratic election of delegates to vote at the convention, congress or meeting, in addition to statutory delegates already prescribed in the constitution of the party.”
However, the president failed to sign the amendment. After initial claims that the bill was sent to the Ministry of Justice and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for advice, the president failed to return the bill to the National Assembly even after the primaries had been concluded, with members not allowed to vote for themselves or those they considered qualified for the various offices. This has not gone down well with the lawmakers, especially those in the Green Chamber. Many of them now want the lawmakers to act on the provision of Section 58 of the 1999 Constitution as amended by overriding the president’s veto and for the first time prove to the Nigerian people they are not afraid to do their job. Coming under Section 58 of the constitution, Ben Rowland Igbakpa (PDP, Delta) said the parliament must perform its function of lawmaking and override the president in accordance with the provisions of the constitution since they will be judged by the quality of laws they pass while holding the mandate of the people.
Igbakpa who is one of the numerous lawmakers who lost out during the primary said: “You have shown leadership and capacity and patriotism. On May 11, with your colleagues in leadership, you brought all of us back from our various constituencies, so that we can work on the Electoral Act as amended. Graciously that was done on May 11. By May 12, this amendment was transmitted to Mr President. Mr President did not just ignore it, he travelled out of the country on a condolence visit to Dubai and that created a lot of problems for the country. There was tension and many of our political parties, out of the tension created what will now be a problem for us in the 2023 to 2027 electoral process. Nigerians are crying for good leadership and the leadership recruitment process starts with our primary.
“You have worked hard and that is why I took us to Section 58. We are to make laws and present them to Mr. President. Where he does not sign, that same Section 58 gives us the powers to make sure that we pass that law without Mr. President’s assent. There’s nowhere that it is said that one arm of government is subservient to the other. I just said you are a very good man; a wonderful man with your leadership. But, by the time you leave this seat by June next year, Nigerians will not remember the good thing that you have done for me as a person or the ones you have done for our colleagues. They will remember you for the laws that you passed that have bettered a lot of Nigerians. And that is why we cannot continue to act as if we are under the executive arm of government. This constitution gave us the powers just as it gave to them. We must wake up as a parliament where we passed our law and we are sure we have done the right thing. We should start overriding Mr. President because this is just the beginning.
“Today, the NDDC Act is enforced because the parliament which you were part of did it. What are we afraid of? Mr. President has not committed an offence. What he has done is in accordance with the rule of law and the constitution and I believe by the time we do our own by overriding his veto, we would not have committed any offence. We will work according to the constitution and the rule of law. I think it is time for this parliament to stamp its feet and tell Nigeria that we are working for them and not for the party or any individual. Mr. Speaker, I implore you as a great leader, that if we are sure that we have done what is right to the Electoral Act 2022, we should rise and take our pen, collect signatures and by the grace of God override Mr. President and give Nigerians the enabling electoral law that will stand the test of time.”
Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu who also lost out due to power play and the hold on delegates by the government said the parliament must do what is required by law as a way of saving the institution. He said: “There was an aspiration to make the law a more perfect law, to remove every ambiguity, even though there is no difference between the 2010 act and the 2022 act and suddenly, majority of members, where it has been weaponised, have become victims. Something is wrong, especially in an environment and in an institution where the two leaders of the Senate had to cross over to other parties because of an inherent condition. Anything that occasioned it or anything that warrants it, if it is our electoral act or our politics, or the environment where we operate, we need to do a better job and we have to fight it. For me, it is just the battle that is lost, the war is on. We should make sure that the law is retooled and made clear. If it requires the parliament to take action to override what has not been signed, we should be willing to do so.”
Gbajabiamila believes that overriding the president cannot be achieved through the collection of signatures as suggested by Igbakpa or through a voice vote, as some members were suggesting. He asked Igbakpa to come to the floor with a proper motion on notice which will be debated and a decision taken. The speaker affirmed that Mr. President was in breach of the 30 days provided for him to sign the law or communicate his decision to withhold assent. He, therefore, urged the lawmaker to formalise his point of order by presenting a formal motion to the House.
He said: “Thank you for your point of order. Some of what you said is that there is a need in your opinion for the house to override the withholding of assent to the electoral amendment. Clearly, the Constitution says it is 30 days leeway and we have gone beyond the 30 days. But, the constitution also says that it is not automatic that you override unless you are convinced as a House that that amendment must stand. If you are not convinced with the argument advanced by the president or in some cases and this case, there is no argument advanced, then you can override. But, for us to override, I believe it requires two-thirds and it cannot be by voice votes, neither can it be by way of signatures unless, of course, you have enough signatures by two-thirds.”