Despite the opposition to the recommendation of direct primary in the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill) 2021 by the leading political parties and other stakeholders, the National Assembly (NASS) still passed the harmonised version of the bill into law. The passage came after the consideration of the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on the bill.
The two chambers had, in September, set up Conference Committees to reconcile the disparities in the versions of the bill as passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. The committee considered and adopted 21 clauses in the bill, including the contentious clause 52, which makes provision for Electronic Transmission of Election Result (ETR). They had also empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the procedure for voting and reliance on electronic transmission of results during an election.
On the nomination of candidates by political parties as contained in Clause 87, the National Assembly settled for direct primary as against indirect arrangement or leaving the option open for the political parties to decide. In the new Act, Clause 87(1) provides: “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold direct primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the Commission.”
This is, however, different from the earlier adopted version, which stipulated in Clause 87(1): “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold direct or indirect primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which may be monitored by the Commission.” The lawmakers explained that they adopted direct primary because of its advantages over indirect primary, arguing that the latter is not in consonant with the tenets of democracy.
For a process that passed through the 7th and 8th National Assemblies and has now been completed by the Ninth National Assembly, the lawmakers deserve commendation for passing the bill into law. It is good that the matter has come to this stage. However, there is need to still make adjustments where necessary to guard against unintended consequences that may work against the legislation.
Direct primary involves the participation of all party members in the selection of candidates for elections, while indirect primary entails the use of delegates who are usually leaders and members of the executives at the ward, local government and state levels, to elect the party’s candidate(s) at a congress or convention. No doubt, both have advantages and disadvantages. In settling for direct primary, the National Assembly must have put into consideration the chaotic atmosphere at various congresses and conventions by political parties in the country. It must also have been concerned with the intra-party squabbles and court cases that trail the selection processes. On the surface, direct primary appears to be so good. In theory, it takes the party to the people and allows them have a say in the selection of the candidates. It is equally more representative and relatively transparent. However, direct primary hardly works in practice. Even its perceived advantages can also be abused. The direct primary can be quite expensive and cumbersome to administer. The logistics can be quite demanding on INEC and the political parties concerned. Foisting the option on all the political parties may not augur well with our democracy. Besides, all the political parties cannot afford the logistical and organisational requirements for direct primary.
Considering the obvious disadvantages of direct primary, we suggest that each political party should be allowed to choose any mode of primary it deems fit, whether direct or indirect. That duty is purely and strictly within the internal affairs of the political parties. The adoption of this uniform mode of primary by the lawmakers is undemocratic and must be jettisoned forthwith. Parties should be allowed to pick their candidates by any method they prefer.
It is instructive that both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are on the same page in kicking against the direct primary option. Their unanimous opposition to the direct primary option clearly shows that something is definitely wrong with the prescription.
Therefore, we urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to be in a hurry to give assent to the bill. Let him listen to the concerns of those who are opposed to the direct primary option as recommended in the bill before assenting to it. We also suggest that the bill can still be revisited before it is finally signed into law to reflect the views of major stakeholders in the Nigerian project. The bill as now passed will not serve better our emerging democracy because it stifles the freedom of choice, which makes democracy to endure. Since Nigerians are looking up to the President to bequeath to them a legacy of credible election and democratic culture, he should not fail.