Political squabbles within the ruling party may have been responsible for the outright rejection of President Muhammadu Buhari’s attempt to amend the Electoral Act 2022, a few days after assenting to it. It will be recalled that on 25th February 2022, while assenting to the Electoral Act 2022, President Buhari had said he was signing the bill in the expectation that the National Assembly will immediately amend section 84(12) of the Electoral Act. He followed this up with a letter on 28th February 2022, forwarding an executive bill to amend the said section 84(12). The section provides as follows:
“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 of any election.”
President Buhari hinged justification for seeking amendment to section 84(12) on the claim that it contravenes sections 40 and 42 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, which provide for the right to association and the right to freedom from discrimination, respectively. According to him, the provision disenfranchises serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at political party convention or congress for nomination purposes where it holds earlier than 30 days to the election. He added that the only expectation placed on serving political office holders within the context of the Constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election as provided in section 66(1)(f) of the Constitution. It is important to note that section 66 (1)(f) refers to persons seeking election into the Senate and House of Representatives and section 107(1)(f) makes a similar provision for persons seeking election into the State Houses of Assembly.
The 9th National Assembly has not been known to challenge or contradict the President’s legislative requests. Its rejection of the President’s Electoral Bill amendment came to many as a surprise. For close observers of the political intrigues surrounding upcoming political primaries in the parties, this development was unsurprising. Close political watchers note that competing political interests and jostling, account for the rejection of the President’s bill. Legislators seeking to be candidates for various elective positions in the upcoming general elections appear to have used legislative advantage to cut down the ambitions and aspirations of Ministers and other officials in the Executive who want to use the advantage of their offices to advance their candidacy to various positions ahead of the next elections. At the early stages of the current democratic dispensation, holders of executive positions in government have as a matter of practice been required to relinquish and resign those positions at least three months before political party primaries. This practice was prevalent during the 8-year rule of President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 – 2007) and continued even until the end of the rule of President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2015. Under President Muhammadu Buhari, this widely accepted and commendable practice appears to have been jettisoned. Also worryingly jettisoned is the practice of excluding political office holders at legislative or executive level from holding political party positions. Under the current dispensation, governors and even legislators have been appointed to concurrently hold the position of party chairmen or other offices while retaining their executive and legislative positions. This of course has had very damaging effect on governance and responsibility. With the Senate rejecting the President’s Electoral Act amendment, it is expected that the House of Representatives will not proceed with any consideration of the bill.