The passage of the Electoral Act amendment bill by both chambers of the National Assembly recently continues to generate commentaries amongst Nigerians of all walks of life.This is so particularly so as federal lawmakers heeded public demand for the electronic transmission of electoral results in the new act.
Perhaps, the most controversial aspect is that of the direct primaries which the lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favour of.
With this development, every registered member of any political party now has a say in who becomes the candidate of his party across all layers of government, provided President Muhammadu Buhari signed the bill into law.
Although a good number of Nigerians are quite impressed with this piece of legislation, the governors are not happy given that their grip on party structures may eventually be of no significance in future elections.
But for Hon. Nkem Abonta, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party and former chairman, House Committee on Public petitions, the new bill if signed into law would help restore the integrity of elections in the future.
Speaking as a guest on Sunrise Daily, a Channels Television breakfast show, earlier in the week, Abonta described the bill as very good, adding that “no law is perfect. We now have something that if practised, will be better than where we are coming from.”
Abonta also spoke on the direct primary model this way: “This appears to be tearing the political parties, governors and the National Assembly apart.
“But we looked at what was in the past and tried to bring it to focus. In the past, most parties used the delegate election.
“The All Progressives Congress, APC, recently used the direct primaries. So, I don’t know why some people are now crying. President Muhammadu Buhari came into power through direct primaries, the governors didn’t complain and they all supported that.
“Ordinarily, parties are meant to look at it whichever way but some people in the House did everything possible to retrieve power back to the people and ensure inclusive participation where people will directly decide who they want.
“Yes, it is cumbersome, but every method you want to use has its advantage and disadvantage. We deem it fit to also try another thing so that people will feel they are part of the process”.
He further spoke on why it is wrong to allow political parties to decide the method of selecting candidates for election.
“We all know that the process in most cases is being hijacked. We also know that some persons call the shots when it is delegate election.
“We also know that it is easy for some people to seize it. In the past, some people will just take the delegates, put them in one hotel but some members of the National Assembly deemed it fit to devolve power to the people and made it a participatory democracy.
“Let people nominate directly and that is what is bringing this problem.
“The governors in both PDP and APC who are complaining should give us justification on why it should be delegate election”.
He continued: “Interest will always play out in things like this. If you go back to history to how things were done, you will appreciate what I am saying now.
“In the past, governors specifically had a greater role in regulating and directing delegates. But how will you now direct the masses?
“I am saying law should be made futuristically and should be made to address problems and not to favour one person, not to anticipate what will be. In actual sense, what we did was an anticipation of what some persons want.
“Like I said, some members in the House and Senate deemed it fit to take away this power from where it was domiciled before to the people.
“If you are popular, you will win. In the past, some governors decide who comes to the House of Assemblies in the states.
“In the Senate, there are some Senators who don’t know their ward chairmen or officers from their wards.
“The officers have been programmed by the powers that be. They feel that the only way to come back is to return the power to the masses.
“So right now, those ward chairmen and delegates are no longer necessary. For those who manipulated the system to erect structures, that cannot help them now because the structures will collapse because if the bill is assented to, power will return to the people,” he added.
Also speaking Hon. Hon. Benjamin Kalu, Chairman House Committee on Media and a member of the APC said it was wrong for his party and the opposition PDP to fault the position of lawmakers on direct primaries stressing that what matters is the interest of ordinary Nigerians.
His words: “I don’t want to accept the claim that APC and PDP are not happy with the position of the parliament.
“It is important to note that we don’t make laws for APC or PDP; we make laws for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The judiciary cures the gap in the society through the courts. The Executive cures the gap through implementation, projects and the rest of them.
“We cure the gaps in the society through legislative interventions. We have over the years seen the gap in our democratic system and there is nothing else left for us to do than to take the bull by the horn and to make sure we demystify this almighty electoral act.
“What are the ingredients of this particular electoral act that has impressed lots of Nigerians beyond the colours of political parties?
“You are looking at the electoral transmission and the almighty direct and indirect primaries.
“We need to look at the benefits of direct primary and what it can do for Nigerians.
“Political parties are not supreme to the legislative arm of government. Once we make laws in the parliament, the parties are obliged to submit themselves to the laws.
“It is not the other way round. In the course of making the laws, the representatives of the people considered the pros and cons of going in a particular direction.
“Political parties are platforms that are supposed to strengthen the institutions of democracy.
“The legislative arm is the fulcrum of our democracy. If you remove the legislative arm, democracy will collapse.
“We have seen the benefits of direct primary and that is why we are putting it in our laws to guide the various political parties”.
For the first time in the life of the 9th Senate, Nigerians are happy that the nation’s political recruitment process is about to be shaped by parliamentarians who have received bashing times and again for doing little or nothing to deepen the democratic process.
It is hoped that this would mark the beginning of good things to come particularly, with the 2023 general elections on the horizon.