Olumide Akpata, the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), says the issues delaying the approval of the electoral bill may be a “smokescreen” to keep the present provisions for the 2023 polls.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in December 2021, withheld assent to the bill, stating that the clause recommending direct primary for political parties “violates the spirit of democracy”.Electronic transmission of election results and compulsory direct primaries for political parties are among the amendments proposed by the national assembly.
Speaking at a town hall meeting held on the electoral bill and organised by Yiaga Africa, a civil society organisation, Akpata said it is disappointing to have such back-and-forth issues on the bill even though the president and the leadership of the national assembly belong to the same party.
“I’m so disappointed with the ways things have panned out. Almost everything about that bill smells progress. Most of the provisions of the bill are pro-people. I see those provisions as incremental steps,” he said.“We cannot get it right all at once. So, we can forgive people that say our government is anti-people; you can forgive them if they come to that conclusion.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership; leadership at the executive arm and in the legislature. We have a bill that has so many innovations that would advance the course of this nation and our people, including ensuring that INEC gets funding one year before the election.
People with disabilities are included in the process, including that you must submit the names of your nominees 180 days before the election. These are all all provisions that are responding to issues that have been highlighted in the process that are in need of fixing.“So, Mr President has pointed out these issues of direct or indirect primaries. He had decided that on the basis of that, he is sending it back to the national assembly.
“I think that we can be forgiven when we conclude if this is a smokescreen of some sort and that there is a spanner thrown in the works to keep us in the moment, so that we will stay with the present dispensation, because this is something that could easily have been fixed.“Mr President is of the same party as those who control the national assembly. If our leaders are interested in the progress for the people and for the nation, these are house issues that could have been sorted out by those in charge of affairs in both arms of government.
“Since the president has thrown in the charge about the direct and indirect primaries and if that provision is removed he would assent the bill, I welcome it to the members of the national assembly to take him at his words. Take out those provisions; we can deal with that further down the road. There is too much in that bill for the baby and the bath water to be thrown away.”