The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill will soon be signed into law now that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is back in the country.
Gbajabiamila disclosed this to State House correspondents after he met with the President at the Aso Rock Villa on Thursday.
The PUNCH also learnt on Thursday that the bill had been dispatched to the President by the Clerk of the National Assembly.
On the purpose of his visit, the Speaker said, “I just came to brief the President about the goings-on in the country as they affect the National Assembly. So, we had fruitful discussions. We had fruitful discussions and tried to strike some synergy.
“We had a very robust discussion about the tripartite committee on the Electoral Act amendment, which is what I am sure you are asking about. If I tell you that we didn’t discuss that, I will be lying to you.
“You are aware that the National Assembly has passed the issue of direct primaries and electronic transmission of election results. That is the position of the National Assembly. It has passed both houses. Hopefully, we will get the Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted very soon now that he (Buhari) is back. We are hopeful that it will become a law and Nigerians will be better for it.”
Asked about the concerns raised by the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who on Tuesday advised the President to return the Electoral Act to the National Assembly, because of direct primaries, which he claimed would be too expensive for political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Speaker said the National Assembly could not put a price tag on democracy when making decisions.
“I have heard that argument about cost. And this is what I have to say. Do you put a price tag on democracy? I don’t think you should. What is too much and what is too little to buy freedom and democracy? I don’t think you should put a price tag on it,” Gbajabiamila said.
The Speaker stated that the National Assembly would continue to support direct primaries, adding that it would empower the people at the grass-roots level.
“Let everybody participate in governance. Democracy is defined as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. ‘People’ is used three times in that definition. And it doesn’t start from general elections. It starts from primaries. So, we have made it abundantly clear,” Gbajabiamila argued.
He added that the indirect primaries have for a long time not helped the country’s democracy.
The Speaker said the indirect primary method had undermined the success of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run law, which reduced the age limit for electoral offices.
“How will the young people get involved? Now, they have a chance with direct primaries. We have opened up the space and they can get in and mobilise themselves and if they are popular enough, they win the election. They are not dependent on any godfather,” he said.
Gbajabiamila added that the President had always supported direct primaries, adding that he had been a proponent from the very start.
The APC Governors’ Forum led by Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, had last week rejected the inclusion of the direct primary method in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. The Peoples Democratic Party had also kicked against making direct primaries mandatory.
So far, about six governors have openly rejected the adoption of direct primaries.
Meanwhile, the Senate said on Thursday it was confident that the President would sign the bill.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya, stated this in an interview with journalists after he defended his panel’s 2022 budget reports before the Committee on Appropriations.
“The amendments to the Electoral Act were made based on the views and requests of Nigerians. I believe that it will help to guarantee free, fair and credible elections in the country,” Gaya said.
Speaking on the controversial issue of direct primaries, Gaya said it was the best way to accommodate people at the grassroots in political parties’ internal democracy.
He said, “I believe that direct primary is taking democracy to the grassroots. That is what President Buhari always talks about. It will allow people who are card-carrying members of the party to decide who should be their candidates.
“We are happy with it and we believe that President Buhari will sign the bill very soon. The National Assembly will transmit the bill to the President this week for assent and we expect that he will sign it into law by the grace of God.”
Gaya lamented the non-functionality of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System during the just concluded Anambra State governorship election.
He assured Nigerians that all errors noticed during the poll with regards to the BVAS machines would be corrected before the 2023 general elections.
The senator stated, “We keenly watched the Anambra governorship election and we realised that the BVAS has serious problems.
“We are surprised that the machines malfunctioned during the Anambra governorship election, because they worked perfectly when INEC demonstrated them for us at the committee.
“We have agreed to try the machines in other elections coming up in 2022 so as to determine their functionality before the 2023 general elections. We still have the Ekiti and Osun elections coming up. However, INEC is already working on the solution so that we will not have problems in 2023.”