Buhari Talks Free Polls, Jonathan Attacks National Assembly, Faults Section 84 of New Electoral Act

*Declares lawmakers legislating to target particular persons, groups

 *Insists quality of delegates disgraceful, monetisation of process unacceptable
Deji Elumoye, Kingsley Nwezeh and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, reiterated his government’s commitment to free, fair, and credible general election in 2023. Buhari also expressed his commitment to ensuring that only honest and reliable candidates won in the polls.

he assurances came just as in a rare public outburst yesterday, former President Goodluck Jonathan took a swipe at the National Assembly over the controversy surrounding section 84 of the Electoral Act, describing it as a mess.
This was just as divergent views emanated from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) barely 72 hours to its national convention, with members expressing fears over lack of activities in the party and indication of unpreparedness for the party’s presidential primary.

Also, yesterday, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command said it had put in place a robust security arrangement ahead of the presidential primary of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scheduled to hold May 28 and 29 at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

Buhari spoke while playing host to an APC Kano Central senatorial aspirant, Senator Basheer Lado, at the State House, Abuja. Lado’s meeting with the president came a day before the senatorial primary of the party holding today.

Speaking with newsmen after the meeting, Lado said the President declared his commitment to credible elections that would ensure the emergence of candidates with integrity.

He stated, “After my briefing, Mr. President reiterated his commitment to credible and peaceful elections and also his desire to see candidates with integrity prevail at the polls all across Nigeria.

“As you are aware, Kano State is the largest producer of votes in Nigeria. It is the decider of who becomes the next president in the presidential election.

“Just like my governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, has done in the past, I respectfully informed and reassured Mr President that the APC is still the party to beat in Kano, despite recent defections.”

Meanwhile, according to the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 elections released by APC, the screening of the presidential aspirants was supposed to take place last Monday. But as at yesterday, the screening committee that would assess the presidential aspirants was yet to be constituted. Accreditation of those that would be attending the convention was also yet to commence, while Eagle Square, venue of the convention, remained empty and deserted.

Director of Media, Yahaya Bello Campaign Organisation, Ms.  Yemi Kolapo, said she was not worried about the lack of activities in the party a few days to the primary election. Kolapo believed the party was only being strategic.
“I don’t think so; they (APC) are only being strategic,” she said.

Asked if the failure of the party to constitute a screening committee was part of the strategy, Kolapo added, “It has been constituted since. They can’t constitute for others and not constitute for presidential.”

The Osinbajo Support Group also said there was no need to worry, stressing that activities would commence at Eagle Square on Saturday. Convener of the group, Badmus Olawale, said, “Screening can still happen 24 hours to the primary day. No worries whatsoever. You will see activities at the Eagle Square ground from Saturday.”

But the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Support Group (AATSG) wondered the kind of example APC was setting as a ruling party. National Publicity Secretary of the group, Hon. Sampson Oburu, said the ruling party ought to be doing everything right at all times.

Oburu said, “Less than 72 hours to the primaries, no screening of aspirants, and possible debates between aspirants is zero. I wonder what kind of example we, as the ruling party, is setting after we promised Nigerians change.

“We moved to the next level, one would have thought that we would move from doing things anyhow to doing the right things, the first time all the time, which to a large extent would muster unity within the party, raise the status of the party, and usher in a new era of hope.

“It is extremely important to sustain and in our own case now, restore confidence in the party by the electorate and public, because as it is, Nigerians are fast losing confidence in our ability to lead the country to the much needed next level.

“There are rancour and strife in almost all the states controlled by our party, multiple factions, poor internal democratic processes, where the electoral processes are hijacked by one or a few individuals against the collective strength of the majority.”

On its part, the APC Rebirth Group expressed concerns about the lack of activities in the party. Its Convener, Mr. Aliyu Audu, stated, “While we are concerned about the lack of activities to show that plans are in place for the special convention, we want to believe that everyone involved is aware of the implications of not having a duly elected presidential candidate by the 3rd of June 2022. So, there are probably plans in place that are unknown to us.”

However, all appears set for the PDP presidential primary, with the Nigeria Police promising a strong security arrangement.
The event would involve a high influx of people into the nation’s capital, and the FCT police say they have taken charge.

The FCT command said in a statement, “Consequent upon the above and in a bid to ensure a hitch-free event, the FCT Police Command has designed a robust security arrangement defined by a generous deployment within and without the election ground and to every nook and cranny of the territory.

“The deployment prioritises the protection of lives and properties of all and sundry by emplacing counter-insurgency measures, maintenance of clear road access, robust stop and search at strategic points around the suburbs and city centre, effective crowd control, and intelligence gathering.”

The command asserted that the Commissioner of Police, FCT Police Command, CP Babaji Sunday, while briefing the divisional police officers, heads of the various tactical and intelligence units of the command scheduled for the operation, charged them to be effective in discharging their duties with utmost respect for fundamental human rights.

Sunday told FCT residents to go about their lawful duties without fear of harassment or molestation of any kind, urging them, also, to remain vigilant and report any suspicious or abnormal occurrence to the police.

 Ex-President Jonathan Attacks National Assembly Over Section 84 of New Electoral Act
Meanwhile, a usually measured and reticent Jonathan yesterday accused the federal lawmakers of making laws to target individuals and groups, rather than observing the long-held maxim that like judges, legislators must be “blind” in the process of law-making, instead of dishing out self-serving legislations.

The former president was speaking in Abuja at the presentation of a book titled: “Political Party Governance,” authored by a former Minister of State for Power, Dr. Mohammed Wakil.

Some Nigerians recently expressed concerns that the National Assembly’s  amendment of some portions of the Electoral Act, 2022, especially Section 84 was designed to boost the chances of certain persons in the electoral race.

Jonathan, who rated the current primaries as a total failure insisted that if it was to be rated, the process would not have a pass mark and would be scored less than 25 per cent.

Picking Bayelsa as a case study, the former Nigerian leader characterised the process as “horrible,” stating that for instance, certain people who did some “magic” created just two wards in a particular state constituency where six elected delegates were to determine the fate of six aspirants in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“Let me use this opportunity to advise the National Assembly that laws must be designed to solve problems, not to create problems and that laws must be made assuming that those who are making the law are blind, just like the judges.

“That is so that they cannot be able to target an individual or a group of individuals and when you go into the system of making laws (like it is being done), you will make this terrible mistake that has really messed up the whole primaries that are going on.

“ If you have not been involved in the process of primaries, you will be happy or you may not be happy, but for those of us who have been involved, it is terrible,” he maintained.

Jonathan stressed that those who are current delegates could easily be bought over, decrying how low the standards have fallen such that aspirants are now openly retrieving monies paid to the delegates.
“Take my local government for example. My local government by divine providence has me as a former president, we have former governors, former deputy governors, former senators and all the rest.

“Then only one elected delegate that you don’t even know where it is coming from, will come to Abuja to select who becomes the presidential candidate. Is that the kind of democracy that we want to practice?” he queried.
The former president alleged that the lawmakers had succeeded in strangulating the electoral system by going as far as determining the mode of primaries, arguing that every political party has its peculiarities.

While contending that laws must not be made at the whims of individuals, Jonathan picked holes on the argument of those accusing Buhari of not immediately signing the amended sections sent to him by the lawmakers, saying that assent to bills must go through a thorough process.

“This controversial Section 84, to me, if you read through that law, 80 per cent or more of that section has nothing to do with it and should   be expunged from the Electoral Act because the National Assembly cannot make laws and lump up all the political parties together.

“They must have the leverage to do things differently. Political parties have different reasons for being set up,” he said, giving the instances of parties in South Africa.

“Two parties cannot do things the same way. Creating a situation whereby every party must have the same way of doing things as to who will represent them is nonsense. It doesn’t help the practice of democracy. We must allow the parties the leverage,” he explained.

He pointed out that since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was already regulating the parties, they must be allowed to choose the method they would adopt in selecting candidates, as documented in their constitutions.

“Parties are not parastatals of the government. And the national assembly cannot make laws to strangle the political parties and that is my thinking on this issue that is quite controversial,” he said.

He further called for the institutionalisation of democracy, instead of the current ad hoc practice by the lawmakers.
“We have to institutionalise democracy. What is the quality of delegates where some people are even going back to delegates to ask for refund when they fail election? This is extremely disgraceful,” he declared.

He added: “In some countries, you cannot give a gift to the voter like what we normally do here where bags of rice and salt are shared. You are inducing the electorate and that’s a criminal offence and the National Assembly should be able to criminalise this.

As it is now, Jonathan argued that any criminal can now aspire to the highest office of the land as far as the person has the money even if he’s an armed robber.

“If I tell you the kind of people that are coming up to pick the people that will represent us, you will feel sad. So the National Assembly must have to wake up.

“Some people are even blaming the president that he did not sign this, he did not sign that and that is another area that the national assembly must wake up to. You cannot wake up the president and say come and sign a bill, whether a new bill or an alteration of an existing one.

“In this matter, the president can’t be blamed. Before the president signs any bill into law, it passes through different processes after the national assembly and their committees finish their work,” he noted.

According to him each member of the National Assembly has at least five aides who are expected to be involved in vetting any bill passed to the president, accusing the lawmakers of not doing their jobs properly.

“The Speaker has more and the Senate President has more. What is their duty? Is it just to be following the speaker and the senate president like a troop of monkeys or a bevy of birds?

“They are meant to read before it goes to the clerk of the national assembly that also has his own aides that will also read through that draft before it goes to the president  and that’s bureaucracy at the government level so that the president is not meant to make silly mistakes.

“So nobody should expect the president to just wake up and say come sign this bill because it must go through a process and people must do their work in this country.

“You cannot just be taking money and be sleeping and for the national assembly this is a good wake-up call because they have various aides who are employed to do this work.

“And their laws must not target individuals or group of individuals. They must be laws that will improve governance and not be made for certain people to have an advantage over others.

“In fact, the whole of this primary that is going on is a mess.  If you know the standard practice, you will ask teachers here to score this primaries and it cannot get more than 25 per cent and you cannot use that process to elect the president.

“The process is already failed and it is not good for this country. Yes , we will manage and move on and I  pray that good people should emerge, but we hope that what has happened this 2022 will not happen again in this country,” he said.


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