…Says state assemblies to get first set of constitution review documents in February
The House of Representatives will tomorrow, Wednesday, reintroduce the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and quickly work to pass it and send same to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila has said.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in December last year declined assent to the amendment made to the Electoral Act by the National Assembly after raising some concerns.
But Gbajabiamila, in an address to welcome his colleagues back from the Christmas and New Year break on Tuesday, said the House would not lose sight of the benefits of the amendment, hence it would introduce it and lawmakers would ensure its passage on time so that the president would assent to it.
The speaker reiterated the fact that the inclusion of direct primaries as the only mode of producing candidates by political parties was to open up the political space and allow more Nigerians to participate in the democratic process.
He said: “Now, we have to choose between sticking to our guns regarding the provision to mandate direct primary elections for political parties or reworking that provision to save the rest of the Bill.
“Now let it be clear to all that our only objective in introducing that provision was to strengthen the foundations of our democracy so that it works for all of our nation’s people. The process by which political parties nominate candidates for election is essential, perhaps even just as important as the general election itself.
“A primary nomination process that deprives the majority of party members of the opportunity to choose who represents them in the general elections is susceptible to bad outcomes and ought to be fixed.”
The speaker said the argument in some quarters that political parties do not have proper registers of their members, which was a reason to reject the direct primary option was “an appalling admission that political parties in the country do not have credible and up-to-date registers of their members.
“We are left to question how those parties have thus far managed their affairs, including conducting congresses and primary elections, whether by direct or indirect means.
“Besides, it can be inferred that the failure to maintain a proper register of members violates the spirit of the constitution, as it makes it impossible for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enforce the constitutional requirement for political parties to ensure that their membership reflects the federal character of Nigeria.”
Speaking further, Gbajabiamila said “it is disappointing that the failure of political parties to adequately document their membership is being used to not give the Nigerian people the power to fully participate in our nation’s politics.
“If nothing else, including a direct primary mandate in the law, would have forced political parties to properly register their members within the shortest possible time. This would have been the singular most significant reform of our political party system in a generation.
“I remain convinced that the proposal for direct primary elections is valuable for building accountability in our political system. But we must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Therefore, the House will reintroduce the amendment tomorrow. And we will work quickly to address the mitigating concerns, pass the Bill and send it back to His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.”
On the ongoing constitutional review effort, Gbajabiamila said: “Amending our nation’s constitution to address longstanding areas of disagreement and remove the vestiges of militarism from our democracy is one of the central commitments we made in the 9th House.”
He said the states houses of assemblies would get the first set of the constitution amendment documents before the end of February, based on the information from the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, who is the chairman of the Special Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review.
“It is a commitment we must meet or risk the harsh judgment of history. Therefore we will prioritise action to pass the Constitution Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives. Fortunately, we are in the final stages of that effort and will shortly conclude this all-important work. According to the deputy speaker, the first set of amendments will be forwarded to the state assemblies for consideration before the end of February.
Gbajabiamila commended his colleagues for their efforts in passing some key legislation including the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the Police Service Commission Act (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill, the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (amendment) Bill and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act (amendment) Bill, amongst others.
He urged the lawmakers not to be complacent in providing dividends of democracy to their constituents.