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Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, has stoked controversy with his latest claim that had President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, it would have precipitated crisis in the country. Malami’s remarks drew the ire of leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Middle Belt Forum, MBF, immediate past Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Association, JACNYA, among others.

Malami, who featured on a Radio Kano programme on Sunday, said that President Buhari signing into law the Electoral Amendment Bill, would have triggered a new crisis that would lead to court cases.

He said: “What you should understand about leadership of the country, especially as it regards President Buhari on any law presented to him for signing is that the president is entitled to certain rights. When you talk about politics, he has rights, if you talk about economy, the business community also has rights on him, if you are talking about 60 per cent of Nigerians that are not politicians, if you talk about the economy, he also has rights, if you are talking about security, there is also what is expected of him. The president has to consider laws that are sustainable.

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“The job of the president is that of politics, economy, business, security, legislation, politicians and non-politicians. This is because the leadership of the country is not for politicians alone, it is a leadership that affects social lives of the people, their religion, economy, security and others. This is contrary to the leadership of the legislators, which is solely political.

“Therefore, the lawmakers are only concerned about their political inclinations, while the president is concerned about the entire Nigerians made up of politicians and non-politicians. Any bill signed into law by President Buhari is in the interest of all Nigerians irrespective of their inclinations. He is after satisfying the interest of the over 200 million Nigerians he is serving and not a particular sector.

“For example, one of the reasons he did not sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is that there are 18 political parties and a law is founded that will allow for direct primaries. The difference between this and the general election is small because it allows for all Nigerians to come about and say their opinions.

“This means that you will repeat the general elections 18 times. Today, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, requires N305 billion for the 2023 general election. Now, if the general election, which is not based on newly proposed electoral system, will cost this much, how much will it cost to do the same election in the All Progressives Congress, APC? It might cost at least N200 billion because it will involve everyone.

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“Although the good side of the law is that INEC is required to monitor it.

“Therefore, if it is assumed that every political party will spend N200 billion, how much will then be spent in conducting the same primary election in 18 political parties just to produce a qualified candidate? Let’s assume there are about 60 million politicians in the country, what about the remaining over 160 million Nigerians, who have nothing to do with politics? Are you fair to them? All the people want are good projects, good road from Abuja to Kano, portable drinking water, good education, school feeding programme and the rest of them. Are you fair to the 160 million Nigerians using their wealth just to conduct primary election to produce a party candidate, despite other demands by the public?

“My answer to this is that to spend this N305 billion that will be given to the INEC and the about N200 billion to be given to the political parties is not fair to the remaining 160 million Nigerians, who have no business about politics and political appointments. Their business is just a better life in Nigeria. This is the issue of cost implications,” Malami said.

Development a tragedy for government — Pa Adebanjo

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Meanwhile, reacting to the claims by Malami that Buhari assenting to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill would cause crisis in the country, leader of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo yesterday, described the AGF’s comments as “unfortunate.

“It is so unfortunate that many people are misleading Buhari. We pray God to get rid of him before he ruins this country. For heaven’s sake, why would a young lawyer sound like that in a time like this?” he said.

Malami speaking in a confusing manner —Afenifere

Also, Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi, said: “The Attorney-General of the Federation is expected to guide the government rightly. He should not speak in a manner that is confusing.

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“When the president withheld his assent to the bill, the impression was not created that there was a clause in the bill that would create crisis.

“It is expected that the specific areas where the bill is faulty, should be communicated to the National Assembly, so that it will be clear to all why the president is not assenting to the bill.

“So, we expected him to clarify this and tell us specifically the aspect of the bill that would have caused crisis so as to know how to address those areas.”

Malami’s claims baseless — MBF

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MBF’s National President, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, who also reacted to Malami’s claims, said: “What Malami said was baseless rubbish. These people make assumptions based on their perception; they try to instill fear in the people. Which crisis is he talking about? Didn’t President Buhari come in through direct primaries, is that not what the APC used? Did it throw the country into crisis?

“The issue is yes, it is true that parties have the liberty to choose the kind of selection process they would use to conduct their primaries, we have no quarrel with that.

“The problem of Nigeria is not whether it is direct or indirect primaries. The problem of Nigeria is how to stop the wanton rigging of elections in the country by the manipulation of election results, changing of results, the cancellation of results, throwing out of results just to declare who they want.

“And we can address that by transmitting results from the polling units direct to the server, everybody sees it and you do not alter the figures. That is the thing we want for Nigeria.

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“We can from there move forward to another level, but what we want at this level is that results should be electronically transmitted from the polling stations to the collation centres.

“By so doing, you cut off all the so called Returning Officers and the excuses of cancellation of results unnecessarily because some people do not want results that did not favour them and all that.

“Besides, it will save costs, because most of the returning officers are no more useful. As the results come out, we all see them and Nigeria will be better for it because the right people will be elected into offices.

“So what Malami said does not hold water at all. The President, who appointed him came into office through direct primaries. And whether it is direct or not, that is not our problem. Let the President sign the amended electoral act bill, so that we can have a better and credible election by 2023. And all the bad experiences of 2019 and others in the past would be halted.”

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Direct primary produced Buhari in 2019 –ACF’s ex-scribe, Sani

Elder statesman, Anthony Sani, and immediate past Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, while reacting to Malami’s comments, said: “We have reacted to the advice by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice which seemed to have informed President Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly on why he withheld assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2021.

“We had said the reasons given in the letter dwelt more on fears than in real advantages of direct primary in enhancement of internal democracy in our political parties. So, by saying the amendment as presented would bring about crisis does not make it so, considering the direct primary which produced President Buhari in 2019 did not bring about any crisis.

“The refusal by President to assent the Electoral Amendment Bill contained in the President’s letter to NASS has surprised many Nigerians for two reasons:

“President Buhari it was who insisted on direct primary by his party in 2019 and subjected himself to the direct primary while state governors under APC refused and conducted their own party primary using indirect primary.

“As a result, many legislators under APC and some of us thought he was for direct primary and mobilized for its support in the hope of enhancing internal democracy in the political parties. For the president to now turn against direct primary has stunned many Nigerians, especially his supporters, who have been on the same page with him on this matter.

“The second surprise is the fact that the refusal to assent the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2021 conveys the avoidable impression that the ruling APC has no position on this major aspect of law that governs our electoral processes, considering the ruling party, APC, controls both the Executive and the National Assembly. The refusal of the assent to the bill gives an impression that the government is at war with itself.

“The president’s letter to the National Assembly has also ignored the important advantages of direct primary, which include improvement of internal democracy of the political parties by doing away with power and abuse of incumbency of governors and money bags, who deploy their powers and hijack delegates during indirect primary. Rather, the president’s letter has dwelled so much on fear to the chagrin of advantages of direct primary.

“For example, the security challenges have been around for quite sometimes in Nigeria, and there have been reduction of insecurity under this regime by the day under this regime, yet there have been general elections where more people participate in voting in this country.

“When the letter talks of high cost of direct primary, it feigns ignorance of the fact that direct primary takes place either at polling unit level or ward level by only registered party members, who are far fewer than registered voters, and that any other exercise is a matter of collation for the relevant constituency, such as state assembly, Chairman of local government, House of Reps, Senate, Governor and president.

“The exercise of direct party primary could not be possibly be more than that of the general elections. What is more, INEC has said it needs N305billion for elections against the N500billion being bandied about to frighten the government away from direct primary.

“If smaller parties do not have the wherewithal to compete under our nascent multiparty democracy, they are at liberty to merge with the big political parties. After all, the nation is hoping to have only two major political parties, and not a crowd by way of number of political parties.

“After all, the high fees charged for nomination form by progressive party such APC has been designed to reduce the number of aspirants to a manageable level.

“Violation of citizens rights must be seen in proper context. An individual right is never absolute. For example, the president would not roll back mandates for face masks and vaccination just because there are some people who say such mandates constitute infringement on citizen’s right.

“The issue of likely litigation does not hold water precisely because if any law by political party conflicts with that of the nation like Electoral Act, the federal law would prevail.

“Consultations with stakeholders is good for the health of democracy. Yet, it is not good for our democracy for the president to give any impression that other vested interests have usurped the constitutional functions of the National Assembly.

“I am not in support of the notion that NASS should override the president. Such course of action would signal division within the government that is controlled by the ruling APC. That would not be healthy. I would rather prefer, both the executive and the majority of APC legislators to go back to the drawing board and sort out their differences with a view to coming out with common position in order to justify the clear mandate given by Nigerians to the APC controlled government to deliver on the promise of multiparty democracy,” he said.

He is playing on our fears of violence for selfish ends— JACNYA

Convener, Joint Action Committee of Northern Youth Associations, JACNYA, Murtala Abubakar, while also reacting, said: “The statement credited to the Minister of Justice to the effect that “if Buhadi had signed the electoral act amendment bill, it would have caused crisis in the country” to me is deliberately made to use our collective fears for violence to justify an action that was carried out of selfish political consideration to perpetuate the over bearing dominance of the states governors in our party politics.

“It is an open secret that the governor’s forum used the Minister of Justice to cajole the president not to sign the bill. The opinion of many informed minds is that the new electoral bill that the president withheld assent to could have given the country the opportunity to improve intra-party mechanisms that give room for popular participation as against the current delegate system that has become a manipulative tool in the hand of governors and some moneybags.

“The assertion by the minister is far from the truth as the failure of the President to sign the bill as many anticipated, represents another missed opportunity by the current administration to improve our electoral system aimed at deepening our gemocratic culture.”

It shows the administration can’t address constitutional challenges — Shonibare

Also reacting, acting National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Chief Supo Shonibare said: “It’s only our inexperienced Attorney-General, who will be of the opinion that an initiative to deepen democracy would snowball into a national crisis, while under-age voters and processes that enable and encourage thumb printing and a complete negation of the votes cast, would not snowball into a national crisis.

“Why should the issue of direct primaries in political parties, be a problem for any democratic process? Is it the selection of a few that are able to protect our nascent, fragile democratic processes? Malami is such a big joke, that his utterances, would have been laughable, if he wasn’t holding such high position as the Chief law officer. If the Chief Law Officer has difficulty in understanding the building blocks necessary to add value to the laws of jurisprudence and enhancement of democracy, it’s an indication that the administration which threw up such a person cannot address our legal and constitutional challenges.”

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