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Vol 63 No 1

Published 7th January 2022


President Buhari vetoes electoral bill, challenging National Assembly

Opposition parties fight back after presidency rejects voter reform as activists mobilise on fuel subsidy and spate of deadly attacks

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is bracing itself for a series of battles in the new year over election rules, fuel subsidies and spending cuts which could determine the outcome of the next election.

Opposition senators and representatives in the National Assembly are outraged by President Muhammadu Buhari's vetoing of the electoral reform bill on 20 December which had been passed overwhelmingly by both chambers.

They had hoped the new voting rules would have improved their chances in national elections due in early 2023. Party politicians and civil society activists had worked for months on the reforms which they said would ensure fairer elections and cut the risks of political violence (AC Vol 62 No 16, Election bill deepens rivalries).

Opposition representatives are calling for the National Assembly to override Buhari's veto and pass the bill into law. This will test Senate President Ahmad Lawan's independence from the executive. So far Lawan, a member of the ruling APC, has been studiously loyal to Buhari. But he now risks a rebellion within his own party over the electoral bill unless he can negotiate a compromise. 

The Senate and House of Representatives are due to meet early in January to agree a response to Buhari's rejection of the bill.

Senator George Sekibo, for the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), said there was enough cross-party support in the Senate to override Buhari's veto. It is the second time in the last four years that President Buhari has rejected an electoral reform bill passed by the National Assembly. 

Veteran campaigner Iyorchia Ayu, the new chairman of the PDP, has energised the party. He might be able to use its backing for electoral reform and its opposition to ending national fuel subsidies as a strong platform for the party's presidential campaign. 

One of the most critical clauses in the bill is the right of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to use electronic voting systems and to transmit election results electronically from polling stations to the national collation centre in Abuja.

The PDP believes the commission's use of electronic technology, and the records of results that it provides, would counter vote-rigging more effectively. This could prove critical in the next national presidential and legislative elections.

Both the main parties are riven by internal divisions and there is no clear favourite in either party to win the presidency. With the rise of a new generation of politicians in their forties and fifties, the 2023 elections could be the most open since the civil war. 

The other contentious clause, from the presidency's point of view, in the electoral reform bill was the proposal for all parties to choose their national candidates via direct primary elections.

This would have meant primary elections in each of the country's, 8,809 local government wards. In his letter to the Senate, President Buhari said the cost of that system and the security risks it posed were his main reasons for rejecting the electoral bill.

Others see partisan factors at work. How the parties run their primaries, which is subject to federal law, could determine the outcome. Although no national politicians have formally launched their campaigns for their parties' nominations, most of the leading contenders are now widely known on the political scene.

Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos who is seeking the APC presidential nomination, would have benefited from direct primaries. Widely seen as the frontrunner in the race for his party's ticket and one of the country's wealthiest businessmen, Tinubu runs a formidable grassroots network across the country (AC Vol 62 No 25, Tinubu fights for his legacy). 

But he is less popular with state governors than other contenders such as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Ekiti State governor Kayode Fayemi, who also chairs the Nigeria Governors' Forum. Some Abuja watchers claim this means that Buhari might favour Osinbajo and Fayemi rather than Tinubu's claim to the ticket.

Tinubu would lose out if the electoral bill's proposals for the direct primary elections aren't passed. Yet he doesn't want to be seen to publicly disagree with Buhari on the issue. That could damage his support among the party's northern barons whom he needs to help bring in the votes. 

Worse still it could trigger more divisions in the ruling APC with just over a year before national elections. That prospect together with a national economy, still enfeebled by the pandemic and the risks of mass protests against plans to cut fuel subsidies in June, President Buhari could face a very difficult final year in office (AC Vol 62 No 25, Buhari gambles on cash transfers on his way out).

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