Nigeria’s legislature wants members of political parties to directly elect their leaders. But is it constitutional?

The National Assembly of Nigeria has adopted legislation that allows direct primaries – where all party members and not just delegates will vote in political party primaries to choose candidates for election. But President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to give his assent to the Elections Act No. 6 of 2010 (Repeal and Reinstatement) Bill 2021. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission has approved other aspects of the bill, it suggested that the president consult with political parties on the controversial arrangement of direct primaries. Wale Fatade of The Conversation Africa asked public law expert Akinola Akintayo to explain the issues.

Are direct primaries constitutional?

Some The politicians expressed their opposition. They are worried because the adoption is a direct result of events in the ruling All Progressives Congress on the selection of candidates for the 2023 general election. The ruling party is the majority party in the National Assembly.

The National Assembly can directly regulate political parties for four reasons. You can find them in Sections 221 to 229 of the constitution. These are specific provisions of the constitution that deal with the regulation of political parties.

The first ground is the provision that the National Assembly may make laws to provide for the punishment of persons who violate specific provisions of the constitution with respect to the formation and operation of political parties.

These are those who carry out political party activities without registering or complying with the provisions of the constitution. It also talks about political parties receiving or withholding funding from outside the country. This is prohibited and all funds received from abroad must be remitted to the electoral commission within 21 days of receipt.

The second ground is the power of the National Assembly to enact laws prohibiting anyone found guilty of aiding or assisting political parties from receiving or retaining funds from abroad.

The third ground is the power to pass laws providing for annual subsidies to be paid to political parties by the electoral commission. The fourth ground is the power to confer on the commission the powers necessary and incidental to the exercise of its functions.

These and other provisions do not give the National Assembly the power to regulate political party primaries. The constitution does not allow the National Assembly to compel political parties to elect candidates in this way. The National Assembly may have reason to adopt direct primaries, but this is unconstitutional.

Why do you think the National Assembly wants direct primaries?

It’s something we knew could happen, given what happened in the 2018 presidential primaries. allegedly spent millions of dollars bribing delegates. Any serious legislative body will want to do something about this, because it has a ripple effect on the integrity of the political process and on who wins. The integrity and sanctity of democracy serves as a barometer of governance in the country.

I think this initiative is an attempt to curb the excesses of politicians. This is not to say that the ruling party may not have its own program, especially in the context of the disagreement between state governors and members of the National Assembly on how to select candidates for election.

What could be done to make political parties more democratic?

The things that have brought us here are the very high level of poverty in the country, the desperation of ordinary Nigerians for their survival, lack of education and political lethargy among others. People don’t care, they just want to feed themselves and do their business and have generally given up on governance and politics. We can see this in low turnout in the last elections. But we can do a lot.

We need to start empowering people. I am not talking about the political class but about the citizens. So, at election time, you can reject that small bag of rice and money regularly distributed to incentivize voters. It is economic empowerment.

Legally speaking, perhaps the National Assembly can empower the electoral commission to properly monitor the internal processes of political parties. This is currently the case, but this mechanism can be strengthened.

But I think it goes beyond the law. People need to be economically empowered to be self-sufficient and therefore more altruistic. Politicians, too, must put the interests of citizens before their own in their political dealings. Citizens must be informed about the importance of their contributions to the democratic process.

If the President approves the bill, the innovation becomes law, pending challenge and overturning or confirmation by the courts as unconstitutional or constitutional.

If the President refuses assent, the innovation ends unless the National Assembly overrides the President’s veto by re-passing the bill by a two-thirds majority of members of both houses of the Assembly national in a joint session.

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