June 24, 2022

The Nigerian legislature wants members of political parties to directly elect their leaders. But is this constitutional?

Nigeria’s National Assembly has passed 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 not yet approved the 2021 bill on Election Law No. 6 of 2010 (repeal and reconstitution). Although the Independent National Electoral Commission approved other aspects of the bill, it suggested that the president consult with political parties. on the controversial provision of direct primaries. Wale Fatade of Conversation Africa asked public law expert Akinola Akintayo to explain the issues.

Are direct primaries constitutionally correct?

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

There are four grounds on which the National Assembly can directly regulate political parties. You can find them in articles 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 according to which the National Assembly can legislate to punish the persons who violate specific provisions of the constitution concerning the formation and the functioning of political parties.

These are those who carry out political party activities without registering or complying with the provisions of the constitution. He also talks about the receipt or retention by political parties of 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 promulgate laws prohibiting any person recognized to have helped or assisted political parties from receiving or keeping funds from abroad.

The third ground is the power to make 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 necessary and ancillary powers to carry out its functions.

These and other provisions do not give the National Assembly the power to regulate the primaries of political parties. The constitution does not allow the National Assembly to force political parties to elect candidates in this way. The National Assembly may have reasons to adopt direct primaries, but this is incompatible with the constitution.

Why do you think the National Assembly wants direct primaries?

This is something we knew could happen, given what happened in the 2018 presidential primaries. Candidates reportedly spent millions of dollars bribing delegates. Any serious legislative body will want to do something about it 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 political excesses. That’s not to say that the ruling party may not have its own platform, especially in the context of the disagreement between state governors and members of the National Assembly over how to select candidates for election. .

What could be done to make political parties more democratic?

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

We need to start empowering people. I am not talking about the political class but the citizens. So that at the time of the elections, you can reject this small bag of rice and money regularly distributed to incite the 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. They are doing it now, but this mechanism can be strengthened.

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

If the president approves the bill, the innovation becomes law, waiting for it to be challenged and overturned or affirmed by the courts as unconstitutional or constitutional.

If the president refuses the assent, the innovation ends unless the National Assembly cancels the president’s veto by re-voting the bill by a two-thirds majority of the members of the two chambers of the National Assembly in joint session.