Nigeria’s elections are expensive and inefficient. A new electoral amendment act proposes possible improvements, its deadline passed yesterday and there’s no indication it has been signed.
For the last 30 days, (19 November 2021 till date), the National Assembly of Nigeria (NASS) has been anxiously waiting for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Act of 2021 into law. There has been growing tension in the political atmosphere as the deadline (19 December) for signing the act has now passed. The National Assembly must now debate whether Buhari’s input on the act should be overridden or not. But, with the next presidential election scheduled for 2023, what exactly is the Electoral Amendment Act and why should Nigerians be concerned about it?
The Electoral Amendment Act of 2021 is a revised version of the Electoral Act of 2010. The 2021 act gives provisions for the electronic transmission of results and the adoption of direct primaries by all political parties. The adoption of direct primaries—where parties run formal elections to declare their official candidates—has been the subject of heated debates in political sectors: state governors of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party and members of the constitution committee of the National Assembly have argued that Nigeria cannot ‘afford’ having elections for direct primaries, as the country is too poor. Kogi State governor, Smart Adeyemi, who is a member of the APC, has said direct primaries will be too ‘cumbersome and expensive’ to implement. The 2019 elections alone cost Nigerians over N189 billion / $526 million (compared to N122.8 billion / $341 million in 2015), while political parties spent up to $2 billion on campaigns (as of 2015), according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, there are also benefits of this act as well. The senate president, Ahmad Lawan, in a lecture at the National Defence College in February 2021, said that the act could foster significant reduction in electoral violence. In 2019, according to the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, over 600 people died in Nigeria as a result of electoral violence. The 2021 amendment could also mean better electoral procedures for choosing representatives from political parties. In the past, governors nominated party primaries indirectly. Former secretary-general of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony N. Z. Sani, said that indirect primaries made delegates ‘easy to buy by governors’.
As of today, Buhari has turned down the 2021 electoral amendment on three occasions—a move many observers consider controversial. In March 2018, he rejected the act on the grounds that the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters. In September the same year, Buhari also turned down the act citing some clauses that needed revision. In December 2018, some months after the general election, Buhari refused to sign the electoral act saying it stands a chance of creating ‘uncertainty and confusion’ in the general election (where he was seeking a second term in office). In a 2021 speech he gave at TheCable Colloquium, senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, said Buhari may be reluctant to sign the act ‘because the powerful governors in his party [APC] are saying that it is going to be much more expensive for them to run direct primaries’⎈
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