Nigeria 2023: Buhari’s refusal to sign electoral law puts APC, PDP in fresh crisis

By Akin Irede
Posted on Tuesday, 24 May 2022 14:47

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has not yet made his intentions clear about who might succeed him. February 5, 2022. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Aspirants running for elective office in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are in meltdown following the automatic disqualification of all statutory delegates. A move that could have been reversed had President Muhammadu Buhari tweaked the Electoral Act on time. Supporters of Lagos Godfather Bola Tinubu are crying foul.

Ose Anenih may be new to partisan politics but he is certainly not a greenhorn, having garnered experience by virtue of being the son of the late veteran politician, Tony Anenih aka Mr Fix It, one of the founding fathers of the PDP and an influential minister in the cabinet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Ose, who was running for a seat in the House of Representatives, met with all the known delegates in the constituency and even visited a shrine to lobby a witch doctor who also happens to be party delegate. His candidature was widely celebrated on social media as young Nigerians pushed for youth participation in politics. All was set for Ose to win the primary or so he thought.

But the list of delegates changed overnight, after it was discovered that the electoral law signed by Buhari back in February bars statutory delegates from voting.

“The guys who endorsed me were the ward executives (statutory delegates). The PDP realised that the new Electoral Act meant that statutory delegates could not take part in primaries to elect party candidates so they decided to use only ad-hoc delegates,” said Ose barely moments after losing the primary.

Speaking to The Africa Report, he likens his experience to preparing to sit for a biology examination only to be told that the examination would now be mathematics.

“I would have won if statutory delegates were allowed to vote. I had the support of the majority of the statutory delegates,” he said.

He is not alone.

An APC senatorial aspirant in Lagos State who wished to remain anonymous also tells The Africa Report he had met with statutory delegates and had spent money only for the rules to be changed in the middle of the game. Now he fears he will lose.

“They allowed us to meet with local government chairmen and other statutory delegates. I met with over 50 of them. We spent money. Now we just discovered only non-statutory delegates will vote and they are being picked across wards. People are now angry and don’t even mind losing the election. The APC is a useless party,” said another angry aspirant.

Who are statutory delegates?

Statutory delegates usually make up at least 70% of the total number of delegates in any given primary. They include people holding executive positions in the party like chairman or the secretary of the party at a local branch. Statutory delegates also include members of the party that were elected into public office.

In a Presidential election for instance, the statutory delegates include: the President who is a member of the party, Vice-President, serving and former governors and deputy governors, serving and former federal and state legislative members, and members of the party executives at the state and federal level.

Rush for delegates

Mindful of the huge influence that statutory delegates have, politicians traditionally focus more on them. This is because they are easy to identify by virtue of the office that they hold. Expectedly, in the last couple of months, Presidential aspirants have been focusing mostly on them. Many Presidential hopefuls have also been giving cash and other gifts to these statutory delegates in preparation for the primary.

In the APC, these statutory delegates across the 36 states of the country have hosted Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu; ex-Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi; Senate President Ahmad Lawan and a few others.

Local media reports say these statutory delegates have already been receiving huge cash gifts while flight tickets and expensive hotels have been procured for them ahead of the primaries which will take place this week in Abuja.

The bombshell

Two weeks ago, however, the National Assembly said it discovered that statutory delegates were not included in the Electoral Act which was signed by President Buhari in February.

The implication is that the only delegates recognised by law are the elected or non-statutory ones. Hence, it may seem the Presidential hopefuls have been lobbying the wrong people all along. With barely three weeks to the deadline set by Nigeria’s electoral commission, the National Assembly swiftly amended, within three days, the law to accommodate statutory delegates and sent the bill to the President for his approval.

However, President Buhari seemed not to be eager to sign the electoral bill. Rather, he continued to keep everyone guessing. With the deadline for the conclusion of primaries barely a week away, it is now too late to include statutory delegates in the guidelines. However, sources tell The Africa Report that he was reluctant to change the electoral laws so close to an election.

“I blame the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. All because he wanted to put Tinubu at an advantage, he began tinkering with the electoral law and got carried away by failing to include the provision that says statutory delegates should be allowed to vote at primaries. Buhari signed the amended version in February. Now they are now trying to amend it again. Electoral laws shouldn’t be tinkered with too often. That is not how things work. That is why Buhari is reluctant to sign another one,” says an appointee of the President who wishes to remain anonymous.

Non-statutory delegates change equation

Unlike the statutory delegates, the non-statutory delegates are not automatic but simply elected on an ad hoc basis for a particular primary. These delegates are elected shortly before the primary and the criteria for electing them differ. For the APC Presidential primary for instance, three non-statutory delegates are elected from each of the 774 local government areas from across the country.

With statutory delegates now out of the equation, the non-statutory ones have now become the new bride. However, it has also altered the balance of power across the states.

With the President’s refusal to sign the bill, the number of delegates has dropped from 7,800 to about 2,340. The 2,340 consists of three delegates from each of the 774 local governments in the country and six area councils in Abuja. This means that states with a large number of local governments will now have more delegates than states that have less.

The Africa Report notes that Lagos, which ought to have one of the highest number of delegates at the primary, has now fallen down the pecking order. Ideally, Lagos ought to have about 304 delegates out of which 80% would have been statutory delegates. Lagos enjoys this unique status because all its serving elected officials are members of the APC and thus qualify as statutory delegates. However, Lagos has just 20 local government areas. With non-statutory delegates the only ones qualified to vote at the primary, this means Lagos will have just 60 delegates at the Presidential primary.

This could hit the ambitions of Bola Tinubu, the Lagos Godfather who is one of the frontrunners in the race to become the APC candidate.

Worse still, states like Rivers, which have no elected APC members because it is purely a PDP state, will have an advantage over Lagos at the Presidential primaries because Rivers State has 23 local governments. This also applies to Akwa Ibom State, a purely PDP state that will have a larger representation at the Presidential primaries because it has 31 local government areas.

Governors impose loyalists

The barring of statutory delegates also means that President Buhari, all governors, members of the National Assembly and several others will not be able to vote as the stage will now be left for the non-statutory delegates that should be elected at the grassroots.

However, rather than selecting these ad hoc delegates in a democratic manner. The Africa Report has learned that governors are just selecting their loyalists as non-statutory delegates from across the local government areas in their respective states. This means that those who are not in the good books of governors stand no chance of winning primaries. This has led to an unprecedented number of petitions and lawsuits in both the APC and the PDP which could crumble either party even as their fears that such imposition could produce unpopular candidates that would lose main elections.

In Kaduna State for instance, an APC governorship aspirant, Sani Mohammad Sha’aban, has rejected the party’s delegates’ list, saying there were no congresses held in the state but just “selection”.

Speaking to The Africa Report, a former Spokesman for the APC in Lagos, Joe Igbokwe, said the exclusion of statutory delegates would affect Lagos the most. He said the whole thing was part of a gang up against Bola Tinubu.

Igbokwe, however, said he was confident that his godfather, Tinubu, would emerge victorious having secured the support of governors in Kano, Katsina, Borno and Osun who control a combined 405 or a fifth of the total delegates. Coupled with the delegates from Lagos, Bauchi and Nasarawa, Tinubu still remains the man to beat in the APC.

For political Analyst, Kamilu Fage, a lecturer at the Bayero University in Kano, it doesn’t really matter how delegates are picked.

“It is all about money. Whether statutory delegates vote or not, people will win or lose based on the money they spend,” he says.

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