The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has hinted that President Muhammadu Buhari may withhold assent from the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill if it is considered to have proposals based on personal interests.
According to the minister, the bill, which the National Assembly transmitted to the Presidency the second time on Monday last week, just got to him on Monday for legal advice.
Malami made this known while appearing on Politics Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television which our correspondents monitored on Monday.
Buhari had withheld assent to the first version of the bill last year after consulting the Malami and the Independent National Electoral Commission, among others, on the bill.
When asked if he was satisfied with the amendments made to the bill by the National Assembly after Buhari sent it back to the parliament, Malami said, “In terms of satisfaction, honestly, it is premature for me to conclude, taking into consideration (that) I can admit to you that the electoral bill was only received in my office this afternoon as I was preparing to come over for this engagement with Channels TV.
I am working for advancement of democracy, Malami insists
“So, I have not taken steps to review the content and context of what has been presented for consideration for the President. So, it is premature and pre-emptive for me at this moment, now to arrive at any conclusion, taking into consideration that I have not gone through the document to understand what it contains and then analyse the same in accordance with the constitution and the prevailing laws.”
When asked if he loved democracy and wanted the advancement of the same, being someone who had been involved in political party activities, the minister interjected, “I am working for the advancement of democracy and the democratic system.”
Responding to a question on if he was willing to assist Buhari to pass what the President said he wanted to leave behind as a legacy of good elections for Nigeria; and if the bill might get passed by Buhari, the minister said, “Honestly, without going through or reading through, I am not in a position to assess whether the bill, indeed, has factored the national and public interest, as against selfish interest, among others; whether it is a bill that can stand the test of constitutionality and legality.”
When asked if he would advise the President to reject the amended bill if he was not satisfied with the new version, Malami said, “Certainly, if I am not satisfied and if I am of the opinion that it is against the public interest, the national interest; and then against the dictates of democratic process, I would advise accordingly.”
He added, “But then, one thing I can tell you is that we are all interested in leaving behind a legacy of a lasting democracy; a democracy that indeed accommodates the collective interest of the Nigerian state, and eventually advances the national interest, national development and deepens the democratic process.
“So, with these considerations associated with deepening democracy; with the considerations associated with the national and public interest, we will certainly do whatever it takes to move democracy to the next level.”
When asked to express to Nigerians, his commitment to deepening democracy in Nigeria, the minister stated that his office is a constitutional one, which is fundamentally governed by public interest. “And when we are talking of the public interest, I am talking of the interest of 200 million Nigerians. I will be guided at all times by my oath of office associated with public interest, exclusive of the sentiments or the feelings,” he added.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had reworked the electoral bill for the second time by concurring on consensus candidacy and setting fresh conditions for political parties in the nomination of candidates for elections.
The President had last year vetoed the electoral bill and sent it back to the National Assembly over the restriction of political parties to direct primary, insisting on the direct or indirect.
The House had amended Clause Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, which is Clause 84 of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, by inserting the indirect primary option.
The Senate, however, not only added indirect primary but also consensus adoption of candidates for elections by a political party.
By passing different amendments to the bill, the Senate and the House were expected to refer the versions to a conference committee to harmonise the differences and report back for final passage and transmission to the President for assent.
However, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, last week, took a shorter route by rescinding their decisions on the amendments last week and re-amending the electoral bill.
This time, the House concurred with the Senate on the consensus, while both chambers passed the same conditions set for the option.
The President had said in his interview with Channels TV on January 5, 2022 that he would sign the bill once the mandatory direct primary clause was removed.