The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has written a letter to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), highlighting the problems with the inclusion of mandatory direct primaries in the Electoral Act amendment bill.
The Punch on Thursday gathered that the AGF’s letter on the amended Electoral Act bill was received by the President two weeks ago.
When contacted on the telephone, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, confirmed that the President had received a communication from Malami on the bill.
He however said he was not privy to the content of the letter.
“Yes. I can confirm that the President has received a communication from the honourable minister on the matter but honestly, I am not privy to the content of the communication. I have not been briefed,” the presidential aide said.
But a source at the Ministry of Justice told one of our correspondents that Malami informed the President that making direct primaries mandatory for all political parties could cause confusion.
An impeccable source in the ministry said, “The AGF has sent his advice on the Electoral Act amendment bill to the President. He has highlighted the problems of the bill.
“The AGF, however, did not quote any section of the law that makes it illegal which is unlike the previous letters he writes to the President.”
Also, source in the AGF office confirmed to The PUNCH that indeed Malami had written to the President.
He explained that the AGF was worried that forcing all parties to adopt the direct mode of primary would mean that all existing parties would have to change their constitutions.
The source stated, “The office of the AGF sent its position two weeks ago. They raised a number of issues. For instance, if you are asking political parties to run direct primaries, from a strictly legal point of view that would mean that only new political parties will be bound by the law.
“Existing political parties will not, because they have registered their parties, they have filed their constitutions long time ago on the basis of what is contained there. And most of it is a mixture, if you check the parties, direct and indirect primaries are stated.
“So, are you going to change their constitutions for them? So, this is the legal opinion. But this is just one. There are several other legal positions which favours and disfavours the bill because, as the Minister of Justice, his duty is to tell the president the pros and the cons. It is now up to the President to decide on which way to go.”
The Spokesman for the AGF, Dr Umar Gwandu, when contacted, told The PUNCH that he was not in a position to confirm the development.
“The Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is attending the 2021 United Nations Conference of State Parties on Anti-Corruption currently holding in Egypt.
“I am not in a position to confirm whether any opinion has been proffered by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice over the Electoral Act amendment bill. I cannot ascertain the veracity of your claims at this moment.”
The Punch had reported last month that governors in the All Progressives Congress had lobbied Malami, asking him to convince the President not to sign the bill.
The Special Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, had confirmed last week that the President was seeking the advice of the AGF on the electoral bill.
Adesina said there are certain decisions the President will not make without the input of the AGF.
Responding to a question, he said, “There are certain things that never get done without the counsel of the attorney-general. You can be sure of that. And this falls right within the purview of the attorney-general. So you can be sure that every bit of the way, the attorney-general will be carried along.”
Meanwhile, our correspondent learnt on Thursday evening that the bill had still not been assented to by the President and no communication had been sent to the National Assembly even as Buhari had travelled to Turkey along with his wife and seven ministers.
Buhari, who received the bill on November 19, has until December 19 to sign it or communicate to the National Assembly his feelings and comments about the bill.
But if after 30 days, the President refuses to sign the bill and the National Assembly is not in support of the President’s amendments, the Senate and the House of Representatives can recall the bill and pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-thirds majority votes in both chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President.
The President had a few weeks ago written a letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission seeking the view of INEC over the matter.
Several Civil Rights Organisations have been putting pressure on the President to sign the bill mainly because it empowers INEC to transmit election results electronically.
Also, some have argued that mandatory primaries would create a level playing field for all including women and youths.
However, governors of the All Progressives Congress have openly opposed the mandatory primaries including Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State and Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State.