The presidency said yesterday that because of the huge financial burden associated with direct primaries, only the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will benefit from such an arrangement

Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, stated this while explaining why President Muhammadu Buhari rejected assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021.

In a statement he issued yesterday, Shehu noted that the president’s decision to withhold assent from the bill has come under scrutiny from media and political circles.

According to him, it is quite correct for only two parties to benefit from the process because it is a decision that will impact all Nigerians.

Noting that the president’s office decided to issue an official statement to make its position clear, Shehu explained that Nigeria’s strength as a nation and its status as one of the wealthiest economies in Africa, with one of its highest standards of living, owes above all to its proud democratic processes, which are enshrined in the Electoral Act of 2010.

He said it is this act which the new bill seeks to amend, adding that the amendments have been presented as a means to enhance and build upon our democratic processes.

Stating that after careful review, the president’s office has found that the opposite is true, he said, “Rather, the proposed amendments entail significant legal, financial, economic and security consequences for all Nigerians, principal among which would be a severe spike in the cost of holding primary elections by parties – integral to democracies the world over.

“And who would shoulder these costs? The Nigerian taxpayer of course. And who would benefit? Only the richest of political parties. At a time when the nation is seeking to extricate itself from the economic mire of the worst global health crisis in living memory, whatever other merits the new bill may have, now is not the time for such frivolous spending of public money.

“Inevitably, the usual voices are making themselves heard, with cynical claims of election rigging and so on. This is nothing new. We heard their self-serving cries of fraud in 2015, when we saw the first peaceful transfer of power in independent Nigeria’s history.

“Then again in 2019, when President Buhari was re-elected with a lead of over three million. We will hear from them again in 2023.Until then, the President will do whatever he can to protect this country’s democracy, and that includes withholding assent from this Bill.”

The presidential spokesman noted that, as one of Nigeria’s largest political parties, the ruling APC is one of those that stand to benefit from a bill that favours wealthier parties.

“But it is not the job of this government to protect the APC. It is the job of this government to protect Nigeria, her people and her democracy.

“To those that would rather that limited public funds be spent on politicking during this time of global crisis, we say: cease these cynical games. Tell the Nigerian people openly what you want. Put your – or rather their – money where your mouth is,” he added.

President Buhari had written back to the National Assembly leadership, saying he was averse to the clause which mandates all political parties to adopt direct primaries.

He cited the high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens’ rights and marginalisation of small political parties as reasons for rejecting the bill.

The Senators who threatened to override the president’s veto if he fails to sign the bill caved in and opted for consultations with their counterparts in the House of Representatives, constituents before taking a stand in January next year.

NAN