Former Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony Sani has described the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Bill into law as a disappointment to the president’s admirers.

In an interview with NOAH EBIJE, the former ACF scribe said the President has no reason not to sign the bill.

What’s your reaction to the refusal by President Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill?

I have read the reasons, which the President said, informed his decision to reject assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2021. They include security challenges, high cost of the exercises, marginalization of small parties, violation of citizens’ rights and likely litigations. The president has surprised many of us who admire and support his regime in the sense that the same president went against the opinions of the governors and subjected himself to direct primary to be candidate for 2019 elections. Many of us saw that as an effort to improve internal democracy in the political party with direct primary which enables participation of all party members in the choice of candidates as against indirect primary that is not inclusive and instead confers undue advantages on incumbent governors and money bags which lead to enthronement of both plutocracy and kleptocracy. In fact, it may be his actions that caused legislators from his own party to pander to the idea of direct primary. The second reasons for our surprise is the fact that the ruling party controls both the executive and legislative arms of government. As a result, one expected the Electoral Amendment Bill to be an outcome of consultations within the ruling party. But the president’s letter does not suggest the ruling party has a position on this important aspect of our multiparty democracy, as if the party has no place in the democracy. Rather, the impression is being created of a division within the party. This speaks volumes about the place of political party in our multiparty democracy. On the specifics in the letter to the National Assembly, I wish to submit that the letter has ignored to mention the important advantages of direct primary in the improvement of our multiparty democracy, and instead dwells on fear.

For example, the concern about security ignores the fact that general elections, which must take place, involves more people, yet the elections must hold; and we have been having many off-seasons elections. In the same way, the cost of direct primary cannot reasonably be more than those of general elections. INEC has submitted a budget of N305bn. So where did they get the N500bn being bandied about for the direct primaries? I thought indirect primary stifled citizens’ right of choice much more than direct primary that involves participation of more party members which makes it possible for party members to own the party and the candidates as well as accept responsibility for their choice.

The rights of citizens must be seen in proper context. For example, there are citizens who see facemask and vaccine mandates as infringement of individual right, and say it loud. Would Mr President roll back mandates for facemask and vaccine as a result of such complains? Certainly not.

Can the Senate override Buhari’s refusal?

Yes, the senate can override the president if the senators want to do so. But I do not see such course of reactions as necessary, considering the ruling party has 70 out of 109 senators and 240 out of 360 Reps in the National Assembly. If Mr President is not a party man, I do not expect the APC legislators to also give an impression of division in the party.

The appropriate course of action is for the party to take charge and put its house in order by delivering on the promise of the electoral mandate which Nigerians have given the party. Nigerians do not expect any discordant tunes in the government. This is because the mandate is too clear as to be perverted.

If at the end of the day the direct primary option is not in the Electoral Act, what will be the implication for 2023 election?

The elections may be conducted under the Electoral Act of 2010 as amended. Heavens would not fall, though some of us would have preferred that the president assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill of 2021 that includes the direct primary and the electronic transmission of results where possible.

INEC has budgeted N305 billion for the conduct of 2023 election. Some Nigerians have said the amount is outrageous. What is your reaction?

In submitting the budget proposal, INEC lists items and activities which the commission will do. Those saying the amount is too much should let INEC and Nigerians know which activities and items they consider as unnecessary in the conduct of the elections, and their removal from the budget can pare down the cost of conducting the elections.

Kidnapping and killing are getting worse by the day. Just few days ago 40 persons were killed and several houses burnt in Giwa Local Government area of Kaduna State. What is the way out of this perennial security challenges in the north and the country in general?

That some bandits have attacked some villages in Giwa Local Government of Kaduna State is not to suggest that banditry is not reducing by the day.

I do not share the view that the kidnapping and killing are getting worse by the day, considering reports that many insurgents are repenting and some bandits want dialogue in favour of ceasefire and lay down of arms to end the insecurity in some states. Such development suggests the security agents are taking the fight to the bandits and insurgents in the forests. That is to say, the security are gaining upper hand. Nigerians should know that the task of confronting the insecurity with force along with economic development to address the underlying causes of insecurity bordering on poverty, unemployment and ignorance, require resources which are not limitless. I think the government is trying in both with the limited resources at its disposal.

Sheikh Ahmad Gumi wanted the Federal Government to compensate bandits with money and lands as part of measures to persuade them to lay down arms. Many Nigerians have condemned Gum’s move as inhuman. What is your take?

Pandering to Sheikh Gumi’s suggestion, which amounts to rewarding bad behaviours can happen only in situation where it is not possible for the government to end the activities of bandits. The way I see it, with the arrival of the Tunaco jets and ramping of bombing activities, I am sanguine that the end of banditry and insurgence may not be too far away.

Also, few days ago the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai said there is nothing like repentant bandits, and that they deserved nothing than death. Do you agree with him?

I am not sure I share that view. This is because it is not possible to kill all the enemies in a war. There must be room for surrendering and how to treat those who repent. I am sure there are local and international laws on how to treat such development of surrendering and repentance.

Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) of which you were the Secretary General has expressed anger over Giwa killings and blamed President Buhari and northern governors for alleged nonchalant attitudes towards innocent citizens being killed by bandits.  Are you on the same page with ACF on this?

As long as there are still killings in the land, the angst expressed by ACF is understood. Nigerians want an end to activities of bandits and insurgents. But to say the governments are insouciant and nonchalant may not be correct. Given our status of a developing world with severely limited resources, ACF cannot believe the power of our governments are of limitless fungibility.

Some South-East and North-West socio-political groups said recently that power shift to either zone was not a priority, but self actualisation, and that nobody should beg the North to shift power to them in 2023. Don’t you think power will remain in the North?

I have said it over and over again that democracy is a contest of ideas and reasons, and certainly not a bullfight. I have also said the current constitution does not make it possible for a region or zone alone to use its votes and produce the president. This is because a president must get both majority vote and also the spread of votes of at least 25 per cent of the votes in each of two thirds of the 36 states, which is 24 states. No region or zone has 24 states. That means both regions must come together in order to satisfy both criteria of majority votes and the spread needed to produce the president.

You talked of limited resources at the disposal of the government for government to end the spate of insecurity. What do you mean?

Somehow, I believe most Nigerians do not appreciate the enormity of the challenges and the resources available for government to meet their high expectations. They do not know that our designation as third world is not our choice. It is a function of our capacity. If you compare Brazil that is at par with Nigeria in population of 200 million people and has a budget of around $900 billion and Mexico that is also third world with population of about 123 million and has a budget in the region of $340 billion with Nigeria’s budget of hardly above $20 billion and population of 200 million, you would come to terms with the reality that the government is limited by resources at its disposal. So while I believe the maxim that if we cannot increase our resources, we try and increase the yields of resources at our disposal, we must be realistic in our expectations and come together and unleash our synergy against our common challenges for the good of all.

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