When President Buhari signed the Electoral Act 2022 on February 25th 2022, he made one tiny request to the National Assembly — he asked that they delete Section 84 (12).
The leaders of parliament present at the signing of the law said, “We’ll look into it.” But the two arms of government have been struggling over the issue since then.
What is Section 84 (12)?
The long and short of Section 84 (12) is that political appointees like federal ministers and state commissioners have to resign from office before they can contest in elections.
For example, if the current Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, wanted to run for the office of Kebbi State governor, he’d have to resign his position before he could contest in his party’s primary election.
According to the timetable that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released for the 2023 general elections, primary elections will take place between April 4 and June 3, 2022. This means Malami would have to resign from office before being eligible to contest for the primaries, according to Section 84 (12).
Why’s Section 84 (12) controversial?
Before the introduction of Section 84 (2) of the Electoral Act, the resignation issue was dealt with by Section 66 of the 1999 constitution. It stipulates that public service employees have to resign from office at least 30 days to the general election if they’re contesting. With this timeline, an appointee would have already won their party’s ticket and run part of their campaign while still in office.
Basically, Section 66 of the constitution leaves room for political appointees to contest in primaries without the risk of losing their appointive positions, but Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act makes it possible for them to lose both ways.
So if Section 84 (12) had not been signed in February, Malami wouldn’t have to resign till January 2023.
P.S.: We didn’t pick Malami as a random example — he’ll be important later.
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Why Buhari is against Section 84 (12)
Buhari’s argument against Section 84 (12) is that it violates the constitutional rights of appointees to vote and be voted. According to him, the wording of the section prevents affected appointees from participating in their party’s internal affairs even when they’re not standing as candidates.
What did the National Assembly do?
Remember that lawmakers promised Buhari they’d look into his request to remove Section 84 (12)? Well, they looked into it, and their verdict was:
Getting the National Assembly into a direct fight with the Buhari administration is as rare as seeing Buhari at a local clinic. But Section 84 (12) did that.
The lawmakers refused to remove the section because they believe that political appointees use the influence of their office as an advantage over other aspirants. With their public offices, they have access to public resources to run their election campaigns.
Enter: The Courts
When Buhari first made his request in February, the Federal High Court in Abuja stopped the National Assembly from taking any decision on retaining or removing Section 84 (12). Lawmakers ignored the ruling and voted to retain the section against Buhari’s wish.
But on March 18th 2022, the Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State asked Malami to delete Section 84 (12). Justice Evelyn Anyadike ruled that Section 84 (12) clearly violated Section 66 of the 1999 constitution and could not be allowed to stay because the constitution has supreme authority.
And with the sort of speed rarely seen in Nigerian politics, Malami agreed to do it. He announced the Electoral Act 2022 would be gazetted without Section 84 (12). Gazetting is the official implementation of a law, and this would mean the end of the road for Section 84 (12) if Malami goes through with it.
Who benefits from the death of Section 84 (12)?
In the short term, the deletion of Section 84 (12) would be a relief for certain ministers in the Buhari administration rumoured to be nursing ambitions to contest in the 2023 general elections.
One of such beneficiaries is Malami, whose name has been sounded out for the governor’s seat in Kebbi State.
Others who are rumoured to also nurse 2023 ambitions are the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige.
Should Nigerians care?
The fight over Section 84 (12) is deeply political, but many consider it to be beneficial to the commonwealth of Nigerians. The provision effectively prevents political appointees from using public resources to fund their campaigns. Also, public officers running election campaigns simultaneously are typically distracted from their appointive duties while campaigning. Section 84 (12) potentially fixes that.
Where will the Section 84 (12) drama end?
Legal experts have argued both in support and against the appropriateness of Justice Anyadike’s ruling against Section 84 (12). There are also burning questions over Malami’s powers to enforce the court order. The National Assembly is angry and has passed motions to appeal against the court order.
But while everybody chats away, Malami, who is eager to drive Section 84 (12) off a cliff, is in the driving seat of the decision to either retain or void it.
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