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Electoral Act Amendment: As NASS, PMB Unmask The Big Masquerade

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Just like a prophet, last Friday, I envisaged on this page that the executive-legislature relationship would not get any better throughout the life of the current administration. Another monster has reared its head.

President of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara on Tuesday, read  President Muhammadu Buhari’s communication to the National Assembly, where he rejected the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), on three different grounds.

First, is that the amendment to section 138 of the principal act to delete two crucial clauses upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.

Secondly, that the amendments to section 152 (3) – (5) of the principal act, may raise constitutional issue over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.

While the third ground, which is the ‘big masquerade’, is that the amendment to Section 25 of the Principal Act, which seeks to take away order in the sequence of election, the President argued, would, if allowed, be in contravention of the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and act, establishing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among others.

The House of Representatives, during plenary Wednesday, agreed with the President on the first two grounds, but vehemently disagreed with the third point, and thereby vowed to revisit the issue and re-transmit the proposed amendment to the President.

Here is the major bone of contention. The National Assembly amended section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new section 25 (1). The proposed amendment provides that the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.

However, having been familiar with legislative nuances, I can attest to the fact that the legislature can state several reasons to justify political vendetta against the executive arm of government. I also understand that whatever reason that would have been adduced to frustrate executive request, can be sacrificed if the politics is right.

Therefore, an outright confrontation by a president who doesn’t command notable influence among the lawmakers, is indeed not advisable.

In my opinion, as canvassed recently on this column, fixing election sequence is not the same as fixing the election timetable. Moreover, our electoral umpire is inconsistent with the style and sequence of election, therefore, a legislaton to guarantee the sequence, is not wrong.

For instance, during the 1999 elections, elections to the state houses of assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate, were held one week earlier than the governorship and presidential elections. The same thing happened during the 2003 elections.

In the 2007 election, there was a slight adjustment, as the elections to state assemblies and governorship seats were conducted one week earlier than the national assembly and presidential elections. While in 2011, the sequence changed again, state assemblies and national assembly elections were held one week earlier than the governorship and presidential elections.

Finally in 2015 national elections, ie National Assembly and presidential elections, were held one week ahead of state, houses of assembly and governorship elections.

This inconsistency is solely because there is no law guiding the sequence of election, and such, INEC could decide either ways, which is what the new amendment seeks to address.

The proposed amendment does not, in anyway, constitute an impediment to the functions of INEC  as enshrined in section 15 (a) of the 3rd schedule of the constitution, which states that   “The Commission shall have power to (a) organise, undertake and supervise all elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President, the Governor and Deputy Governor of a State, and to the membership of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation.

Rather, the same section 15 (i) which states that the commission shall “carry out such other functions as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly,” gives credence to the action of the legislators.

Having said that, as necessary as the amendment may be, the level of apprehension between the legislature and the executive created an atmosphere of distrust. Therefore, seeming political conspiracy against the sitting president by the amendment, would not be handled with kid’s glove.

Only a politically weak president will allow the National Assembly controlled by his own political party, promulgate a law that is likely to affect his fortune in the next election.

While I support the need for the sequence of election to be stipulated by the electoral act, I am totally against a law being targeted at an individual, irrespective of his position and performance.

Premised on this background, I wish to suggest a political truce. If the sitting President is not confident enough to win election, whether the election is conducted first or last, he should seek a common ground with the lawmakers with a promise to sign that part of the amendment after the 2019 election. This shouldn’t be a difficult request to grant by the parliament, if indeed the amendment is not targeted at the president.



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