The refusal by President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill is the biggest challenge yet to the collective decision of the 8th National Assembly. Whereas, the passage of the amendment bill by the National Assembly is an approximation of a national consensus; the withholding of assent by the president is seemingly a repudiation of the collective wisdom of the Federal Legislature to forge the philosophy that underpinned the amendments to the extant electoral law.
To be sure, the National Assembly is empowered by the constitution to make laws for the good governance of the nation. While, the implementation of the laws so made is vested in the executive arm of government under the control of the president, the interpretation of the laws is the forte of the judiciary. Although functionally separated, the trinity enjoys interdependence that is circumscribed by the principle of checks and balances.
In this instance, the National Assembly has performed its constitutionally-assigned function of law making, including amendment. It has specifically amended section 25 of the Electoral Act by reordering the sequence of general elections effective from 2019. In the sequence of elections as administratively and discretionally dealt with by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the amendment, the presidential and National Assembly elections were to hold first.
But in the reordered sequence, which has been specifically spelt-out and expressly incorporated in section 25 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the National Assembly has demerged the presidential and National Assembly elections. The presidential election, as a stand-alone election, will now hold last in the sequence as against holding first simultaneously with the National Assembly election. INEC’s administrative discretion has been legislatively and rightly impaired in the limitation of delegated powers.
Although, President Buhari has refused to sign the amendment bill into law for three reasons, the most significant reason is the reordered election sequence, which renders him an orphan of sorts and subjects him to vulnerability and the vagaries of stand-alone elections, especially the presidential election that comes last after other elective office seekers must have secured victory at the different levels.
This is the mortal fear that afflicts President Buhari. He is suddenly afraid of his election holding last. He would want it to hold first, even as a stand-alone, knowing fully well that as the first election, all his party candidates would work round the clock to ensure victory for him as the presidential candidate. If he wins, there is the likelihood of a bandwagon effect, the kind that presidential election victory precipitates.
But, it is quite instructive that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-controlled National Assembly is in the forefront of forestalling a general election that is largely influenced by a bandwagon. Yet, President Buhari craves the bandwagon. He wants a situation where he would clinch his victory ahead of others and possibly retire to the “other room” either without caring a hoot or pretending not to care a hoot about what happens to his foot soldiers in the electoral battlefield.
Without a doubt, President Buhari’s sudden disposition to an arrangement that does not expose him to existential electoral threats of possible defeat speaks volumes about his present level of confidence in securing victory in the 2019 presidential election even as an incumbent. Otherwise, if he is sure of his ratings as he had always been in the previous elections, he should not bother, as a sitting president, whether his lection comes first or last in the sequence.
Unfortunately, the president has become understandably panicky. He has allowed wrong pieces of advice by some blinkered advisers to preponderate his decision to veto the amendment bill. In any case, he has the right to veto any bill to show his displeasure or reservations.
But I believe his approach was wrong. Why would the approach not be wrong when there has not been a robust relationship between him and the leadership of the National Assembly? From the outset, Buhari and the APC that he leads have been opposed to the emergence of the current presiding officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
For instance, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is still being taken through the harrowing indignity of prosecution for alleged false asset declaration at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT). Speaker Yakubu Dogara is also not in the good books of the presidency and the party. The duo’s offence was that they both insisted on contesting for the leadership positions of the National Assembly in spite of the decision of the presidency (read as the party’s decision) and went ahead to realise their aspirations.
Ideally, whatever the differences are between the executive and the legislature could be resolved politically. If there were camaraderie among them, Buhari could have called a meeting where the issues would have been resolved without it being allowed to fester. Allowing it to fester is a manifestation of much deeper fundamental cold war, aggravation and animosity in the executive-legislature’s flank of the APC-controlled administration.
Rather than sink personal ego and allow the National Assembly to exercise its powers of override, the president who had already exercised his power of veto without any intimidation, is now encouraging his foot soldiers and hirelings to throw spanner in the works of the federal legislature. Or, for those who are always eager to defend the president as a puritan who does no evil, perhaps the foot soldiers and hirelings are misreading the president’s body language.
But, in any case, I can safely suggest that the decision to use a fringe element-ACCORD Party- to file a suit to challenge the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to reorder the sequence of elections is executive interference in the exercise of the constitutional functions of the federal legislature. What is obvious from the suit by ACCORD Party is that section 25 of the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill is the fundamental gravamen for which it is seeking an order to set aside. The sequence of elections is the real issue and the whole essence of the unfolding legal gymnastics.
Using the instrumentality of the court for such an enterprise calls for cautionary disposition on the part of the judiciary and I could see that restraint on the part of Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, when he carefully made an order on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 after hearing the oral application for interlocutory injunction by Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) that all parties to the suit should maintain status quo antebellum between then and the next adjourned date, to wit Tuesday, March 20, 2018.
Justice Mohammed is aware that the court cannot stop the National Assembly from overriding the president’s veto because that power is constitutionally guaranteed. The judge is conversant with the kind of orders to make that are right and enforceable. To restrain the National Assembly from performing its constitutional responsibility of law-making or legislative functions is also not within the purview of the court.
Indeed, the court can also not adjudicate on a proposed law that the National Assembly is taking through the mills until it has been passed and can thereafter be subjected to the crucible of judicial intercession and interpretation where a dispute arises. Judicial pronouncements arising from such interpretation become the law and the legislature thereafter would be properly guided. In this case, that situation has not arisen yet. The doctrine of ripeness has not been activated and any move to truncate legislative exercise of law-making power is obtuse.
Well, I see a dilatory strategy, as it appears presently, to bog down the National Assembly from proceeding expeditiously to do the needful by overriding the president’s veto. The president has thrown his hat in the ring. The National Assembly must take up the gauntlet in defence and preservation of its constitutional responsibility. This is the principle of checks and balances in action in the domain of power separation.
For National Assembly not to exercise its override power is to compromise its barking and biting rights. If the president did not bat an eyelid before exercising his veto right, why should National Assembly? After all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
– Ojeifo, is editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch Magazine. Culled from The Will online