The National Assembly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other stakeholders yesterday expressed dismay over President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the electoral (amendment) bill 2018 into law for the third time.
After weeks of speculation, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the umpteenth time, declined assent to the electoral (amendment) bill 2018.
The senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly matters (Senate), Ita Enang, who disclosed this to State House correspondents yesterday at the presidential villa said the president declined assent to the bill due to some drafting issues that have remained unaddressed following the prior revisions to the bill.
He said, “His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has by communication dated August 30, 2018 to the Senate and the House of Representatives declined Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
“I pray for leave, that in view of public interest, the fact of the National Assembly vacation, the imperative to avoid speculation and misinformation, that I give just a few of the rationale by Mr. President.
“Mr President is declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill”.
He further explained that the president invited the Senate and House of Representatives to address these issues as quickly as possible so that he may grant President Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Listing some of the outstanding issues, the presidential aide said, “There is a cross referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill. The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A).
“The proposed amendment to include a new Section 87 (14), which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held, has the unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well as manage the primaries of 91 political parties for the various elections.
“This is because the Electoral Amendment Bill does not amend sections 31, 34 and 85, which stipulates times for the submission of lists of candidates, publication of lists of candidates and notice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for elections”.
“For clarity, may I provide some details of the provisions referenced. Clause 87 (14) states: ‘The dates for the primaries shall not be earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices”.
He said the Electoral Act 2010 referred to herein states in Section 31: “That every Political Party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election submit to the Commission the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.
“Section 34: ‘That the Commission shall at least 30 days before the day of the election publish a statement of the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated.
“Section 85 (1) ‘That a Political Party shall give the Commission at least Twenty-one days’ notice of any convention, congress etc., for electing members of its executive committees or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices.’’
Senator Enang explained that for the avoidance of doubt, neither the constitution nor any written law allows a president or a governor to whom a Bill is forwarded by the legislature to edit, correct, amend or in any manner alter the provisions of any such Bill to reflect appropriate intent before assenting to same, saying he is to assent in the manner it is or to withhold assent.
He also disclosed that the president has communicated his action to the National Assembly on the under listed bills earlier transmitted, namely, National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill, 2018, the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Establishment) Bill, 2018, the Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill, 2018.
Others are National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment) Bill, 2018, National Research and Innovation Council (Establishment) Bill, 2017 and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
But reacting to the president’s action, Senate Ethics and Privileges Committee said the president withheld his assent for the third time on the electoral amendment bill because he is afraid of free and fair elections.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Sam Anyanwu (Imo East), said, “The bill contains such items like legalisation of card reader that would halt multiple voting, just as electoral offenders would go to jail if the Bill becomes a law. President Buhari knows such will not favour his chances at the next presidential election, hence he vetoed the bill”.
Also reacting to the development, the House of Representatives said it is worried that the president has refused to shift ground.
Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Abdurazak Namdas, said, “It was our hope that Mr President would sign the bill, most especially to take care of the lacuna created in the use of the Card Reader for accreditation.
“We are concerned that he didn’t sign it. However, the House will look at the issues he raised on resumption from recess to consider them within the time allowed by the 1999 constitution on the requirements for the amendment of the Electoral Act before an election year”.
Also, chairman, House committee on Justice, Hon. Razak Atunwa, bemoaned the president’s decision to decline his assent, saying the bill is intended to better position the nation’s electoral process.
He said, “It is quite unfortunate that the president refused to give assent to a bill that will move our electoral process forward and improve it. Issues like fully legalising the card reader is there, electronic transmission of result is also there, which will improve the transparency and credibility of elections in Nigeria.
“And so, I cannot understand why he would decline assent to the bill, as there is nothing offensive about it”.
On his part, the chairman, House committee on Public Accounts Committee, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, expressed surprise, noting that the issues earlier raised by the president were noted and duly addressed.
Chinda said, “It’s quite surprising that the president will decline assent to it because when he brought it back the first time, we looked at it and concluded that the issues raised were not strong issues. As such, we conceded to all of them as raised by the Attorney General and INEC. So, I really don’t get what the problem is this time.
“I think in the first week of resumption, we would correct it and send it back but I am really surprised because these issues were cleaned up”.
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) urged the National Assembly to immediately override the vetoing of the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill by President Buhari.
In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP said Buhari’s veto did not come as a surprise, since his commitment to a free and fair 2019 election is mere lip service.
The statement noted: “It is now manifestly clear to Nigerians that all the reasons adduced by President Buhari for withholding his assent in the past were lame excuses.
“The clerical and drafting arguments put forward by President Buhari could not in anyway outweigh the importance of amendments meant to engender a free, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2019.
“The PDP therefore charges the National Assembly to stand with Nigerians in the overall quest for credible elections by immediately overriding President Buhari on the bill”.
In his reaction, the chairman of Partner for Electoral Reforms (PER), Ezenwa Nwangwu, said, “I just will like to see possibly the explanatory note on why the president declined his assent to the bill. Whatever it is the cloud of uncertainty around the legal framework for the 2019 elections is unhelpful and raises concern for the electoral commission’s preparedness”.
Also speaking, the Convener of Concerned Civil Societies in Kaduna, Mr. Emmanuel Bonet, said it is disheartening to say that the country still does not have a clear Electoral Act six months to the 2019 polls.
He said, “Since the National Assembly, which has APC as the majority has passed the Bill, the president ought to have signed it. His failing to sign it shows that there is no synergy between him and members of his party. We must get a middle ground and find a way out of this”.
Speaking in a not so dissimilar manner, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Rafsanjani said that Nigerian would hold both the Executive and Legislative arms of government responsible should the 2019 general election be conducted under atmosphere of uncertainty.
Rafsanjani also expressed displeasure that the two arms of government have placed ego and personal interest beyond the interest of Nigerians.
He noted that the Presidency should have identified the drafting problems in the bill at the public hearing stage, adding that those working with the President did not justify their positions.
“It is obvious that the Presidency and the National Assembly are not placing the national interest above their personal ego. We cannot understand why, because they participated in the public hearing and they should have ironed-out all the issues at that level. The people working with the President did not do their homework,” he said.
He however urged the two arms of government to ensure an amicable resolution of the political impasse, so as to ensure a hitch free general election, come 2019.
“This is not good for democracy, and this is not what we bargained for, they must work together to deliver a workable electoral framework,” Rafsanjani added.
LEADERSHIP recalls that this is coming three months after the rejection of the one earlier forwarded to the president for assent.
President Buhari had, in vetoing the bill earlier sent to him in February this year, cited three different reasons for doing so, one of which was the new sequence of elections included in the bill through section 25(1).
The president said the inserted section in the electoral act violates the provisions of section 72 of the 1999 constitution, which empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to fix dates of elections and see to its conduct in all ramifications.
But both chambers of the National Assembly in the new bill deleted all the controversial provisions kicked against by the President.
Presenting report on the new bill on the day of passage in Senate last month, chairman of the committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Suleiman Nazif (APC Bauchi North), informed lawmakers that the Bill was re-introduced following President Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Bill due to the following observations:
“That the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act may infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of INEC to organise, undertake and supervise all elections in Section 15 (a) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution;
“That the amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete 2 crucial grounds 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, and that the amendment to Section 152 (3)- (5) of the Principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over Local Government elections”.
In line with aforementioned observations, Nazif explained that the Committee resolved to delete Sections 25 and 152 (3)-(5) in the proposed Bill based on the President’s observations, retain Section 138 (c) and (d) as contained in the Principal Act and further amend Section 49 by including a new subsection (3) which provides that “ where a Smart Card Reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a new card reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours”.
It also resolved to Amend Section 140 to include a new subsection (c) which states that “where the election is postponed due to omission of a political party’s name or logo, the Commission’s Officer responsible for such printing of party names or logos commits an offence and is liable to a fine of N2million (N2,000,000) or imprisonment for 2 years or both”.
In addition, Senator Nazif noted that although INEC had submitted its observations for consideration, the committee unanimously agreed to deliberate on the commission’s remarks in any subsequent amendment as the Senate and the House had already harmonised positions on the Bill.
However, the deputy Senate president Ike Ekweremadu who chaired the session mandated the committee to make copies of INEC’s observation available to lawmakers for their scrutiny.
However, the new electoral law, which is silent on convicts of electoral offences returning to electoral politics, requires instant transmission of accreditation data and results from polling units to various collation centers.
It provides clear process for replacing candidates who die after commencement of election and before result declaration.
This is just as it introduces biometric accreditation of voters, an electronic register of voters, which must be published 30 days before a general election.