In the last few weeks, President Muhammadu Buhari withheld assent to two important bills presented to him by the National Assembly. The first was the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill 2018, and the second is the 2018 amendment bill to the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).
Special Adviser to the President on Legislative Matter, (Senate) Senator Ita Enang, cited a number of constitutional and legal reasons why the PIGB was not assented to, which include but not limited to shrinking ministerial powers, inadequate fiscal provisions, revenue retention powers of the petroleum regulatory body etc. Just like the PIGB, Enang also stated that the amendment bill was not signed into law due to some drafting issues.
Meanwhile, the situation with the Electoral Act amendment bill is slightly at variance with the PIGB, this is because the amendment bill was rejected for the third time by the President. In the first instance, the President on the following three grounds withheld assent to the amendment bill; 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; 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; and that the amendment to Section 25 of the Principal Act, which seeks to take away order of the sequence of election.
The President argued that the amendment, if allowed, would be in contravention to the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and act establishing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among others. The second rejection was hinged on alleged correction errors and this third rejection, Enang explained, was as result of draft issues.
While I wouldn’t expect the President to endorse the document that he’s not satisfied with, my worry is that the President after exhausting the 30 days statutorily required by the constitution to study the document, each time it was presented to him, he and his aides could not expose the alleged complicity in the proposed law, more so that it had been presented to him twice before the last time.
I honestly do not want toaccept this as an innocent error, it can be best described as sacrificing national interest on the altar of politics and ego.
Power brokers both in the executive and legislative arms of government should at least understand the limit of unhealthy politics and that salient national issues are at stake, if the government were one, contentious issues would have been identified prior to this stage of law making.
INEC Budget: Before Saraki, Dogara Set A Wrong Precedent
It was a bolt from the blue when I read that a session of National Assembly ‘joint committee’ on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), slashed the 2019 election budget president to the parliament by President Muhammadu Buhari in July, from N189 bn requested by the President to N143 bn.
The ‘committee’ set up a six-member sub-committee to review INEC’s proposed budget. While I always maintain that a budget proposal is a work in progress, and subject to modification by the parliament, it is as well important to ensure that the laid-down procedures are religiously followed.
What is being witnessed in the National Assembly completely negates its own rules and can best be described as an unholy remedy to a political exigency. A budget proposal, either through virement or supplementary budget is an executive bill that should be considered with the full processes of lawmaking. I.e. it has to pass through first and second reading and then committed to relevant committees for review before it can pass for the third and final reading.
Surprisingly, in the case of INEC budget, the President’s letter was read once on the floor and the second reading ought to have been taken place before it would be referred to the committees, hence the clamour for the National Assembly to reconvene. But for political reasons which I would not want to speculate here, the leadership of the National Assembly abruptly empowered committees on INEC and electoral matters to scrutinise the proposal and make recommendations.
As if that was not enough, the two committees are also holding a joint session without a resolution of the plenary. While this parliamentary error could go unchallenged due to the current political structure of the National Assembly, it is setting a precedence that may require litigation to correct in the near future.
The standing order of both chambers in the parliament does not recognise any other joint committee, aside the joint Committee on Finance. Secondly, whenever the two Chambers pass a resolve with some differentials, the plenary will resolve that a conference committee be constituted to harmonise the grey areas, and the eventual recommendations will again be brought before the plenary for approval.
Therefore, the so-called joint committee on INEC will lack potency to hold a joint session and make recommendations. I had thought that the National Assembly would only deploy delays tactics to buy time and ensure a calm political atmosphere. However, the unexpected happened, the joint committee assumed life and carryout a mandate that was never bestowed on them through a proper channel. Leadership of the National Assembly cannot on their own suspend the relevant rules and allow a bill skip second reading , proceed to committee level , and then bring it back for second reading when it is convenient, this amounts to putting the cart before the horse. I stand to be corrected, but this is what I found in Order 12, which highlights the Procedure on Bills.