For the fourth time, President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to the electoral act amendment bill (2018), saying signing the bill into law could create uncertainty and confusion during the 2019 general elections.
This is coming barely six months after the president rejected the bill for the third time.
The National Assembly had on November 7, 2018 passed and transmitted the fourth version of the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill 2018 for the president’s assent.
Since President Buhari must sign the Bill into law within 30 days otherwise it would amount to declining assent or vetoing the bill, the bill became functus officio or expired last night as it marked the 30th day the bill was transmitted to the president.
Buhari’s decision to withhold his assent to the bill is contained in a letter addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
In the letter obtained by LEADERSHIP Weekend, the president explained that altering the electoral rules at a time the 2019 general polls are around the corner might offer the chance for disruption and confusion.
According to him, it would have been in the best interest of the country and its democracy if the National Assembly had specifically stated in the Bill that the amended Electoral Act will be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 polls.
He said, “Pursuant to section 58 (4) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the House of Representatives my decision on 6th December, 2018, to decline presidential assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.
“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the Bill that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 general election”.
Identifying certain grey areas that should be reviewed before he appends his signature, Buhari noted: “It is also important for the following drafting amendments to be made to the Bill: Section 5 of the Bill amending section 18 of the Principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of the figure “30” for the figure “60” is to be affected.
“Section 11 of the Bill amending Section 36 should indicate the subsection in which the proviso is to be introduced.
“Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85 (1) should be redrafted in full as the introduction of the “electing” to the sentence may be interpreted to mean that political parties may give 21 days’ notice of the intention to merge, as opposed to the 90 days provided in Section 84 (2) of the Electoral Act which provides the provision for merging of political parties.
“The definition of the term “Ward Collection Officer” should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalised and undefined term “Registration Area Collation Officer.”
Earlier yesterday, the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said the president had communicated his decision to the legislature.
Speaking with State House correspondents, Enang said, “President Muhammadu Buhari has taken a decision on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 in accordance with his power under the 1999 Constitution and has communicated that decision to the Senate and House of Representatives in accordance with the law”.
Enang also disclosed that President Buhari has assented to National Open University Amendment Act, which allows the National Open University to operate as all other universities, having the same power and functions and the same administrative structures, and eliminating possible discrimination against its products and programmes.
“It has also allowed the establishment of some centres to be called study centres and given conditions for the establishment of such study centres”, he said.
Pressure Mounts On INEC Over Card Reader
Meanwhile, lawyers in the country have asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue guidelines, regulations and manual for election officials for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
This followed President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018.
The lawyers who spoke exclusively to LEADERSHIP Weekend argued that since the conduct of the 2019 elections shall be governed by the subsisting Electoral Act 2010, INEC should issue a guideline to streamline voter accreditation procedure vis-a-vis the extent of the use of card reader for the conduct of next year election.
Although the lawyers were unanimous in their call on INEC to issue guidelines, regulations and manual to guide election officials and the public ahead of the 2019 elections, they were however divided over what should constitute the guideline or manual.
Some of the legal experts insisted that since Section 49 (2), which directs INEC to use register of voters to authenticate eligibility of voters has not been amended, INEC must discard its use in the polls.
Some lawyers argued that Section 52 (2) of the same Electoral Act 2010 says the use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited, and for that reason the card reader should not be applied in any way for the conduct of the next elections.
They contended that since INEC neither budgeted for the use of the card reader in the recently approved budget for the commission to conduct elections, nor trained officials for the use of it all this while, the use of the machine in view of the 2015 experience in the country is enough to discard any idea of using it anywhere in the country for the conduct of the 2019 polls.
The use of card reader, they held, requires INEC officials at the end of voting process to compare the number of voters verified by the card reader with the number of accredited voters and total votes cast for consistency, which led to avalanche of conflicting judgements in the court after the 2015 elections.
According to the lawyers, so many voters were disenfranchised in 2015 due to the widespread malfunctioning of the electronic device, leading to high collateral damage to political parties, candidates and voters.
They said INEC had been silent on its use for the conduct of re-run elections and state governorship elections held in some states after the 2015 general elections.
Some other lawyers however argued conversely that the process of presenting oneself to a presiding officer with one’s voter’s card and the process of checking a voter’s name on the voter’s register, including the ticking of the name, constitute what is referred to as accreditation.
They said that what Section 52(2) prohibits is the use of electronic voting machine and not the use of card readers for accreditation of voters.
According to them, for all intent and purposes, a card reader simply verifies and authenticates the identity of the voter, adding that card reader is not an electronic voting machine but a machine to be used for accreditation of voters only before the actual voting.
A distinguishing factor, they further argued, is that in electronic voting, ballot papers are not used and cannot be used, but the forthcoming 2019 general elections are ballot paper-based.
They insisted that the use of card readers for the purpose of accreditation hastens the process as the accreditation of a voter does not take more than a few seconds.
Besides, they said the use of the card reader is based on the use of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), of which fake and stolen PVCs can be easily detected.
This, they noted, will assist in preventing certain electoral malpractices and ensuring free, fair, credible and peaceful elections across the country.
The commission, they said, should still include the use of the card reader for the conduct of the 2019 elections in the country, otherwise the polls would be dogged by ballot box stuffing, ballot box snatching and over-invoicing of votes, which characterised previous elections before 2015 .
A member of the inner bar, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), said, “Well, let’s see what the National Assembly shall do. We have to keep our fingers crossed till the option of overriding the president’s veto of the bill is exhausted.
“If the National Assembly fails to override the president, we fall back to the subsisting law. It won’t stop the conduct of the elections. After all, the process leading to the elections so far were conducted with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010’’.
Executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Musa said, “The country may be plunged into protracted legal fireworks if the 2019 elections are conducted based on the current Electoral Act.
“If the issues around the Electoral Act are not properly addressed, we are going to have a lot of challenges and problems. If this continues in the same manner, there would definitely be problems, which then means that what some are alleging or predicting that there is a calculated attempt to frustrate the 2019 election may come to reality.
“The implication is very clear; there are some lapses which the current Act has not been able to resolve. Remember that the financing of election campaigns is part of the amendments, and other sensitive issues. So, there are lots of issues that will throw-up confusion and chaos”.
On his part, former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) said, “The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 is the legal regime for the 2019 elections. It is therefore important that every person is familiar with its provisions.
“If you recall, the late signing of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 created so much confusion and resulted in widespread electoral malpractices. If you also recall, the late signing resulted in conflicting decisions in the courts, especially on the use of card readers.
“The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was passed by the National Assembly to address all the challenges created by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2015. It is therefore important that you sign into law the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.”
Another learned silk, Chief Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), noted: “The law permits the lawmakers to override the president’s veto if he decides to take that route.
“But I believe that if the lawmakers are strong enough, they should muster enough votes to overturn that veto and pass the Bill into law. Otherwise we have to rely on the existing 2010 Electoral Act for the forthcoming elections”.
In his submission, human rights activist, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said, “Currently, INEC should be working with the existing 2010 Electoral Act. If the electoral body keeps doing so, we are still on target for the 2019 elections.
“But if the National Assembly should proceed to override the president’s veto by two-third majority and pass the bill into law, then there may be some challenges. This is because the time schedule and the proposition contained in the amended Electoral Act can no longer be reversed”.
Another learned silk, Muiz Banire (SAN), said, “Some people have argued that the use of card readers is not allowed by virtue of Section 52 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended). Section 52 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended provides that the use of electronic voting machine for the time being is prohibited.
“The implication of the above in line with subsection 2 is that electronic voting is forbidden in Nigeria. A card reader has been defined as “a data input device that reads data from a card-shaped storage medium. An electronic voting machine can be described as a device or machine by which electronic votes can be cast without the use of ballot papers.
“What Section 52(2) prohibits as indicated earlier is the use of electronic voting machine but not the use of card readers for accreditation of voters and that is where it stops. Thus, for all intent and purposes, a card reader simply verifies and authenticates the identity of the voter.
“The meaning of the above is that the process of presenting oneself to a presiding officer with one’s voter’s card and the process of checking a voter’s name on the voter’s register, including the ticking of the name constitute what is referred to as accreditation”.
Abuja based legal practitioner, Valentine Offia said, “The National Assembly can override the lack of assent by the president, and then it becomes law which INEC should comply with.
“If NASS fails to secure two-thirds to override the president, that will mean there is no new law. The current law will remain and INEC will adhere to it”.
Also, a constitutional lawyer, Muktar Abanika, noted: “INEC neither budgeted for the use of it in the recently approved budget for the commission to conduct election with it, nor trained officials for the use of it all this while. The use of the machine in view of 2015 experience in the country is enough to discard any idea for using it anywhere in the country for the conduct of the 2019 elections.
“For card reader to be used in 2019 elections, it means INEC officials still require at the end of voting process to compare the number of voters verified by the Card Reader with the number of accredited voters and total votes cast for consistency. This led to avalanche of conflicting judgements in the court after the 2015 elections”.
But another Abuja-based lawyer, Alasa Ismaila, said, “INEC should still include the use of card reader in its guideline and manual for election officials for the conduct of the 2019 elections in the country, otherwise, the 2019 elections would be dogged by ballot stuffing, ballot box snatching and over-invoicing of votes that characterised previous elections before 2015 election’’.
… PDP Urges NASS To Override Buhari
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) has urged the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the amendment of the Electoral Act.
The PDP Campaign says this legislative action has become imperative as the president’s decision is a calculated attempt to hold the nation to ransom, inject crisis into the electoral process and ultimately scuttle the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Reacting to the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill, director, Media and Publicity, PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “President Buhari’s repeated refusal to sign amendments passed to check rigging in the election raises issues of his sincerity of purpose and has the capacity to trigger political unrest and violence, which can, in turn, truncate our hard-earned democracy.”
The PPCO recalled that this is the fourth time President Buhari is withholding assent to the amendment, without any cogent reason.
“It is also instructive to note that President Buhari is mortally afraid of the amendments because they essentially checked the All Progressives Congress (APC) rigging plans, including the use of underage and alien voters, vote-buying, alteration of results and manipulation of voter register; for which the APC and the Buhari Presidency have been boasting of winning the 2019 elections.
“While urging the National Assembly to save our democracy and forestall an imminent electoral crisis, the PPCO also charges all political parties, other critical stakeholders and Nigerians in general to rise in the interest of our nation and demand the entrenching of rules and processes that will guarantee the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, as nothing short of that would be accepted,” the party said.
Appeal Court Affirms Prisoners’ Right To Vote
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal sitting in Bénin City, Edo State, has granted an appeal seeking to direct the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to include the names of prison inmates on its voter register.
It, however, refused to grant a declaration that INEC should liaise with the Nigeria Prison Service to create a registration centre in each prison across the country.
The appeal was filed by five inmates on behalf of other inmates in Nigerian prisons across the country.
Those that filed the appeal are Victor Emenuwe, Onome Inaye, Kabiru Abu, Osagie Iyekekpolor and Modugu Odion.
Justice S. Oseji, who read the lead judgement on behalf of Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, said the appellant could appeal the ruling.
Speaking to newsmen after the court ruling, counsel to the appellant, President Aigbokhan of the Initiative for Rural Development, Information and Legal Advocacy (IRDILA) urged INEC to commence immediate registration of inmates across the country for them to participate in next year’s election.
He said, “Prison inmates have their community. Polling units should be located there. One of our clients is the inmate in prisons. We believe they have a right to vote in an election so as to decide those who ultimately decide their future.
“When franchise is given to them, attention will be focused there. Their situation and health conditions will be improved.
“In 2014, the Federal High Court granted our prayers that prisoners can vote but narrowed it to the four applicants in the suit even though it was stated there that those applicants were representing other inmates.
“We went to the Court of Appeal and the court agreed that the judgement represents all inmates in the country; that INEC should with immediate effect collate the names of inmates and allow them to vote in 2019.
“In 2015, the inmates were over 550,000. All INEC need to do is to update their voter register and liaise with NGOs as volunteers to help them. It is victory for Nigeria’s democracy.”
Aigbokhan, however, asserted that his clients would appeal part of the decision of the Court of Appeal, saying, “The judgement has disagreed that INEC should create polling units inside the prison.”
Sign Death Warrants For 2,500 inmates, NPS Tells Govs
The Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) has appealed to state governors to intervene in the management of over 2,500 inmates on death row by approving their execution or commuting their sentence to life imprisonment.
The public relations officer of the NPS, Mr Francis Enobore, who made the appeal in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday in Abuja, said the governors’ action is needed towards decongesting the prisons.
According to him, condemned convicts have been a big issue in the Nigerian Prison Service and it has been difficult to deal with the issue.
“Before now, a prison might have 500 condemned convicts and, of course, that can be managed, but a situation where you have more than that, then it becomes an issue.
“Presently, over 2,500 condemned convicts are in prisons. Some of them have exhausted their appeals and are only awaiting the hangman. This issue has caused deep anger among them; they have become hardened and difficult to control.
“You greet some of them, they won’t even respond. You try to make them not feel discouraged in life, they see you as a threat, ” he said.
Enobore noted that the condemned convicts were different from those awaiting trial who could be taken to court anytime, adding that the state governors need to sign the death warrants because some of them had become difficult to manage.
According to him, governors could also commute some sentences to life imprisonment so that the beneficiaries of such gesture would have hope of living to become better persons in the future.
“As they are, they can’t go to school while in prison and they can’t even partake in skill acquisition, but if the appeal is granted, it would enable them to go to school while in prison or have skills in any field.
“This would give them hope of becoming better people in the nearest future, ” Enobore said.