The fate of the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill now lies with the National Assembly as the lawmakers are poised to make a decision on the matter today as President Muhammadu Buhari returns the bill to them.
Feelers from the parliament indicate that lawmakers are yet to take a final stance on whether to override the president on the bill.
This comes as President Muhammadu Buhari, in his response to the Electoral Act bill, is said to have rejected the clause which mandates all political parties to adopt direct primaries.
The reasons the president gave for rejecting the bill include high cost of conducting direct primaries, the security challenge of monitoring the election, violation of citizens’ rights and marginalisation of small political parties.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the 30 days stipulated by law for Buhari to sign or reject the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 expired on Sunday.
Senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, had during a programme on Channels TV on Sunday urged Nigerians to expect an update on the Bill today when the National Assembly resumes sitting.
It was, however, gathered that lawmakers were mobilising ahead of the president’s official communication yesterday to enable them take a decision today.
The lawmakers were supposed to proceed for a recess last week but deferred it till this week.
The lawmakers claimed their inability to pass the 2022 appropriation bill was as a result of the non-inclusion of the 2023 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) election budget and the N400 billion National Census to be conducted by the National Population Commission (NPC) in 2022 was the reason behind their decision.
But sources said the delay tactics employed by the presidency on the electoral act forced them not to proceed on recess, barring any last-minute arrangement.
According to the source, some senators and members of the House of Representatives interested in the Electoral Act had advised that lawmakers should not go on recess pending the expiration of the 30 days which President Buhari has to act on the bill.
The National Assembly bureaucracy submitted the clean copy of the bill to the President on Friday, November 19, 2021. On Sunday, December 19, 2021, it was exactly one month the bill was submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. An official communication from the president will be read on the floor of the Senate today.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had said that President Buhari will sign the bill despite objections by some powerful Nigerians especially the governors.
Competent sources confirmed to LEADERSHIP last night that Buhari had written to the National Assembly, rejecting the clause that provides for direct primaries to be conducted by all political parties.
“The letter will be read at the floor of the Senate today,” a source told LEADERSHIP, adding that the president, who is also interested in the bill, wants the lawmakers to work on it and return same to him.
“The president has written the National Assembly. He is asking that lawmakers review the compulsory direct primary provided in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and resend the bill to him,” another source said.
Even though the Senate spokesman, Ajibola Basiru, declined to make a comment last night, Civil Society Oganisations (CSOs) have urged the members of the National Assembly to override the president if he refused to assent to the electoral bill, insisting they have the powers.
The National President, Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy (VATLAD), Igbini Odafe Emmanuel, said according to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, President Buhari has no strict obligation to assent to any Bill passed by at least two-thirds majority of 469 members of the National Assembly.
“President Buhari also has no constitutional power whatsoever to stop any proposed amendment to the Electoral Act passed by at least two-thirds majority of the 469 members of the National Assembly.
“Instead, the constitutional power to initiate, pass and sign into law these proposed amendments to the Electoral Act, is rightly vested in two-thirds majority of members of the National Assembly even without the assent of President Buhari,” Emmanuel said, urging the members of the National Assembly to do the needful before proceeding on leave.
“This is as aptly provided in section 58 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, particularly sections 58(4 and 5) which state that: “Where a bill is presented to the President of Nigeria for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent. Where the President withholds his assent and the Bill is again passed by each House of the National Assembly by two-thirds majority, the Bill shall become Law and the assent of the President of Nigeria shall not be required.
“Why then should the leadership and at least the two-thirds majority of members of this 9th National Assembly be misleading Nigerians to believing that President Buhari must sign this proposed Amendments to the Electoral Act before it can become Law or an Act of the National Assembly to be used in the conduct of the 2023 General Elections to ensure truly free, fair and credible elections when it claims that over two-thirds majority of 469 members of the National Assembly passed this proposed Amendments Bills?
“We hasten to remind Nigerians that in June 2000, the National Assembly invoked its constitutional power under section 58(5) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as amended, to pass the NDDC Establishment Bill into Law when then President Obasanjo, in opposing the Bill, withheld his assent to it. So, there is no basis for this 9th National Assembly to continue to claim that it is dependent on President Buhari for this bill to become law.
Other heads of CSOs including the executive director, Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, and her counterparts in Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo; Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD), David Anyele, and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, all called on the lawmakers to side with the people’s will and override the president on this bill.
Sources said the lawmakers will decide whether to override the president or adhere to his request on the direct primary issue today.
NASS To Pass 2022 Budget Today
Meanwhile, the National Assembly is expected to pass the 2022 Appropriations Bill submitted to it by President Buhari today.
This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has tabled before the National Assembly a request for N305 billion as its projected expenditure for the 2023 general elections.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the presentation before the Senate Committee on Appropriations yesterday in Abuja.
The committee had, in view of the 2023 general elections, invited the INEC chairman to table before it the projected expenditure for the 2023 elections for the purpose of capturing it in the proposed 2022 budget billed for passage by both chambers of the National Assembly Tuesday this week.
According to the INEC chairman, the N305 billion estimate is different from the N40 billion yearly budget of the electoral body.
He said while N100 billion had been given to the commission out of the total projected expenses, the amount would not be enough for the electoral umpire to make adequate preparations.
“The commission made a submission through the executive, being part of the executive body. We made a submission for N305 billion for the 2023 general elections in a very comprehensive 22-page document with 260 budget lines.
“In submitting the executive proposal to the National Assembly, the sum of N140 billion was made available to INEC as a one-line item in the budget and, as usual, we broke it down and submitted the same to the committee that oversights INEC in both the House and the Senate.
“The N140 billion was broken into two; we take it that N40 billion is our regular (annual) budget as an agency of government and N100 billion was the first tranche of the 2022 budget and we have gone ahead to make provisions accordingly.
“For the N40 billion annual budget, included in it are also elections that we are supposed to conduct, particularly off-season elections. It may interest the committee to know that we have eight by-elections pending – three federal constituencies and five state constituencies. In fact, the last vacancy occurred only last Wednesday following the death of a member representing Giwa West in Kaduna State,” he said.
Making a case for more releases from the outstanding N205 billion balance, Prof Yakubu informed the lawmakers about the activities that must be carried out ahead of the 2023 general elections.
“What we have done is to look at the activities that we have to conduct before the general elections. There are activities that must be concluded. For instance, if you are going to replace some of the critical facilities like ballot boxes, voting cubicles, these things must be done before the election.
“Party primaries must be conducted and concluded before the elections and names of candidates submitted, registration of voters would have to be concluded before the election. Printing of the permanent voter cards would have to be concluded before the elections and then some of the critical election technology for the 2023 general election must be concluded and procured before the elections,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the electoral umpire has indefinitely suspended the Ekiti East by-election after four unsuccessful attempts to conduct it.
The INEC boss lamented that, in the last attempt, voters were killed on the queue as well as security operatives and electoral officers at polling units.
“INEC will never reward bad behaviour. The election can only be repeated in June next year during the gubernatorial election,” Yakubu stated.
In his remarks, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North), said the necessary appropriation would be made for the electoral body in the 2022 budget in the general interest of Nigerians.
He assured journalists after the session that a report of his committee on 2022 budget proposals will be laid at both Senate and House of Representatives’ plenaries today for consideration and eventual passage.
If the Appropriations Bill 2022 is eventually passed into law, members of the National Assembly are expected to proceed on Christmas and New Year holidays till January 2022.