Not a few Nigerians are worried over the credibility of the 2019 polls as President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, which they believe poses threat to the exercise. SOLOMON AYADO writes on the implications of the president’s action.
Candidly, the 2019 general election is often assumed by many political pundits as the most dicey in the democratic history of the country. This is manifested by the already do or die posture of different political gladiators. For instance, the various defections, political alignments and realigments, manueverings and the general cross-carpeting of major political actors depict a looming danger ahead of 2019.
Both the unwavering positions of the executive and the legislature towards oversmarting another and their inability to ensure a stable electoral process is seriously worrisome.
It started with the political disagreement between the Presidency and National Assembly over alteration in the electoral laws. The legislators first proposed ammendment of the laws and the executive quickly kicked, picking holes in the legislative recommendations especially for alteration of the election sequence.
Precisely on Monday, 3rd September, 2018, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters , Senator Ita Enang announced Presidential decision to decline assent to Electoral ( Amendment ) Bill 2018.
This is coming barely six months after the President rejected the First Amendment.
Although Enang informed that the President has already communicated his decision in letters sent to the two chambers of the National Assembly.According to him, the President was declining assent to the bill due to some “drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the bill.”
“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 ( 1 A) , while the proposed sub -section ( 1 B) is the new sub – section ( 2 A),” Enang stated in a statement.
It noted that there was also an issue with the conduct of primaries by political parties and the dates they should submit names of their candidates to INEC .
Enang further insisted that if the bill is signed into law as it is , INEC would have only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates in the 91 political parties.
“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 .”
He noted that Clause 87 ( 14 ) “states that 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 ” which is at variance with Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 .
Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 states , “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 of the Act adds , “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 .”
On Section 85 ( 1) of the Electoral Act which states that a party shall give the commission at least 21 days ‘ notice of any convention, congress etc., for electing members of its executive committees or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices , Enang said this was at variance with the bill proposed by the National Assembly.
According to him, since the constitution did not empower a President or governor to whom a bill was 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 , Buhari had no choice but to return it to the National Assembly.
Retrospectively, the President , had in March this year, refused to sign the electoral amendment bill. This was contained in separate letters to the President of the Senate , Bukola Saraki , and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
Buhari had claimed that the bill usurped the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters , including fixing the dates and the order they would be held.
His action, he insisted was in compliance with the requirements of Section 58 of the 1999 Constitution , particularly sub -section 4, by refusing to sign the bill .
Part of Buhari ‘s letter read , “Pursuant to Section 58 ( 4 ) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 ( as amended) , I hereby convey to the Senate , my decision on 3 rd March, 2018 to decline presidential assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons for withholding assent to the bill include the following : the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of theINEC to organise , undertake and supervise all elections provided in Section 15 ( a ) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution.
“The amendment to Section 138 of the principal Act to delete two 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 .
“The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections,” it stated.
Because the President firstly refused to sign the bill , the National Assembly immediately removed the controversial section of election sequence and resent the bill to Buhari on August 3 which is just recently declined assent.
Among the many implications of this action is that there is certainly something ominous that both the legislature and the executive are seemingly not palatable with.
Also, it shows that there is surely a missing link that the duo are scared of and which they do not want to take chances in order not to loose in 2019.
To say that the resent, and also decline of assent scenario by the NASS and presidency is not political is a big joke. We are all aware that a good majority of people are disenchanted with the administration of Buhari and are making relentless efforts to oust it.
At the same time, Buhari who appears resolute to not let power slip off his sleeves, cannot sit and fold hands to watch the legislators hatch legislative plans to cause defeat in his re-election bid.
It is not surprise that the legislature and executive are finding difficult to reach a compromise and proffer solutions to stabilise the electoral system in the country. All is politics and this is not good precedence at a critical time Nigeria is faced with political and economic instability.
Although several persons, groups and socio-political organisations have expressed concern over the current political situation.
At the moment, the PDP has urged the National Assembly to override the President by vetoing the Electoral Act 2010 ( Amendment ) Bill .
According to PDP, Buhari ‘s assent decline to the bills is not surprising because the President’s commitment to a free and fair 2019 elections was mere lip service .
The National Publicity Secretary of the party , Mr . Kola Ologbondiyan , said in a statement that “it was now manifestly clear to Nigerians that all the reasons adduced by President Buhari for withholding his assent in the past were lame.”
It said, “The clerical and drafting arguments put forward by President Buhari could not in any way outweigh the importance of amendments meant to engender 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.”
Reacting, the Director of Media and Public Communications, Coalition for Nigeria Movement and Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Intervention Movement, Mr. Akin Osuntokun has alleged that there was an ulterior motive to manipulate the 2019 general elections to suit someone’s personal agenda.
For Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, he described as sad the action of the President and said it would make people become disillusioned on the transparency of 2019 Presidential and general elections.
By virtue of political calculations, Senate committee chairman on power, Enyinaya Abaribe has alleged that the refusal of the President to grant assent to the amended bill is to prevent use of PVC and Card Reader machine in the 2019 polls. This translate that the Buhari led APC may be planning to rig the forthcoming election.
In its reaction, the Presidency rejected allegations of opposition politicians, as well as some newspaper editorial opinions creating the impression that President Buhari is against e-voting, the use of card readers in the upcoming elections, hence his decision to decline assent, for the third time, to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
According to a statement by the senior special assistant media to the president, Garba Shehu stated in clear and unambiguous terms that the issue of e-voting and use of card readers was NEVER an issue for the President’s decision to decline assent to the Bill.
Shehu, who said It is equally important that this issue was not raised either by the Executive or the Legislature in the recent reviews , added that moreover, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) adoption of e-voting reforms is enshrined in the 2015 Amendment Act to the Electoral Reform Act. Card reader is therefore a settled matter.
He further explained that the President’s recent decision to decline assent to the Bill has no effect whatsoever on INEC’s use of card readers.
Regrettably, the presidential spokesman observed that purveyors of ‘fake news’ have been quick to churn out sensational headlines such as that of a leading newspaper, which screamed: “Card Reader in Jeopardy, Buhari Rejects Electoral Act Amendment Bill Again.”
Unfortunately, he said most of the critics of the President, including the editorial of a national daily this morning read out parts of the letters, as made available by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, detailing the issues that were of concern to the government.
He said “An issue has been raised by the President concerning some ill-prepared and flawed parts of the bill for which corrections needed to be made to allow for his signature. The President wanted engagement with the parliament for the corrections to be effected so that, at the end of the day, both arms of government will be happy with the fact that we have a good electoral law in place.
“The President is not in confrontation with the parliament on this issue. He has asked his officials to dialogue with the legislature for the corrections to be effected.
“As for his alleged rejection of the card reader, nothing can be farther from the truth.
“The President is the country’s number one fan of the card reader. For a candidate who ran three times and “lost” in an electoral environment in which votes were allocated and losers asked to go to court if they felt unhappy, the President knows fully well the role that the card reader played in his emergence in 2015.
“He has said times without number that he would strengthen and widen its application in the country and this, he is determined to do.
Accordingly, , the Presidency appealled , especially to the media to disregard baseless allegations against the President, even as he puts in his best efforts in working with the National Assembly to give the nation a good electoral law, and in time.
“The card reader is not in danger of being discarded. It is a sine qua non for credible elections.
“We appeal to the National Assembly to reconvene as soon as possible to consider and approve the necessary corrections to the amended electoral act,” he said .
While there are widespread allegations that both the President and the National Assembly are playing a game of cat and mouse over the bill, going forward, it will require a two-thirds majority of the national assembly or judicial pronouncement to overturn the veto.
Another concern is whether the situation will affect INEC by ensuring free, fair and credible polls. It is believed that the electoral body is incumbered in its activities till the amended electoral bill is given assent by the President.
The question is, how soon would the lawmakers reconvene and reconsider the concerns raised by the President as reasons for veto? Can INEC employ judicial pronouncement to upturn the matter? What happens if NASS reconvene but do not act as expected by the executive? Is the president jittery of 2019 election?
As it stands, it is obvious that President Buhari knows that there is alot to fear owing to varied agitations on how his administration has not fulfilled promises or satisfied the yearnings of the generality of people. But can he maneuver the legislators to do his bidding? It is clearly a battle that must be fight to finish, win or lose, but only time shall tell.
At the moment, while the politics and power play of the electoral amendment bill forges, sooner than later, it shall become evidently known who, between the executive and legislature, can outplay another.