Lawmakers under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the National House of Representatives and their colleagues under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Wednesday clashed over President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision not to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.
The APC Caucus had resolved to support President Buhari’s decision, vowing that it would stop any move by the National Assembly to override the president’s decision.
The PDP however noted that not signing the Bill which will guarantee free and fair 2019 elections was against the interest of the country.
The Majority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, while speaking to journalists noted that the National Assembly would not override Buhari, adding that the Bill was imperfect.
On the reason behind the APC caucus meeting, Gbajabiamila said; “It was a one or two-point agenda. What is in the front and centre right now is the electoral amendment law, which the President has not signed and there are calls for us to veto same. But let mesay very quickly: perhaps, a lot of people don’t understand the import and the implication of signing an imperfect document.
“If the document is imperfect and you can read it or interpret it anyhow, or if a clause was removed when it should have been there, then you can’t even override an imperfect document. You have to first of all amend that document and start the process all over again, and send it back to Mr President.”
“Mr President has done well. If you study the constitution very well and if you look at Section 57, it does not oblige him to give any reason for veto. All he has to do is return it and say, ‘I am withholding my assent.’ He doesn’t have to give you any reason. But every time he has done that, he has brought forward cogent and verifiable reasons why he is not signing it.
“On this particular one, I believe the thrust, spirit and the reason why Mr President has refused to sign it, which we identify with, is that every vote must count in Nigeria. We have been mouthing this thing and singing this thing for ages.”
He noted that lawmakers in the APC had while debating the Bill warned against making electronic accreditation of voters compulsory, saying that even former President Goodluck Jonathan could not be accredited electronically.
“It forecloses manual registration. When you do that; we were all witnesses to what happened in the last election; even the sitting president could not be accredited. So, what Mr. President has done is to protect everybody in Nigeria.
“Yes, do your electronic accreditation but make room for the possibility – and a very strong possibility too – where such will not work. It is something that happens every day in the banks. Jammers can even be brought in to jam it. Millions will be disenfranchised and you and I don’t want that.”
Mr. Gbajabiamila further cited the ECOWAS protocol over amendment of Electoral Acts 6 months before elections.
“I think the National Assembly should perfect the document and send it back, Mr. President will sign it. There is no question about it. That is our position. Punctuation, a dot or a line can change the meaning of a provision in a law. Just a single ‘coma’ can change the meaning and make it ambiguous. We don’t want that.”
He further urged the PDP lawmakers who are insisting on overriding President Buhari’s decision to gather the required two-third majority needed to carry out the plot.
“Lawmaking is not about insisting; law-making is about numbers. If they are able to muster two-thirds and they want to push it through, there is nothing we can do. But as a party, we are not going to be part. As I said earlier, you cannot override an imperfect document. It makes no sense. It is garbage in, garbage out,” he said.
He noted that it was wrong to describe the refusal to sign the Bill as a failure on the part of legislature. He further blamed the National Assembly Legal Services Department for the alleged errors in the document.
“I totally do not (take it as a failure) and I will tell you why. Go to the most advanced democracies, they have a legal department. That legal department is staffed with the best of the best – from Havard, Princeton and the rest of them – and about a hundred people are sitting in the department. It is not the lawmakers that do the final draft, it is the legal department.
“Go to our legal department here, perhaps, you have one or two personnel. So, the blame will fall on the legal department. Yes, it does not speak well of the National Assembly, but we have done our work in terms of the principles of the any law we have tried to pass. It is for them to do the final ‘dot the i’s and cross the t’s.’
“Again, when the National Assembly asks for more money for staff and do things, we are met with a brick wall. It is a difficult scenario that we have found ourselves in. It is not the National Assembly’s fault, but if I were to blame anybody, I would say it is our legal department.”
PDP replies APC, says ruling party lawmakers position inconsequential
The PDP Caucus in the House in its reply to the APC described the position of the ruling party lawmakers as inconsequential.
Mr. Leo Ogor, the Minority Leader of the House, who spoke to journalists, said; “that is totally inconsequential because the most important thing is that national interest is more important. The hearsay or whatever they are saying has nothing to do with the issue. If they want to play politics, let them play politics.”
He however noted that the PDP had not met to decide the nextstep to take regarding President Buhari’s decision.