President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday announced his decision to withhold his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 passed by the National Assembly.
This is the fourth time President Buhari would be returning the Bill to the National Assembly.
Buhari had on August 30 rejected the Bill and returned it to the lawmakers. He pointed out 11 (Sections 9, 18, 27, 30, 34, 36, 44, 87, 112, 151) sections in the Bill that needed amendment.
Mrs. Aisha Dukku, the Chairman House Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters, had before the Bill was passed on October 24, noted that all the 11 areas objected by Buhari had been amended.
Mrs. Dukku who is a member of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), said; “All the issues raised by Mr President have been captured and addressed.
“Both the Senate and the House worked on these amendments and all the issues have been addressed.”
She further stated a Clause which Buhari raised that was amended. Clause 87(14) Buhari had complained about the deadline for primary election which originally stated that date of party primaries shall not be earlier than 120 days and not be later than 90 days.
Mrs. Dukku noted that the lawmakers addressed it by inserting “the date of the primaries shall not be earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the date of election to the elective offices.”
Despite the corrections, Buhari still rejected the Bill in a letter to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Consequently, the National Assembly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), over 45 other political parties, Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), others berated President Buhari over his refusal to sign the Bill.
Confirming Mr. President’s decision not to sign the Bill, Senator Ita Enang, Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate), noted that President Buhari’s reasons were contained in his letter to the National Assembly.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has taken 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 the House of Representatives in accordance with the law.”
“The President has taken a decision in accordance with the powers vested in him by the constitution. And by convention that decision contained in the communication can only be revealed by the person to whom that decision is addressed.
“But the electoral bill has left Mr President because he has taken a decision and has remitted it back,” Enang said.
Buhari’s rejection letter addressed to the Senate President and the Speaker, which was dated December 6, 2018, stated that he was declining assent to the Electoral Bill 2018 because it was too close to 2019 election time and could cause confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.
He consequently told the National Assembly to specifically state in the Bill that it would come into effect and applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 general elections.
The Letter reads below in parts;
“Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate/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 elections, 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 elections.”
Senate reacts, vows to veto Bill
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in its reaction however vowed to override President Buhari’s decision, saying that the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was vital to the conduct and outcome of the 2019 general elections.
According to Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, the red chamber would lobby members of the ruling APC to get the necessary numbers required to veto the Bill.
Mr. Murray-Bruce noted that the plan to veto the Bill was Senate’s decision, saying that the amendments would guarantee free and fair general elections in 2019.
“First of all, we think it is a mistake not to sign the bill. We think Buhari should have signed it. We want the APC senators and all Nigerians to understand that, that bill was the right thing to do at this period of our national life.
“We will do everything possible to work with the progressive APC senators to get the right number of votes to override it. We will override it.”
“We want credible elections and that was why we hoped the President would sign the (amended) Electoral Act. Now that he has refused to sign it, we will talk to the APC members in the Senate to look at Nigeria and not their party. They should look at Nigeria and not their party.
“There are aspects that INEC can implement on their own without the law.”
House of Representatives yet to take action
In its reaction to Buhari’s decision, the National House of Representatives said that it would take action after the Speaker, Hon. Dogara, had read the letter to lawmakers in plenary.
The statement was issued by Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs.
Opposition parties, SANs urges National Assembly to veto the Bill
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its reaction on Friday urged the Senate and House to immediately override Buhari’s refusal to sign the Bill.
The statement was issued by the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, saying that overriding Buhari would save the nation’s democracy.
The PDP alleged that Buhari was refusing to sign the Bill because it would spoil the APC rigging plans in 2019.
“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,” he said.
Also some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Mike Ozekhome, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, and others have vehemently condemned Buhari decision. The SANs advised the National Assembly to evoke its constitutional powers to override Buhari.
Mr. Falana in his reaction warned relevant stakeholders to expedite the process of passing the new bill, saying that passing a law within a period shorter than six months to the election had been prohibited under Article 2 of the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance of ECOWAS.
“Once the President withholds his assent, the choice the National Assembly has is to override his assent,” Falana said.
Agbakoba (SAN), a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said that; “the 2018 Electoral Bill is clearly better than the 2010 (Electoral Act) as it removed all the constraints and challenges that marred the 2015 elections.
“So, retaining the weaknesses of the 2010 (Electoral Act) on whether the card reader and transmission of results electronically are allowed is going to make the 2019 elections a lot more difficult and challenging. So, I expect the Senate to override the presidential veto,”
Chief Ozekhome in his own reaction noted that the NASS had power to override Buhari’s decision.
“The National Assembly can go ahead with two-thirds majority to overturn the President’s decision. If after 30 days he (President) declines his assent, the National Assembly can meet and by two-thirds majority counteract his decline of assent and the bill becomes a law automatically,” he noted.