Angry reactions as Buhari withholds assent to Electoral Act 2018

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*Buhari

Ime Akpan

For the umpteenth time, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday declined assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 passed by the National Assembly.

It was the fourth time the President has declined assent to the bill, having declined assent to the proposed legislation in February, July, August and December this year.

In his letter dated December 6, 2018 and addressed to the senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, the president said among other things that signing the bill into at a time close to the 2019 general elections “may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

“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,” said the president.

He told the lawmakers to specifically state that the Electoral Act will be operational after the 2019 general elections.

Beside election concerns, Buhari also noted some legislative amendments the bill requires.

“It is also important for the following drafting amendments to be made to the Bill:

  1. Section 5 of the Bill, amending section 18 of the Principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of figure “30” for figure “60” is to be effected.
  2. Section 11 of the Bill, amending Section 36 should indicate the subsection in which proviso (provision) is to be introduced.
  3. Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85 (1) should be drafted in full as the introduction of “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 merger of political parties.

*Buhari’s letter to the national assembly

Reacting to the development, the director of media and publicity, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council (PPCO), Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said in a statement that the president’s action “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.”

“President Buhari’s repeated refusal to sign amendments passed to check rigging of 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 invites Nigerians to note that this is the fourth time President Buhari is withholding assent on the amendment, without any cogent reason following his rejection by Nigerians.

“Nigerians can recall how the Presidency plotted to plunge the 2019 elections into a needless controversy by delaying the submission of the election budget to the National Assembly, presenting it at the time the legislators were commencing their annual vacation and asking for virement of funds already approved for development projects, instead of sending a fresh supplementary budget for the election.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. President, in his desperation to hold on to power, has resorted to taking steps that are capable of destabilizing our nation, just because the people are resolute in voting him out of office democratically.

“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,” he said.

For its part, the senate vowed veto the bill.

The vice chairman, senate committee on media and publicity, Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce said the senate would lobby members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the upper chamber to override the president.

“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,” he said.

However, it is believed that it would be difficult to override Buhari on the matter because of the polarization of the national assembly by the pro-Saraki and pro-Buhari supporters.

“The polarisation of the National Assembly will make it difficult for lawmakers in both legislative chambers to invoke Section 58 (5) of the constitution. If they had the power to override him, they would have done so long ago,” said a political commentator who craved anonymity.

The clause states: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”

This implies that 73 senators in the upper legislative chamber and 240 lawmakers in the House of Representatives are needed to override the president’s veto.

That the required number required to veto the president’s decision will be hard to get played out recently when the senate majority leader, Mr. Ahmed Lawan, warned against the danger in stampeding Buhari into signing the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law.

“I will advise, even though I am not one of his advisers, that he goes through what has been sent to him line by line, understand whatever his advisers will tell him and of what we have sent will make the elections in 2019 better, then he signs.

“But if he discovers some provisions that will bring contradictions and controversies, he can withhold assent.

“I’m not advocating that he withholds assent, but if he does, that is his right. I want to tell you that the APC caucus in the National Assembly stands with Mr. President on this,” said Lawan.

For its part, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) said the president’s action will breed lawlessness.

The group’s first national spokesman, Mr. Imo Ugochinyere said in a statement that the president declined assent to the amended bill to save his face from embarrassing defeat at the polls.

“President Buhari has expectedly failed again to take advantage of the rare opportunity of the Electoral Amendment Bill to write his name in gold as the President that signed the laws that guaranteed electoral credibility in Nigeria.

“But yet again, as usual of him, he failed to rise to the occasion, being blinded by ambition and the love of the perks of office.”

“It is an act of clear desperation that the President had shown. For each of the four times the Electoral Amendment Bill was presented to him for assent, he waited until the last day of his constitutionally allowed 30 days. Nigerians should also be reminded that throughout the amendment process, President Buhari never made any suggestions or proposals to the National Assembly for the improvement of our electoral process but kept delaying and indulging in unnecessary hide and seek until this last minute.

“Nigerians have had enough of the Buhari misfortune and are resolved on consigning it to history where generations shall be taught on the kind of persons not to be elected President in any country ever again. President Buhari by all indications is willing to plunge Nigeria into electoral crisis worse than those that twice directly led to the collapse of democracy after the 1963 and 1983 general elections,” he said

A legal practitioner, Mr. Mike Ozekhome said the national assembly has the power to override the President’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 said.

Another lawyer, Mr. Ifedapo Adedipe, described as “curious” the president’s refuse to assent to the bill when members of his (the president’s) party dominate the national assembly.

“Any democrat who believes in a free, fair, credible and transparent election will be concerned. This is because the earlier Electoral Act was found to have some inadequacies and that was what gave rise for the need for an amendment.

“But now that the President, in his wisdom, clearly aided by his supporters, has refused to assent to the amendment, my worry is that before this government came on board, the various individual respected Nigerians were rather very vociferous in their request for a transparent election. And so, if the national assembly dominated by members of your own party is trying to amend the law, it is curious that the President will refuse to assent, then you’ll begin to suspect that perhaps there’s more than meets the eye in the refusal. It is probably because the ruling party is afraid of transparent elections,” he said.

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