From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari at exactly 12:27 signed the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 into law.
Our sister publication, Daily Sun, had correctly reported yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari would about noon on Friday (today) assent to the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
Credible sources in the presidency, had informed the newspaper that arrangements had been concluded for the president to sign the bill into law on Friday, putting paid to all anxieties expressed by Nigerians.
“All the anxieties will disappear by Friday afternoon. He will be signing the bill around noon of that day. I believe he has taken his time so that the Act can be as unassailable as much as possible,” said the official who preferred not to be named.
The ceremony, held at the Council Chambers of the State House, was witnessed by the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and some members of National Assembly Committee on Independent and Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, tabled the document for signing.
The President urged the National Assembly to give speedy attention to amendments suggested, especially deleting 84 (12), which contravenes the rights of political office holders to vote or be voted for in political party conventions and congresses.
He said the Act holds a lot of promise for improving the election processes in the country, with the introduction of new technology, and efforts to engender clarity and transparency.
He said: “Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the National Assembly, from the review, it is my perspective that the substance of the Bill is both reformative and progressive. I am making this bold declaration because I foresee the great potentials of the Bill. Worthy of note include the democratic efficacy of the Bill with particular reference to Sections 3, 9(2), 34, 41, 47, 84(9), (10) and (11) among others.
“This, however, cannot be said about one provision as contained in the proposed Bill, which provision constitutes fundamental defect, as it is in conflict with extant constitutional provisions.
“Section 84 (12) constitutes a disenfranchisement of serving political office holders from voting or being voted for at Conventions or Congresses of any political party, for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the National Election,’’ he said.
The President noted it had introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.
“The practical application of section 84 (12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.
“Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restrictions into the constitution on account of practical application of section 84 (12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.
“Arising from the foregoing, with particular regards to the benefits of the Bill, industry, time, resources and energy committed in its passage, I hereby assent to the Bill and request the Nationally Assembly consider immediate amendments that will bring the Bill in tune with constitutionality by way of deleting section 84(12) accordingly.’’
President Buhari commended the National Assembly for their commitment and dedication to improving the previous Electoral Bill 2021.
“It is gratifying to note that the current Bill comes with a great deal of improvement from the previous Electoral Bill 2021. There are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionize elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovations. These innovations would guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively.
“The Bill would also improve and engender clarity, effectiveness and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce to the barest minimum incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties.
“These commendable efforts are in line with our policy to bequeath posterity and landmark legal framework that paves the way for credible and sound electoral process that we would all be proud of,”he said.
The President said he received inputs from relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government, after careful and thorough reviews of the Bill and its implications to democratic processes, before signing The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2022 into law.
President Buhari noted that the National Assembly forwarded the Electoral Bill for Presidential Assent, via a letter dated 31st January 2022.
The Senate President, Dr Ahmed Lawan, commended Buhari for signing the bill into law despite his reservations on 84(12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022.
On Buhari’s request, Lawan said: “You know this is a legitimate request. And that is why I commend the president. I will commend him for so many things, but let me also qualify it that even though he had a disagreement with the section, especially clause 84 (12), that talks about public political office holders, he still went ahead to sign the bill into law and that is to show his commitment and desire to have an electoral law that will ensure that we have better outcomes when we do election.
“So we will look at what he is asking, I hope that they will send the request for the amendment in good time. Because time is of essence; INEC is waiting.”
The Speaker, Gbajabiamila, described the signing as a landmark turning point in the political history after 12 years.
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State said Buhari has proved critic wrong by signing the bill into law.
He said: “There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about this over the last few weeks, even bordering on scepticism that it would not be signed. I’m glad that some of us have been proved right, because we told the media that Mr President will sign this piece of legislation as soon as the section that he raised concerns about are removed from the legislation, and they’ve been removed, and he’s lived up to that belief that many of us have. Because he has always said to Nigerians anyway, that one legacy he would like to leave as he departs office is a credible and fair electoral system. And this will go a long way in making that possible.”
National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Yabagi Sani, said the new electoral act has put paid to electoral violence.