Amidst the enthusiasm, there is a problem. President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill.
“The decision of the president to withhold Assent in respect of a bill to enact a Law to amend the Electoral Act makes no sense. The final draft bill considered by National Assembly (NASS) was agreed with the president, precisely to avoid challenges, such as now occurred. The president states that part of the reason he has withheld assent is to avoid confusion as to the applicable legal framework for 2019 elections and the administrative capacity of INEC to cope with the new Electoral Act, as it is all too close to 2019 elections” – Mr Olisa Agbakoba
Baring any last minute change, the 2019 general elections will hold in about two months from now. Already, the necessary funds needed to conduct ‘credible polls’ have been approved by the National Assembly. Security agencies are not exempted. Despite their alleged connivance with the ruling party to rig elections, they have equally received adequate funding to provide necessary security during next year’s general elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has repeatedly claimed that it is ready to conduct an election that will be of international standard. Politicians and political parties are not excluded. They are at their best, marketing their manifestoes, which they seldom implement when they get elected eventually.
Amidst the enthusiasm, there is a problem. President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill. Having exhausted the constitutional time frame within which the president must sign or reject a bill passed by the National Assembly, Buhari offered his reasons for rejecting the bill. The bill was transmitted to President Buhari on November 8, 2018. Lest I forget, President Buhari has vetoed three previous amendments passed by the National Assembly. This recent rejection makes it four. That is a historic move, I must say.
Unfortunately, the National Assembly is too divided along party, religious and ethnic lines to override the veto of the president. In the end, INEC will settle for the existing Electoral Amendment Act passed in 2010. The existing Act is grossly deficient and is not in tandem with today’s realities.
On the other hand, the new amendment bill would have sufficiently filled the lacuna. In the reworked bill, the parliament restricted all election expenses of any presidential candidate to N5 billion. For governorship candidates, lawmakers restricted their election expenses to N1 billion, while Senatorial candidates are to limit themselves to N250 million.
The Senate approved the amendment of Section 91 of the Electoral Act, 2010, which made it clear that no “gubernatorial candidate shall during the election, spend above N1 billion; Senatorial, N250 million; House of Representatives candidate should not spend beyond N100 million; State House of Assembly candidate must not spend beyond N30 million; Chairmanship of Area Council should stop at N30 million, while the Councillorship candidate must not spend beyond N5 million.”
According to the latest amendment, no individual or other entity shall donate to a candidate more that N10 million just as Section 91(10) stipulates that “a candidate who knowingly acts in contravention of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of one percent of the amount permitted as the limit of campaign expenditure under this Act or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.”
In the bill passed, Clause 14 was introduced to amend Section 49 (4) of the Principal Act that deals with failure of a card reader.
The report of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) read: “Where a Smart Card Reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any polling unit and a fresh Card Reader is not deployed 3 hours before the close of the election in that unit, then the election shall not hold, but be rescheduled and conducted within 24 hours thereafter provided that where the total possible votes from all the affected card readers in the unit or units does not affect the overall result in the constituency or election concerned, the commission shall notwithstanding the fact that a fresh card reader is not deployed as stipulated, announce the final results and declare a winner.”
Clause 24, was also introduced to amend Section 87 (13) of the Principal Act that deals with the issue of deadline for primary election. The bill reads in part: “The dates of the primaries shall not be earlier than 150 days and not later than 90 days before the date of the election to the elective offices.” The same section also stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held. Clause 32, was introduced to amend Section 140 (4) of the Principal Act that deals with omission of name of a candidate or logo of a political party. It stated that, “if at the point of display or distribution of ballot papers by the commission, a candidate or his agent discovers that his name, the name or logo of his party is omitted, a candidate or his agent shall notify the commission and the commission shall postpone the election to rectify the omission; and appoint another date to conduct the election, not later than 90 days.
“Where the election is postponed due to omission of a political party’s name or logo, the commission’s officer responsible for such printing of party names or logo commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2 million or both.”
The main objectives of the amendment bill, according to the Senate include, “to provide for the use of Card Readers and any other similar technological devices in conducting elections; to provide a time line for the submission of list of candidates as rightly captured in Section 31 (6) and 85 (l) of the bill; to identify criteria for substitution of candidates, limit of campaign expenses; and to address noticed problems related to the omission of names of candidates or logo of political parties.” For a president desirous of conducting a free and transparent election, why withhold your assent? Who is afraid of the 2019 elections? Is it not also curious that folks who benefited from a transparent electoral process in 2015, are willing to sacrifice national interest on the altar of greed and desperation?
Bukola Saraki, President of the Senate’s appeal to President Buhari didn’t sway him. How did we get to this new low? Saraki, in his appeal, had told the president not to heed the advice of the anti-democratic elements who have now populated the political space and putting pressure on him not to give assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill.
He had urged the president to rise above party politics and act without further delay in the best interest of the country and its democracy by signing the Electoral Bill into law.
He had added that many of the legislators who contacted him were particularly disturbed that certain individuals who are said to be chairmen of political parties had approached the Federal High Court to stop the president from assenting to the bill.
He noted that the jaded tactic employed in the 90s to scuttle the return to democracy when groups like the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) went to court to frustrate the announcement of the results of the June 12, 1993 elections was now being adopted by some masked groups and individuals to stop the signing into law of the Electoral Bill.
He had urged President Buhari to dissociate himself from these ugly antics and sign the bill which he said has comprehensively addressed issues that usually clog the process of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
“It is the prerogative of the president to either sign a bill into law or refuse it assent. He is free to exercise this prerogative the way he likes in this case. What I found surprising is a situation where some people now want to adopt a wrong tactic of abusing the court process to stall the matter. That will be unacceptable and I am sure our judiciary will rely on the lessons from the past and not allow itself to be used.
“We do not want the president to allow the setting of a bad precedent in which somebody will go to court in future to stop the passage of an Appropriation Bill or any essential law which will be important to the development of the country.
“My position remains that the president, his aides, the entire country and the international community are aware that all the concerns raised by the president on the past three occasions he withheld assent to the bill have been addressed by the legislature. We bent backwards on each occasion to accommodate the wishes of the president. We started work on this law since 2016 to prevent a situation where it would become part of the election controversies.
“Every sincere commentator, observer and analyst knows that what we have done with that bill is to raise the level of transparency, credibility and acceptability of our electoral process. We made sure that the law if assented to and honestly applied by INEC and all those concerned will give us an election that will be better than what we had in 2015.
“The president should know that the survival of democracy, its development and the future of Nigeria are far more important than the ambition of any individual or party. I am using this opportunity to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to put a stop to this uncertainty in the political process by signing without delay the 2018 Electoral Bill so as to allow INEC and the concerned parties know how to prepare for a credible process,” Saraki stated.
The deed has been done. No matter your ill feelings, President Buhari has not erred. At least, constitutionally. The onus now lies on INEC, security agencies and political actors to ensure that our votes count in 2019. There is apprehension in the land. Folks are doubtful that the 2019 general elections will be rigged in favour of a particular candidate. These are allegations. Hopefully, INEC will offer us a breath of fresh air.
I so submit!
Senator Victor Umeh’s laudable intervention
On Tuesday, Senator Victor Umeh raised an objection to the confirmation of the nominees of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and insisted that the report should be stepped down.
He said that the Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones were not accommodated in the nomination. He further noted that the fight against corruption involves all parts of the country.
Umeh had argued: “The impression should not be created that the fight against corruption is only against people from the Southeast and South-South. It is not good.
“If you look at the composition, some people will think that the fight against corruption is instituted against them. There is the need to take people from all the geopolitical zones as members of the commission. The only way to build a united country is by inclusiveness. Today, the Southeast has no representation in the National Security Council.”
The only All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) lawmaker in the Red Chamber said that the acting chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, is from the Northeast, while the recently confirmed secretary of the commission, Olanipekun Olukoyede, hails from the Southwest.
Umeh said it was unbecoming for President Buhari to go ahead and nominate new appointees with the exclusion of the two zones that had no representation in the commission.
This singular action saved the day. Senator Chukwuka Utazi faux pax in his discredited report, which would have further alienated some sections of the country, was salvaged by Umeh. In 2019, the Senate must elect more bold senators like Umeh to confront the status quo.