“I had warned Nigerians, using the print and electronic media, that President Buhari would not asset to the Electoral Amendment Bill.” – Ozekhome
Omoniyi Salaudeen and Onyedika Agbedo
Eminent lawyers in the country, yesterday, traded tackles over President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign into law the Electoral Amendment Bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly.
While some of the lawyers who spoke with Sunday Sun alleged that the president’s denial of his assent was a plot to rig the 2019 elections in his favour, others insisted that the decision was in the interest of the nation.
They were also sharply divided on the 2016 Supreme Court decision on Wike v. Peterside, which technically removed the card reader from being a binding part of the Nigerian Electoral law.
The president had penultimate Friday announced his decision to withhold his assent to the electoral bill, which the National Assembly transmitted to him on November 7, for the fourth time.
He had earlier rejected it for the third time and returned it to the legislature on August 30.
Human rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who spoke extensively on the issue, said the innovations in the Amendment Bill were meant to usher in a new dawn of credible elections in the country, wondering why the president withheld his assent.
“I had earlier warned some Nigerians, using the print and electronic media, that President Buhari would not asset to the Electoral Amendment Bill. I predicted my sure-footedness on my study of the antecedents of the heavily rigged and militarised election of Ekiti State, where Fayose, a sitting governor was tear-gassed, held hostage and the radio and television of his stations jammed. I studied the Osun governorship election, where not only opposition voters, but international observers and media men were forcibly blocked and denied access; Adeleke still won with over 350 votes, but had the election suddenly declared inconclusive, contrary to Section 179 of the 1999 Constitution. I was, therefore, not surprised that President Buhari declined his assent. How can any person, if he is truly a democrat, be afraid and allergic to salutary amendments that are meant to usher in a new dawn of transparent, acceptable, free, fair and credible elections, imbued with integrity?” Ozekhome queried.
He argued that the present Electoral Act was heavily manipulated in the 2015 presidential election, especially in the North-West, more particularly in Kano State, explaining that “the Electoral Amendment Bill was partly to cure the hybrid nature of card reader accreditation and simultaneous manual reader accreditation, which led to unprecedented manipulation.
“The Supreme Court in Wike v. Peterside Sc/1002/2015 (SC), decided on February 12, 2016, was firm that until the Electoral Act was amended, INEC lacked power to use only card readers, which it has argued it would want to deploy exclusively for the 2019 elections.
INEC had argued it would not use incidence forms, but only card readers for accreditation. But the apex court in the judgment in the Wike case held that except the Electoral Act was amended, INEC cannot through its Guidelines, Manuals and Directives, decide to use only electronic card readers for accreditation, but must still resort to manual accreditation and use of incidence forms. The manipulable nature of using the hybrid template was glaringly demonstrated during the 2015 presidential election.
“The fresh innovations mandate INEC to publish voters’ register on its website for easy accessibility. It also mandates INEC to inspect election materials in audio-visual recordings; and enforce party democracy and political participation within political parties. What on earth is wrong with these innovations? Nothing.
“The introduction, nay, validation of already existing use of electronic card readers for accreditation and automatic transmission of results from polling units to a central counting centre to prevent rigging and enhance credibility of vote count are some of the most audacious innovations which President Buhari’s withholding of assent seeks to kill. He should not be allowed to.”
Ozekhome urged members of the National Assembly to look at the larger picture of a united Nigeria, her future generations yet unborn and save the country by invoking Section 58 (4) and (5); and overriding the president’s veto, emphasising that heavens would not fall if they do that.
“Surely, passing the bill into an Act now with over 60 days to the next election, is the right thing to do and the right path to follow,” he added.
Also Yusuf Ali (SAN), expressing the same view about the amendment act said: “The position of the law about it is not in doubt. If the legislators make law and send it to the president or governor as the case may be for assent and he doesn’t feel like assenting to it, he sends it back to the legislators. Legislators can do one of two things; either they just keep it and forget about it or they override the president’s veto if they feel strongly about it.
“There is no sentiment or morality about it; it is strictly a constitutional issue. I don’t see any issue of morality in the amendment. The National Assembly can override the president’s veto if they have the number. It is a constitutional issue. No sentiment.”
Also weighing in on the matter, elder statesman, Senator Femi Okurounmu, said the president had an ulterior motive for declining assent to the electoral act, urging the lawmakers to override his veto. His words: “I think the president is up to some kind of mischief by denying assent to the electoral bill. I don’t see how we can have an election without a validly signed electoral bill. If he doesn’t sign it, it means we are going to rely on the old electoral bill for the election with all its inadequacies. I don’t know why the president is afraid of his shadow by not signing it. It means the president want to rig the election.”
Dismissing the president’s argument that the new act could create confusion if the INEC applies it to the ongoing electoral process, Okurounmu asked: “Why will it lead to confusion, after all, they don’t have to go and procure new equipment. It is all about the operational aspect of the election. If the amendments are good, why can’t we start operating them now? Why must we wait till after his own election before we start the operation?”
According to him, the INEC has the capacity to transmit result electronically from any party of the country, as there is no part of Nigeria that does not have mobile network.
He dismissed as unfounded the fear of hackers getting into the INEC’s server.
“There is always the possibility of hacking in every part of the world. Don’t the Chinese hack? Don’t the Americans hack? It is for the INEC to take precautions that will protect its server from being hacked. We can’t wait until we have a perfect act before we organise our system,” he posited. However, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay (SAN), said that the Buhari’s decision was in order, noting that the lawmakers blaming the president for withholding his assent were the ones that had been “sending him bills with deficiencies of all sorts.”
Sagay also took a swipe on the Supreme Court for its judgment on Wike v. Peterside, noting that the judgment was perverse and laid the foundation for the controversy trailing the Electoral Amendment Bill.
His words: “The people who are unhappy about the President not signing are trying to lay the blame at his door; that is not correct. They themselves have been sending him bills with deficiencies of all sorts. That’s number one. Number two, the other agency I blame most for the present situation is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is the Supreme Court, against the obvious fact that the card reader is already part of Nigerian law by way of regulation made by INEC under its powers under the Electoral Act, that decided to close its eyes to that fact and to claim that the card reader is not part of our Electoral Act is absolutely wrong; and they knew it was wrong.
“People of that erudition and level of enlightenment and knowledge could not have been mistaken in what they did. The result of that is that technically, they have now removed the card reader from being binding part of Nigerian Electoral law. If that perverse judgment had not been given, then we would have nothing to worry about because the card reader will automatically be there even though there will be no provision for electronic transmission of results.
“In the case of Rivers State in 2015, the result was that the card reader registered just over 200, 000 voters but the Supreme Court preferred to accept the bloated and rigged register of voters which registered over one million. So, I lay the blame in the house of the Supreme Court completely. If they didn’t do what they did, which was very wrong and to me one of the worst decisions ever in the history of this country, we will not have the problem we are having now.”
Sagay said the president had no ulterior motives in refusing to sign the Act, adding that Buhari was straight and incapable of engaging in underhand deals.
“Everybody knows Buhari; he is as straight as anyone can be. He is incapable of doing anything underhand. It’s just not his nature. Definitely, there is no negative motive. But you see, he has this reason that the time is too close to introduce a new law, which I accept fully. But beyond that, I as a person want to add something to it and that is that the provision for electronic transmission of results is dangerous for two reasons. One, there are many parts of this country that don’t have network. So, it will not be possible to transmit results electronically from such areas. Secondly, there had been a lot of attempts to hack into INEC data and if we are not careful, they will succeed. That is why I agree with the president that we need to test this law in smaller elections. If we don’t do that, the Card Reader can read one thing, and somebody can obstruct what is being transmitted electronically and insert false figures and we now have a different figure arriving at INEC headquarters and somebody who was not elected would be declared the victor. So, those are the two dangers I see there. I agree that we should use the old law. It’s a pity the Supreme Court decided perversely to say that the card reader is not binding. It is binding and they know that.”
On the call on the lawmakers to override the president’s veto and pass the bill into law, Sagay emphasised that “they cannot.” He added: “I mean they have a right to do that legally, but that will never happen. A minority cannot override the majority. The PDP is a minority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. So, that’s a practical impossibility. We can discuss it legally and technically, but it will never happen, because they are in the minority and the APC people are determined to vote against any attempt to override the president’s veto.”
Also speaking, Senator Anthony Adeniyi blamed the opposition political parties for the needless controversy.
His words: “They are only politicising the issue; there is no controversy about it. If the president signs it now, it cannot be used for the coming election because there is an international agreement that says electoral law must have been promulgated six months before the election. The opposition parties are just making noise about it in order to give Buhari a bad name. Quote me as a senator and as a lawyer, the new amendment bill cannot be used for the coming election unless it has been promulgated six months earlier than now.”