It is quite unfortunate that less than six months to the 2019 general elections, the Electoral Act has not been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari due to the disagreement between the presidency and the National Assembly over some sections of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018. Between March and June 2018, the National Assembly presented the Bill three times for the President’s assent but he declined based on certain reasons.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, explained that the President declined assent to the Bill because of “irregularities and draft errors.” Some of the errors can be found in Sections 18, 87 (14) of the Bill. According to Enang, Section 87(14) which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held, has unintended consequences that will leave INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well as manage the primaries of the 91 registered political parties for the various elections.
Besides, the presidency has claimed that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 did not amend Sections 31, 34 and 85. These sections stipulate times for the submission of lists of candidates and choice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for election. Enang also said the President was justified to withhold assent to the Bill because neither the Constitution nor any written law allows him to edit, correct, amend or in any manner, alter the provision of any such Bill forwarded to him to reflect appropriate intent before assenting to it.
We do not agree that the reasons given by the presidency for declining assent to the Bill were substantial enough. The President should have considered the larger interest of the country and other critical amendments by the legislature and sign the Bill into law. Critical issues captured in the new electoral bill include sequence of elections, funding of the electoral commission, electronic voting and legislation for local government administration. These issues are more critical to a transparent transition next year than a dissent based on typographical errors as cited by the presidency.
One of the highpoints of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 is Section 25 of the 2010 Electoral Act which provides the sequence of elections and time-frame of election into the Office of the Presidency. The two arms of the government sharply disagree on that, and the matter is still in the courts. Another highpoint of new electoral bill is Section 52(2) which gives formal codification of the use of electronic devices in our elections, such as the card reader for accreditation and authentication of voters and electronic transmission of results from the polling stations to the collating centres. However, the new section also allows INEC to adopt “any other method of voting as may be determined by the commission from time to time”.
In a curious twist to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the presidency has proposed three Executive Bills relating to the elections for consideration by the National Assembly. The bills are: Electoral Offences Commission Bill, Electoral Act Bill 2018, and the Constitution alteration Amendment Bill. The bill, he said, were the outcomes of the Electoral Reform Committee chaired by Senator Ken Nnamani. The same bills are already before the Senate and have passed second reading. And, we ask: why are these bills being sent now?
It is our considered view that the presidency and the National Assembly are not showing enough sense of urgency in making sure that the integrity of next year’s general elections is not compromised. We, therefore, urge the two major arms of government to assure Nigerians that the 2019 general elections will be feasible, transparent, and credible.
We think the Electoral Act Amendment Bill may be a major casualty if the present face-off between the presidency and the National Assembly is not quickly resolved. Both sides should realise that with barely five months to the 2019 general elections, with no legal framework and INEC budget in place, Nigeria is in a race against time. This is not good for our democracy because the Electoral Act must, of necessity, capture the logistical framework that the electoral process required for democracy to succeed.
We cannot but also draw attention to the fact that the international community is keenly watching political events in Nigeria ahead of next year’s elections. Our political actors should be reminded that democracy is not only about the voting, it also requires a strong commitment from all to uphold the democratic ideals. The electoral umpire, therefore, needs all the support to deliver a transparent and credible election that Nigerians will be proud of. Nothing should be done to impede this process.