Ismail Omipidan; Chinelo Obogo; Chukwudi Nweje, Lagos; Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said it was not surprised that President Buhari declined to assent to the new legislation “owing to his tendencies as a politician.”
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the opposition party flayed Buhari for treating the National Assembly with disrespect.
“The PDP believes in democracy and subscribes to all its tenets including the respect for the powers of the National Assembly to make laws and to amend such laws as occasion demands,” the party said.
Ologbodiyan said the PDP was not afraid of the 2019 general elections because they know that Nigerians had already rejected President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
“Against this backdrop, the PDP assures to provide all the members of our great party a level playing field to choose a presidential candidate in a national convention that promises to be open, free, fair, credible and transparent,” he stated.
In his own reaction, the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, said the president’s refusal to assent was an indication that he is afraid of losing if the presidential election is the last to hold.
“The re-ordering of the election sequence by the National Assembly is very helpful to our growing democracy because everyone knows that the presidential election is the ultimate election in a general election.
“So, once it comes first and the winner is known, it will affect further participation by those who may feel disappointed with the outcome. Second, there tends to be a bandwagon effect where people would feel that there is no point voting differently when the party that is producing the president is already known. These are the two major reasons for which it is important to put it last.
“He has vetoed the bill but I believe that it will be overturned in 30 days. I am surprised and a bit disappointed that the president succumbed to the unnecessary fear that if the presidential election comes last, it might affect his chances of winning the elections. If he has done a great job for Nigerians as he claims and Nigerians are appreciative of what he has done, would it have mattered to him if the presidential election comes first or last? Clearly, he is afraid that he may lose. I urge the National Assembly to do everything within their power to overturn his action so that he will know that this is a democracy and not a military regime.”
Unlike Okorie, the General Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, wants all the elections conducted on the same day.
“I do not know the reasons which made the president to withhold his assent to the Electoral Act but I want to believe the president has his reasons for doing just that. But if I had a choice in the matter, I would rather pander to the ACF’s suggestions that all the elections be conducted on the same day in order to reduce cost and avoid bandwagon effect. Such approach will also put to rest any controversies surrounding who determines the order of elections.”
Lagos lawyer, Liborous Oshoma said the president withholding his assent was expected since it had been manifested in the body language of INEC, which had gone ahead to release election dates for subsequent elections. He insisted that the lawmakers have the power to override the president and should do so.
But another lawyer, Jiti Ogunye said the bill could be considered dead because a lacuna in the 1999 constitution makes it impossible for the lawmakers to override Buhari but suggested that future constitution amendment exercises could “kill” such lacuna.
“The National Assembly does not have the power to override the bill except the president has vetoed it. If you look under Section 58 and 59 of the 1999 Constitution as amended there are two similar but different ways of passing appropriation bills into law. Under Section 59 which deals with appropriation, if the president refuses to give his assent to a bill within 30 days or refuses to indicate whether he will assent or veto within 30 days, the bill automatically will go back to the Legislature and the National Assembly can re-pass it. It is not so for other categories of bill under Section 58.
“Subsections 3 and 4 of section 58, did not give the National Assembly the power to decide what will happen if the president refuses to give assent to a bill and refuses to indicate whether he will assent or veto. That is the lacuna which previous presidents have latched unto to keep bills in the cooler and that is also why the National Assembly has been complaining that bills duly passed are not assented to. That is why in any new constitution amendment, that lacuna should be killed by inserting a similar provision as we have under section 59, which deals with money bill. Except the president vetoes and says I have exercised my power of veto and returns it formally, they won’t have anything to hold unto to override. It is when a veto has been exercised that the National Assembly will have the legality to start overriding the veto of the president.”
Oshoma disagreed saying that Section 35 of the Electoral Act that talks about the order of election was amended in 2010 before this subsequent amendment.
“So the question should be does the National Assembly have the power to do what they have done? It is not in doubt that they have the power.
“Section 58 of the constitution looks at the mode of exercising legislative power, while Section 59 deals with money bills but it is obvious we are not dealing with section 59. Section 58 (4)(5) says, where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.