For the third time, President Muhammadu Buhari has declined his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, alleging irregularities and draft issues.
Ayo Oyoze Baje
The significant role that free, fair and credible elections play as the firm foundation on which to build the solid and stable house of democracy, anywhere in the world remains sacrosanct. Any form of political antics, gimmicks and acts antithetical to achieving that is anti-people and must not be allowed to hold sway. In spite of several misgivings against our brand of democracy here in Nigeria, with the rich and powerful hijacking the political space, its benefits skewed in favour of the political class, policies and programmes not emanating from the collective wishes of the vast majority of the largely illiterate electorate, it still remains the hope of the people, Nigerians inclusive.
Against this background, it is therefore, worrisome that for the third time, President Muhammadu Buhari has declined his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, alleging irregularities and draft issues. That this has come soon after the president also withheld his assent on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) over alleged constitutional conflict and others, including the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2018 calls for concern. In fact, it has a throwback on our recent view that Mister President should not misconstrue his personal interest for that of Nigerians whose constitutionally-recognized wishes he swore to protect. These fears are genuine and throw up some salient questions.
For instance, what will happen to the gains made with the card reader, back in 2015, the vulnerability of incidence form and the transfer of election results electronically? Should the issue of having the presidential election first, with its bandwagon effects override the national interest? These questions, as raised by some concerned Nigerians are germane to the cultivation of the much-desired democratic culture, beginning of course, with acceptable elections.
As expected, the president’s refusal to sign the bill has drawn a groundswell of criticism from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; Director of Media and Public Communications and the Coalition for Nigeria Movement. Others who have raised their voices against it include the Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Intervention Movement, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, and immediate past Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani. To them it poses grave danger to next year’s elections.
On the other hand, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang: “A few of the outstanding issues include a cross referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill. The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A).
Also, the proposed amendment is supposed to include a new Section 87 (14). This stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held. The unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well manage the primaries of 91 political parties for the various elections may not advance the cause of credible elections. That is, according to the president. Indeed, the Electoral Amendment Bill does not amend sections 31, 34 and 85 which stipulate times for the submission of lists of candidates, publication of lists of candidates and notice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for elections.
It would be recalled that the federal lawmakers amended the nation’s Electoral Act, months ago, reversing the order of the general elections as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The amendments proposed by the National Assembly sought to make some changes in Nigeria’s Electoral Act, including changing the sequence of the 2019 elections. The lawmakers want their election to come up first, followed by that of state lawmakers and governors, and lastly the presidential election.
But, in a letter addressed to the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, President Buhari had stated, among other reasons, that the amendments infringed on the rights of INEC.
However, Dr. Isaac Ideh Imudia, a sociology lecturer, wondered why there should be controversy over the issue. because the President is well aware that the duty of the National Assembly is to make laws and amend laws they made, if the need arises. He is also aware that his refusal to assent to any bill does not render such bill invalid once the National is able to muster the required members to pass it into law.
Critical observers of the polity are of the belief that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has no role to play in this matter but to wait patiently for the amended electoral laws to conduct the next elections. That is what confers independence on it.
On the order of the elections, with that of the presidential contest coming first, some Nigerians have seen the negative consequences of the bandwagon effect. It may have brought in the incumbent president back in 2015 but may not be in the best interest of the country. Merit should therefore, take precedence over that of a political interest foisting itself on the people using the instruments of incumbency rather than the capacity to perform to the expectations of the people.
Nonetheless, one sees these developments as a clear test of powers between the Executive and the Legislature but could be resolved without rancor, at least in the national interest. The truth however, is that by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly has the power to override the President’s veto by mustering a two-third majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. But can that happen in the current circumstances, with the lawmakers in recess and the polity heated up by the vaulting ambitions of several of members on both sides of the political divide towards 2019 general elections?
With the country’s unemployment ratio worsening from 14.8 per cent in 2017 to 18.8 per cent in 2018, the number of school-aged children still out of school increasing from 10 million to 12 million, the debt profile escalating to N21 trillion in over three years and Nigeria overtaking India as home to the world’s poorest people more has to be done than said on righting the wrongs of the past. The onus therefore, now rests squarely on Nigerians, especially the enlightened electorate to decide where the pendulum of their political loyalty would swing to, come 2019.