The non-signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law is a missed opportunity, as this has further re-enforced some people’s belief that credible elections are just being mouthed.
As the 2019 elections draw near, President Muhammadu Buhari is now making it a pastime to assure Nigerians and the world that he is committed to credible polls. In the last one month, he has used almost every forum to say so, at the risk of sounding like a broken record. He has said the elections would be free and fair. He has said the polls would be transparent and credible. He also said the votes of Nigerians will count and their will would prevail in the elections.
With the frequency of these assurances, I am beginning to suspect that our dear President knows that Nigerians have doubts about the coming elections, especially since he is seeking reelection. It seems he knows that people are skeptical that the global standards of elections would be maintained in the 2019 elections, which explains why he is constantly making promises. If this is the case, President Buhari is absolutely right. Most Nigerians are not convinced that next year’s elections would be credible. The government’s claim that Anambra, Edo, Ekiti and Osun states’ governorship elections, which held between May 29, 2015, and now, were credible are being taken with a pinch of salt. This is so because there are controversies surrounding these elections. Apart from Anambra, the other elections, in Edo, Ekiti and Osun states, were challenged in court. Incidentally, the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the elections in these states. The Edo case has been settled in court, but that of Ekiti and Osun states are still pending.
It is obvious that despite government’s promises and assurance, many Nigerians still have doubts. This should be a source of concern to government. It is not about what the opposition political parties are saying. It is about the feeling of Nigerians, who want to exercise their franchise and hope that their votes would decide who takes leadership positions at various levels of government, in the true sense of it. It is possible that government is sincere in its promises, but its assurances are not convincing. This is why
I believe the government lost an auspicious opportunity of reassuring Nigerians that it means well towards the coming elections by a singular act of indiscretion. The non-signing of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law is a missed opportunity, as this has further re-enforced some people’s belief that credible elections are just being mouthed.
I have followed the arguments by government officials, the APC leadership and members as well as the political party’s supporters, in their bid to justify President Buhari’s refusal to sign the bill into law, and my reaction is that they are talking to themselves. Those who are hailing President Buhari for not signing the bill into law say the president was right because the timing of the bill was wrong. Some of them also say there would be confusion as to which law would govern the election, were the new bill signed into law. Others say the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would not be in a position to conduct elections based on the new law, had President Buhari assented to the bill. These fallacies.
First, there is no dispute as to which law would have governed the 2019 elections had President Buhari signed the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law. The new law would have come into effect, which means there would not have been any confusion. Second, the INEC had said loudly that it was ready to conduct the 2019 elections on whatever law, whether old or new. This means the argument that INEC would not cope is false. Third, the talk about timing should not even by mentioned by the government or its agents. Yes, the National Assembly did not pass the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 this month. The bill was passed several months ago, but President Buhari has rejected it four times.
For the avoidance of doubt, when the National Assembly first passed the bill, before March 2018, as I can remember, and sent it for assent, President Buhari declined to sign. The reason at that time was that the bill altered the sequence of elections, having put the legislative polls before the presidential election, as against INEC’s timetable, which scheduled the presidential election first. The National Assembly had gone back to expunge the part that talked about election sequence. Again, President Buhari rejected the bill, giving other excuses. The National Assembly, again, went back, for the third time, to amend the portions President Buhari raised objects to. Again, he rejected it for the fourth time. It must be noted that some of the reasons adduced for declining assent included spelling errors and other things that are not really tangible. Those who are talking about time should tell us who to blame. President Buhari, from early this year, has been rejecting the bill, giving one excuse or another. Now, his latest excuse is timing. This is laughable, indeed. Those earlier rejections were deliberately done to frustrate the bill coming into law.
In March 2018, when election sequence was the issue, I wrote, in an article entitled “Needless fuss about election sequence.”
“The National Assembly members could play the role of statesmen by not falling for the trap aimed at killing all the provisions of the amendment just because of election sequence provision. As the lawmakers have decided to look at the Electoral Act Amendment Bill again, they should consider expunging the controversial part relating to election sequence. They could do this in order not to cut the nose to spite the face. If election sequence is expunged and the President still refuses to assent to the Bill, it will then become obvious that the government is not only selfish but also uninterested in deepening democracy.”
My suspicion at that time was that President Buhari did not want to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 into law. This has turned out to be true. The National Assembly has bent over to, more or less, do all that President Buhari wanted as regards the bill, but he still refused to sign. The President and his government may not know that, by this singular act, they have denied themselves the privilege to being listed in the hall of fame of electoral reforms in the country. The Goodluck Jonathan government started Nigeria’s electoral perestroika and glasnost. It is to its credit that card readers were introduced. What Nigerians expect is that the current government would continue with the reforms to make our elections more credible, which I think the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 sets out to achieve.
Those applauding the rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 should tell us why they are afraid. Only those who have ulterior motives would not like the good provision of the electoral bill, which addresses the death of a candidate in an election before results are announced. It is only those who like monetisation of politics that would not like the pegging of money political parties should charge aspirants as nomination fees, as provided in the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018. It is only those who do not understand the implication of card readers not having an express legal backing that would oppose the new electoral bill. It is only those who want to manipulate elections that would be averse to the plan to ensure that incidence forms are not used ever again in elections, in relation to the card readers. It is only those who have hidden agenda that would not want election results transmitted electronically from collation centres. Certainly, those who are afraid of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill have something to hide.