The National Assembly, Peoples Democratic Party, over 45 opposition political parties under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties, and some prominent Senior Advocates of Nigeria on Friday kicked as President Muhammadu Buhari finally withheld his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 passed by the National Assembly.
The President had earlier on Friday announced his decision to withhold his assent to the crucial electoral bill which the National Assembly transmitted to him on November 7.
The controversial bill has been returned to the National Assembly after the President refused to sign it the fourth time.
The President had earlier rejected it for the third time and returned it to the legislature on August 30.
Confirming Buhari’s latest decision in Abuja, his Senior Special Assistant, National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said the President gave his reasons in a letter to the National Assembly.
Enang, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Akwa Ibom State, merely said, “President Muhammadu Buhari has taken decision on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 in accordance with his power under the 1999 Constitution and has communicated that decision to the Senate and the House of Representatives in accordance with the law.”
He added that Buhari acted within the law, which compels him to communicate his decision to the National Assembly.
“The President has taken a decision in accordance with the powers vested in him by the constitution. And by convention that decision contained in the communication can only be revealed by the person to whom that decision is addressed.
“But the electoral bill has left Mr President because he has taken a decision and has remitted it back.”
Meanwhile, the CUPP said Buhari’s decision not to sign the bill was an invitation to electoral anarchy.
The coalition in a statement by its first national spokesperson, Imo Ugochinyere, said Buhari’s latest action portrayed him as a jittery President who was afraid of electoral defeat.
The statement read, “President Buhari has expectedly failed again to take advantage of the rare opportunity of the Electoral Amendment Bill to write his name in gold as the President that signed the laws that guaranteed electoral credibility in Nigeria.
“But yet again, as usual of him, he failed to rise to the occasion, being blinded by ambition and the love of the perks of office.”
Renowned Senior Advocates of Nigeria have advised the National Assembly to evoke its constitutional powers to override the President’s assent in respect of the electoral act.
The SANs include Olisa Agbakoba, Mike Ozekhome, Femi Falana and Ifedapo Adedipe.
Agbakoba, who is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a member of the CUPP, said without the signing of the bill, some of the challenges experienced in the 2015 elections would repeat themselves.
He expressed the expectation that the Senate would override Buhari’s decision to pave the way for a smoother electoral experience in 2019.
“The 2018 Electoral Bill is clearly better than the 2010 (Electoral Act) as it removed all the constraints and challenges that marred the 2015 elections.
“So, retaining the weaknesses of the 2010 (Electoral Act) on whether the card reader and transmission of results electronically are allowed is going to make the 2019 elections a lot more difficult and challenging. So, I expect the Senate to override the presidential veto.”
Ozekhome also said the National Assembly had the power to override the President’s decision.
He said, “The National Assembly can go ahead with two-thirds majority to overturn the President’s decision. If after 30 days he (President) declines his assent, the National Assembly can meet and by two-thirds majority counteract his decline of assent and the bill becomes a law automatically.”
Adedipe, in his remarks, said,
“Any democrat who believes in a free, fair, credible and transparent election will be concerned. This is because the earlier Electoral Act was found to have some inadequacies and that was what gave rise for the need for an amendment.
“But now that the President, in his wisdom, clearly aided by his supporters, has refused to assent to the amendment, my worry is that before this government came on board, the various individual respected Nigerians were rather very vociferous in their request for a transparent election. And so, if the National Assembly dominated by members of your own party is trying to amend the law, it is curious that the President will refuse to assent, then you’ll begin to suspect that perhaps there’s more than meets the eye in the refusal. It is probably because the ruling party is afraid of transparent elections.
Falana recalled that he had warned relevant stakeholders to expedite the process of passing the new bill as passing a law within a period shorter than six months to the election had been prohibited under Article 2 of Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance of ECOWAS.
Falana said, “Once the President withholds his assent, the choice the National Assembly has is to override his assent.
Buhari finally declines assent after speculations
Buhari’s decision confirmed speculation that became rife after the bill spent nearly one month on his desk, that he would reject it.
By the provision of the constitution, the President is to either sign or write the National Assembly within 30 days of a piece of legislation being transmitted to him, conveying his decision/reasons to withhold his assent.
Buhari had thrice rejected the bill, the third time being August 30, when he returned it to the National Assembly.
The lawmakers quickly incorporated the areas the President raised objections to and sent the bill back to him for his assent on November 7.
The new bill has provisions to improve on the country’s electoral process ahead of the 2019 general elections, including the use of the card reader as the sole means of accreditation of voters.
In rejecting the bill on August 30, Buhari raised objections to 11 sections, all of which the National Assembly addressed in the latest version pending on his table.
The Chairman, House Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters, Mrs. Aisha Dukku, had while briefing members on the bill shortly before it was passed on October 24, stressed that all the areas Buhari queried had been amended appropriately by the Senate/House joint committees.
Dukku, a member of the APC from Gombe State, had stated, “All the issues raised by Mr President have been captured and addressed.
“Both the Senate and the House worked on these amendments and all the issues have been addressed.”