Electoral Bill: Uncertainty, Anger Dog Buhari’s Non Assent

Electoral Bill: Uncertainty, Anger Dog Buhari’s Non Assent

Uncertainty now dogs the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 following the denial of assent by President Muhammadu Buhari to a bill generally perceived to hold the key to clearing the path to a free, fair and credible election. Like some replay of the antics of the Arthur Nzeribe led Association of Better Nigeria (ABN) over the

Uncertainty now dogs the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 following the denial of assent by President Muhammadu Buhari to a bill generally perceived to hold the key to clearing the path to a free, fair and credible election.

Like some replay of the antics of the Arthur Nzeribe led Association of Better Nigeria (ABN) over the June 12, 1993 election, three political parties, Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance, (APDA), Allied Peoples Movement, (APM) and Movement for Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD) have filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja seeking to stop President Buhari from assenting to the bill. This is interpreted as part of the move to create some brick wall to ensure that the law does not guide the 2019 election.

Buhari had rejected the bill for a fourth time last week, saying among other things that signing the bill into law so close to the country’s general elections might cause confusion and lead to the disruption of the polls.

In a letter dated December 6, the President asked the National Assembly to make some adjustments to the bill and specify that the amendments to the Act would come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 polls.

President Buhari’s letter to the senators reads: “Pursuant to Section 58 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision on 6th December 2018 to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.

“I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.”

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the Bill that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 General Elections.”

Buhari further explains that “It is also important for the following drafting amendments to be made to the Bill:

”A. Section 5 of the Bill, amending section 18 of the Principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of the figure ’30” for the figure “60” is to be effected.”

“B. Section 11 of the Bill, amending Section 36 should indicate the subsection in which the provision is to be introduced.

“C. Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85(1) should be redrafted in full as the introduction of the “electing” to the sentence may be interpreted to mean that the political parties may give 21 days’ notice of the intention to merge, as opposed to the 90 days provided in Section 84(2) of the Electoral Act which provides the provision for merger of political parties.”

“D. The definition of the term “Ward Collection Officer” should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalized and undefined term “Registration Area Collation Officer.”

The three parties which filed the suit at the federal High Court, Abuja, want a declaration of the court that assenting the bill would truncate the 2019 general election. Counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Dapo Otitoju who filed the process on behalf of his clients told newsmen that they had two questions for the court to determine.

“Whether the president can proceed to assent the Electoral Act amendment Bill 2018, forwarded to him by the National Assembly to be used to conduct the 2019 general election when there is no adequate time for the manifestation of the proposed act.”

“Whether assenting to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018, now will not truncate the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) from ensuring proper conduct of the 2019 general election.”

This, according to the plaintiffs is considering the fact that the notice of election was initiated in line with the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. In an affidavit in support of the originating summons, Mr Shitu Kabir, Presidential Candidate of APDA deposed that Act had been used by political parties to conduct primaries into political elective offices for 2019.

Kabir further deposed that amending the Act that had been used for primary elections in preparation for the 2019 general elections would engender confusion in the electoral process. According to him, assenting the bill will truncate the electoral process which has already began.

“I know as a fact that the bill will provide for electronic transmission of results from polling unit to collation centres. “I know that there is no way the electorate who are not educated in this area can assimilate the act of electoral voting and transmission in less than two months to the general elections.

“As a candidate, I know as a fact that the level of education of the generality of the electorate is very low and they will be confused and this may lead to them being disenfranchised.” “That proper voters education and demonstration of electronic voting system is required to be done in all 36 states of the federation, the FCT and the 774 local government areas before such a bill can be introduced to the electoral process.”

The plaintiffs, however, said that they were not against the bill or the president giving his assent. They maintained that they were only asking that assent to the bill should be withheld until after the 2019 elections to avoid manipulation of the process. The suit which also has the Senate President, the Speaker, House of Representatives, the INEC Chairman and the Attorney-General of the Federation as defendants has however, not been assigned to a judge.

The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 provides amongst others for the mandatory use of card readers. It also provides for on-the-spot live transmission of voting results. It also makes for mandatory access to all party agents to inspect election materials before voting commences.

The bill also makes it possible for mandatory access to party agents to be present during voting, collation and announcement of results. It also provides for imprisonment for any INEC staff that contravenes the Act. Without the use of card readers and biometric accreditation of all voters, there are fears that the 2019election could be open to manipulation.

Out of the total 31.7 million accredited voters in the 2015 election, 13.5 million, amounting to 42.6 per cent voted without biometric accreditation, according to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Out of this, a whooping 10.2 million voted for Buhari. This amounts to 75 per cent of the voters from states won by Buhari. In the converse, 3.4 million votes were recorded for President Goodluck Jonathan. This amounts to 25 per cent of the votes won by Jonathan.

Presidential Candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr Obiageli Ezekwesili, says the latest rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by President Buhari is an assault on the country’s democracy.

At a press conference in Abuja, Ezekwesili called on the President to rescind his decision, warning that it was capable of destabilising the country.

She said, “As a candidate in the 2019 election for the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I have called this emergency press conference in order to let the world know that President Buhari’s action is contrary to the tenets of our democracy.”

“President Muhammadu Buhari is, therefore, called upon to immediately reconsider his latest, fourth, rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 that was transmitted to him by the National Assembly to be signed into law.”

Ezekwesili rejected the President’s reasons for withholding his assent to the bill, urging all Nigerians to do the same.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the excuses of the President for not completing the process that will give Nigeria one of the soundest electoral laws in the world is an assault on our democracy and must be rejected roundly by all Nigerians,” she said.

“Mr President is dangerously setting up the country and the people for political destabilisation in 2019. Nothing of the excuses of President Muhammadu Buhari that there are observed errors when he, for the fourth time, sent the bill back to the National Assembly has any iota of credibility nor evidential persuasion for the Nigerian electorate.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, has also described as worrisome, the delay by President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the bill into law. The Head, Justice, Development Peace and Caritas Commission, JDPC, Reverend Father Gerald Njoku who spoke to newsmen in Owerri, said that the church was committed to free and fair election in the country.

The JDPC boss expressed worry over the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to withhold assent to the amended electoral bill. “The position of the church before this latest development is that the signing and implementation of the amended bill will sufficiently improve our electoral process and guarantee elections that will be acceptable to majority of the stakeholders. One can therefore imagine the disappointment that greeted the non signing of the bill,” he noted.

The Forum of People’s Democratic Party – New Media Aides (PDP-NMA) has also described the persistent refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill as part of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President’s plot to rig the 2019 elections.

The Forum, which called on the National Assembly to override the President without further delay, said only a President that was not interested in free, fair and credible elections would deliberately withhold his assent to an amendment to the Electoral Bill for a record four times.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, by its Acting National Publicity Secretary, Edoko Wilson Edoko, the PDP-NMA said the President and his party were already rejected by Nigerians, prompting their plot to manipulate the electoral process next year.

The Forum said; “First, they fought against alteration of election sequence, prompting questions as to why they were afraid of Presidential election holding separately. Now, they are against the Electoral Bill and the question is, what is their fear? Is it that the Electoral Bill if signed into law won’t allow for the return of bogus votes as was done for the President in 2015?”

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