The President said signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, few months to the election, would disrupt plans for the polls and create confusion.
Since 2002, the amendment of the Electoral Act has always been part of the preparation for the general elections. However, in the last sixteen years, no amendment exercise has generated so much concerns, intrigues and controversy like the current one.
Indication that the Electoral Act Amendment will be dogged by controversy emerged early in the year. It actually started some time in January on the floor of the House of Representatives during the consideration of the report of the House Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matters in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, at the Committee of the whole, chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Mr Yussuff Lasun.
On that fateful day, everything was going well until Hon Kingsley Chinda, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker, proposed an the inclusion of a new clause to Section 25 of the principal act. According to the new clause, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had earlier scheduled that the Presidential and National Assembly elections were to hold first, while governorship and state assembly would follow. Instantly, hell was let loose on the floor of the Green Chamber, as members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) protested vehemently against the new sequence of elections, which they believed was targeted at President Muhammadu Buhari. After a fruitless attempt to block Chinda’s proposal failed, the APC lawmakers led by the Chief Whip, Hon Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, staged a walkout, dismissing the entire exercise as a “PDP” amendment.
The Senate was to later adopt the position of the House on the new order of elections. Like what happened in the House, members of the APC in the upper chamber also kicked. It was therefore not a surprise when President Buhari in March wrote to the two chambers of the National Assembly, informing them of his decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. The President listed the new sequence of elections, which he said said usurps the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the order of polls in the country, among others as his reason for declining to assent to the Bill.
The President’s action was to spark another round of controversy in the National Assembly with members of the opposition calling for an override of the President’s veto.
Regardless, the House reworked the bill, removing the clause on a new sequence of elections, as well as other items the President complained about, and re-transmitted the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to the President for assent. Again, President Buhari declined assent. This time, the President hinged his decision on drafting error.
Like what obtained in the first instance, the National Assembly re-gazzeted the bill and repassed it a third time, then transmitted to the President in November for his assent. Surprisingly, President Buhari for a record third time, about three weeks ago, declared that he was withholding assent to the new electoral law.
Apparently, for want of any other fault with the legislation, the President said signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, few months to the election, would disrupt plans for the polls and create confusion. He would rather prefer that the new electoral law comes info effect after the 2019 general elections.
The new electoral law is intended to block a lot of lacuna in the principal act. Some of the defects in the electoral process, which have been taken care off in the new law include the appropriate course of action in the event that a candidate dies before the conclusion of an election, like what obtained in Kogi State in 2015, when the APC governorship candidate, late Abubakar Audu died before governorship poll was concluded; the use of incidence forms, in situations where the card reader failed to work, which was grossly abused during the 2015 general elections, among others.
Therefore, if the President says the new new electoral act should be scheduled to commence after next year’s polls, he is invariably saying that the country should go to the 2019 polls with all the defects, noticed in previous elections, which the Electoral Act Amendment Bill intends to correct.
Expectedly, a lot of people have called on the National Assembly to override the President’s veto on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. There is no doubt, that is the right thing for the parliament to do in the current circumstances.
Judging by President Buhari’s latest action as regards the amendment of the electoral act, it is obvious that the National Assembly, the House of Representatives in particular, made a mistake in not overriding the President in March when he first declined assent to bill.
One expects the lawmakers to approach issues regarding the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as statesmen and not as politicians, in the interest of the country. The issue at stake is about our future as a democratic state and not about President Buhari, APC or any other political party for that matter.
Every one agrees that a free and fair elections is the bedrock of democracy. Therefore, the least that is required from the legislature, as the bastion of democracy, is a bipartisan collaboration to ensure that the new electoral law is used for the 2019 polls. It is about our country and the integrity of the legislature as a very important arm of government.
But unfortunately, that is not likely going to happen, as the matter has already been politicised unnecessarily; as members of the ruling party in both chambers of the National Assembly have thrown their weight behind President Buhari.
On the other hand, the opposition might not be able to muster the constitutionally prescribed two-third majority to override the President’s veto. However, the odds not withstanding, I strongly believe that opposition lawmakers in the Green Chamber should champion the override of President Buhari’s veto. If they move succeed, it will be good, if they fail, then they would have absolved themselves of blame in the matter.