By Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Henry Umoru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA—FOR the third time, President Muhammadu Buhari has declined his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, alleging irregularities and draft issues.
The rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, was communicated to the National Assembly on August 30.
This came as the President also withheld his assent on seven other bills, including the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2018 and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
However, the President’s refusal to sign the bill drew the ire of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; Director of Media and Public Communications, Coalition for Nigeria Movement and Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Intervention Movement, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, and immediate past Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani.
They all expressed fears that the President’s refusal to sign the bill posed grave danger to next year’s elections.
Recall that President Buhari had, last week, rejected to sign the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, over alleged constitutional conflict.
Why assent was denied
Briefing State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday, Senator Enang said the development may not in any way affect the 2019 general elections as the observed draft matters could also be addressed by the National Assembly in a few weeks.
In the statement he read, titled “Presidential decision to decline assent to Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018’’, Enang noted that the areas of conflict that led to the President’s rejection of appending his signature to the bill were on Sections 31, 34, 85 (1) among others.
He said: “His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, has by communication dated August 30, 2018, to the Senate and the House of Representatives, declined Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
“I pray for leave, that in view of public interest, the fact of the National Assembly vacation, the imperative to avoid speculation and misinformation, that I give just a few of the rationale by Mr. President.
“Mr. President is declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill.
“Mr. President invites the Senate and House of Representatives to address these issues as quickly as possible so that he may grant Presidential Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill.
“A few of the outstanding issues are: There is 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).
“The proposed amendment to include a new Section 87 (14) which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held has 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.
“This is because 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.
Enang continued: “For clarity, may I provide some details of the provisions referenced, Clause 87 (14) states
“The dates for the primaries shall not be earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices. The Electoral Act 2010 referred to herein states; in Section 31:
*Section 31: “That every Political Party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election submit to the commission the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.”
*Section 34: states: “That the commission shall at least 30 days before the day of the election publish a statement of the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated.
*Section 85 (1): “That a political party shall give the commission at least 21 days’ notice of any convention, congress etc., for electing members of its executive committees or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices.
“For the avoidance of doubt, neither the constitution nor any written law allows a President or a governor to whom a Bill is forwarded by the Legislature to edit, correct, amend or in any manner alter the provisions of any such Bill to reflect appropriate intent before assenting to same. He is to assent in the manner it is or to withhold assent.”
Enang also said the President has communicated to the Legislature on seven bills transmitted to him for his assent.
The Bills are the National Agricultural Seeds Council Bill, 2018, the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Establishment) Bill, 2018, and the Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill, 2018.
Others are the National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment) Bill, 2018, National Research and Innovation Council (Establishment) Bill, 2017 and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill, 2017.
“Mr. President has communicated his action to the National Assembly,” he stated.
It will be recalled that the first time President Buhari rejected to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was when the National Assembly tampered with the election sequence by making the Presidential election to be the last election.
The second rejection was when there were alleged correction errors and this third rejection, Enang explained, is as a result of draft issues.
Asked of the implications of the President not appending his signature on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Enang declined comments, saying, however, that there was hope that the National Assembly would soon reconvene to consider the bill alongside the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, supplementary budget for next year’s elections.
Electoral Act Amendment Bill: Buhari scared of free and fair elections — PDP
Reacting to the development, yesterday, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law was because he was scared of free and fair elections.
The party stated this through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan in a chat with Vanguard.
The party scribe described as hypocritical, President Buhari’s pledge of free and fair polls while he was yet to demonstrate sufficient eagerness to support instruments aimed at enhancing credible polls.
“President Buhari is afraid of free and fair elections. He told world leaders recently that he is committed to credible elections; yet, he is scared of doing the needful.
“ As it stands today, we don’t know if it is the Electoral Act (2010) or the 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill that will guide the conduct of the 2019 elections,” Ologbondiyan said.
It’s an attempt to manipulate 2019 polls—Osuntokun
In his reaction, the Director of Media and Public Communications, Coalition for Nigeria Movement and Deputy Chairman of the Nigeria Intervention Movement, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, said there was an ulterior motive to manipulate the 2019 general elections to suit someone’s personal agenda.
Osuntokun said: “Well, against the background that he has disputed the precedence of the authority of the National Assembly over his own powers, in prescribing the order of the 2019 general elections (as encapsulated in the electoral bill) it comes as no surprise. “Effectively, he has now vetoed the bill and it will require a two-thirds majority of the national assembly or judicial pronouncement to overturn the veto. Both the President and the National Assembly are playing a game of cat and mouse over the bill.
“Why should either of the two organs of government worry over the sequence of the election if there is good faith in what they are doing? It is yet another indication of ulterior motives of manipulating the elections to suit personal agenda.”
Not signing it portends danger for poll — Ubani
Former Second Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, said in his reaction: “Maybe he does not want us to conduct the election under the new amendment. The failure to do that will be very dangerous. That means that the PVC will not be used.
“They came out to say that they will not allow the PVC to be used in the next election. I think something is fundamentally wrong. He refused to sign it before and there was a reason for that.
“The House had to amend the particular section he complained about and returned to him in accordance with what he had wanted. It will be catastrophic if he failed to sign it and it portends danger for the 2019 election.”
Nigerians should be ready for another June 12—Afenifere
Also reacting, the pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, expressed disappointment, urging Nigerians to be ready for another June 12 protest.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said: “It is clear at this stage that Nigerians must gird their loins for another June 12 with this President.
He (Buhari) is living out his confessions months back that he is still shocked that Jonathan handed over to him. It would take concerted efforts to have a smooth and democratic transition under him.”
Also yesterday, Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, who described the action of the President as sad news, said it would make people become disillusioned on the transparency of 2019 Presidential and general elections.
Bwacha said: “It is sad news, people may become disenchanted and disillusioned on the transparency of the 2019 general and Presidential elections. We addressed all the grey areas, the only contentious one was that of sequence of elections.”
In his reaction, Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, PDP, Edo South, noted that there was no basis for the President to refuse assent to the bill when the National Assembly had looked at all the proposed amendments in the overall interest of the country.
Speaking with Vanguard yesterday, Senator Urhoghide explained that the National Assembly carried out the amendments, in view of the shortcomings observed in the Electoral Act of 2010 and against the backdrop of 2015 general elections when viewed from what happened in Kogi State, following the death of the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Prince Abubakar Audu.
He said: “If out of these three areas, the President is still declining assent to the bill, he has no basis, we are particular about the card readers to avoid manipulation and to minimize areas of election rigging. It is unfortunate, the President has no reason to decline assent to the bill if he truly loves democracy.”