By Rotimi Fasan
ANYONE in doubt about Nigeria being a country of political journeymen, jobbers and wheeler dealers, only has to look at the fate that has befallen the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 to be convinced.
The ding-dong between the executive arm, specifically, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the National Assembly, tells any discerning person that this country is under the vice grip of politicians blinded by self-interest. Nigerians themselves have not been impartial arbiters in the ongoing cold war that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill has made inevitable.
Their commentaries on the matter, like those of politicians, have followed the line of party affiliations and the common good that should be the goal of every policy formulation has been sidelined. We are in the territory of self-projection in which everyone tries to put something over their opponent, view and interpret issues strictly from the angle it favours them.
So while the All Progressives Congress, APC, and their supporters accuse the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, of illegal attempt to change the rules of a political game midstream, the PDP accuses the APC of attempt to manipulate the electoral system by the insistence of President Buhari to hold back assent to the Electoral Bill.
With each party and their supporters accusing the other of various kinds of criminal intentions, debates about the electoral bill have been occluded by noisy name-calling. Yet the fact remains that both parties and their members that were until very recently on different sides of the political divide are guilty of a desire to manipulate the electoral system to their individual advantage. The very arguments that brought about the present mudslinging, with less than four months to the 2019 elections, were not initially at issue.
Somehow both sides have managed to hide behind the finger of their shameful games and intentions that will not bear scrutiny while harping on irrelevant issues. Nigerians may need to stand back and take a deep breath for them to realise that the political parties at each others’ throat are guilty of what each accuses the other of.
Within the space of about three months the Electoral Act Amendment Bill has travelled four times between Aso Rock Villa and the National Assembly. In the course of these worthless trips the bill has become a victim of the bad blood that exist between members of the APC and the PDP that have crossed carpet from one side of the parliamentary aisle to the other.
When this waiting game first started the point at issue was the sequence the elections would take. The disaffected members of the governing APC that had either defected or about to defect from the party had reached an arrangement with other journeymen in the PDP to alter the sequence of elections in a manner the presidency felt would work against it.
The so-called bandwagon effect that each party felt would accrue to whichever party had the momentum by the time the election commences was the issue at stake. Members of the APC that were perceived to have benefitted from the advantage that came with President Buhari leading in the election of 2015 suddenly woke up to the need to move the presidential election backwards.
Even though this plan was being largely mooted and executed by members of the APC in the National Assembly, the Presidency obviously sensed treachery and bad faith in it. From then on it became its manifest if not declared goal to ‘filibustre’ the passage of the Electoral Bill irrespective of whatever merits it may have.
It embarked on a tortuous journey of withholding assent to the bill by rejecting it after one full month that was in political terms like a lifetime. It knew what game ‘opposition’ members of the National Assembly were up to and was prepared to play it to the hilt.
After the bill returned to the National Assembly there were talks and even threats that are again being made to override the President’s pussyfooting with a parliamentary veto. But the legislators did not deny there were issues of legal draughtsmanship, the ostensible reason the President latched onto for rejecting the bill, which had to be looked into.
After the bill was returned to the President he waited for one full month before again communicating his intention to withhold assent to the bill to the National Assembly, again citing some technical error of inconsistency in the provisions of the bill or similar issues. It was clear to all that the President that had been insisting all the while that the amended bill should come into effect after the 2019 elections was only buying time, waiting for that moment when it would be too late for him to give assent.
Yet the major point of contention which pertains to the use of electronic card readers remains impregnable with the PDP accusing the APC and the Presidency of preference for voting without card readers, a fact the PDP believes led to its loss of the 2015 election in a core Buhari base like Kano State where under-aged voters had a field day delivering close to two million votes.
But the PDP in all its posturing about the card reader failed to highlight this in the initial draft of the bill it sent to the Presidency, leaving the latter to call its attention to it. And this is why the APC today accuses the PDP of being opposed to the use of card readers.
Now the narrative has changed, as it has been changing since September when this self-serving back-and-forth started, and what opponents of the Electoral Bill are saying is that the time available now is too short to allow for its passage without contravening the ECOWAS protocol on electoral amendments.
According to this protocol, a space of 60 days must be allowed before a proposed bill can go into effect. While this is true it seems a convenient excuse for an APC-led government that was not inclined to support any amendment to the extant Electoral Act right from the get-go.
If the Buhari administration or their supporters could cite an ECOWAS protocol, a regional agreement, as a basis for their opposition to amendment of the Electoral Act, how come that same government or their supporters fail to see the wisdom in obeying the judgment of the ECOWAS court ordering the release of Sambo Dasuki or Ibrahim el Zakzakky?
Why is this administration always inclined to self-interpret the law or cherry-pick which aspect of it to obey? If Buhari, his minders and their supporters, would not obey judgment of the ECOWAS Court, how come it is eager to hide behind the ECOWAS protocol not to give assent to the Electoral Act? Somebody is trying to play smart.