When yesterday, reports filtered in that President Muhammadu Buhari had for the umpteenth time withheld assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, not a few Nigerians felt convinced about insinuations that the president was deliberately avoiding assenting to it because implementing the lofty provisions of the law could work against him during the forthcoming elections. From kicking against reordering the sequence of elections, citing drafting issues to the present excuse of saying “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”, President Buhari has cleverly taken Nigerians for a ride.
In withholding his assent for the fourth time, the president was merely crying more than the bereaved. It was not in his place to decide for the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC whether it could work with the proposed law having laid out its plans based on the existing act.
“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 election which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the 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 Election,” Buhari had said.
But it is interesting to note that INEC had never expressed doubts as to its inability to conduct the 2019 elections using the proposed law that the president has withheld assent. In fact, if anything, INEC had been part of the processes leading to the formulation of the proposed amendments. Many of the amendments even originated from the electoral umpire after its appraisal of its conduct of the 2015 general elections and so the commission had put necessary safeguards in place to allow it to seamlessly adapt to the new law if assented to.
At a media parley on October 26, INEC had allayed fears of its inability to work in accordance with the proposed law, ruling out only the possibility of implementing such provisions as they relate to electronic voting.
“We have gone really far with this. If tomorrow the bill is assented to, there are provisions that we can immediately implement but there are provisions that we cannot implement simply because of time. For instance, full blown electronic voting. It is impossible within the timeframe available which is 112 days.
“We have been working closely with the National Assembly and many of the new provisions passed in the bill were actually based on our recommendations. We prepared ourselves in such a way that in case some of the provisions become law, we would have no difficulty in implementing them”, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had stated.