By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, Friday for the fourth time, rejected assent to the Electoral Bill which was passed to him to sign into law by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
President Buhari who has written to the lower and Upper chamber said that he cannot sign the Electoral Bill into law at this time that the country was preparing for the 2019 Presidential and general elections, saying that he can only assent to it after next year’s elections, adding that if done now, it would end up causing uncertainty and crisis in the land.
In the letter dated 6th December, 2018 and addressed to both the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara which was received yesterday, President Buhari said that he would only sign the bill after the elections, just as he identified some aspects of the bill that should be corrected by the lawmakers.
President Buhari’s letter read, ” 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 assent to the Electoral( Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Iam declining assent to the bill principally because iam 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 elections .
“It is the also important for the following drafting amendment to be made to the bill: Section five of the bill,amending section 18 of the principal act should indicate the sub section to which the substitution of the figure ‘ 30” for the figure “60’ is to be affected.
“B. Section 11 of the bill, amending section 36 should indicate the sub section in which the provisor is to 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 maybe interpreted to mean that political parties may give 21 days notice of the intention to merge, as oppose 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 discriptive definition than the capitalised an undefined term ‘ registration area collation offic
It would be recalled that the Senate had on October 23, 2018, for the fourth time passed the 2018 Electoral bill, just as it retained N5bn as expected maximum expenses to be spent by Presidential candidates on the platform of the registered political parties for the most exalted position in the land.
The Senate which read the Electoral bill for the third time and passed it, retained the maximum expenses for Governorship position at N1bn, but it however made upward review of maximum expenses to be incurred by candidates running for senatorial seats from N100m to N250m and those running for the House of Representatives seats from N70m to N100m as amendments in clause 25 of the bill.
Other clauses of the bill totalling 38 altogether, were adopted by the Senate as recommended by its committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif ( PDP Bauchi North).
Nazif had in his lead debate on the bill last week, explained that the clause 25 ,section 91 which stipulates limits of expenses to be incurred by candidates in the general elections also stipulates penalties to be incurred by any candidates who spends beyond approved expenses .
The penalties as recommended by the committee and adopted by the Senate are for any of the candidates for the various elections who spends beyond approved expenses , payment of 1% of the money or Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.
According to the section, no Individual or entity shall donate to a Candidate more than N10 million or risk penalties stipulated for candidates who spend beyond approved expenses, just as section 91(10) stipulates that ” a candidate who knowingly acts in contravention of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of 1% of the amount permitted as the limit of campaign expenditure under this Act or Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.
Severe penalties for commission of name of name or logo of a political party by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC ) , are also stipulated in clause 32 , section 140(4) of the bill.
The section states : ” where election is postponed due to commission of a political party’s name or logo , the commissiin’s officer responsible for such printing of party names or logo commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 2yaers or a fine of N2m”
In the amendment, especially section 140(5), ” if, at the point of display or distribution of Ballot Papers by the Commission, a Candidate or his Agent discovers that his Name, the Name or Logo of His Party is Omitted, a Candidate or his Agent shall notify the commission and Commission shall: a, Postpone the Election to rectify the omission: and appoint another date to conduct the Election, not later than 90 days. C. Where the Election is postponed due to omission of a Political Party’s Name or Logo, the Commission’s officer responsible for such printing of Party names or Logo commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N2,000,000.00 or imprisonment for two years or both.”
In the passed Electoral Bill, Clause 8 , section 33 also has provisions for way out in the event of death of candidate of any pilitical parties in course of election as it happened in Kogi State in November 2015 when Abubakar Audu died as gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress ( APC).
The section reads: ” provided that in the case of such withdrawal or death of a candidate, the political party affected shall, within 10days of the occurrence of the event, hold a fresh election to produce and submit a fresh candidate to the commission for the election concerned “.
It would also be recalled that both chambers of the National Assembly had at three different times between February and July this year passed and transmitted electoral bills for assent to the President for assent without success due to one infractions or the other .
The first one passed in February was refused assent by the President due to reordering of election sequence provisions contained in it .
The second one passed and transmitted in June was not considered in any way by the President while the third one transmitted in July was refused assent by the President due to alleged “cross referencing error, fears of increased cost of conducting elections”, among others.
In his remarks after the passage of the bill, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki who noted that all observations raised by the President in the rejected versions of the bills have been taken care off for required assent, said that the bill when signed into Act, will go a long in improving electoral processes and conducts in the country .