FOR many political gladiators, the fear of the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, is the beginning of wisdom. That is what the intrigues and hoopla are all about. Politicians who afraid of the possible outcome of free and fair elections are on overdrive, misinforming the populace. It is a game of disinformation, subterfuge and obfuscation. Everything is being thrown into the mix all in an attempt to squelch the bill.

On December 6, President Muhammadu Buhari refused, for the fourth time, to assent to the bill as passed by the National Assembly. That action generated and continues to generate intense debate from both sides of the country’s political divide and even those that are non-aligned. Many discerning political observers seem to agree that the president’s decision was informed by narcissistic political expediency rather than altruism.

At stake is not how to make the 2019 elections free, fair and credible. No! If it were, the process should matter. Without getting the process right, which entails a refinement of the rules of engagement, the prospect of credible elections diminishes significantly. At the heart of these intrigues and highly cynical but deft political moves is the quest to gain undue political advantage.

Unfortunately, this desperation puts the credibility of the 2019 polls in harm’s way and many Nigerians are seeing through the veil that is being used to mask intentions.

Appetite for taking prisoners

As 2019 looms, Nigerian politicians are behaving true to type and president is an archetypal Nigerian politician, who, despite protestations to the contrary is Machiavellian. As long as politics remains a zero-sum game that has no appetite for taking prisoners, politicians will always resort to self-help.

On Tuesday, December 11, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, read the president’s letter titled, ‘Presidential Decision to Decline Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018’ to his colleagues at the plenary.

“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 December 6, 2018 to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly,” Buhari wrote. “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 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 General Elections.”

The president gave some other reasons bothering on legal drafting errors, listing four provisions of the bill that required drafting amendments. Lawyers hardly agree on any issue. But on this, there is a near unanimity of legal opinion that the drafting errors are not fundamental enough to render the bill impotent. The president’s decision was more political than legal.

But make no mistake, the president is not without his cheerleaders. A group, Buhari Media Organisation, BMO, has applauded his decision to withhold assent to the bill. Agreeing with the president’s excuse for vetoing the bill for the fourth time, BMO said, “It is trite that the deployment of a new electoral law only two months to an election is a recipe for chaos. Introducing a new law that redefines fundamentally the processes of our elections is only setting a shaky foundation for the 2019 polls.” The group claimed that Buhari’s decision had saved the country from a chaotic electoral process.

But the president’s motive needs to be interrogated. The most fundamental innovations which the bill intends to introduce are the introduction of electronic transmission of results and the compulsion in the use of the card reader for accreditation without the prospect of using incident forms.

It is interesting that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is insisting that despite the president’s veto, the 2019 elections will not be conducted with incident forms even when it said that the rejected bill would have addressed the controversies that trailed the 2015 elections.

Now, here is the issue. It has been reported that at least 13.5 million Nigerians voted manually, without biometric accreditation in the 2015 presidential election, according to data from INEC. This is the major problem the amendment bill seeks to address. While it is true as INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, claims in an interview with Thisday newspaper that the data obtained by DeepDive Intelligence does not prove that the 13.5 million voters who used the incident forms voted for Buhari, the fact which the data proves most conclusively is that Buhari, then candidate of the opposition APC won in nine of the 10 most-affected states.

The data shows that of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the 2015 presidential election, 13, 536,311, representing 42.6 per cent of the voters, voted without biometric accreditation. Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes were from states won by Buhari and 3,351,591 votes came from states won by President Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate of the then ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Those figures represent 75 per cent and 25 per cent of accredited voters respectively.

So, could that be the idea that informed the president’s seeming resolve not to allow a bill that will correct the anomaly see the light of the day? How could only one candidate out of the over 70 jostling for the country’s presidential seat determine the tenor of the elections?

INEC, the umpire, has no issues with the timing of the bill. They worked in cahoots with the National Assembly on the bill and have been preparing for the 2019 polls based on the provisions of the amendment bill. So, why is the president complaining?

The National Assembly has bent backwards to assuage his anxiety. All the observations he made and the changes he wanted the lawmakers to effect in the three previous occasions he declined assent were effected. Truth be told, even if the lawmakers were to oblige the president again and effect the changes, he will still not sign the bill because he simply does not want it to be used for the 2019 polls. All the excuses adduced for not doing the needful are sheer red-herring.

While it is true as some have argued that INEC has been using the card reader for elections since 2015, it is also true that there is no provision for the use of technology in the extant electoral law. That makes its use optional. That is what the president wants, knowing full well that inability to use the card reader and electronic transmission of results due to legal lacuna will only lead to electoral compromise.

The reasons adduced for withholding assent are only meant to wheedle the unwary. They fly in the face of the facts. The president’s claim that what is in the best interest of the country and its democracy is 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 elections is laughable.

An enhanced electoral law will guarantee free and fair poll. It is the only guarantee that the sovereign will of the people expressed through the ballot will determine who superintends over the affairs of the country come May 29, 2019. So, why defer that prospect till 2023? Why not 2019 for a president that claims he wants a legacy of credible polls?

For the sake of our democracy and the future of our country, the National Assembly owes Nigerians a duty to override the president’s veto.

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