By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Would the presidential orders to the security agencies to deal “ruthlessly” with ballot box snatchers have been necessary if the new electoral bill was assented to? Saturday Vanguard evaluates the situation in the light of the controversies which the directives have generated. The bill speaks to electronic transmission of results which would have reduced or made fears of ballot box snatching non existent.
Four good times, they sent it to him and four good times he returned it to them. The last kick was last December when he cited nearness to the general elections as chiefly, the reason for withholding his presidential assent, and so, innocuously, returned the country to status quo without an overt legitimacy to the use of card readers to deepen the electoral processes.
This was what he told the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara when he declined assent on the amended electoral act bill on December 6, 2018
“Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the House of Representatives, my decision to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“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 effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 General Elections…”
If Buhari assented to the amended electoral bill . . .
It was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dogara who first pointed out the dangers of not signing the amended electoral act when it became conspicuously clear that president Buhari was averse to it for use in 2019 general polls. Political fears and suspicions rather than accentuated futuristic thoughts and advantages may have influenced the president at the time.
Dogara in his welcome back speech after the 2018 Christmas and and new year holidays on January 16, 2019 told his colleagues that it was unfortunate the amended electoral bill did not receive the presidential assent to elevate the nation’s electoral processes.
He said: “Let me also remind all of us to continue to pray for the peaceful and successful conduct of the General Elections, and may the Almighty God hear our prayers and guide us through this bridge once again.
“It should remain a thing of pride for us that the National Assembly has done its best by taking steps to guarantee the successful and rancour-free conduct of the 2019 General Elections by passing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill for the third time after Mr President had declined assent to it twice. Lack of passage into Law of the amended Bill means that the impending General Elections will not benefit from the innovative mechanisms crafted in its collaboration with international and Development partners. Consequently, the palpable fears of well-meaning Nigerians and the international community of the possibility of some forces working to manipulate the coming elections by exploiting the identified loopholes in the current Electoral Act, may become a reality if proactive steps are not taken by critical stakeholders.
“Hon. Members, I believe that our intention to improve on the successes of the 2015 General Election through the Amendment Bill, is very clear to all fair-minded Nigerians. The spate of serious allegations by stakeholders, corroborated by some Press reports against INEC and the Nigerian Police in the recent elections, which are already subjects of litigation, are some of the factors that gave rise to public apprehension on the success of the coming General Elections.
“We had intended, through this Bill, to minimise the risk to the survival of our hard-won democracy through responsive and timely legislation aimed at ensuring free, fair and transparent elections. Nonetheless, as Parliament, we have done our best to guarantee the stability and growth of our fragile democracy, and I have no doubt that history will be very kind to us.
“Under the present circumstance, we have no choice than to take INEC and the Police by their words and give them the benefit of doubt in their recent assurances to be impartial, efficient and truthful in the conduct of the coming elections. This is the minimum that the country deserves from them at this auspicious time. Nothing short of complete openness, a level playing ground and strict adherence to extant Laws will be acceptable to Nigerians.
“It remains for me perhaps to caution earnestly that neither contest for elective office nor elections are ends in themselves, they are merely the means by which we seek to serve the people and indeed humanity. Where our intentions are genuine and honorable, we shall never seek power at the expense of the lives and properties of those we seek to serve. This should be our resolve across board”.
We were ready for electronic voting-INEC
Similarly, a national commissioner of INEC, Festus Okoye in an interview with vanguard in December, 2018 said that the electoral umpire would have gladly implemented the new act had the president assented to it, ruling out even late signing as a factor for non implementation.
“We are comfortable with the card reader and we have also improved on logistics and delivery of materials to the polling units. Some of the recommendations in the amended Electoral bill that has not been signed actually came from the INEC and some of the recommendations were based on our observations on how we can improve the electoral process. We anticipated some of these issues in the electoral bill and that is why we have a Plan A and a Plan B. The Plan A is based on the existing law because the INEC work is based on the existing law. We will execute the Plan B if the President signs the Bill and what it means is that we will be able to carry out electronic transmission of results…”
What the new bill would have done
Meanwhile, the amended electoral bill obtained by Vanguard in section 16 reads thus: “Section 52 of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for subsection (2), a new subsection “(2)”
“(2)” The commission shall adopt electronic voting in all elections or any other method of voting as May be determined by the commission from time to time.”
The President’s seeming fears about ballot box snatching and his directive to the military would have been uncalled for and the attendant furore completely unnecessary in the light of the amended electoral act that had provided for electronic voting in all levels of elections in Nigeria. The world has gone fully digital and Nigeria can’t continue to live in retrogression. Ballot stuffing and snatching are obviously barbaric just as extra judicial killings. They do not reflect any of the democratic credentials known to the world and could cast aspersions on Nigeria’s self professed democratic growth in and outside the shores of Africa.
To many legal and democratic minds, president Buhari’s order, in some other parlance, meant summary executions of offenders without prosecution. Those who backed him also applauded him for not assenting to the new electoral bill that would have had the results of the elections electronically transmitted to INEC database at its headquarters in Abuja. That was an opportunity the country lost.
Section 19 of the new electoral bill seen by this writer amended section 65 of the Principal Act and inserted new subsections “(2)” and “(3)” after subsection (1). It reads thus “(2)” The Commission shall compile, maintain and update on a regular continuous basis, a Register of Election Results to be known as the National Electronic Register of Election Result which shall be a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling results, including collated election results of each election conducted by the Commission in the Federation, and the Register of Election Results shall be kept in electronic format by the Commission at its National Headquarters.
“(3)” Any person or political party may obtain from the commission, on payment of such fees as may be determined by the Commission, a certified true copy of any election result kept in the National Electronic Register of Election Results for a State, Local Government, Area Council, Ward or Pooling Unit, as the case may be and the certified true copy may be in printed or electronic format”.
Would the president change his position?
Kings and presidents by the virtue of their positions and offices are not given to thoughtless, trivial, swift and frivolous comments. In most cases, their words are sacrosanct. Though they are human and also fallible, they are often seen as being near perfection. They are the custodians of the law. They are editors of their utterances just as they subject their actions and inactions in checks. This is principally why they should speak with caution and in depth knowledge of the law especially in the public sphere and glare. It is possible that president Buhari may have since realized that he didn’t couch and slant his words well in accordance with the extant law. People who heard him may have also thought so. He must meant well, to ensure that election is not rigged. This may be why a national leader of his party and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in quick succession explained that the president didn’t mean summary execution of electoral offenders.