DOUBLE LEAD INSIDE BOX

• President to veto bill
• INEC plots challenge of amendment in court

Tobi Soniyi in Lagos

The Presidency has put in place an elaborate plan to frustrate the implementation of the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 that has proposed alterations to the sequence of the general elections in 2019 and beyond.

By the amendment, the National Assembly election will be conducted first, followed by state Houses of Assembly elections and governorship elections, while the presidential election will be conducted last.

The amendment to Section 25 of the Electoral Act, which was substituted with Section 25 (1) has been adopted by a joint session of the electoral committees of both chambers of the National Assembly and is expected to be passed by their plenaries before transmission to the president for assent.

According to the amended version, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly elections; (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections; and (c) Presidential election, on separate days.
But the presidency fears that the fate of President Muhammadu Buhari may have been sealed by the time election into the National Assembly, state assemblies and the governorship have been concluded, and is, therefore, strategising to frustrate the implementation of the amendment.

A source conversant with the plan told THISDAY that the presidency is viewing the amendment as a “coup” against the president, and must be vehemently resisted.
“For obvious reasons, the presidency is not comfortable with the new sequencing of election as proposed by the National Assembly and will do everything possible to ensure that the 2019 elections are not conducted in accordance with the new amendments to the Electoral Act,” he said.

According to him, the president will not only veto the amended bill when it is sent to him for his assent, he would also encourage the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to challenge it in court.

“The Presidency expects that the National Assembly will override the president’s veto. That is when the second phase of the plan will be activated,” the source said, explaining that INEC would be working hand in glove with the executive to thwart the mandatory re-ordering of the elections.

The source, who asked that his identity be protected for fear of reprisal, said INEC on its part would put together a team of seasoned lawyers to challenge the amendment in court.

The commission, according to the source, would among others ask the court to determine who between it and the National Assembly has the power to determine the order of elections.
He said INEC genuinely believes that the responsibility for determining the order of election is its sole prerogative and not that of the National Assembly.

He gives details of the plot: “When INEC files the suit, the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati will assign the case to himself and subsequently declare the amendment invalid.
“As we talk, the Department of State Security has already collected ‘enough dirt’ on the judge. He will be left with no choice but to rule in favour of INEC.”

He cited the dispatch with which the judge granted the order to proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as one example of the judge’s readiness to do the bidding of the federal government.
“Besides, the judge desperately wants confirmation. He will need to convince the executive of his usefulness before he can get such confirmation,” the source added.

The source also said that INEC would quickly comply with the judgment and that by the time the National Assembly applies to the Court of Appeal to challenge the high court judgment, it would be too late for INEC to comply with the order of election preferred by the lawmakers.

The conference committee on the Electoral Act amendment bill, comprising the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its House of Representatives counterpart, had last Tuesday voted to change the order of the general elections.
The committee, by its action, adopted the position of the House of Representatives, which on January 23, 2018 voted for the elections to be reordered.

The conference committee also voted to concur with all other amendments made in the version of the Act passed by the House of Representatives, at a session presided over by the chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif.
Section 87 was harmonised with the new Subsection (11) on the order and timing for the conduct of primaries of political parties.

Subsequently: “The primaries of political parties shall follow the following sequence: (i) State Houses of Assembly (ii) National Assembly (iii) Governorship, and (iv) Presidential.
“The dates for the above stated primaries shall not be held earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices.”

The co-chairman of the conference committee, Hon. Edward Pwajok, responding to questions from newsmen after the voting session, said the harmonised bill would be presented to both legislative chambers for adoption.

He said: “From here, we are going to consider other items that need concurrence where there are differences between the Senate’s version of the Electoral Act amendment bill and the House’s version. When we harmonise all the areas of differences between the Senate and the House, then we will report progress to both chambers.

“It is expected that when we concur, the Senate would sit and vote in support and the House would also sit and concur. After the concurrence by both chambers, we will send the harmonised bill to Mr. President for his assent.”
The development confirms recent reports by THISDAY on fears in the presidency and at INEC that the Senate would adopt the amendment of the House, which would affect the 2019 general election.

The fear in the presidency is that the bandwagon effect of the first set of elections into the National Assembly could affect the other elections. Under the current order, the reverse is the case as the outcome of the presidential elections, in particular, has a bandwagon effect on the governorship and state assembly elections.
The amendment would also disorder INEC’s timetable for the 2019 general election, which was released about a month ago.
Going by the INEC timetable, the presidential and National Assembly elections were slated for February 16, 2019, while the state assembly and governorship elections were scheduled for March 2, 2019.