Hope for Credible Elections Dims

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Tobi Soniyi

Hope that Nigeria will have a more transparent and improved elections in 2019 may have been dashed as President Muhammadu Buhari for the umpteenth time refuses to sign into law, amendments to the Electoral Act that would have ensured that the next general elections are more credible.

The president had earlier refused to sign the first version of the bill into law.

The re-considered bill was passed by the Senate on July 24, 2018 the same day that plenary was adjourned to September 25, 2018.

The revised version of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, with corrections by the National Assembly, and dated August 2, 2018, was received by the presidency on August 3, 2018.

By virtue of section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, the president has 30 days from the date of receipt, to assent to or decline the bill.

The presidency yesterday said the president had refused assent to the bill in a communication dated August 30, 2018 to the House of Representatives, citing unresolved drafting issues.

Except both chambers of the National Assembly override the president’s veto, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, there is little or no chance of the bill becoming a law. That will be disappointing especially for a president who has repeatedly pledged commitment to a more transparent election.

Two weeks ago, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement said the president was considering the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that was transmitted to him on August 3, 2018.

He also said that the president, by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution had 30 days to go through the bill and that nothing had been done to suggest that he had withheld his assent to the bill.

Shehu further stated that Buhari was a stronger believer of the use of card reader and PVC.

The legislature had on June 7, 2018 passed the revised version of the bill, expunging the controversial clauses, including the one that re-ordered general elections sequence.

On June 7, 2018, while adopting the report by the Senate Committee on INEC, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, noted that the controversial clauses in the bill had been removed from the new version.

Ekweremadu said, “Before we go into the consideration, let me quickly make some quick clarifications. One is that when we passed the Electoral Act earlier in the year, the president returned it with observations.

“From the report we have here, it means that those areas that appear to be controversial or where the president had some issues, no matter how we feel, whether we like it or not, whether we believe in what he said or not, that is not the issue now; what is important now is that to save the other provisions (clauses), our committee resolved to remove those aspects. They may come up maybe some other time but for now, they are not part of this process. That has been removed to make the rest non-controversial.”

Ekweremadu said the amendment would enhance the credibility of the 2019 general elections. He also expressed the hope that INEC, politicians and the electorate would find the amendments useful.

The amendment bill, if it was signed into law, would have given legal teeth to the use of card readers.

Again the president yesterday found fresh objections, largely drafting issues, which legal analysts feel could pass since they were not material and do not substantially outweigh the advantages the alteration bill seek to enthrone.

The Supreme Court had in an appeal by Dr. Dakuku Peterside challenging the election of Mr. Nyesom Wike as Rivers State governor held that the fact that card reader machines were not used during the elections did not vitiate the elections.

A seven-man panel of justices of the apex court, led by the then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Muhammed, said though INEC should be commended for the introduction of the card reader “to booster the accuracy and transparency of the accreditation process and to maintain the democratic norm of one man, one vote, by detecting multiple voting, “Section 49 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, which provides for manual accreditation of voters, is a stamp and remains a vital part of our electoral law.”

The court held that the card reader was only a technological innovation that was introduced to enhance the accreditation of voters for an election, with a view to identifying the actual owner of the voters’ card.

In dismissing the contention of APC and Dakuku that the card reader being a certified public document represented the true position of what happened in Rivers State, the apex court placed reliance on its recent decisions in Shinkafi Vs. Yari and Okereke Vs. Umahi and declared that “in order to prove non-accreditation and over-voting, the 1st and 2nd respondents were bound to rely on the voters’ register in respect of all the affected local governments.”

The federal legislature in incorporating card reader and other innovations had hoped to codify them to bring them in line with the position of the apex court.

With the refusal of assent, the president has practically thrown the baby away with the bath water, abating the possibility of legalising the 14 critical features of the alterations, which sought to move the nation closer to cleaner and more transparent electoral process.