Fighting Back Criticisms, Presidency Urges N’Assembly to Reconvene, Reconsider Electoral Act Amendment Bill

• Buhari remains APC’s sole presidential aspirant
•  Says no plan to Islamise Nigeria
By Omololu Ogunmade, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Mohammed Aminu in Sokoto 

The presidency yesterday appealed to the National Assembly to cut short its recess to reconsider the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 that was vetoed for the third time last month by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The president had returned the bill unsigned in a letter dated August 30, 2018, citing unresolved drafting issues and uncorrected clerical errors, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang.
The bill had been passed by the federal legislature on July 24, the day it adjourned for its long vacation, and transmitted it to the presidency on August 3. It reconvene on September 25.
The president’s veto has put in jeopardy the use of card reader and electronic transmission of results, two of the 14 main features of the alteration proposals aimed at delivering cleaner elections in the country.
Responding to persistent criticism of the veto as intended to block the use of card reader, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement yesterday denied this insinuation and appealed to the National Assembly to reconvene and reconsider the bill in line with the president’s observations. 
Shehu rejected the allegations that Buhari deliberately withheld his assent because he was uncomfortable with the incorporation of card readers and electronic voting in the bill.
“The card reader is not in danger of being discarded. It is a sine qua non for credible elections. We appeal to the National Assembly to reconvene as soon as possible to consider and approve the necessary corrections to the amended electoral act,” he said.
According to him, the incorporation of e-voting and use of card readers into the bill was never part of the issues raised by the president on the bill.
He also said the earlier adoption of e-voting as enshrined in the 2015 amendment act by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) already made the use of card reader a settled matter, insisting that the “president’s recent decision to decline assent to the bill has no effect whatsoever on INEC’s use of card readers.”
Instead, he added, the president only declined assent because some portions of the bill were not only ill-prepared but also flawed and needed to be rectified before he could append his signature to it.
Furthermore, Shehu explained that the president and the National Assembly never had any confrontation over the provision of card reader in the bill, recalling how the president had himself been a beneficiary of the use of card reader in 2015.
He, therefore, advised the media to ignore allegations that the president deliberately frustrated the effectiveness of the bill because of card readers.
He stated, “The president wanted engagement with the parliament for the corrections to be effected so that, at the end of the day, both arms of government will be happy with the fact that we have a good electoral law in place.
“The president is not in confrontation with the parliament on this issue. He has asked his officials to dialogue with the legislature for the corrections to be effected. As for his alleged rejection of the card reader, nothing can be farther from the truth.
“The president is the country’s number one fan of the card reader. For a candidate who ran three times and ‘lost’ in an electoral environment in which votes were allocated and losers asked to go to court if they felt unhappy, the president knows full well the role that the card reader played in his emergence in 2015.
“He has said times without number that he would strengthen and widen its application in the country and this, he is determined to do.
“Accordingly, we would like to appeal, especially to the media to disregard baseless allegations against the president, even as he puts in his best efforts in working with the National Assembly to give the nation a good electoral law, and in time.”
There are fears that even if the bill is reconsidered and assented to by the president, it might not be used for the 2019 general election given a protocol of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which provides that an electoral law must come into force not later than six months to the conduct of the elections.
Buhari Remains APC’s Sole Presidential Aspirant
Meanwhile, barely 24 hours to the deadline on sale of expression of interest and nomination forms by the APC, Buhari has remained the only aspirant to have purchased the forms.
Last Tuesday, a group known as Nigeria Consolidation Ambassador Network (NCAN) bought both forms for the president for N45.5million.
The ruling party has repeatedly said it would not grant automatic ticket to the president but that he would be allowed the right of first refusal to seek re-election in 2019.
As at yesterday, no other aspirant has come forward to pick the forms to challenge Buhari for the APC ticket.
There is an unwritten agreement by the leadership of the APC to zone its presidential ticket to the north just like the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The acting National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yekini Nabene, confirmed to THISDAY that as at yesterday, no other presidential aspirant had come forward to pick the nomination forms.
APC said it would hold a primary election to select it presidential flag bearer in the 2019 election while a national convention to ratify the election of its presidential candidate would be held on October 6, 2018.
Meanwhile, the party operated all through the weekend to enable numerous aspirants to various positions purchase nomination forms.
Among those that collected their nomination forms at the weekend were Senator Shehu Sani and the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Osita Okechukwu both of whom purchased their nomination forms to vie for senatorial elections.
Addressing journalists Sani said he decided to stay back in the APC despite the challenges because he believed it came to power on the promise of change.
On the tussle between him and the Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, over the mode of primary election, Sani said, “The Kaduna State chapter has submitted their application for indirect primaries and we the stakeholders have also submitted application for direct primaries.”
Sani said that it is now left for the national leadership of the party to decide which way to go.
“I think the governor of a state should be more concerned about the party he is going to confront, which is the PDP with such formidable names and members who are united and determined to take over power from us rather than bringing himself low to fight for a senatorial seat.
“He has three senatorial seats to fight. He has Southern, Central and the Northern Kaduna. How will an APC in Kaduna win election when you have a united house in Kaduna PDP and divided house in the APC.”
Okechukwu, who also picked the APC expression of interest and nomination forms to run for Senator of Enugu West senatorial district in eastern Nigeria, said if elected, he would work in line with Buhari’s plan for agriculture, by establishing cassava and rice farms at different locations in Enugu State.
He added that he would push for the establishment of a standard gauge rail line that would run from the eastern to northern part of Nigeria.
He said that his state had adopted the process of indirect primary to elect their flag bearers for the 2019 general election.
“I intend to use my experience, my network across the length and breadth of the country to make demands that will get my people to have the eastern corridor railways just like the western corridor railways,” he said.
No Plan to Islamise Nigeria, Buhari Tells Catholic Bishops
In another development, Buhari yesterday said there was no plan whatsoever to Islamise Nigeria, contrary to the propaganda being spread in some quarters and churches across the country.
Speaking at the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in Sokoto, the president said there was no credible fact to indicate that the present administration was out to Islamise Nigeria.
He noted with dismay that such negative propaganda and innuendos being promoted by outsiders, finds narrative in churches across the country.
According to him, such religious propaganda has created suspicion and distrust, leading to division and disharmony among Nigerians. Buhari emphasised that such negative propaganda being propagated by outsiders included the membership of Nigeria to the Organisation of Islamic Conference, introduction of Sharia in northern states, the Boko Haram insurgency, as well as farmers/herdsmen clashes. Buhari, who spoke through the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, blamed politicians for using religion as a tool to spread hate and division among the people.
He pointed out that these four issues had been in existence for decades and even preceded the present administration.
He said, “It is pertinent to note that due to circumstances we found ourselves as a nation, suspicion on religious grounds has almost destroyed the fabrics of unity and love that binds us.
“There has been a lot of negative propaganda being instigated by outsiders and finds narrative in the church that there is a plan to Islamise Nigeria without any credible fact.
“The issue of membership of Nigeria to Organisation of Islamic Conference, Sharia and farmers/herdsmen clashes had created a lot of suspicion in the minds of the people despite the fact that the problems had existed in the country for several decades.”
Buhari noted that both Christians and Muslims religious leaders had been victims of killings in some parts of the country, noting that the federal government was committed to securing the lives of the citizens.
He said, “I assure all Nigerians that criminals would be fished out and dealt with. The federal government will continue to provide a safe society for everyone.
“The fight against the Boko Haram insurgency is achieving the desired goal while efforts are being made to tackle myriad of challenges in the polity.”
Buhari expressed optimism that Nigeria would rise again despite the myriad of challenges bedevilling it and stressed the need for the church, especially Catholic bishops  to rise up to the occasion and educate the people on the negative propaganda being spread by politicians in order to achieve their selfish aims.
“As you round up this conference, I urge you to go back to your various communities and preach a message of hope, reconciliation and peace,” the president pleaded.
In his remark, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Augustine Akabueze, said the bishops were in Sokoto to deliberate on issues affecting the church and the nation, as well as advise Nigerians to make informed decisions ahead of 2019 elections.
He called on Nigerians not to despair, despite the challenges bedevilling the country, stressing that only those who confronted their challenges achieve the desired goals.
 Akabueze cautioned youths against engaging in fraudulent acts but should uphold the virtues of honesty.
He also warned politicians to desist from using religion and ethnicity to divide Nigerians.
He said, “We want to use this medium to warn politicians who are instigating hatred and division by using religion and ethnicity to desist forthwith.
“We say to these politicians enough of your deceit. They steal our money while they distract us with religion.”
He called on the federal government to do more in order to bring an end to the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in the country.
The Apostolic Nuncio of Nigeria, Monsignor Antonio Filipazzi, harped on peaceful coexistence and urged the federal government to put an end to the violence ravaging some parts of the country.
He said the people should rather give priority to peace and dialogue among various religious and ethnic groups.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, urged the bishops to redouble efforts towards promoting peace and mutual understanding among various religious groups in the country.
Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, stated that Islam and Christianity preached peace, urging Nigerians to go back and study the scriptures.
“It is high time for us to go back to our holy books. I believe if we study the scriptures, we will be able to understand that there is no reason to pick sticks and swords to fight one another,” he said.
He maintained that churches and mosques must redouble efforts in character formation of the youths and should not abdicate from their role.
The Governor of Plateau State, Mr. Simon Lalong, described peace as prerequisite for development and commended the bishops for choosing Sokoto to host the conference.
 Also speaking, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Archbishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, lauded various Christian and Muslim leaders for gracing the occasion.

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