Will Electoral Act Amendment Bill Pass This Time?

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Saraki and Dogara at a joint session of the National Assembly

The 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to in record three times, has been reworked by the National Assembly Joint Committee on Electoral Matters with 14 clauses being recommended for amendment by the federal legislature once it reconvenes this week. But will the president do the needful this time? Deji Elumoye asks

The 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which the National Assembly transmitted three times to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent has generated a lot of concern among the citizenry with the general election less than five months away. There is the worry among political stakeholders that the guidelines are yet to be in place less than 20 weeks to the 2019 polls.

There were a lot of issues raised by President Buhari, which he claimed informed the reason he refused to assent to the Bill the three times it was transmitted by National Assembly to him.

Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, put it succinctly in his response to enquiries on why President Buhari again refused to assent to the third version of the Electoral Bill.

Enang had in a statement said President Buhari declined assent to the Bill on August 30 and that the president had by communication dated August 30, 2018, to the Senate and the House of Representatives declined Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

“Mr. President is declining assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the Bill.”

A few of the outstanding issues, according to Enang are “There is a cross referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill. The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A)

“The proposed amendment is to include a new Section 87 (14), which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held, has the unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only 9 days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well manage the primaries of 91 political parties for the various elections.

“This is because the Electoral Amendment Bill does not amend sections 31, 34 and 85, which stipulates times for the submission of lists of candidates, publication of lists of candidates and notice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for elections.”

Enang further provided some details of the provisions referenced. Clause 87 (14) states: “The dates for the primaries shall not be earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices.

The Electoral Act 2010 referred to herein states in Section 3, that every Political Party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election submit to the Commission the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.

“Section 34 states that the Commission shall at least 30 days before the day of the election publish a statement of the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated. Section 85 (1) states that a Political Party shall give the Commission at least 21-days-notice of any convention, congress etc., for electing members of its executive committees or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices.”

The leadership of the National Assembly, notwithstanding the fact that Senators and House of Representatives members were on vacation, immediately mandated its joint committee on Electoral Matters to reconvene and tidy up the identified contentious clauses in the Electoral Bill.

The Committee headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif, met for two days last week and came up with an harmonised version containing 14 corrected clauses of the Bill for approval by the National Assembly when it reconvenes Tuesday.

At the end of its sitting, the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters allayed the fears of the public over the use of card reader during the February, 2019 general elections in the country.

Nazif, who spoke to the media on behalf of other committee members, said at no time was the use of card reader expunged from the provisions of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.

According to him, the first Electoral Bill transmitted to the Executive in February contained provisions for the use of the card reader during the February 2019 polls and was never tampered with in the other two versions sent to the Presidency in June and July.

He named the amended 14 clauses of the Bill include Section 9 (1)(8); Section 9 (b)(5); Section (18)(1)(4); Section 19 (4); Section 30(1) and Section 31(1) .Other amended sections, he said, are Section 31(1); 31(7); Section 36(3); 44(3 and 4); Section 67(a, b, c, d); Section 87(2); Section 87(14) and Section 112(4).

Section 36(3) of the Bill as amended made provision for a party, whose candidate that is leading in the course of an election dies and gives INEC maximum 21 days to suspend the election for the affected party to replace the candidate and continue with the election. This clause is to guide against the constitutional vacuum the death of Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the APC governorship candidate in Kogi State almost created in the course of the poll in November, 2015.

Nasif assured Nigerians that with the amendment, the legislature and the Executive are on the same page over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

“I also want to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians and indeed everyone here that the National Assembly and indeed the executive, are on the same page with respect to this amendment bill. I am sure you must have heard different versions, but I will put everything in a very clear picture so that Nigerians will know that all of us are working towards strengthening INEC and in ensuring that 2019 is done is a free and fair electoral process. I like to assure Nigerians that we are working very hard and we have come to the conclusion.”

Nazif further reassured Nigerians that the joint committee was committed to ensuring that it strengthens INEC and at the same time, the National Assembly is committed to ensuring that it deepens democracy in Nigeria.

Commenting on the third version of the Bill, Nasif declared that “What we wanted to achieve with the third bill was to strengthen the second one so that it will address all those issues so that we can make INEC’s work easier.

“What we exactly wanted was a merger between the second one and the third one. We want to make sure that the 2019 election is free and fair, and credible at the same time,” he added, saying, “We have come up with the fourth version now after the president had withheld assent to the third one.

“So, this is the fourth one, which is supposed to put together the second one and the third one. And what this committee did was to at the end of the day give opportunity to every member of the committee to look at it once again and that was why yesterday (Monday), we took the whole day to allow them to go through it and this morning, when we resumed we went through it again to have one solid document.”

The latest amendment, the chairman said, has addressed all the issues raised by the executive.

“This one has also addressed all the issues that will make INEC more comfortable and efficient.

Therefore, this is what Nigerians are expecting and I want you to know that all of us have worked on this document. As a committee, we have gone through section by section, clause by clause and we have come up with additional amendments based on this draft.”

The Electoral Act Amendment Bill will form the basis of discussions among the parliamentarians upon resumption this week and there is the certainty that the two Chambers will approve the recommendations of the Joint Committee in Electoral Matters and in a matter of days, the National Assembly leadership will transmit the fourth version of the Bill to President Buhari for assent.

The question is: will President Buhari assent to the corrected Electoral Bill once presented before him the fourth time or will he again refuse assent? Time will tell, definitely!