By Davidson Iriekpen
With just three days to the deadline for President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted to him early last month, strong indications have emerged that he might not sign it into law, THISDAY has learnt.
President Buhari had thrice this year refused assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The development had forced the National Assembly to rework the bill before transmitting a cleaner copy to the executive earlier on November 7 for the president’s assent on or before December 6.
But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) told THISDAY yesterday that the presidency was uncomfortable with the insertion of a clause which allows for the use of smart card readers in the 2019 general elections.
The SAN who did not want his name in print, said the president and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) are still not satisfied with the last version of the Bill transmitted to the executive on November 7 by the National Assembly.
He also argued that the section of the Bill, which provides for the transmission of counted votes from the ward level to the state level, could be a great impediment to rigging and other electoral frauds.
He equally called on the National Assembly to veto the bill if President Buhari refuses to sign it into law.
“The president has always touted that it was the card reader introduced by INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega that facilitated his assumption of power and unfortunately, he does not want to replicate same.
“He is very uncomfortable because he knows that the card reader and transmission of counted votes from the ward level to the state level would end rigging,” the senior lawyer said.
A former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), had recently called on President Buhari to assent to the bill if he is truly committed to transparent electoral process in 2019.
Agbakoba, the Convener of Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM) in a two- page letter to the president asked him to endorse the Electoral Act Amendment Bill as a show of his commitment to transparent electoral process.
He expressed concern that the bill was yet to be signed into law less than three months to the general election.
Agbakoba, therefore, stressed the need for President Buhari to sign the bill without any further delay and cited diverse implications his refusal to endorse it would have on the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible and transparent elections. The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had also challenged the president to sign the bill into law if he is truly committed to conducting a free, fair and credible elections in 2019.
Atiku, who spoke at the inauguration of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, said signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law was necessary because elections were governed by laws and that good laws were required to ensure credible elections.
“Such laws constrain the behaviour of all who are involved in the electoral process, including the candidates and their supporters, security agents and the electoral umpire (in this case the INEC),” Atiku said.
He stressed, “We are facing an APC government that is desperate to cling to power at all costs, which means that this will be a tough presidential election.”
Last Friday, the chairmen of about 70 registered political parties under the aegis of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), threatened to pull out of the 2019 general elections if the president failed to sign the Electoral Bill into law.
The council’s National Publicity Secretary, Ikenga Ugochinyere, disclosed in a statement in Abuja after the council’s meeting, saying the bill, if signed into law, would ensure free, fair and credible elections.
The statement read, “IPAC resolved that in view of the fact that Nigerians want free, fair and credible elections in 2019 which the new Electoral Bill before President Buhari promises, we as major stakeholders in the electoral process call on the President to sign the bill into law.
“Should he refuse, then we will not be part of the electoral process in 2019 that doesn’t promise credibility and fairness.
“The delay/refusal to sign the bill will throw the country into the worst bloody electoral conquest and put INEC in a tight situation that will make free and credible election impossible in 2019.”
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, had assured that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was receiving due attention.
Enang added that while the government appreciated the concern of the citizenry on the need for the president to assent to the bill, there was no cause for alarm.
He said Agbakoba by the call was exercising his right as a citizen of the country.
However, the Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, said on Friday that the President was at liberty not to append his signature to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 if he found a reason to do so.
Lawan, who spoke with State House Correspondents at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, argued that Buhari could choose not to sign.
He claimed that mounting pressure on Buhari to sign the bill without first studying its provisions could be counter-productive.
He stated, “I will advise, even though I am not one of his advisers, that he goes through what has been sent to him line-by-line, understands whatever his advisers will tell him and if what we have sent will make the elections in 2019 better, then he signs.
“But, if he discovers some provisions that will bring contradictions and controversies, he can withhold assent.
“I am not advocating that he withholds assent but if he does, that is his right. I want to tell you that the APC caucus in the National Assembly stands with Mr President on this.”
The Senate leader made a reference to a 2006 Electoral Act, which he suggested should be used to conduct the 2019 polls if Buhari did not sign the 2018 version.
The 2006 Act had long been set aside by the 2010 Electoral Act, from where the amendments in the 2018 bill were drawn.
He added, “The president is willing to sign the bill provided it meets certain conditions that will make our electoral process better. I believe the president is studying this bill.”