PRESIDENT BUHARI AND UNSIGNED BILLS

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President Buhari should sign the electoral amendment bill in the nation’s interest

Penultimate Thursday, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnogen was an unusual guest at the Senate. He had been invited to appear before a technical committee set up by the upper legislative chamber on some of the bills that were refused assent by President Muhammadu Buhari. At the session, chairman of the committee, Senator David Umoru confronted Justice Onnogen with the information that President Buhari said it was his (CJN) advice that was relied upon in declining assent to Constitution (4th Alteration) Act which seeks to strengthen the judiciary for speedy dispensation of justice.

While he was goaded by the Senators on the issue, the CJN refused a response to the question in the presence of the media. But in the subsequent closed-door session with the committee, the CJN was said to have explained what really transpired between his office and the executive over some of the rejected bills. Besides, we also learnt that some of the bills were enacted in haste and lacking in rigour.

In rejecting some of the bills, the president made his position very clear on some of them. On the “Corporate Manslaughter Bill, 2018” for instance, the president said several of the clauses conflict with provisions of the 1999 Constitution while the contentious issue in “Agricultural Credit Scheme Bill, 2018” is over the astronomical increase in the fund created in the scheme from N100 million to N50 billion. The president also frowned at the duplication of functions that would arise from creating a special agency for the “National Child Protection Bill, 2018”.

But there are other rejected bills which were contained in a letter from President Buhari and read on the floor by Senate President Bukola Saraki, upon resumption of plenary after the annual vacation on 8th October. They include the National Research and Innovation Council (Est) Bill, 2017; National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (Est) Bill, 2018; Subsidiary Legislation (Legislative Scrutiny) Bill 2018; National Agricultural Seeds Council 2018; Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill 2018; Chartered Institute of Entrepreneurship (Est) Bill 2018 and Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) (Amendment) Bill 2018. Others are Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill 2017; Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill 2017and Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which for a record three times was denied assent by President Buhari.

Instructively, the National Assembly had since reworked the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill with all the contentious sections identified by President Buhari now expunged and transmitted back to him for assent since early November. In a matter of days, it will be clear if the president will assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill or will, for the fourth time this year, refuse assent. Should he withhold his assent, Nigerians will like to know why, against the background of insinuations that he and his party may be uncomfortable with certain provisions concerning the use of card readers.

We, however, want to advise that the Presidency should look at the interest of the larger society vis-a-vis the general election which is barely three months away and do the needful by assenting to the electoral bill. Once this is done, the coast will be clear for the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a free and fair poll in February, 2019.

For the other rejected bills, we want to implore the technical committee set up by the Senate to review and ensure that all the reasons adduced by President Buhari for rejecting them are addressed once and for all. Once this is done and the report of the committee is approved by the National Assembly, the onus will now be on the president who cannot continue to withhold assent to important legislations.