Citing Threat to 2019 Polls, Buhari Rejects New Electoral Bill Again

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Muhammadu Buhari
  • Passing a new electoral bill for 2019 general election could create uncertainties
  • PDP, CNPP urge N’Assembly to override veto

By Deji Elumoye, Shola Oyeyipo and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

For the fourth time, President Muhammadu Buhari has withheld his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 transmitted to him by the National Assembly, fueling speculation of imminent confrontation with the National Assembly over the issue.

In a letter dated December 6 titled ‘Presidential Decision to Decline Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018’, addressed to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, Buhari explained that he was declining assent “principally because passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general election, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainties about the applicable legislation to govern the process.”

Saraki, who had reacted earlier yesterday to the probability of the President rejecting the bill, condemned Buhari’s action, saying it was a threat to democracy, while the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, (CNPP) called on both chambers of the National Assembly to save the country’s democracy by overriding the President’s veto.

However, Buhari’s position was that any change in the electoral rules few weeks to the 2019 polls could cause disruption and confusion over which law governs the electoral process.

The president further listed four provisions of the Bill that required drafting amendments by the National Assembly. They include Section Five of the Bill amending Section 18 of the Act of the Principal Act which should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of the figure “30” for the figure “60” is to be effected and Section 11 of the Bill amending Section 36 should indicate the subsection in which the proviso is to be introduced.

Other drafting amendments identified in the Bill by President Buhari are Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85(1), which he said, “should be redrafted in full while the definition of the term ‘Ward Collection Officer’ should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalised and undefined term ‘Registration Area Collation Officer.”

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who made the president’s decision to veto the Bill known to State House Correspondents yesterday, said the amendment bill had been transmitted back to the lawmakers.

The presidential aide however said President Buhari had assented to the amendment made to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Act, which will now allow it operate as other universities do.

When asked why Buhari returned the bill to NASS, he said: “The president has communicated his decision to the National Assembly and that is what it is now.”

When asked if it was safe to say the president rejected the bill, Enang said: “It is safe to say that the president has taken decision as allowed by law and has communicated that decision to the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

When asked the implication of the decision on the 2019 elections, Enang explained: “The implication of the decision is that the president has taken action on the bill within the time allowed by law.”

Meanwhile, the CNPP has warned on the negative impact of not assenting to amendments to Nigeria’s Electoral Act before next year’s general elections, noting that it would endanger the deepening of the country’s democracy.

CNPP’s Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu said in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday that “there are indications that a cabal that resents credible electoral process is bent on frustrating the signing of any amendment to the electoral laws ahead of 2019.”

According to the umbrella organisation of all registered political parties and political associations in the country, “it has become obvious that while President Buhari may ordinarily wish to ensure credible electoral process, some persons around him, which constitute the cabal, resent free and fair contest and may have again deceived him into withholding assent to the bill.

“The CNPP, as a body conceived as a common platform for political parties in Nigeria, shares common concerns of well-meaning Nigerians on issues bordering on rule of law, promotion and defence of democratic principles and practices.

“Therefore, this singular rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill (2018) by Mr. President is another repressive attempt to stem multi-party democracy and have completely removed the last hope of level playing ground for all political parties in the forthcoming elections.

“It is ironical that President Muhammadu Buhari has been promising free and fair elections and at the same time refusing to give effect to the only instrument that would have proven his commitment to credible electoral process in 2019.

The CNPP added: “As one of the greatest beneficiary of free and fair election from the last administration, we thought that Mr. President and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should have been at the forefront of promoting transparency in elections.

“However, to save our democracy and to take Nigeria’s electoral process to the next level of free and fair polls, not the next level of rigging, we demand that the National Assembly, as a matter of urgency, override Mr. President’s veto with a two-third-majority.

“As it stands, the only hope Nigerians have left now rests on the National Assembly’s willingness to do the needful at this trying moment in our democratic journey”.

On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party’s Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) said: “Buhari’s repeated refusal to sign amendments passed to check rigging in the election, raises issues of his sincerity of purpose and has the capacity to trigger political unrest and violence, which could in turn, truncate the country’s democracy.”

The Director of Media and Publicity of the campaign council, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “It was unfortunate that Mr. President, in his desperation to hold on to power, has resorted to taking steps that are capable of destabilising the nation, just because the people are resolute in voting him out of office democratically.”

Against this background, the PDP Campaign said that legislative action had become imperative “as the President’s decision was a calculated attempt to hold the nation to ransom, inject crisis into the electoral process and ultimately scuttle the conduct of the 2019 general elections, having realised that there is no way he could win in a free and fair contest.”

Ologbondiyan further added: “It is also instructive to note that President Buhari is mortally afraid of the amendments because they essentially checked the All Progressives Congress (APC) rigging plans, including the use of underage and alien voters, vote-buying, alteration of results and manipulation of voter register; which the APC and the Buhari Presidency have been boasting they will employ to win the 2019 elections.

“While urging the National Assembly to save our democracy and forestall an imminent electoral crisis, the PPCO also charges all political parties, other critical stakeholders and Nigerians in general, to rise in the interest of our nation and demand the entrenching of rules and processes that will guarantee the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, as nothing short of that will be accepted.”

The party pointed out that this was the fourth time President Buhari was withholding assent to the amendment, without any cogent reason, following his rejection by Nigerians.

“Nigerians can recall how the Buhari Presidency plotted to plunge the 2019 elections into a needless controversy by delaying the submission of the election budget to the National Assembly, presenting it at the time the legislators were commencing their annual vacation and asking for virement of funds already approved for development projects, instead of sending a fresh supplementary budget for the election,” he added.

Similarly, the Senate President, Saraki, expressed worry that the president refused to assent the bill, despite that all what he asked for were factored in.

“I made a statement two days ago, appealing to Mr. President to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill before him. We have made amendments and amendments. Everything he (Buhari) has asked for, we have changed it four times so that he can sign.

“We know there are those who are telling him not to sign. Even I heard some have gone to court so that he can use the excuse not to sign. That is a dangerous precedent.

“He has the prerogative to sign or not to sign. In the event he does not sign, I believe as political parties, we have the right, authority to also demand from INEC in terms of engagement. Political parties can take a position. This is the type of election they want”, Saraki said.