Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has advised the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018.
In a letter dated December 10 titled ‘Overriding The Presidential Decline to Assent to 2018 Electoral Act’ and addressed to both Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Agbakoba said the decision of the president to withhold assent to the bill to enact a law to amend the Electoral Act makes no sense.
According to him, the final draft of the bill considered by the lawmakers was agreed with the president, precisely to avoid current challenges, emphasising that the major amendment to 2018 Electoral Act relates to electronic technology for the conduct of the 2019 elections.
The legal luminary added that the 2018 amendments would have helped to improve the credibility of the nation’s elections and also give legal basis for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deploy electronic technology in 2019 elections, following doubts cast by the Supreme Court about the legality of the use of card readers because it was not provided in the old Electoral Act of 2010.
He said, “The 2015 elections were partly conducted by INEC, using smart cards (card readers) but the Supreme Court held that smart cards are not allowed, not been included in the Electoral Act 2010. The 2015 elections were also partly conducted by INEC using incident form; in effect smart cards and incident form were both used to conduct 2015 elections. Members of National Assembly will recall that there was a lot of controversy about the use of incident forms as it enabled non accredited persons to vote, questioning the credibility of the elections.”
Further justifying the need for the enactment of the Electoral Act, Agbakoba stated that in order to remove constraints that will impact the credibility of future elections, such as that of 2019, the Electoral Act 2010, was amended by the 2018 bill, to formalize the legal basis of the smart card which was already in use for elections by INEC anyway.
“It will be recalled that the Supreme Court declared use of smart cards as contrary to the Electoral Act 2010, so the 2018 amendment is intended to give INEC a legal basis to use smart cards and electronic technology,” he said.
The Electoral Act 2018 Bill, he further said, also introduced the extremely important procedure of transmitting results of votes from polling units by electronic means, adding that electronic transmission will remove rigging and enhance the credibility of the vote count.
He explained, “INEC says it is familiar with the amendments contained in the 2018 Electoral Bill. INEC has used smart cards at all elections from 2015. INEC has submitted an election budget, which provides for smart cards and transmission equipment.”
Agbakoba also faulted the claims of the president that part of the reason for withholding assent, is that INEC will not have enough time to familiarise with the 2018 bill and that a new act will generate confusion.
He said, “This is simply incorrect and flies in the face of INEC’s announcement that it will not use incident forms or manual voting in 2019 elections. In other words, INEC is ready to deploy electronic technology for 2019 elections, and only requires that the Electoral Act provides a legal framework.”