By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
The All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus in the House of Representatives has said the Electoral Act Amendment Bill sent to President Muhammadu Buhari was an “imperfect document” capable of disenfranchising millions of Nigerians in the 2019 general election.
Led by the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the APC members in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, who rose from a closed-door meeting of the caucus, said President Buhari’s resolve to jettison the bill was in the best interest of the Nigerian electorate.
Noting that the issue of the electoral amendment law, which the president did not sign, and calls to lawmakers to veto it necessitated the caucus’ meeting, Gbajabiamila said there is need for Nigerians to get a better understanding of the issues at stake.
“Perhaps, a lot of people don’t understand the import and the implications of signing an imperfect document. If the document is imperfect and you can read it or interpret it anyhow, or if count was removed when it should have been there, then you can’t even override that imperfect document. You have to first of all amend that document and start the process all over again, and send it back to Mr. President.
“Mr. President has done well. If you study the constitution very well and if you look at Section 57, it does not oblige him (president) to give any reason for veto. All he has to do is return it and say ‘I am withholding my assent.’ He doesn’t have to give you any reason, but every time he has done that he has brought forward cogent and verifiable reasons why he is not signing it.
“On this particular one, I believe the thrust, spirit and the reason why Mr. President has refused to sign it, which we identify with, is that every vote must count in Nigeria. We have been mouthing this thing and singing this thing for ages. This bill that was sent to Mr. President, and we raised it on the floor at the time of consideration; the effect of it is that you can only accredit voters through the electronic system. It forecloses manual registration.
“When you do that; we were all witnesses to what happened in the last election; even the sitting president could not be accredited. So, what Mr. President has done is to protect everybody in Nigeria.
“Yes, do your electronic accreditation, but make room for the possibility and a very strong possibility too, where such will not work. It is something that happens every day; in the banks; jammers can even be brought in to jam it; millions will be disenfranchised and you and I don’t want that.
“That is a constitutional guarantee that everybody who resides in Nigeria has a right to vote and be voted for. So, we cannot breach the constitution through amendment.
“Let’s talk about the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol that everybody has been talking. That is very germane here. The question we need to ask is: what is the real reason for that protocol? Why was that protocol put there?” Gbajabiamila asked.
He said the position of the APC caucus is that the National Assembly should perfect the document and send it back, adding: “Mr. President will sign it. There is no question about it. That is our position.”
The House Majority Leader emphasised that: “Punctuation, a dot, or a line can change the meaning of a provision in a law. Just a single ‘coma’ can change the meaning and make it ambiguous. We don’t want that.”
Asked if members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) insist on vetoing the document, he said: “Law making is not about insisting. Law making is about numbers. If they are able to muster two-thirds and they want to push it through, there is nothing we can do. But as a party, we are not going to be part.”
But when asked if the APC has the number to prevent such move by the opposition, he boasted, “We have more than the numbers. We don’t just have the numbers; we have more than the numbers.”
Insisting that it is unwise to override an imperfect document because it would amount to “garbage in garbage out,” Gbajabiamila said a well-equipped legal department should have worked on a final draft of the document to make it perfect.
“Go to the most advanced democracies, they have a legal department. That legal department is staffed with the best of the best – from Havard, Princeton and the rest of them and about a hundred people are sitting in the department. It is not the lawmakers that do the final draft, it is the legal department.
“Go to our legal department here, perhaps you have personnel of one or two persons. So, the blame will fall on the legal department. Yes, it does not speak well of the National Assembly but we have done our work in terms of the principles of the any law we have tried to pass. It is for them to do the final ‘dot the I’s and cross the T’s.’
“Again, when the National Assembly asks for more money to staff and do things, we are met with a brick wall. It is a difficult scenario that we have found ourselves in. It is not the National Assembly’s fault but if I were to blame anybody, I will say it is our legal department,” he noted.
On some issues raised against the APC national government by lawmakers, he said: “I think it behoves us as a caucus to defend the party when the party is being attacked unfairly and unjustly. I have heard legislators from both sides; the Senate and the House, talking about TraderMoni being vote buying. I shudder, to think that any legislator would say that, when the same legislature gave approval and budgeted for TraderMoni. We budgeted for something and then you turn around. Then you have done a disservice to the country. You are indicting yourself.”