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Published On: Sun, Dec 9th, 2018

Electoral Act: Fresh anxiety over 2019 polls

Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, INEC Chairman

…it’s a worrisome development – Dan Agbese

By OBINNA EZUGWU

After months of back and forth, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, failed to assent the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill transmitted to him early last month, which among other things, sought to legalise the use of card readers for 2019 elections, raising fears that the ruling party may not be interested in ensuring credible election next year.

President Buhari had on three occasions, refused assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill over issues bothering on election sequence which had generated controversy with some of his loyalists arguing that the decision of the National Assembly to reorganise the order of election, was targeted at him. There had been speculations over the fate of the Electoral bill as the deadline approached when the president was out of the country.

The development had forced the National Assembly to rework the bill, reverting to the original sequence among other amendments, before transmitting to the president for the fourth time on November 7 for his assent on or before December 6 deadline. However, the uncertainty was laid to rest at the weekend when he Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters, Senator Ita Enang, confirmed that the bill has been returned to the NASS.

Indeed, before the bill was sent for the fourth and last time, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami met with members of the electoral committee of the National Assembly and looked at all the president’s observations and addressed them before it was sent back to the president.

The major contention in the new bill is the recognition of card readers by the law such that it becomes a legal instrument in the conduct of election and can therefore be tendered as evidence in cases of rigging. The bill also provides for the transmission of counted votes from the ward level to the state level.

The refusal to sign the bill into law, some allege, is because the presidency is uncomfortable with the clause that allows for the use of card readers and the electronic transmission of votes from ward to state as they could be an impediment to rigging and other electoral frauds.

“We know that he is under pressure by certain group of people who think that they cannot win election and opined that if they lose, what will befall them,” said Buba Galadima, spokesperson for the Atiku Abubakar campaign on Channels.

“And these were the people who wrote results against the president himself in 2007. We know them. They persuaded him not to ever sign the electoral bill so that they could rig this election because there would be no rules governing elections in 2019.”

He warned that: “Nigeria is likely going to be thrown into confusion, into chaos and may never get it right.”

The bill, which was drawn from the 2010 Electoral Act, was necessitated in part, by the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of Abia State and Rivers State governorship election. In the cases between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu vs the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Dr. Alex Otti and PDP’s Nyesom Wike vs All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Dakuku Peterside respectively, wherein the apex court ruled that since card readers were not recognised by law, evidence of over voting or electoral fraud emanating therein was not admissible in court.

The idea being to ensure that the essence of the investment in card readers is not lost and that they can actually be used to check electoral fraud. However, the refusal of the president to sign the bill into law, many say is disappointing.

“I don’t understand why he is not signing it,” said veteran columnist, Mr. Ray Ekpu “I am disappointed, every Nigerian should be disappointed. How do we move on from here? Does he want to create a crisis? I don’t know what the point of contention is, I think the issue of order of election has been resolved, so, I wouldn’t know why he is not signing it.”

The bill had been a major contentious issue going into the elections next year, with many activists and political parties mounting pressure on Buhari to append his signature to it.

Few days ago, former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Convener of Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba in a two- page letter to the president, called on him to sign the bill into law if he is truly committed to transparent electoral process in 2019.

He expressed concern that the bill was yet to be signed into law less than three months to the general election and stressed the need for President Buhari to sign the bill without any further delay, citing the implications of his refusal to endorse it would have on the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct credible and transparent elections.

Fortnight ago, the national chairmen of 91 political parties on the platform of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) resolved to pull out of the 2019 general election if the amendment to the Electoral Act was not signed.

At a meeting on Friday at the INEC Electoral Institute, Abuja, which had in attendance over 70 national chairmen of political parties in Nigeria, they unanimously resolved that in view of the fact that Nigerians want for free, fair and credible elections next year, which the new Electoral Act Amendment Bll before the President Buhari guarantees, they were calling for the passage of the bill.

“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,” they declared.

In a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of IPAC, Ikenga Ugochinyere, the council said that delay and 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.

Similarly, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, during the inauguration of the party’s campaign council, challenged the president to sign the bill into law if he is truly committed to conducting free, fair and credible elections in 2019.

“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),” he said. “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.”

“I’m worried about it (Buhari’s refusal to sign the bill),” said ace journalist, Dan Agbese. “I have read the amendment and they did not go far enough as far as I’m concerned because there are things that I was expecting to see and I didn’t see them, but the fact that of the matter is that we are improving at every state.

He stressed that “The amendment to the 2010 act should be signed into law because our elections must be guided by legislation.”

Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, had argued last week Friday while speaking with state house correspondents, that the president was free to decline signing the bill if he found a reason to do so.

“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.”

Lawan said the 2006 Electoral Act should be used to conduct the 2019 election if the president failed to sign the 2018 act.

“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.”

Niyi Akinsiju, chairman of Buhari Media Organisation toed the same line, noting in an interview with Channels that the president wouldn’t sign a “corrupt” bill.

“It is not right to sign a corrupt bill into law and we will all become slaves to whatever would have been the machinations of the people who put the bill together. The president should be more careful in deciding what bill he wants to sign into law,” he said.

 

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