Electoral Bill: Uncertainty as timeline for Buhari’s assent elapses Sunday | Dailytrust

Electoral Bill: Uncertainty as timeline for Buhari’s assent elapses Sunday

There is growing uncertainty in the political terrain as the 30 days’ timeline for President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the Electoral Act Bill elapses...

There is growing uncertainty in the political terrain as the 30 days’ timeline for President Muhammadu Buhari to assent the Electoral Act Bill elapses on Sunday.

This comes as the president is billed to travel out of the country any moment from now.

It was gathered that advance party had already departed.

The National Assembly had on November 19, this year, transmitted the bill to President Buhari for assent. Section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution says, “Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.”

Checks by this paper showed that the 30 days’ timeline elapses on Sunday, December 19, 2021.

If President Buhari refused to sign the bill on the expiration of the stipulated days and the National Assembly is not in support of the president’s reservations, the Senate and the House of Representatives can recall the bill and pass it.

There has been a cold war between federal lawmakers and governors over the inclusion of direct primaries in the bill, with the latter mounting pressure on the president not to sign it. 

 While governors, including those who are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), have waged war against the signing of the bill, the parliamentarians including the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, want the bill to be assented to strengthen the country’s democracy.

Top civil society groups in the country have also appealed to the president to sign the bill. President Buhari had sought the advice of relevant government agencies on the bill.

Daily Trust had exclusively reported last week that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had replied to the president’s letter on the Electoral Act amendment bill.

It was reliably gathered that the commission, in its reply, enjoined the president to toe the line of constitutionality especially as the views of the federal lawmakers seemed to have represented the opinions of the majority of Nigerians.

The commission also highlighted landmark proposals in the bill that would improve the quality of elections and deepen democracy in the country.

However, it was gathered last night that the president was under intense pressure to reject the bill.


Why Buhari is yet to act

A top presidency source said though the president has been a promoter of direct primaries, he was in a tight corner because of the reservations expressed by governors.

“Contending forces are pushing their cases before him but we have no indication of what will happen. He has always been a promoter of direct primaries. He understands what is going on and he wants the system to be democratised,” the source said.

The two presidential advisers on National Assembly, Senator Babajide Omoworare (Senate) and Ibrahim El-Yakub (House) have said the president will not act on the bill secretly.

Daily Trust reports that the timely passage of the bill by the parliament was to enable the electoral body to implement it before the 2023 general elections. 

Ahead of the 2019 elections, President Buhari had rejected the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, saying the bill was passed at a time the country was gearing for elections.


We’ll veto if Buhari refuses to act – Lawmakers

Some federal lawmakers have said the parliament would take a decision should President Buhari fail to assent to the bill. 

The senators, who spoke to Daily Trust, said the decision would be in the best interest of Nigerians. 

A senator, who preferred not to be named, said: “If the president succumbs to pressure, we will mobilise to override him because we swore to protect the interest of the masses. 

“This bill has the support of all except the governors, who are always happy to manipulate the system for their selfish interests.

“Democracy is the government of the people and this is what the people want,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia) said, “We will cross the bridge when we get there.”

Another senator said: “Those who are afraid of direct primaries are unnecessarily heating the polity by raising issues about the cost of conducting primary elections.

“When the time comes, we will know what to do. Let’s wait till that time.”

A ranking lawmaker said, “We are waiting and watching. We have done what Nigerians wanted. At both the Senate and House, the bill has the overwhelming support of the majority of us.

“We will veto it because, across party lines, we are in support of the bill.”

Senate spokesman Ajibola Basiru, while appearing on a Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily on Tuesday, said the National Assembly would take the best decision for Nigerians irrespective of Buhari’s attitude towards the electoral bill.


Lawmakers can override the president – Lawyers

Meanwhile, lawyers have explained that lawmakers can veto the president if he fails to sign or communicate his observations on the new act to the National Assembly.

Prof. Paul Ananaba (SAN) said this is not the first time it has happened where lawmakers went ahead to override the president by a simple majority to enable the amended electoral act to become law.

“Nigerians expect the president to sign the act because it is so important to them,” he added.

In his view, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said in the event the president did not sign the bill or communicate his observations to the lawmakers, he had by so doing vetoed the bill, giving room for the lawmakers to override him.

On whether there is the possibility to override the presidential assent in a parliament with the ruling party’s majority, Akinlaja said: “I am talking about the law, politics is a different thing altogether.”

Apart from lawmakers, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has also urged President Buhari to ignore the governors and sign the bill.

“The president should allow posterity to remember him as one that restored power back to the people and not to be judged on the wrong side of history as he boldly steps towards strengthening the nation’s democracy and good governance,” the union, in a statement by its president, Chris Isiguzo, said.


Why president is reluctant – Falana

A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, said on Wednesday that the president was reluctant to assent the bill because of powerful governors who are members of his party.

Speaking at TheCable Colloquium, Falana said, “The president is reluctant to give assent to the bill because the powerful governors in his party, the ruling party, are saying it is going to be much more expensive for them to run direct primaries.

“Therefore, throw away the baby and the bathwater. But where they’re actually going is that those governors have not recovered from the shock of having electronic vote.

“They know manipulation will be reduced to the minimum.

“That’s why they are asking the president to throw away that bill. They aren’t saying ‘take it back to the National Assembly’ so that the area of direct primaries can be removed.

“The bill can be rejected only on one ground. The 2018 bill was rejected by the president on the ground that it was too close to the 2019 election. 

“Now, the president may also say signing this bill now may be too close to the election and might cause confusion,” he said.

By Ismail Mudashir, Muideen Olaniyi, Abdullateef Salau & John C. Azu 

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