Someone once said, “Institutions (nations) are no better than the people that run them.” No time in the history of Nigeria are those words truer than in the current President Muhammandu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government than ever before. Since Nigeria attained nationhood, it’s only in this Buhari-led administration that all kinds of weird things happen –to the embarrassment of Nigerians and to the amusement of the international community.
For instance, Nigeria has now become not only the ‘world capital of poverty’, but also the ‘world capital of defective governance’. And one of the proofs of defective governance is the flagrant refusal by President Buhari to sign into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018 that was resubmitted to by the National Assembly.
Remember that he also refused to assent to another important bill of national interest, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.
Though there are other bills he declined to assent to, I think these two (the Eelectoral Act Amendment Bill and PIGB) are of urgent national importance. Would Buhari also want to tell Nigerians that it’s for ‘national interest’, (as he lamely claimed that national interest couldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of the Rule of Law)?
As expected, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, had since given some flimsy excuses why the President refused to sign the amended bill. A report in The PUNCH, dated September 4, 2018, titled, “Again, Buhari refuses to sign electoral bill”, quoted Senator Enang that the President declined assent to the bill due to some “drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the bill.”
Furthermore, a letter sent to the National Assembly stating some of his reasons for declining assent to the bill, reads:“… Some of my reasons for withholding assent to the bill include the following: the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the INEC to organise, undertake and supervise all
elections provided in Section 15(a) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution…”
Granted, the President has the constitutional right to either assent to or reject a bill passed by the National Assembly. But, why should a President who prides himself as ‘Mr. Integrity’, and who has promised the whole world of free, fair and credible elections in 2019, decline to assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018 (for three consecutive times)?
If President Buhari really has ‘national interest’ at heart, and has no fear of the (absolute) use of the card reader and e-voting in the 2019 elections, why not sign the bill, then send an amendment bill later to the National Assembly? By the way, does President Buhari ‘love’ Nigeria more than a majority of Nigerians and Civil Society Organisations that have (in one voice), faulted his refusal to sign the bill? The National Chairman of the Labour Party, AlhajiAbdulkadirAbdulsalam, for instance, in an interview with The PUNCH, said: “It seems the APC and this government it leads are not prepared for the (2019) elections.
In fact, they want to scuttle it and give an impression to the international community that we are running a military dictatorship. If not, how can a National Assembly consisting of 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives pass a bill and one man throws it out?”
Similarly, the Coalition of 39 United Political Parties, through its Spokesman, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, said: “The CUPP views the deliberate last minute rejection of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the President Buhari-led APC government as a clear indication that Buhari and the APC want to destroy the chances of free and fair elections in Nigeria, simply because they are afraid of losing the 2019 general elections.” So, President Buhari has no option but as a matter of national urgency, to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018!
The following are three indispensable reasons why I think President Buhari must sign it:
- Except for very few, all Nigerians have spoken in one voice that he must assent to the bill. For example, the Executive Director, Life and Peace Development Organisation, Mr. Franklin Oloniju, said, “Having a free and fair election also depends on signing the relevant legislation that can enhance the polls. Those words [that he wasn’t afraid of a credible process in 2019 general polls] should be backed with action, especially as it relates to the Electoral Bill that was submitted to him by the National Assembly. There is the need for him to sign the bill…”
Also, a Programmer with African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Mr. Nyong Essien, said: “… [Buhari] benefitted from a free and fair election but from what we see, His refusal to assent to the Electoral Bill is equally a cause of worry. The Apprehension is because the bill is the instrument that will help to further make the process credible. When you refuse to assent to such an instrument, it will begin to create doubt in the minds of the people.”
So, any attempt to drown the voice of the people in the sea of excuses is tyranny! Thomas Jefferson asserted, “Each time government fears the people, there’s democracy. But when the people fear the government, there’s tyranny.”
- Buhari’s delay to assent to the bill may stifle the Independent National Electoral Commission’s preparation for the 2019 elections.
How? Because, as present, INEC is not sure of which law to work with. Though the INEC’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said a few days ago on national radio news that the commission was working with the 2010 Electoral Act, what if President Buhari finally signs the bill, say, two months to the elections, what would INEC do? Of course, this will put INEC under intense pressure to deliver. It may also alter the election time-table. And this might lead to waste of time and resources (money and election materials).
- He must disprove the allegations laid against him by the PDP and some media reports by signing the bill.
Those are very weighty allegations! And the only way President Buhari can prove his sincerity and disprove the allegations of the PDP against him is not by flooding the media with press statements, but by action –assenting to the bill without further delay; especially as the National Assembly has removed the controversial section –fixing of dates for the elections.
However, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had on Sunday, September 9, 2018, said the President’s decision to decline assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2018, has nothing to do with e-voting and the use of card readers in the 2019 elections.
But as the PDP National Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “The clerical and drafting arguments put forward by President Buhari could not in any way outweigh the importance of amendments meant to engender free, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2019.” President Buhari should do the needful by assenting to the bill before it’s too late!
But, if however, he still declines to sign it, then Nigerians must join hands to ask the National Assembly to OVERRIDE him. Because I believe that “It is the neglect of a timely repair [signing the bill now] that makes rebuilding [suspicion, tensions] necessary.”
- Ezenwaka is the President, Legal Minds For Governance, Policy Research And Development Centre 08038334765
Editor’s note: This article was written shortly before President Buhari declined, again, assent to the bill last week.