Electoral Act Amendment: Senate Cowers, Suspends Move to Override Buhari’s Veto

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•To engage House, constituents on next plan

•President’s withholding of assent a decoy, says PDP caucus

•Saraki identifies options before legislature

Despite the resolve and threat by many senators on Tuesday to overrule President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the senate, yesterday, backed down from its resolve. In place of the move, which had seen the collection of signatures for the proposition, the upper chamber resolved to liaise with the House of Representatives on how best to handle the president’s rejection of the electoral reform bill.

The senate also agreed to involve their constituents in the consultation process during the Christmas break before taking a final decision by January.

Buhari had declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, citing issues with direct primaries provisions in the bill.

But members of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives said the reasons given by the president for not assenting to the bill were a mere decoy to stop the electronic transmission of results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), using direct primaries as a peg.

Former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, went ahead to identify two plausible options currently before the National Assembly. Saraki said the legislature should either veto Buhari’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provisions on direct primaries and send the bill back to the president for his assent.

Some senators had at the end of Tuesday’s plenary expressed anger over the president’s rejection of the electoral bill, saying they have secured over 75 signatures ahead of a plan to veto the president at Wednesday’s plenary. But the threat was eventually not carried out, as President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, while summarising the outcome of their closed-door session, said the senate would now consult with the House of Representatives on how to respond to Buhari’s letter on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill.

According to Lawan, the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) do not permit the upper chamber to exclusively take action on such matters in the absence of the House of Representatives, which had already embarked on vacation. He assured Nigerians that a joint position would be reached with the House after due consultation with the people to determine the appropriate line of action, when both chambers reconvene from the Christmas break in January.

Speaking on what transpired at the executive session, the senate president said, “The senate in a closed session deliberated on matters relevant to the workings of the senate, in particular, and, the National Assembly, in general.

“The senate, also, in the closed session, discussed how to respond to the letter from Mr. President on the electoral bill amendment. The senate consequently resolved to consult with the House of Representatives in January, when both the senate and House will be in session.

“Presently, the House of Reps has gone on recess and, like we all know, the constitutional provision is for the senate and House of Representatives to jointly take the appropriate action.

“The senate also resolved to consult with our constituents during our recess in January. The senate believes that our constituents have a role to play as the major stakeholders in the laws that we make in the National Assembly.”

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However, the leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, in a statement yesterday, said the president was actually trying hard to avoid the electronic transmission of results and had used direct primaries as a decoy.

The caucus assured Nigerians that it would ensure that its members exercised their constitutional power to veto the president whenever the matter was tabled for discussion

Chinda said, “The untold reason of declining is to avoid the electronic transmission of results, which will improve the credibility of the electoral system. This refusal, though contemplated, has left Nigerians confounded by a president, who continues to show utter disdain for the constitution and the reform of the institutions of state.

“Under him, our institutions of state have regressed, to the point that the gains of previous institutional reforms embarked on by Our Great Party while in power, have been either lost to his inaction or to his deliberate ploy to leave our country worse than he met it. On this point alone, we are not convinced that he is interested in the reform of the electoral process.

“As an opposition caucus, we will ensure that our members exercise their power under Section 58(5) of the constitution to veto the president whenever the National Assembly deems it fit to table the issue for discussion.”

Saraki Identifies Options Before Legislature

Former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, opposed Buhari’s decision to throw out the entire amendments to the electoral bill, saying there are two options before the federal lawmakers.

In a statement, Saraki said the lawmakers could override the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provisions on direct primaries and send the bill back to the president for his assent.

The former senate president stated, “Now that Mr. President has conveyed his decision to decline assent to the Electoral Act [amendment] Bill, I am sure that I speak on behalf of millions of Nigerians in urging the National Assembly to act fast. This is because we cannot sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act (amendment) Bill.

“At this point, two options are open to the National Assembly. They either veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent. Whichever option our legislators choose, can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022.

“Anyone that has been following the mood of the nation knows that Nigerians desire to have a new electoral law that will lead to having a credible, free, fair, and peaceful process of electing our leaders. They want a system that will ensure that their votes truly count in the election of those who govern them.

“This proposed electoral law is expected to reassure the youths, many of whom steer clear of the political process, because they have no confidence in the system. They believe the system is usually rigged and compromised. One way to bring this active demography into the political system is to enact a new law that will give them hope in our nation. This Electoral Act [Amendment] Bill serves that purpose.

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“This is why, as the representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly must take a decision in the interest of our nation and its long-term democracy. The option of not doing anything after the refusal of the assent by the president is not an option. Our legislators in both chambers of the National Assembly and Mr. President must ensure that it becomes a law without delay.”

PDP: APC Scuttling Electoral Reform for Fear of 2023

The leadership of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of ruining the Electoral Act Amendment Bill because some key provisions of the bill would not allow them to rig the 2023 general election. PDP said its investigations revealed that the undercurrent was fear of failure at the 2023 general election and the positive implications that the electoral bill would have by guaranteeing electronic transmission of election results.

The opposition party recalled that APC had been in trepidation of the amendment to the Electoral Act due mainly to the provision of electronic transmission of election results, which would completely eliminate manipulations and alteration of results at elections.

A statement by National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, said it was apparent that APC and the Buhari presidency were never committed to the amendment of the Electoral Act to ensure credible elections. PDP accused APC of triggering a controversy over the mode of primaries by political parties as a camouflage to scuttle the entire amendment, including provisions for electronic transmission of results.

PDP said, “It is imperative to remind Nigerians of how the APC, in collusion with their leaders in the National Assembly, fought hard to stop the electronic transmission of results provision in the bill, but were resisted by Nigerians supported by the courageous action of the PDP Caucus in the House of Representatives, which staged a walkout only for the APC to orchestrate controversies and set the stage for the withholding of assent by Mr. President.

“The main reason for this manipulation of the legislative process by the APC is to prevent the electronic transmission of results so that it can continue in its culture of rigging and electoral impunities, including alteration of results at collation, ballot box snatching, destruction of data, among others, just to cling to power against the will of Nigerians.

“Such is consistent with the APC’s well-known machination against every genuine effort to instil credible, transparent, free and fair elections in Nigeria in the last six years. The APC thrives in electoral scam, duplicity, underhand dealings, violence and political brigandage, all in their heinous script to put Nigerians under perpetual bondage.”

PDP alleged that APC, having been rejected for its failures and having also self-decimated its structures across the country, had completely lost the capacity and goodwill for electoral contest and as such sought every means to subvert any process that could guarantee credible elections in 2023.

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PDP said the subversion of the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by APC further validated the fact that APC was averse to the aspiration of Nigerians and did not believe in democratic principles of credible elections.

More Nigerians React…

Meanwhile, Nigerians from all walks of life have continued to react to President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the electoral bill.

A member of the House of Representative, Henry Nwawuba, said he did not see any power tussle at play in the whole situation.

Nwawuba, who spoke yesterday on the Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Channel, said, “It is part of the process that as it goes through the rounds in the House, we expose the law to public dialogue, and then we send it off for access. The speaker has said when we come back in January, we are going to take another look at the electoral bill, as it is not over yet.”

On the news that almost 80 senators had agreed to override the president, Nwawuba stressed that the bill was in the courts of the National Assembly, which would come together and take the best decision in the interest of Nigeria.

He said, “This is a critical piece of legislation that is contained in our legislative agenda and we are determined to see them through. We are going to deal with the Electoral Act, by the grace of God, when we come back in January.”

A lawyer, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, who also spoke yesterday on the Morning Show, clarified the issue of indirect primaries, saying each party has the right to choose direct or indirect primaries.

According to Osaze-Uzzi, direct primaries support every member of the political party to vote and choose the candidate for a particular election.

He stated, “There are many good sides of the bill and we must not lose sight of those aspects. There are also some aspects the president did not touch, which some find worrisome. The timelines have been extended for the conduct of primaries for all sorts of steps to be taken as expected by the law.”

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Kunle Adegoke, said on the ARISE Morning Show that political parties were free to determine their internal affairs. Adegoke explained that the recent intervention by the legislature to regulate the affairs of political parties actually stemmed from the fact that the power given to the political parties to regulate their internal affairs had been substantially abused and this has led to a lot of agitation.

Adegoke said, “The National Assembly knows the constitution that we run in Nigeria recognises only the legislature to take a final decision in this regard. We can as well pass the act all over again and the president will have no choice. We can’t just say we have the power and we are free to exercise it, we must look at all factors that fit the process we are trying to take on.”

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