Abuja / Lagos – President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday dared the National Assembly by withholding assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 recently transmitted to him following its passage by the lawmakers.
The bill is on sequence of elections for 2019.
The National Assembly had vowed to override any veto by the president after 30 days.
Based on the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), presidential and National Assembly elections were slated for the same day on February 16, 2019.
However, with amendment to section 25 of the Electoral Act by the National Assembly, election into seats at the National Assembly will hold on the first day before those of the state lawmakers and state governors on the second day, with the presidential election holding last on a separate date.
According to the section, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election (b) States House of Assembly and governorship elections (c) presidential election.
The House of Representatives was first to amend the Electoral Act some weeks after INEC’s timetable was announced. However, the passage at the Senate was not without drama and dissent.
The Senate chamber was thrown into a rowdy session on Wednesday, February 14, following the adoption of the conference committee report on amendment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act.
The Senate in its justification of the amendment said members of the conference committee followed rules guiding legislative procedures in the Senate and the House of Representatives in making the recommendation.
The president, whose letter was read in both chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday, premised his decision to withhold assent on some inconsistencies of the bill with the 1999 constitution as amended.
Both Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara read the president’s communication titled, ‘Presidential Decision to Decline Assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018’.
The president cited Section 58(4) of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) as basis for the legality of his decision.
He said part of his reasons for withholding assent was “that the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in Section 15(a) of the Third Schedule to the constitution.”
“The amendment to Section 138 of the principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates unduly limits the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process, and
“The amendments to Section 152(3)-(5) of the principal Act, may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections”, the president stated in a letter dated March 8, 2018.
It would be recalled that in anticipation of a likely veto to the bill by the president, a source at the National Assembly told DAILY INDEPENDENT that lawmakers elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who originated the bill in the first place “have already passed a point of no return” and will sever their ties with the ruling party.
He added that the lawmakers who are desperate to protect their political future will seize the opportunity of the 30 days allowed by Section 88 (b) of the Senate Rule and override any veto by the president.
“One thing I know is that the probability of President Buhari withholding his assent to the Bill is very high based on the belief by the presidency that the reordering of the election is a coup against the president by the lawmakers.
“But the reality is that in the spirit of separation of power as enshrined in the constitution, the lawmakers after 30 days of the veto will override it and that will be the beginning of crisis between the two.
“Many of these APC lawmakers you see today are already negotiating their ways out of the party and I won’t be surprised if many of them will join Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I also foresee others joining the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). Based on the problems he is already facing in APC, I foresee Senator Shehu Sani likely joining the PRP”.
When asked whether the lawmakers will not be shooting themselves in the foot by joining the SDP, the party led by Olu Falae and widely considered as a regional party, our source said the party will soon have a national spread as it is currently being revived by Falae and Prof. Jerry Gana, a former Minister of Information.
“Falae and Jerry Gana are reviving SDP and it will soon have a national spread. So, I think it will be a veritable platform for disgruntled lawmakers seeking another alternative from the APC”.
In a chat with DAILY INDEPENDENT, a member of the House of Representatives, Abdullahi Umar Faruk (APC, Kebbi), said the National Assembly should respect the president’s decision, arguing that the role of party and its leadership is pivotal to electoral success of candidates.
According to him, the National Assembly has rules and procedures for overriding the president’s veto. “If at the end of the day members decide that the president’s decision shouldn’t stand, then the matter would be tabled on the floor via a motion”.
He said, “If out of 360 members (in the case of the House), 240 which represent 2/3rd disagree with the president, then he stands overridden and the amendment would remain.
“But if 239 voted yes and the rest, no, then it means that the House is in agreement with the president’s decision.
“But if you ask me, as an individual, I don’t think we should override the president. Why! Because of the need to respect party principles and the office of the president.
“When you look at it, if my party plays no role in my electoral victory, why would I respect it? If my governor didn’t help in moblising for my victory at the poll, why would I respect him, and if the president doesn’t play any role in enhancing my chances of winning, why should I respect him?
“So we must leave the electoral sequence as it is so that parties and party leaders in the mode of office holders can have a hand in the emergence of their candidates.
“But if other members think otherwise, then let’s wait for the day it will get to the House again, and then the numbers will speak”, he said.
UPP Seeks NASS Veto
The United Progressive Party (UPP) has expressed dismay at Buhari’s refusal to assent to the amended electoral bill.
The party urged the National Assembly to veto the bill.
“His withholding assent to this bill smacks of fear of losing the 2019 presidential election as well as the fear of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), not benefitting from the bandwagon effect of a possible early victory if the presidential election came first.
“The order of election as contained in the Electoral Bill will not only guarantee a sustained mass participation in the elections until the presidential election is conducted, it will also ensure that candidates of various political parties will win elections essentially on their personal merit and the popularity of the manifesto of their political parties which will be canvassed in the campaigns leading to the elections”, UPP said.
Chekwas Okorie, chairman of the party in the statement, said that if the APC is confident of its achievement in government, the amended bill should be allowed to fly in the interest of democracy.
NASS Should Override Buhari With Immediate Effect, Says Odumakin
Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, has charged the National Assembly to mobilise two-thirds of its members and override President Buhari over his failure to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018.
Odumakin, who said the election reorder bill is one of the best decisions taken by the lawmakers, noted that election should be won on merit as that is the best way to deepen democracy.
“The National Assembly should override him immediately. They should get two thirds of the National Assembly and override him. That bill is in the best interest of this country.
“We must allow election to be won on merit. That is the best way to deepen democracy. Nobody should ride on the back of another candidate to win election. The National Assembly should override the president with immediate effect”.
Nass Can Override President’s Non-Assent To Amendment, Lawyers Declare
The National Assembly under section 58 of the 1999 constitution reserves the power to override the president’s refusal to assent to the bill amending the Electoral Act, 2010, by sheer force of which it will become law.
This was the unanimous opinion of lawyers who spoke to DAILY INDEPENDENT on the president’s refusal to give his assent to the bill as passed by both Houses of the National Assembly reordering the sequence of the general election in the country.
A senior lawyer, Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN), said there is nothing extraordinary in the president’s refusal to assent to the bill amending the Electoral Act, saying “the president has the right” to so act.
He notes, however, that the National Assembly also reserves the right to override the president’s action.
According to him, “The president has the right to decline assent to the amendment of the bill proposing the reordering of elections in the country.
“It is also within the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to muster the number required to make the bill an Act of the National Assembly despite presidential non-assent to the amendment.
“So there is no face-off in the development. This is a democracy. The executive and the legislature are not expected to agree all the time. If that happens, it means one of them is useless or redundant. And that is why the executive is not fused with the legislature like you have in military regimes.”
National Welfare Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adesina Adegbite, shares the same position as Ali on the matter, saying while the president has the power to withhold his assent, the National Assembly also has the power to override the assent.
Speaking with DAILY INDEPENDENT, he explained, however, that the seeming face-off couldn’t have arisen but for the mutual suspicion between the presidency and the legislature.
He said, “My view really is that there is mutual suspicion between the National Assembly and the presidency.
“I believe that the presidency assumes that the amendment by the National Assembly is targeted at the president in particular.
“This is why I feel that the president must have been advised by his advisers to not to give his assent to the amendment of the Electoral Act, 2010.”
On the powers constitutionally reserved in the National Assembly to override the president’s decision, Adegbite said, “It is, however, very clear by virtue of constitutional provision that the National Assembly can also veto the president’s non-assent if they have the statutory number to carry that out.
“If the president fails to assent to any bill whatsoever, but the National Assembly is able to muster the number require to veto such non-assent, the bill will become law automatically by virtue of that fact.”
For Godwin Obla (SAN), the National Assembly should be commended for the daring move.
According to him, the president must have been ill-advised to decline assent to the bill, because the action of the legislature is meant to deepen Nigeria’s democracy.
He spoke exclusively to DAILY INDEPENDENT, saying the action by the lawmakers to amend the Electoral Act is laudable.
According to him, “Society is dynamic. Law is dynamic, so even the Electoral Act should be dynamic. Any action that would help to make our elections more reflective of the people’s will, should be encouraged.”
He added, “If you are a popular person, it does not matter how the election timetable is ordered, because any way you will win.
“Our key interest is how we can have an electoral system that truly reflects the will of the people. I assume that the president is a democrat. To that extent I do not think a true democrat will be averse to a move calculated to sharpen the electoral process.
“All the hoopla is misdirected. Any person who is advising the president not to assent to the re-ordering of the sequence of elections is doing the president no good.
“Anybody who is saying the move is targeted at whittling the president’s chance at the poll is defeatist.
“What matters is whether the action is procedurally and substantially compliant with the law. You can only take issues with the action if it borders on illegality not personality.”