Cit­ing Threat to 2019 Polls, Buhari Re­jects New Elec­toral Bill Again

Pass­ing a new elec­toral bill for 2019 gen­eral elec­tion could cre­ate un­cer­tain­ties PDP, CNPP urge N’Assem­bly to over­ride veto

THISDAY - - FRONT PAGE - Deji Elu­moye, Shola Oyeyipo and Ade­dayo Ak­in­wale in Abuja

For the fourth time, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has with­held his as­sent to the Elec­toral Act Amend­ment Bill 2018 trans­mit­ted to him by the Na­tional Assem­bly, fu­el­ing spec­u­la­tion of im­mi­nent con­fronta­tion with the Na­tional Assem­bly over the is­sue.

In a let­ter dated De­cem­ber 6 ti­tled ‘Pres­i­den­tial De­ci­sion to De­cline As­sent to the Elec­toral (Amend­ment) Bill, 2018’, ad­dressed to the Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate, Bukola Saraki, Buhari ex­plained that he was de­clin­ing as­sent "prin­ci­pally be­cause pass­ing a new elec­toral bill this far into the elec­toral process for the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion, which com­menced un­der the 2015 Elec­toral Act, could cre­ate some un­cer­tain­ties about the ap­pli­ca­ble leg­is­la­tion to gov­ern the process."

Saraki, who had re­acted ear­lier yesterday to the prob­a­bil­ity of the Pres­i­dent re­ject­ing the bill, con­demned Buhari’s ac­tion, say­ing it was a threat to democ­racy, while the Con­fer­ence of Nige­rian Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties, (CNPP) called on both cham­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly to save the coun­try’s democ­racy by over­rid­ing the Pres­i­dent’s veto.

How­ever, Buhari’s po­si­tion was that any change in the elec­toral rules few weeks to the 2019 polls could cause dis­rup­tion and con­fu­sion

over which law gov­erns the elec­toral process.

The pres­i­dent fur­ther listed four pro­vi­sions of the Bill that re­quired draft­ing amend­ments by the Na­tional Assem­bly. They in­clude Sec­tion Five of the Bill amend­ing Sec­tion 18 of the Act of the Prin­ci­pal Act which should in­di­cate the sub­sec­tion to which the sub­sti­tu­tion of the fig­ure "30" for the fig­ure "60" is to be ef­fected and Sec­tion 11 of the Bill amend­ing Sec­tion 36 should in­di­cate the sub­sec­tion in which the pro­viso is to be in­tro­duced.

Other draft­ing amend­ments iden­ti­fied in the Bill by Pres­i­dent Buhari are Sec­tion 24 of the Bill which amends Sec­tion 85(1), which he said, “should be re­drafted in full while the def­i­ni­tion of the term ‘Ward Col­lec­tion Of­fi­cer’ should be re­vised to re­flect a more de­scrip­tive def­i­ni­tion than the cap­i­talised and un­de­fined term ‘Reg­is­tra­tion Area Col­la­tion Of­fi­cer.”

The Se­nior Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent on Na­tional Assem­bly (Se­nate), Sen­a­tor Ita Enang, who made the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to veto the Bill known to State House Cor­re­spon­dents yesterday, said the amend­ment bill had been trans­mit­ted back to the law­mak­ers.

The pres­i­den­tial aide how­ever said Pres­i­dent Buhari had as­sented to the amend­ment made to the Na­tional Open Univer­sity of Nige­ria (NOUN) Act, which will now al­low it op­er­ate as other univer­si­ties do.

When asked why Buhari re­turned the bill to NASS, he said: “The pres­i­dent has com­mu­ni­cated his de­ci­sion to the Na­tional Assem­bly and that is what it is now.”

When asked if it was safe to say the pres­i­dent re­jected the bill, Enang said: “It is safe to say that the pres­i­dent has taken de­ci­sion as al­lowed by law and has com­mu­ni­cated that de­ci­sion to the Se­nate and the House of Representatives.”

When asked the im­pli­ca­tion of the de­ci­sion on the 2019 elec­tions, Enang ex­plained: “The im­pli­ca­tion of the de­ci­sion is that the pres­i­dent has taken ac­tion on the bill within the time al­lowed by law.”

Mean­while, the CNPP has warned on the neg­a­tive im­pact of not as­sent­ing to amend­ments to Nige­ria’s Elec­toral Act be­fore next year’s gen­eral elec­tions, not­ing that it would en­dan­ger the deep­en­ing of the coun­try’s democ­racy.

CNPP’s Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, Chief Willy Ezugwu said in a state­ment is­sued in Abuja yesterday that “there are in­di­ca­tions that a ca­bal that re­sents cred­i­ble elec­toral process is bent on frus­trat­ing the sign­ing of any amend­ment to the elec­toral laws ahead of 2019.”

Ac­cord­ing to the um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion of all reg­is­tered po­lit­i­cal par­ties and po­lit­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions in the coun­try, “it has be­come ob­vi­ous that while Pres­i­dent Buhari may or­di­nar­ily wish to en­sure cred­i­ble elec­toral process, some per­sons around him, which con­sti­tute the ca­bal, re­sent free and fair con­test and may have again de­ceived him into with­hold­ing as­sent to the bill.

“The CNPP, as a body con­ceived as a com­mon plat­form for po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Nige­ria, shares com­mon con­cerns of well-mean­ing Nige­ri­ans on is­sues bor­der­ing on rule of law, pro­mo­tion and de­fence of demo­cratic prin­ci­ples and prac­tices.

“There­fore, this sin­gu­lar re­jec­tion of the Elec­toral Act Amend­ment Bill (2018) by Mr. Pres­i­dent is an­other re­pres­sive at­tempt to stem multi-party democ­racy and have com­pletely re­moved the last hope of level play­ing ground for all po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the forth­com­ing elec­tions.

“It is iron­i­cal that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has been promis­ing free and fair elec­tions and at the same time re­fus­ing to give ef­fect to the only in­stru­ment that would have proven his com­mit­ment to cred­i­ble elec­toral process in 2019.

The CNPP added: “As one of the great­est ben­e­fi­ciary of free and fair elec­tion from the last ad­min­is­tra­tion, we thought that Mr. Pres­i­dent and the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) should have been at the fore­front of pro­mot­ing trans­parency in elec­tions.

“How­ever, to save our democ­racy and to take Nige­ria’s elec­toral process to the next level of free and fair polls, not the next level of rig­ging, we de­mand that the Na­tional Assem­bly, as a mat­ter of ur­gency, over­ride Mr. Pres­i­dent’s veto with a two-third-ma­jor­ity.

“As it stands, the only hope Nige­ri­ans have left now rests on the Na­tional Assem­bly’s will­ing­ness to do the need­ful at this try­ing mo­ment in our demo­cratic jour­ney”.

On its part, the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party’s Pres­i­den­tial Cam­paign Or­gan­i­sa­tion (PPCO) said: “Buhari’s re­peated re­fusal to sign amend­ments passed to check rig­ging in the elec­tion, raises is­sues of his sin­cer­ity of pur­pose and has the ca­pac­ity to trig­ger po­lit­i­cal un­rest and vi­o­lence, which could in turn, trun­cate the coun­try’s democ­racy.”

The Di­rec­tor of Me­dia and Pub­lic­ity of the cam­paign coun­cil, Mr. Kola Olog­bondiyan, said: “It was un­for­tu­nate that Mr. Pres­i­dent, in his des­per­a­tion to hold on to power, has re­sorted to tak­ing steps that are ca­pa­ble of desta­bil­is­ing the na­tion, just be­cause the peo­ple are res­o­lute in vot­ing him out of of­fice demo­crat­i­cally.”

Against this back­ground, the PDP Cam­paign said that leg­isla­tive ac­tion had be­come im­per­a­tive “as the Pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion was a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to hold the na­tion to ran­som, in­ject cri­sis into the elec­toral process and ul­ti­mately scut­tle the con­duct of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions, hav­ing re­alised that there is no way he could win in a free and fair con­test.”

Olog­bondiyan fur­ther added: “It is also in­struc­tive to note that Pres­i­dent Buhari is mor­tally afraid of the amend­ments be­cause they es­sen­tially checked the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) rig­ging plans, in­clud­ing the use of un­der­age and alien vot­ers, vote-buy­ing, al­ter­ation of re­sults and ma­nip­u­la­tion of voter reg­is­ter; which the APC and the Buhari Pres­i­dency have been boast­ing they will em­ploy to win the 2019 elec­tions.

“While urg­ing the Na­tional Assem­bly to save our democ­racy and fore­stall an im­mi­nent elec­toral cri­sis, the PPCO also charges all po­lit­i­cal par­ties, other crit­i­cal stake­hold­ers and Nige­ri­ans in gen­eral, to rise in the in­ter­est of our na­tion and de­mand the en­trench­ing of rules and pro­cesses that will guar­an­tee the con­duct of free, fair and cred­i­ble elec­tions, as noth­ing short of that will be ac­cepted.”

The party pointed out that this was the fourth time Pres­i­dent Buhari was with­hold­ing as­sent to the amend­ment, with­out any co­gent rea­son, fol­low­ing his re­jec­tion by Nige­ri­ans.

“Nige­ri­ans can re­call how the Buhari Pres­i­dency plot­ted to plunge the 2019 elec­tions into a need­less con­tro­versy by de­lay­ing the sub­mis­sion of the elec­tion bud­get to the Na­tional Assem­bly, pre­sent­ing it at the time the leg­is­la­tors were com­menc­ing their an­nual va­ca­tion and ask­ing for vire­ment of funds al­ready ap­proved for de­vel­op­ment projects, in­stead of send­ing a fresh sup­ple­men­tary bud­get for the elec­tion,” he added.

Sim­i­larly, the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, Saraki, ex­pressed worry that the pres­i­dent re­fused to as­sent the bill, de­spite that all what he asked for were fac­tored in.

“I made a state­ment two days ago, ap­peal­ing to Mr. Pres­i­dent to sign the Elec­toral Act Amend­ment Bill be­fore him. We have made amend­ments and amend­ments. Ev­ery­thing he (Buhari) has asked for, we have changed it four times so that he can sign.

“We know there are those who are telling him not to sign. Even I heard some have gone to court so that he can use the ex­cuse not to sign. That is a dan­ger­ous prece­dent.

“He has the pre­rog­a­tive to sign or not to sign. In the event he does not sign, I be­lieve as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, we have the right, au­thor­ity to also de­mand from INEC in terms of en­gage­ment. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties can take a po­si­tion. This is the type of elec­tion they want”, Saraki said.

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