THE refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 into law, on Friday, sparked a row between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While the PDP warned that the president’s action could ultimately scuttle democracy in Nigeria, the APC said the opposition party was only grandstanding.
The president returned the Electoral Act Amendment bill to the National Assembly but signed into law, a bill which puts the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) at par with conventional universities.
The Electoral Act Amendment bill was deemed to lapse on Friday but the president, according to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, had returned the bill to the lawmakers.
Meanwhile, President Buhari on Friday gave the reasons why he withheld assent to the bill forwarded to him on November 8 by the National Assembly.
A letter dated December 8, 2018 with the title “Presidential decision to decline assent to the Electoral (Amendment) bill 2018,” indicated that the bill was passed “far into the electoral process.”
The president, in the letter separately addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, asked the lawmakers to forward the bill after the 2019 elections.
The letter, dated December 6, 2018, reads in part: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision on 6th December, 2018 to decline Presidential Assent to the fourth version of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018 forwarded to me by the National Assembly on the 8th of November, 2018.
“My refusal of assent to the bill for now is principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act could create some uncertainties about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.
“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the bill that the electoral act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 general elections.”
When asked about the implication of the decision on the 2019 elections, Enang said, “The implication of the decision is that the president has taken action on the bill within the time allowed by law.”
However, he said Buhari had assented to the National Open University Amendment Act, which allows the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to operate as all other universities, having the same power and functions and the same administrative structures, eliminating possible discrimination against its products and programmes.
It also allows the establishment by the university of some centres to be called study centres and given conditions for the establishment of such study centres.
However, the Presidential Campaign Council of the PDP has said that the National Assembly must override the veto of President Buhari of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018. The party, in a statement by the Director of Media and Publicity of the Campaign Council, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the president was tailoring Nigeria to the brink by refusing to sign the bill into law.
The PDP campaign body said the need to override the presidential veto became imperative as the president’s action 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.”
The PDP said the president took the decision, having discovered that he could not win in a free and fair contest.
“President 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 can, in turn, truncate our hard-earned democracy.
“It is unfortunate that Mr President, in his desperation to hold on to power, has resorted to taking steps that are capable of destabilizing our nation, just because the people are resolute in voting him out of office democratically.
“It is also instructive to note that President Buhari is mortally afraid of the amendments because they essentially check 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; for which the APC and the Buhari presidency have been boasting of winning the 2019 elections.
However, The Director General of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organization, Festus Keyamo, SAN, in his reaction to the PDP’s call on the Senate to override the president, said the opposition party was just grandstanding, noting that there was no need for any fear over the refusal of the president to assent to the electoral bill.
“The 2015 elections, which were adjudged by all, including the international observers, to be free and fair, were conducted using the 2010 Electoral Law. If that law is still extant, why the worry over the refusal of the president to assent to the Electoral Act (amendment bill)?
“The PDP said the Senate should override the president. They should go ahead if they can muster the number. They will have to debate it robustly and nobody is fighting because that is democracy. There is no need for fear,” he said.
APC spokesperson, Lanre Isa-Onilu said President Buhari’s action was in the best interest of the electoral process.
He said: “Our stand can’t be different from that of Mr. President, the time is too short for any serious amendment. We do have a President that is very meticulous and when the president takes actions, he gives reasons.”
This time, it is not different and l want to believe that he has communicated with the National Assembly and l am in sure in his letter he would state specific reasons why he declined assent and by the time you look at those reasons you can only but agree that once again, the President has demonstrated leadership. “
However, the National Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to overrule the veto of the President. If, after 30 days, the President refuses to sign the bill and the National Assembly is not in support of the President’s amendments, the two Chambers can recall the bill and re-pass it. If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the President by two-third majority vote in both Chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the President. This happened in the case of the Niger Delta Development Commission Bill. The two Chambers passed the bill into law after s/he President failed to sign it within the time that is prescribed for him to do so.