• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Delay in signing Electoral Act: Could it be selfish Interest peaked above national interest?

Key highlights of Startup Act signed by Buhari

On Friday, 25th February, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the amended 2010 Electoral Act. The first to be done by him since 2015 after four previous rejections. As expected, the action received wide acclaim because of the reformative contents and progressive nature of the new act.

Beyond the glamour is the question of why the signing of the Act took him so long a time. Going by events that took place shortly before Friday as well as Buhari’s objection to Clause 84 (12) of the Act, one can rightly say that he signed the bill under duress. Was the delay a case of miniature and other government officials hoping to contest in elections that held the nation to ransom by persuading Buhari not to sign the act for almost 7 years?

Indeed, going by his statement, we can safely say that selfish interest peaked above national interest while the nation was been taken for a ride. Furthermore, could it be that all these years the president has been misled by appointees who while hiding their personal political ambitions advised him against signing previous electoral bills because it would affect their primordial interest?

Come to think of it, how else do you checkmate state governors, ministers, and other political office holders using government resources and security apparatus to further their personal political ambitions?

It will be recalled that two days earlier, a coalition of civil society groups, top politicians and the leading opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had mounted pressure on him to sign the bill as further delay would have adversely affected the conduct of the up-coming Osun and Ekiti gubernatorial elections and the 2023 general elections respectively. The fears by Buhari’s close aides were that signing the bill into law would affect their chances of influencing the outcome of the aforementioned elections. Unlike in the previous legislation, this time they would be required to resign their appointments if they desire to vote or be voted for in the party primaries and conventions.

Among those touted to be nursing political ambitions include Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, his minister of state, Festus Keyamo and George Akume, Minister of special duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs amongst others.

The new Electoral Act Amendment Bill was forwarded to Buhari for assent by the Clerk of the National Assembly via a letter dated 31st January, 2022. It was meant to repeal the existing law which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010. On four occasions, Buhari refused to give assent to the bill, a development which generated speculations. The first time was as a result of the re-ordering of election sequence. The second time he declined to sign the bill on the account of drafting errors. The president rejected the bill for the third time due to what his aides described as “some drafting issues” that were not addressed. And in December 2021 he again declined assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill for the same reason.

Coincidentally while Buhari rejected the electoral bill four times, the new law is equally the fourth time since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria in May 1999 that the Electoral Act was repealed and re-enacted. The 1998 – 1999 elections were administered by transitional decrees until the 2001 Electoral Act was passed into law. Then, the Act was repealed and re-enacted as the Electoral Act 2002 which was in turn repealed and re-enacted in 2006, 2010 and now we have the 2022 Electoral Act.

Although Buhari while signing the bill into law observed that “there are salient and praiseworthy provisions that could positively revolutionize elections in Nigeria through the introduction of new technological innovation” and “guarantee the constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively”, he didn’t fail to register his displeasure with clause 84 section 12 of the Act which deals with participation of political appointees in party primaries, conventions and general elections.

Clause 84 states that “ No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate or be voted for at the Convention or Congress of any political party for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election”.

The practical application and expectation of section 84(12) means by extension, that any public or political office holder voting as delegate or being voted for, should resign, withdraw or retire at least 30 days before the date of the election.

Although political analysts have praised the national assembly for inserting this provision which they said would provide a level playing field for all contestants in any given party primary unlike what happens currently, the president thought otherwise. Hear him: “the provision has introduced qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restriction and disqualification to serving political office holders of which they are constitutionally accorded protection.

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“The practical application of section 84(12) of the Electoral Bill, 2022 will, if assented to, by operation of law, subject serving political office holders to inhibitions and restrictions referred to under section 40 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“It is imperative to note that the only constitutional expectation placed on serving political office holders that qualify, by extension as public officers within the context of the constitution is resignation, withdrawal or retirement at least 30 days before the date of the election.

“Hence, it will be stretching things beyond the constitutional limit to import extraneous restriction into the constitution on account of practical application of section 84(12) of the bill where political parties’ conventions and congresses were to hold earlier than 30 days to the election.”

But come to think of it, how else do you checkmate state governors, ministers, and other political office holders using government resources and security apparatus to further their personal political ambitions?

How else do we enshrine level playing ground and equal opportunity for all aspirants? It remains to be seen how this provision constitutes disenfranchisement, disqualification by way of importing blanket restriction on serving political office holders, and an infringement on their constitutional rights as alleged by President Buhari. It is imperative to call the president and members of the national assembly to order and allow Section 84(12) to stay. Any serving political office holder that has done a great job and command the followership of his or her constituency should not be afraid to resign 30 days to party congress, to qualify to vote or be voted for, in the elections.

As noted by a political analyst Uzoma Nwagwu “upholding this section will mitigate the ongoing hijack of political parties, instill party discipline and internal democracy as well solve the hydra-headed hegemony of serving public officers on Nigeria’s political party system”. Let clause 84(12) and other clauses of the 2022 electoral Act be as enacted.