• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Electoral Act: How history will remember Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari has missed the chance to bequeath a legacy of credible election to Nigerians, even when he came to power through electoral reforms by his predecessors.

Exactly 10 days after Buhari had assured Nigerians and the international community of free and fair elections in the 2023 general election at a Virtual Summit for Democracy organised by President Joe Biden of the United States, he refused to assent to the 2021 amendment to the Electoral Act, which would have accomplished what he promised.

“As we countdown to our next general elections in 2023, we remain committed to putting in place and strengthening all necessary mechanisms to ensure that Nigeria will not only record another peaceful transfer of power to an elected democratic government, but will also ensure that the elections are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner,” he had said at the Summit.

But when given the chance to match those words with action by stamping his authority as required by the Constitution on the new electoral law on Sunday, December 19, which marked 30 days since the Bill was transmitted to him on November 19, the President again withheld his assent.

By withholding assent, the President seems to have missed a golden opportunity to bequeath to Nigerians, that legacy of free, fair and credible elections.

Buhari had 30 days to sign or decline assent to the bill, following its transmission to the National Assembly on November 19, 2021. The one month window closed last Sunday.

He had, during his campaign for the 2015 general election, promised to champion electoral reforms that would entrench free, fair and credible elections that the people have always yearned for, which may have been one of the reasons for his electoral victory for the first term.

He had vowed to “strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reduce, if possible, eliminate electoral malpractices in Nigerian’s political life.”

But when the opportunity first presented itself with the Electoral Act Amendment Bill of 2018 that would have addressed some issues that have always hampered the country’s electoral process, the President declined assent that it was too close to the 2019 general election, which according to reports, turned out to be the worst in the history of the country.

Unlike in 2018, the reason for the decline of assent is yet to be known until the National Assembly reconvenes Tuesday and reads his communication on the matter as disclosed by his senior special assistant on media and publicity, Garba Shehu.

In the midst of anxiety among Nigerians, Shehu said on Channels TV’s Sunday Politics, that the National Assembly would speak to Nigerians on the President’s decision at the appropriate time.

He said: “The President has communicated his intention to the National Assembly and the National Assembly will communicate the president’s decision to Nigerians in due course,” declining further comments on the matter.

The National Assembly, acting on Section 58(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which provides that the power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and, except as otherwise provided, be assented to by the President, had transmitted the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to the President on November 19.

Read also: 2023: Over 30 Nigerians aspire to succeed Buhari

According to the Constitution, where, however, a bill is presented to the President for assent, the President shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds his assent. It is, however, the prerogative of the president to give reasons for his refusal to assent to a particular bill.

Thus, Sunday, December 19, made it 30 days the President did not assent to bill, and going by what his spokesman said, he may have withheld his assent, though that may not be the end of the road if National Assembly explores the veto option to pass the bill as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Section 58 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two/thirds majority, the bill shall become law and assent of the President shall not be required.

Those who spoke with BusinessDay also dismissed the thinking that the National Assembly may veto the President and passed the bill due to the rubber stamp posture of the current parliament.

Christian Okeke, political science lecturer at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said if the President was truly concerned about bequeathing a legacy of credible elections to Nigerians, he would have acted immediately on the bill even if he was not going to assent to it, giving time for the next action by the National Assembly, saying the people as usual were disappointed by the situation.

Okeke also said Nigerians should not put any hope in the National Assembly despite the Constitutional provision for veto, as the present crop of lawmakers were always on the same page with the executive and this issue would not be different.

“Nigerians have a lot of expectations of Mr. President, no doubt about that. Some have experienced disappointment. This one might not be an exception. Some people have already been expressing disappointment. You see issues that will move the nation forward ought to be treated with utmost dispatch. Time is of essence. That is one of the ingredients that is lacking in this present administration since it came on board. Things that need to be done are sometimes not done fast.”

Coordinator, YIAGA Africa Centre for Legislative Engagement, Ernest Ereke, said the withholding of the assent after 30 days and subsequent delays, especially as the National Assembly would soon go on recess, had made the country missed the golden opportunity to test run a new electoral law in the Anambra governorship election, the Ekiti and Osun coming up in 2022.

“I think we may have to be careful of jumping into conclusions until we see the communication from the President to the National Assembly. Because he wouldn’t just decline assent to the bill without reasons and the President has experts from different walks of life that will advise him on any issue including this Electoral Act amendment bill.

“I am sure by the time we see those reasons, perhaps those reasons may be germane, perhaps, they may be things that the National Assembly might have overlooked when they were considering the bill,” Ereke said.

Ezenwa Nwagu, executive director of Partners for Electoral Reforms, described the decline of assent as the subversion and attack on the investment of time, energy and resources of multi-stakeholders initiative that was put into ensuring free, fair and credible elections in the country, which the President has always promised.

Efforts to get the position of the House of Representatives on the matter proved abortive as the House spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu, had not returned calls or replied to text messages sent to his mobile number at the time of this report.