2023 GOVERNORSHIP AND
STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
Senate fails to override Buhari’s rejection of the Electoral Amendment
Contrary to public expectations of Nigerians that the National Assembly would initiate moves to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s rejection of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021, the two chambers of the national legislature went on Christmas and New Year holidays without any commitment on the matter.
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, disclosed after an executive session, on December 22, that the lawmakers will take the matter to their constituencies during Christmas and New Year holidays before deciding on the next line of action. The House of Representatives led by Femi Gabajabiamila, also toed the path of the Senate and deferred debate on the bill till when it reconvenes on January 18, 2022.
The Senate had raised the hope of Nigerians that the lawmakers would override President Buhari’s decline to assent the bill by invoking Section 58(5) of the 1999 Constitution. The hope was inspired by Senator George Sekibo, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member representing Rivers East, who told the press that 73 senators across party lines had signed the document to veto President Buhari’s rejection of the bill.
Section 58(5) of the constitution says 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 the assent of the President shall not be required.”
With the signatures of 73 senators already affixed on the document to override President Buhari, it means that the upper chamber has already mustered the two-thirds it needs for the exercise. The question therefore is, why didn’t the process of overriding the presidential assent on the bill commence?
As disappointing as the actions of the Senate and House of Representatives is to Nigerians who genuinely desired a new electoral law before the 2023 general elections, the fact is that it is not altogether surprising that the Electoral Amendment Bill 2021 has been left twisting in the wind.
In fact, keen followers of the legislative/Executive relationship, especially that of the Senate since the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly expected such a volte-face move from the Ahmed Lawan-led Senate.
The Senate President has said it, loudly, time and again that the 9th Senate will always support the President Buhari-led administration to achieve its agenda and will pass whatever bill the administration laid before it in that regard.
One such analyst is the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) and Chairman of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Ahmed Musa Rafsanjani, who expresses the view that the 9th Senate cannot deliver anything substantial on deepening democracy in Nigeria.
Rafsanjani said, “The Chairmanship of Ahmad Lawan of the 9th National Assembly has been a cause for debate, less so because of the new found romance between the National Assembly and the Presidency after a tumultuous relationship with the Saraki led National Assembly.’
He notes that while harmonious relationship between the executive and legislature is good for the smooth running of affairs of a country, the one that exists between Lawan and Buhari is injurious to the separation of powers and checks and balances.
He said, “While a good working relationship between the executive and legislature is good for the smooth running of affairs of a country, there is a limit allowed by the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. An Ahmed Lawan Chairmanship of the National Assembly, doesn’t seem concerned with these principles as he publicly stated that ‘any request from President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly is good for the nation.’ This shows an unwillingness on his part to invoke the powers of the National Assembly to scrutinise the actions and inactions of the executive arm of government.”
The failure of the lawmakers to veto president Buhari does not come as a surprise for another reason.
It is on record that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 passed in October 2021, and whose major components are electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and direct primary as the mode through which political parties will elect their candidates for elective offices, is more of the dividend of a long-term struggle by Nigerians, civil society and pro-democracy groups, not necessarily a legislative initiative to deepen democracy in the country. This also raises the question, why does the Senate which may not necessarily have the feeling of ownership of the bill, push for its realisation.
The argument is that Nigerians have already expressed their feelings on the bill when they agitated for it through advocacy and enlightenment of the electorate. It is unlikely they have changed their mind on those feelings. Why then are the lawmakers throwing in the excuse that they want to “take the matter to their constituencies during Christmas and New Year holidays before deciding on the next line of action.”
It is also a matter of public record that the Senate was never keen on passing the two key components of the Electoral act amendment Bill – electronic transmission of election results and direct primary.
During the clause by clause consideration of the bill in July 2021,
the Senate rejected the clause 52(3) of the bill which gave INEC the power to transmit election results through electronic means. It rather conferred the power to decide on electronic transmission of election results on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), which it said must certify that there is adequate mobile national network coverage for the transmission of the election result, after which the National Assembly will rectify the decision. The Senate also rejected the compulsory direct primary as mode for political parties to choose their candidates for election.
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It is the House of Representatives that voted in favour of INEC to transmit election results electronically and compulsory direct primary for political parties.
It was in October that after months of public outrage that the Senate bowed to public pressure and adopted electronic transmission of election results and direct primary. A conference committee later met and harmonised the reports of the House of Representatives on electronic transmission.
Thus, ownership of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, as it is, lie firstly with the people of Nigeria who pushed for it, the House of Representatives that bought into it, before the reluctant Senate that was pressured into adopting it.
Need to pass bill
The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) in the meantime has urged Nigerians not to allow the contentious direct primary defeat the main essence of the bill.
President of the group, Dr Pogu Bitrus said the electronic transmission of election results would add more value and must not be sacrificed on the altar of direct primary. He urged the lawmakers to expunge the controversial clause and re-present it to Buhari for assent.
He said, “Mr President raised some issues with the direct primary, there are two major components of that bill, electronic transmission of election results and direct primary. He did not complain about electronic transmission of election results which means he is okay with it. “The National Assembly should do the needful, expunge the contentious issue of direct primary from the electoral bill and send it back before he will come up with the same excuse he gave in 2018 that the bill was amended very close to the general election.”
He said Nigerians desire an electoral act that will ensure free, fair and credible elections and cannot afford to sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act (amendment) Bill.
He said, ”we cannot sit back and allow one contentious clause to throw away all the positives in the proposed Electoral Act (amendment) Bill. At this point, two options are open to the National Assembly. They either veto the president’s decline of assent or remove the contentious provision on direct primaries and send it back to the president for his assent. “Whichever option our legislators choose, can be accomplished in the shortest possible time. We could have a new electoral law in January 2022.”
The bill is core to democracy
Saraki and Pogu argue that everything possible should be done to ensure that the electronic transmission of election result is passed.
According to them, the electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021will lead to a credible, free, fair, and peaceful process of electing leaders as well as ensure that their votes truly count in the election.
Saraki said, “This proposed electoral law is expected to reassure the youths, many of whom steer clear of the political process because they have no confidence in the system. They believe the system is usually rigged and compromised. “One way to bring this active demography into the political system is to enact a new law that will give them hope in our nation. This Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill serves that purpose. This is why, as the representatives of the Nigerian people, the National Assembly must take a decision in the interest of our nation and its long-term democracy.”
Pogu added that electronic transmission of election results will ease out most of the returning officers who he said, perpetrate most of the electoral fraud.
He said, “This will cut out all this returning officers, make the election more credible and transparent as well as reduce cost. A lot of money is wasted on returning officers where all the fraud is committed, where 10 become 1,000 or even 10,000. Our election will be better and our democracy will move forward if we have electronic transmission of results, President Buhari has not objected to that.”
As Nigerians wait for the National Assembly to resume in January 2022, Dr Bitrus has warned that time is critical.
“Nigerians must not allow President Buhari to use the issues he raised with direct primary to become an excuse to jettison the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. The National Assembly should do the needful, expunge the contentious issue of direct primary from the electoral bill and send it back before he will come up with the same excuse he gave in 2018 that the bill was amended very close to the general election”, he said.
Contents provided and/or opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine or any employee thereof.
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