When new electoral bill exacerbates executive, legislative mistrust
Coming a few days after President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), after 17 years in the works at both chambers of the National Assembly, the impression created by last Monday’s refusal of the presidency to sign the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 into law was that the development was a fallout of the Executive/Legislative face-off that has come to define Nigeria’s political space since the emergence of the current administration.
The refusal of the oil bill raised dusts on the genuineness of the commitment of the Buhari administration to rectify identified problems within the petroleum sector that drives the nation’s economy, as critics alleged that the President was only worried about reduction of his power of control while government stated that the bill, as proposed, would further embolden oil majors to perpetrate economic sabotage.
Against this background of a controversial bill rejection touching some raw nerves in Nigeria’s mix of politics and economy, Senator Ita Enang, Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters, said in a statement titled “Presidential decision to decline assent to Electoral 9Amendment) Bill, 2018” that the step was taken because of some “drafting issues that remained unaddressed.”
It was the third time in the year that Buhari would be rejecting the electoral bill which in the second quarter of the year, raised tension when the lawmakers attempted to reorder poll sequence in a way critics saw as putting the President in a disadvantaged position to win 2019.
The Supreme Court however temporarily resolved the reordering issue, which the executive said amounted to usurping the constitutional power of the electoral body and which also pitched members of the ruling party against one another, before the lawmakers expunged it from the draft.
In what looks like a cat and mouse game, both the executive and the legislature are nursing distrust against each other, thereby carrying into the hallowed chambers, the destructive politics that reared its head at the formative stage of the Buhari administration when fault lines in the merger of the legacy platforms that formed the ruling party became widened.
With only a few months to the election and expectations that all issues pertaining to the exercise ought to have been resolved by now, the fresh controversy engendered a lot of acrimony in the political space with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accusing Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) of planning to sabotage the process and other stakeholders expressing fear that the election might not even take place.
In the statement, Enang justified the rejection pointing out that, “There is a cross-referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill.
The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A).”
The presidential aide argued that if signed into law, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would have only nine days to prepare the list of candidates for an election stressing: “The proposed amendment to include a new Section 87 (14) which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held has the unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well as manage the primaries of 91 political parties for the various elections.
“This is because the Electoral Amendment bill does not amend sections 31, 34 and 85, which stipulates times for the submission of lists of candidates, publication of lists of candidates and notice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for elections.’’
By these reasons and others stated by the aide, it is clear that there are obvious oversight on the part of the legislators to present a document that can withstand intense scrutiny by an executive that is suspicious of every move of the lawmakers as the election year draws nearer.
However, because there is a time limit within which the bill must become law if it would be used in the conduct of next round of elections, critics have accused the presidency of unnecessary delay of action since the last draft was submitted to it on the 3rd of August taking a full month before the rejection was made public.
There are therefore suspicions that the presidency may not be interested in making the bill operational for the 2019 elections, a move that opposition politicians view as an attempt to undermine not only the genuine interest of the legislature to sanitise the electoral system but also to call the integrity of the process to question.
The bill was sponsored by Suleiman Nasif, who heads the Senate Committee on INEC and the joint committees of the two chambers to amend some aspects of the Electoral Law and introduce new ones to facilitate smooth conduct of elections with a view to making it more credible.
Indeed there are landmark amendments in the proposed bill that seek to change the narrative in election management, create a better atmosphere for a free and fair exercise and seek to promote and protect the integrity of the processes, while addressing some of the lacunas that have been observed in the country’s democratic experiment.
For instance, the new bill addressed the issue of unexpected death of a candidate coasting home to victory on Election Day and how to have a substitute to avoid another kind of controversy and legal tussle that followed the demise of former governor, Abubakar Audu while his election as Kogi State governor was being concluded three years ago.
The sudden death of Audu and the argument over who was to replace him between his running mate, James Faleke and the runner-up in his party’s governorship primaries, Yahya Bello led to a legal tussle that even had defeated PDP candidate, Idris Wada, claiming victory in the exercise.
Although in resolving this matter, gladiators followed the case to the Supreme Court, many people still hold that a political, rather than a legal solution was preferred.
To avoid a repeat of the scenario, a new Sub-section (3) was added to Section 36 of the Electoral Act that deals with death of a candidate seeking to empower INEC to suspend elections in cases “where a nominated candidate dies after commencement of an election but before the declaration of the final result for a period not exceeding 21 days upon being satisfied of the death.”
Instead of going back to a primary long concluded to bring a fresh candidate as was the case in Kogi, the new addition also proposed that the affected political party shall, within 14 days of the death of the candidate, conduct a fresh primary to replace the deceased.
A new Sub-section (4) was also added to Section 112 that deals with council election recommending the same treatment in the case of the demise of a council chairman before the conclusion of an election he is winning or before the oath of office after being declared the winner.
Proponents of the proposed bill argued further that the new amendment would further reinforce Section 141 of the Electoral Act, which stipulates that nobody shall be declared winner of any election unless such a person actively participated in all the stages of the electoral process.
To strengthen the integrity of the process, the proposed amendment also added a new Section (76a), which invalidates an election in which INEC fails to record details of electoral materials such as the quantities, serial numbers, particulars of result sheets and other sensitive materials.
The new addition also recommends imprisonment without an option of fine, for any presiding officer that announced results of an election that didn’t follow the procedure.
And to reflect the prevailing economic realities, the proposed bill increased the amount stated on Section 91 of the Electoral Act on “Limitation on Election Expenses” raising the maximum election cost for the president from N1b to N5b, that of the governor from N200m to N1b, Senator from N40m to N100m, member House of Representatives from N20m to N70m and State Assembly member from N10m to N30m.
Under this proposed section also, in Sub-section 91 (9), the maximum amount that can be donated to a campaign fund has been increased from one million naira to ten million while Sub-section 91 (10) recommends a fine of one percent of the limit permitted to a candidate who contravenes the section and could also be imprisoned for a period of twelve months.
While the Presidency in a letter addressed to the two chambers urged the lawmakers to correct the pointed observations early enough for assent within the time frame for next elections, stakeholders wonder how that would be possible as the lawmakers are on recess.
The proposed corrections from the Presidency would have to be rectified by the plenary of the two chambers and with the thick air of politics in the environment, the yet unresolved issue of when the legislature would reconvene and the lingering mistrust between the two arms of government, it is doubtful if the bill could get Buhari’s signature early enough.
The PDP has however urged the lawmakers to override the President on the matter, saying through its Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan: “The clerical and drafting arguments put forward by President Buhari could not in any way outweigh the importance of amendments meant to engender free, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2019.
“The PDP therefore charges the National Assembly to stand with Nigerians in the overall quest for credible elections by immediately overriding President Buhari on the bill.”
But would withholding assent on the bill have any significant effect on the 2019 elections as the PDP, which accused Buhari of attempts at truncating democracy by the action, is claiming?
Many respondents to the question didn’t think so but they are united in the call for both the executive and the legislature to have oneness of purpose on matters that concern governance in Nigeria, instead of being divided along the lines of selfish political ambitions.
One of the main supporters of the proposed bill, former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, once declared in an interview with The Guardian, that the proposals are capable of entrenching credibility in the country’s electoral system.
Osoba, who was the chairman of the committee that drafted the APC Constitution, expressed so much hope in the new bill stressing that with it, a new dawn would be created for electoral values in Nigeria.
As it is, the ball has been kicked by the Presidency to the court of the lawmakers to correct the “typographical errors” and see to the oversights, so that the new lease that the amendments proposed could be attained.