Electoral Bill: Governors, NASS in last supremacy battle
• Buhari returns, mum on the decision as Reps set to veto the bill
• NASS ties passing of 2022 budget to amended electoral bill
• CSOs charge NASS to override President before Christmas
• Lawan: Senate will continue to support Buhari
• Governors, national lawmakers in last supremacy battle
The waiting game over the yet to assent amended electoral bill continued yesterday, with the expiration of the 30-day deadline. President Muhammadu Buhari, who had last Thursday jetted out of the country to Turkey returned yesterday, some hours to the deadline.
The purpose of Buhari’s trip to Turkey was to participate in the third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit. On Saturday, the President called on the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit to provide concrete support to defeat terrorism and insurgency in Africa.
Amid heightened anxiety over the decision of the President on the electoral act amendment bill, the Presidency had on Saturday evening said President Buhari would make his decision known soon.
As of now, there is no communication from the President to the National Assembly on whether he will be giving or withholding his assent to the bill.
Barring any last-minute eventuality, the lawmakers will be vacating tomorrow for the Christmas holidays. Resumption is expected to be in the second week of January 2022.
Section 58 (4) of 1999 (as amended) stipulates that: “Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.”
Similarly, Section 58 (5) provides thus: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by a two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
THE seeming reluctance of President Buhari to assent to the amended electoral bill is assuming another dimension, as members of the National Assembly may not pass the 2022 appropriation bill on Tuesday as announced last week.
A lawmaker at the weekend confided in The Guardian that National Assembly deliberately postponed the passing of the budget till next week to give President Buhari till midnight on Sunday when the 30 days deadline, required to assent to the bill or return it to the legislature, elapses.
It was gathered, yesterday, that the House of Representatives may not bat an eyelid in overriding President Buhari on the electoral amended bill.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Jibrin Barau (Kano North), had blamed the failure to pass the appropriation bill on the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to present its budget.
But the source said: “It is possible for us to sign the bill and later look into INEC’s budget and that of the National Population Commission (NPC). It is a political game.”
The contentious direct primary option in the bill, which has pitched the National Assembly against the governors and major political parties, might have put the President in a tight corner on whether to assent to the bill or reject it.
The governors, despite their political differences, are in unison against the direct primary option of electing candidates at the general elections while lawmakers believe the option will allow party members to decide on who represents the party in the election.
The source said the issue at hand would finally put to rest the supremacy tussle between national lawmakers and their governors, emphatically stating that “the governors own the land and we have put our position known to the President apart from problems of logistics and financial implication of making direct primary compulsory for all parties.”
It will be recalled that two major contentious clauses in the bill were the electronic transmission of election results and the direct mode of primaries for political parties to choose their candidates for elections.
Amid the debate on the two clauses, however, the electoral umpire, INEC has repeatedly cleared the air, saying those are no issues. But closet reports say otherwise.
A reliable source confided in The Guardian that lawmakers are disappointed in President Buhari’s disposition to the bill when it was believed that he was the brain behind the direct primary arrangement as his supposed legacy to develop democracy and party politics in Nigeria.
“I can tell you that the President is the major initiator of the bill and we hope President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, would be bold enough to speak on the matter if the President eventually fails to sign the bill as presented to him by the National Assembly.”
In their different reactions to the deadline, some members of the House said they would override the President to make the bill a law.
Ifeanyi Momah, representing Ihiala federal constituency of Anambra State, said: “It is simple. The House should veto. That is the most conscionable and honourable thing to do, considering the level of ‘political awareness’ and ‘get involved’ spirit from everyone.”
Henry Nwawuba, member representing Mbaitolu/Ikeduru federal constituency of Imo State, said: “I will lobby for NASS to override the President. What worries me is that we do not throw the baby away with the bathwater. I will lobby, support and campaign vigorously for us to invoke section 58 subsection 5 of the 1999 Constitution and go ahead and override Mr President so that the bill becomes law.”
Another member of the House, Ogun Sergius Oseasochie (Edo PDP), in a chat with The Guardian, was sceptical that the National Assembly leadership can muster the courage to rally his colleagues to override the President over his refusal to assent to the bill.
Oseasochie, who is a strong advocate for the reform of the electoral system, believed the President’s position on the bill may have been due to the pressure exerted on him by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) opposition to the proposed legislation.
He said: “For me, we still have till the end of Sunday (Sunday) to be able to determine whether the President will assent to the bill or not. When we meet on Tuesday, we will take a stand on the matter.
“However, I am not sure the leadership of the National Assembly as presently constituted has the capacity and courage to override the President. The leadership to a large extent dictates what happens on the floor of both Houses.”
Member representing Obio/Akpor federal constituency of Rivers State, Kingsley Chinda, said: “The President is only toying with the psychology of Nigerians. His problem with the electoral act is not the direct primary but the direct transmission of results from the polling units. They do not want direct transmission and are only using the direct party primary as an excuse.
“I have long lost hope in the ability of the 9th NASS to confront the Executive on behalf of Nigerians when the Senate President unapologetically said that whatever the President wants, he will do. I hope to be disappointed or proved wrong by NASS successfully overriding the President.”
IN sharp contrast to the disposition of the House towards overriding the President on the bill, Senate President, Lawan, yesterday, reiterated that the National Assembly will continue to support President Buhari to deliver on promises made to the Nigerian people. Lawan made the remarks in Gombe at the launch of empowerment programme of Senator Sa’idu Ahmed Alkali for his constituents.
The Senate President said Buhari had never rested for a second in his determination to turn around the fortune of the country. “He is doing his best even though we are still not out of the woods but we have done so much between 2015 and 2021.
“By the Grace of God, the National Assembly will continue to support Mr President to ensure that he delivers on our campaign promises to Nigerians,” Lawan said.
After a rancorous relationship between the Presidency and the Eighth National Assembly, the Ninth Assembly, led by Senator Lawan, resolved to be on the same page with President Buhari on all matters.
The big question now is will the legislators summon the courage to override the President and veto the bill?
Former senator and an erstwhile National Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Senator Alex Kadiri, who represented Kogi East from 1999 to 2003 said: “The President is so weak governors dictate to him. I am in support of the National Assembly to veto the bill if the President refuses to sign it.
“Buhari cannot be bigger than Nigeria. This is a man who came in through direct primary himself. Don’t forget the primary he won in Lagos, they voted throughout the night and Tinubu made sure he won.
“Why is he now opposed to direct primary because the Governors don’t want it. The governors want a situation where delegates would be brought to their capitals so that they will just bribe them overnight. That is all.”
AS the clock ticked away, yesterday, with all eyes and ears trained in the direction of the Presidency, Nigerians believed that a last-minute decision could make a whole world of difference, if nothing else to dispel that snowballing air of apprehension and suspense in the polity.
Responding to the public anxiety over the weekend, the Presidency announced rather flaccidly that President Buhari’s attitude to the much talked about electoral act amendment bill would be communicated very soon.
WITH the suspense in the political space, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), yesterday, accused President Buhari of being the biggest threat to Nigeria’s democracy over alleged failure to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill within 30 days.
The CSOs made the allegation in a statement signed by Executive Director, Adopt A Goal Initiative, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, and endorsed by Convener, Raising New Voices Initiative, Jude Feranmi; Programme Officer, Center For Liberty, Maryam Ahmed; Convener, Speak Out Africa Initiative Kenneth Eze; Executive Director, The Nigerian Alliance, Simi Olusola; and Executive Director, Youth and Students Advocates for Development Initiative (YSAD), Obinna Eze Nwagbara.
According to the statement, the President’s delay in signing the bill has created unpalatable suspense and generated avoidable apprehension, but his inaction may not be the final call after December 19.
The statement reads in part, “It has come to the point where we must tell President Buhari in unmistaken terms that his failure to sign the bill within the 30 days window has exposed him as the biggest threat to the fourth democratic republic, having failed to perform a similar responsibility four times in his first term.
“President Buhari benefitted significantly from some of the electoral reforms initiated by Yar’Adua and signed by Jonathan; if he fails to sign the amended electoral act, History will record him as a major impediment to electoral credibility and governance.
“This is a low hanging lifetime opportunity for the President to salvage his terrible electoral credential.”
The CSOs vowed to storm the National Assembly with the protest on Monday to press for it to override the President in the interest of Nigerians to pass the Bill into law.
“There is a constitutional window opened to the National Assembly to recall the bill and give it the effect of law with a two-thirds number.
“From Monday morning, we will turn to the National Assembly to act in the national interest and pass the bill expeditiously before they embark on the Christmas recess.
“Consequently, the next step is for us as CSOs to take our advocacy to the National Assembly to step in, exhibit courage, recall the bill and ensure they override the President with an accelerated passage before Christmas”, it added.
The statement further reads, “The 9th National Assembly has deferred too much to President Buhari almost to the point of ridicule, so if the President does not respect and reciprocate this gesture, history will be kind to them if they override the President and salvage their own political future.
“This will not be the first time in the last 20 years that the National Assembly will override the President; the 4th legislative session did so and got the NDDC Act passed and operational. The 9th National Assembly has the opportunity of not sharing with the executive the glory that will accompany the new act.”