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Electoral bill 2018 and 2019 uncertainty

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[FILE PHOTO] President Muhammadu Buhari

For the fourth straight time President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018. The National Assembly had re-passed the bill on July 24 and transmitted same to the president on the 3rd of August 2018. When the president withheld assent in September he requested that some clauses should be amended and some errors corrected. We presume that those errors have been corrected and it was after the tinkering that the final document was sent to the president.

This was done according to the Clerk of the National Assembly on November 7. It is this re-worked bill that the president has rejected much to the chagrin of the Nigerian people. In his letter, which conveyed his rejection of the latest version he observed that signing the bill into law at this time would ‘create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process’ of the general elections scheduled for February next year.

Different stakeholders in the country have condemned the president’s action. The opposition political parties under the ambit of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) have alleged that the ruling party has some hidden agenda.  The main opposition party, the PDP has also decried the president’s action saying that the APC is afraid of facing the electorate in a free and fair election. On the other side of the divide is the APC and three other political parties, which have argued that there will not be enough time to study, understand and implement its provisions. There is no need for politicking with what ought to be a straightforward matter.

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Both the executive and legislative arms are fiddling with the destiny of the Nigerian people. This whole process started last March. If they were serious about their duties, especially as the ruling party had a majority in the National Assembly they would have completed the process before now. Nigerians are yet to know the new provisions of the amended Bill. The general idea is that the amended Act would give INEC the power to adopt electronic voting and reduce the level of fraud. Some of the critical areas numbering 45 clauses in all include the order of the general elections, use of the Smart card and electronic technology, transmitting results of votes directly from polling stations, mode and method of results announcement and proclamation of victory, notice of election at least 150 days before the holding of elections in the states, empowering the courts to disqualify a candidate on account of false information in their affidavit and some others.

Indeed, Nigerians are agitated and worried about the state of uncertainty surrounding the 2019 general elections. Whereas INEC says it is ready to conduct the elections under the amended Act (2010) and has submitted a budget proposal, the president in his wisdom believes that the electoral body is unprepared. What is the Executive branch scared of? What exactly is going on between the Executive and Legislative arms of government? Why has the process of amending the Electoral Act dragged on for so long? Is there something the presidency is afraid of in the new provisions that seek to remove impurities from the electoral processes? If the National Assembly is so convinced about the profundity of its work why has the president not been over-ridden by a two third majority? Why have both arms not put the interest of the nation above their pettiness and undue confrontation? Why are they not afraid of the people? Why are the governing party leaders not enthusiastic about using technology to remove election rigging, the bane of the country’s political recruitment?

The Electoral Act is the guide to elections in the country. Its provisions ought to guide all stakeholders before, during and after elections. For too long have politicians made a mess of elections by voting fraud, violence, vote buying, election manipulation, rigging, bullying and thuggery, assassinations, tampering with results, inducing INEC officials and other forms of unethical behaviour. It is nothing new to assert that the average Nigerian politician has no respect for the ballot box. The will of the people is often times trampled on by the so-called elected representatives of the people. This is antithetical to the ideals and practice of democracy. The Electoral laws are supposed to regulate the conduct of the general elections in the country.

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However, all stakeholders know what is ethical, right or wrong in the election process. Most politicians simply adopt ways and means to gain undue advantage in the process. What we need in addition to inscribed laws and regulations is a change of mind and attitude to the voting process. For example, in the 2015 general elections, the card readers were expected to minimize cheating and multiple voting. Sadly, pictures from certain polling booths showed underage voters on the queue to cast their ballots. In some states, all registered voters showed up to vote. Nowhere else in the world does this kind of travesty happen in the name of democracy! Given the fact that the Electoral Act of 2010 did not give INEC the mandate to conduct electronic voting as ruled by the Supreme Court, it becomes mandatory for the amended Act to be passed into law before the February elections.

Meanwhile, the president’s claim that the time is too short for stakeholders to understand and implement the new Act is a subterfuge that even the blind can see through. Why can’t there be an emergency declaration between the executive and the judiciary to conclude the amendment’s grey areas within a week?

In the interest of this great nation, we call on the National Assembly to muster enough strength and stand on the side of the people and on the side of genuine elections. The power of the people as represented by the National Assembly, should be exercised by our legislators to call the president to order. Promoting fraudulent acts whether by design or default is also an act of corruption. By refusing to give assent to the Bill the president is sending a very wrong message to the public. It is not too late to alter course, failing which the National Assembly should do the right thing by overriding the president as the Constitution has given them the power to do so. To return to the old ways without the card-reader safety net, among other benefits, will be a tragedy for the country.


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