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Perspectives on Buhari’s fresh war on democracy

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
10 December 2018   |   4:21 am
Here is what the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari reveals concerning his decision to sweep the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill into the dungeon: He is not interested in preserving or promoting democracy.

Buhari (middle); Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari (left) Dogara, Saraki and governor Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari

• What Electoral Act amendment bill means for 2019 poll
Here is what the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari reveals concerning his decision to sweep the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill into the dungeon: He is not interested in preserving or promoting democracy. He has been taking Nigerians for a ride, typical of the military man that he is, and wants to condone political corruption by shunning initiatives aimed at ensuring electoral fidelity.      
Painfully, the president does not seem to place any premium on Executive versus Legislature harmony. By declining assent to the beleaguered bill barely 60 days to the 2019 general election and after three previous declamations, Buhari seems also to exhibit crass superciliousness and nonchalance towards the work of the Nigerian parliament.
It is on record that on each of the three previous occasions when Buhari refused to append his signature on the bill, which is supposed to be a working legal document to moderate the processes pertaining to next year’s election, members of the National Assembly tended to bend backwards to accommodate his deductions and suggestions.

The most notable objection by the president was on the issue of sequence of elections. Tending to cry more than the bereaved, Buhari cited the perceived usurpation of the constitutional responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as reason for his refusal to sign the bill.
On a second return, the president noted the clash in some clauses, which allegedly did not only lack elaboration, but reportedly obviated the right of candidates to seek redress during elections. On those occasions the National Assembly, in an unbecoming show of patriotic unanimity, expunged the offending sections, only for the president to refuse endorsement.
And, knowing that the legislative body comprises members from diverse constituencies in the federation, what Buhari has done amounts to raising himself above the 469 federal lawmakers in a show of open disdain for democracy.
If the president was prepared to work collaboratively with the National Assembly to get that piece of important legislation off the mill for national progress, the Presidency and members of National Assembly could have, over a dinner, or any such meeting, ironed out areas of differences to smoothen the process of cleaning up the Electoral Act.
In the absence of such confabulation and given the death knell on the bill, the president has put himself out as not being different from every other opportunistic politician. It is obvious that ever since the lawmakers decided to tinker with the Electoral Act and address perceived and observed anomalies in the law, the president remained uncooperative, thereby giving himself out as a danger to democracy.

Shunning Saraki’s counsel
At a point when it became evident that some parochial political forces were inclined to supporting Buhari’s decision to decline assent, President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, urged the president to rather decline the advice of anti-democratic elements, who were piling up pressure on him not to give assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill.
Describing the forces against presidential assent as anti-democratic elements, Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, pleaded with President Buhari “to rise above petty politics and act in the best interest of the country and its democracy by signing the Electoral Bill into law.”
The fact that the president dillydallied to the last minute of the one month window stipulated by the Constitution for the bill to receive Presidential attention, Buhari proved skeptics wrong that he was not working to appropriate flaws in the Electoral Act to rig himself back into office.
The president has been avowing his desire to ensure that the 2019 poll is not only free and fair, but also credible in line with international standards. Nevertheless, what the president, who is touted to be imbued with integrity, has not commented upon is the apprehension even in the international community that his ambition for another term would predispose him to seek unfair advantages at the poll.
After withholding assent to the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill for a record four times, the President has left no one in doubt that he means business to secure a second term at the expense of a credible process. By his obdurate stance, Buhari has passed across some unmistakable hints to Nigerians that next year’s election would be a battle between democratic openness and despotic imposition.
In the first place, the president wants to show the country’s federal lawmakers that when it comes to presidential system of government, he is the real deal and that, as a former military ruler, he is prepared to take power by force.
But being at the core of a credible 2019 poll, the president is simply saying to the legislators that he is not a Goodluck Jonathan who could fold his hands and decline to appropriate more than 40 per cent of the enormous powers available to a Nigeria president to diffuse any gang up.As such President Buhari has, by declining assent to the bill, declared war on democracy and challenged Nigerians to do their worse.

Possible implications
THE rejection of 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill came at a time when details of the imperfections of the 2015 poll are still haunting the public. It has been variously reported that loopholes in the 2010 Electoral Act presented political parties, especially the APC opportunity to earn dubious ballots from unaccredited voters.
Although 31,746,490 were recorded as accredited voters in the election, analysis reveals that 13,536,311 voters cast their ballots without biometric accreditation. It was also seen that President Buhari got the largest haul from the imprecise voters to the extent that 75 per cent of the votes that returned him as winner came from unaccountable voters.
It is therefore apparent that President Buhari’s resolve to stonewall every attempt to rectify the leakages in the Electoral Act is motivated by his desire to cling to ghost voters that gifted him 2015 victory.The president seems to be emboldened by the division within the National Assembly, which gives the impression that attaining the two-thirds majority of the lawmakers needed to veto the president’s decision would be improbable.
But if neither the Green nor Red Chambers could boast of majority legislators to reshape the leadership of the bi-cameral federal legislatures, attempt to override President Buhari’s declamation, it would show who among the lawmakers are on the side of democracy and those against it.The presidency plans to present the 2019 appropriation to the National Assembly. Coming shortly after the president’s affront on a joint project of the two chambers, the planned budget could become a new pawn in the Executive versus Legislature confrontation.

It would be recalled that shortly after the two chambers of the National Assembly announced their last annual vacation, the Presidency mounted the campaign for early resumption in the interest of approving INEC budget for the 2019 poll.Now that the national budget is being expected at a joint session of the National Assembly, it is possible that majority of the lawmakers would move for a filibuster as a strong message to the Presidency that one bad turn could well deserve another.
In the event of such probable showdown, the 2019 poll would be imperiled to the relief of the Presidency, which has indicated obvious unwillingness to allow Nigerians the free expression of their constitutional rights to elect their leaders in a free and fair election.Conversely, the two chambers of National Assembly could degenerate into fisticuffs between those siding Buhari and those insisting that the 2019 election must be credible, free and fair. Depending on what eventually happens to the Electoral Act amendment bill, chances are that the ruling APC stands the risk of ending its four years on the same quarrelsome and wasteful note as it started.
Unless the amendment stands and full biometric accreditation is made the lowest common denominator in the electoral process, the 2019 poll could end up producing civil disobedience. Retaining the faulty Electoral Act is tantamount to a declaration of war on democracy an ugly prospect Nigerians can ill-afford, as it painfully reminds them of the hard fought democracy they earned in 1999 after years of military rule in which Buhari played a major role ingloriously bringing about in 1983.