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Electoral Act: Pressure mounts on Buhari amid concerns president may decline assent for the fifth time

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NIGERIANS are mounting pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law. The bill was passed by the National Assembly on November 9 and subsequently transmitted to the president on November 19.

The pressure is being mounted on Buhari amid concerns that he may repeat the scenario that played out on four different occasions when he refused to sign the amended electoral bill in the build-up to the 2019 general elections.

The president has until December 19 – 30 days from the date it was transmitted to him – to sign the bill into law. Should he refuse to assent to the bill, he would write the National Assembly to state his reasons.


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If at the end of the 30 days the president has not signed the bill, the National Assembly can pass it into law with two-thirds majority votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

But a situation where the National Assembly overrides the president’s possible refusal to sign the bill is unlikely as the leadership of the legislative arm of government, particularly the Senate, is known to be overtly submissive to Buhari and has oftentimes done his biddings.

Also, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly. In the same vein, there are reports that state governors across party lines are uncomfortable with the provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries and as a result are lobbying against the signing of the amendment bill.

Buhari has not made his feelings known concerning the amendment bill but he has reportedly written the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mahmoud Yakubu to seek advice on the amendment bill. It was also reported that the president has sought the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami.

Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President Garba Shehu had disclosed that Buhari was consulting with ‘relevant stakeholders’ before signing the bill.

However, Nigerians, including political activists and leaders of civil society organisations, are insisting that Buhari should sign the bill without delay.

Presidential spokesman Shehu did not identify the ‘relevant stakeholders’ being consulted by Buhari but stakeholders in the electoral system who spoke with The ICIR stressed that if the president must engage in consultations over the bill, the only people that should be consulted would be Nigerians who they said had already expressed their wish in the amendment bill which was forwarded to him by the National Assembly.

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Secretary General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) – the umbrella body of all registered political parties in the country – Willy Ezeugwu, in an interview with The ICIR, doubted Buhari’s sincerity in his often repeated pledge to reform of the country’s electoral system.

Ezeugwu observed that the Buhari administration had not been listening to Nigerians and suggested that the ongoing consultations over the amendment bill was a sign that the president was ignoring the people.

The CNPP scribe said, “The unfortunate thing is this is a government that does not listen to the people, a government which does not go in the direction that the people it is leading wants to go. It is a government where officials lie to the people. A government that has swallowed the legislature and the judiciary. Nigerians have spoken, they have said what they want but this is a government which is deaf to the cries of the people.

“The National Assembly has forwarded the amended electoral bill to the president and he is now writing to INEC. To ask for what? Why can’t he look at what people are crying for?”

Secretary-General of CNPP Willy Ezeugwu

Ezeugwu said the reform of the electoral system – through the signing of the amendment bill – was the only opportunity left for Buhari to redeem himself.

“The only thing that can redeem Buhari’s name in history after all he has done to the country is for him to give Nigerians free and fair election. If he can summon courage to give Nigerians free and fair election, I think every other thing he has done to this country can be forgiven.”

Also speaking with The ICIR, Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) Eze Onyekpere noted that while it was not abnormal for the president to consult before signing a bill, the issue was “how long the consultations will last.”

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Urging the president to honour the wishes of Nigerians by immediately signing the bill, Onyekpere noted that Buhari and the APC might be taking Nigerians for a ride.

He said, “Our president has a history of not supporting reform bills. You could remember what he did in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The Saraki-led National Assembly amended the Electoral Act four times and each time Buhari kept dribbling until the last moment saying it was too late to the elections.”

Director Centre for Social Justice Eze Onyekpere

“The president and the APC are not known to support anything that supports the reform of the electoral system so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are playing games. But it is up to Nigerians to put pressure on him. He has to sign it this time. He has no choice,” Onyekpere added.

Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Chairman of the board of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) Auwal Rafsanjani, in an interview with The ICIR, insisted that Buhari should consult Nigerians and not politicians who were the ones benefiting from the flawed electoral system.

“Nigerians have spoken – they sent memoranda, they attended public hearings and they have expressed their views on radio, television and different fora and it is only right that the president should consider their views and not bow to the whims of the few people who benefit from manipulation of the electoral system. If the president is going to consult, he should consult the Nigerian people even though the Nigerian people have already spoken their mind.”

Executive Director CISLAC Auwal Rafsanjani

According to Rafsanjani, Buhari must listen to the voters who were the victims of electoral fraud in Nigeria.

“If he is going to consult those who are beneficiaries of electoral fraud, then we are not going to make progress and it will be contradictory to his promises to bequeath Nigerians with a reformed electoral system,” he added, noting that Buhari had, in several pronouncements, expressed a desire for a transparent, credible electoral system.

“The amendment bill would guarantee that, so there is no need to waste time before assenting to the bill,” Rafsanjani said.

* Buhari’s disturbing history of declining assent to Electoral Act amendment bills

Buhari has severally assured Nigerians that he would reform the country’s electoral system.

He reiterated the pledge during the inauguration of the APC Presidential Campaign Council in January 2019 when he said: “If there is one legacy I want to leave, it is the enthronement of democracy as a system of government. And for democracy to be enthroned elections must be free and fair. That means that candidates have a right to vote for candidates of their choice without intimidation in any form. We will keep insisting that votes must count.”

Nigerians believe Buhari now has an opportunity to leave a legacy of free, fair and credible elections by signing the amendment bill into law.

But a major concern is that Buhari has had the same opportunity on several occasions in the past without making good on his pledge to reform the electoral system.

On four occasions in 2018, the Eighth National Assembly led by then Senate President Bukola Saraki had passed and transmitted Electoral Act amendment bills to Buhari for assent and, on each occasion, he refused to sign.

On the first occasion in February 2018, Buhari rejected the amendment bill because of provisions that reordered the sequence of elections.

A second amendment bill passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and transmitted to Buhari in June 2018 was not considered at all.

For the third time, in July 2018, Buhari again refused to sign another version of the amendment bill passed and transmitted to him by the National Assembly citing concerns over increased cost of conducting elections, among other issues.

In December 2018, Buhari, for the fourth time, declined assent to the amendment bill, after the National Assembly had addressed all the reasons he gave for refusing to sign on the previous occasions.

In a letter dated December 6, 2018, and addressed to Senate President Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, Buhari said he would not sign the electoral bill into law at a time the country was preparing for the 2019 elections as, according to him, doing so would cause confusion and lead to uncertainty in the polity. He promised to sign the bill after the 2019 elections.

Reflecting on Buhari’s refusal to sign the amendment bill into law on previous occasions, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa) Idayat Hassan told The ICIR that the president had no excuse for refusing to assent to the bill this time.

Speaking in an interview with The ICIR, Hassan said Buhari had enough time now, unlike in December 2018 when he claimed that it would not be proper to sign the bill in the build-up to the 2019 elections.

CDD-West Africa director Idayat Hassan

Hassan urged Buhari to do the right thing by assenting to the amendment bill.

She said, “The president should write his name in glowing colours as someone who deepened the reform of the electoral system in Nigeria and the only way to do that is by signing the amended Electoral Act. If not, he will be the president who declined assent to three amendments to the Electoral Act, including the one he did in the build-up to the 2019 elections, blaming time factor. Now he has enough time.”

The pressure on Buhari to sign the amendment bill is coming from a cross section of Nigerians, including the organised labour.

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), in a letter to the president dated November 23, 2021, titled ‘Please assent to the Electoral Bill,’ noted that state governors and other selfish interests were putting pressure on Buhari to reject the bill largely due to the provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries.

Labour leader Ayuba Wabba, in the letter, urged Buhari to demonstrate courage and leadership by signing the bill.

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1 COMMENT

  1. This is a test of PMB sincerity for better democracy. I pray that he sign the bill to redeem his image. If he can not protect Nigerians from banditry, then he should be able to sign to entrench democracy and the wish of the people. Weather he sign it or not – In God We Trust. Long Live federal Republic of Nigeria

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