NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari has a sixth opportunity to implement electoral reforms in the country after the National Assembly transmitted the amended Electoral Act Amendment Bill to him for assent into law.
The National Assembly transmitted the bill to Buhari on January 31, according to a statement signed by Senior Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters Babajide Omoworare.
Transmission of the bill to the president by the National Assembly was in line with provisions of Section 58 (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2 LFN 2004.
From the date of transmission, Buhari has 30 days to sign the bill into law, and in the event that he again refuses to do so, he will write the National Assembly to explain his reasons for withholding assent.
If Buhari again refuses to assent to the bill, the National Assembly can decide to override the presidential veto and pass the bill into law with two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The lawmakers failed to heed calls from Nigerians to override the president when Buhari refused to sign the electoral bill in December 2021.
Buhari said a clause which mandated political parties to adopt the direct primary model for election of candidates for elective positions was the reason he refused to sign the bill into law.
Forcing political parties to adopt direct primaries “violates the spirit of democracy,” Buhari said.
According to him, direct primaries would hike the cost of elections and place huge financial burden on political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He also argued that compulsory adoption of direct primaries violated the rights of the political parties to decide the model through which they wish to elect their flagbearers especially as many parties already have constitutions which provide for different methods of primary elections.
Buhari also pointed to security implications of holding direct primaries in parts of the country as one of the factors that informed his refusal to assent to the bill.
To address Buhari’s concerns, the National Assembly upon resumption after its Yuletide recess moved quickly to amend the bill.
On January 25, the National Assembly passed the amended electoral bill which provided political parties with three models of primary elections – direct, indirect and consensus.
The amended electoral bill provided strict guidelines for the implementation of the different primary election models.
The guidelines are meant to prevent imposition of candidates on political parties.
The statement released by the presidency on January 31 to acknowledge the transmission of the electoral bill to Buhari was titled ‘Transmission of the Electoral Bill 2022.’
The statement read, “The Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Olatunde Amos Ojo, has transmitted the authenticated copies of the Electoral Bill 2022 to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, on 31st January 2022.
“This was done in accordance with the provisions of Section 58 (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Acts Authentication Act Cap. A2 LFN 2004.
“Mr. President had withheld assent to the Electoral Bill 2021 transmitted to him on 19th November 2021. The electoral bill was thereafter reworked by the National Assembly and both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the same on 25th January 2022.”
* Buhari refused to sign electoral bill into law on five consecutive occasions
The latest transmission of the electoral bill to Buhari is the sixth time he (Buhari) will be presented with the task of signing the legislation which is aimed at reforming the country’s electoral system.
The December 2021 episode was the fifth time Buhari refused to sign the electoral bill into law.
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 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.
Buhari in the letter promised to sign the bill after the 2019 elections but when presented with the opportunity in December 2021 he once again declined assent.
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 are hoping that Buhari will now sign the electoral bill into law without delay for INEC to start preparations for the 2023 general elections.
INEC had said it would not release the timetable for the 2023 general election until the electoral bill was signed into law.
INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu, at a consultative meeting with political parties in Abuja on January 19, while noting that Buhari has expressed a commitment to sign the law, said: “As soon as it (electoral bill) is signed into law, the Commission will quickly release the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general elections based on the new law.”