THE 30-day period for President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law expired on December 19 with uncertainty surrounding the fate of the proposed legislation.
The presidency did not respond when contacted by The ICIR over the development on December 19.
Calls to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Garba Shehu were not answered and a text message sent to him was not replied as of the time of filing this report.
The ICIR in the SMS sent to Shehu asked whether Buhari had taken a decision on the bill.
The Electoral Act Amendment Bill was forwarded to the president by the National Assembly on November 19. With the bill yet to be signed into law within the stipulated 30-day period – which expired on December 19 – it is expected that the president will write the National Assembly to explain his reasons for withholding assent, although there are also suggestions that he may decide to sign the legislation after the stipulated time.
The National Assembly can decide to override the presidential veto and pass the amendment bill into law with two-thirds majority votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
However, the National Assembly is set to go on recess for the Yuletide on December 21 and would not resume until the third week of January 2022, a development which has heightened the uncertainty over the fate of the amendment bill.
The National Assembly would have gone on recess on December 16 if not for delay in the passage of the 2022 budget.
But it is highly unlikely that the National Assembly would decide to override the president by moving to pass the bill with two-thirds majority, even though the lawmakers are believed to be pushing for the introduction of the contentious provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries by political parties.
Members of the National Assembly believe that direct primaries would whittle down the enormous influence wielded by governors in the selection of political party candidates for elections through the indirect primary model.
On the other hand, the governors, determined to maintain their influence, are opposing the passage of the electoral bill and are lobbying the president to reject the provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries.
Senate spokesman Ajibola Basiru has ruled out a face-off between the National Assembly and Buhari over the amendment bill.
Speaking on Arise Television on December 14, Basiru said the National Assembly would not go to war with Buhari over the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
“When the president takes the decision (on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill) whatever the generality of the National Assembly thinks, we all will know. I think it is too early to seek to put us on a war path with the president.”
Basiru at the same time added that the National Assembly would take a decision in the best interest of the country, irrespective of the president’s attitude concerning the amendment bill.
Following the transmission of the amendment bill by the National Assembly, Buhari had consulted ‘relevant stakeholders’ for advice on the proposed legislation.
The stakeholders included: the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mahmood Yakubu and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
INEC chairman Yakubu urged the president to assent to the bill.
Malami, in his advise to the president, reportedly highlighted problems that would arise with the inclusion of a provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The AGF reportedly told the president that compelling all the political parties to conduct direct primaries could cause confusion.
Buhari is expected to return from Turkey – where he just celebrated his 79th birthday while on an official visit – on December 19.
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of over 70 civil society organisations (CSOs) working in support of credible and transparent elections in the country, has urged him to assent to the bill immediately he arrives Aso Rock.
The Situation Room, in a statement jointly signed by its convener Ene Obi and co-conveners Asma’u Joda and James Ugochukwu, in the same vein, asked the National Assembly to override Buhari, should he decline to assent to the amendment bill.
The coalition said, “We urge the president to sign the bill into law without delay and it will still be within his prerogative to bring fresh amendments after signing the bill, like he did with the Petroleum Industry Bill which he was highly commended for.
“It is not in doubt that President Buhari has till Sunday to assent to the bill. We urge the National Assembly, in the interest of Nigerians, to veto the President should he refuse to assent to the bill. The National Assembly has the power and they should use it this time around.”
The CSOs in the coalition include Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), CLEEN Foundation, Action Aid Nigeria, Centre for Women and Adolescent Empowerment, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), African Centre for Entrepreneurship and Information Development (ACEIDEV), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC) and Justice Development and Peace Commission (JPDC).
The coalition condemned the action of some governors who were asking the president to decline assent to the amendment bill, which it described as one of the most significant pieces of legislation made by the Ninth Assembly.
* Has Buhari declined assent for fifth time?
Should Buhari eventually fail to sign the bill, it would be the fifth time he would decline assent to the amendment of the Electoral Act.
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.