President Muhammadu Buhari has dared the National Assembly by declining assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, citing constitutional breaches in some of the actions of the lawmakers in the alteration process. This is as the National Assembly is warming up to override his veto. Already, the parliament is seeking legal advice on the matter.
The president, in separate letters read yesterday at the plenaries of the Senate and House of Representatives, justified the rejection of the amendment. Giving reasons for his decision to veto the bill, Buhari said that the amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the Principal Act, might infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution. He also noted that the amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election might be challenged by candidates, imposed undue limitation on the rights of candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.
Buhari further pointed out that the amendment to Section 152 Subsection 3 to 5 of the Principal Act might raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on local government elections. Part of the letter reads: “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate, my decision, on 3rd March 2018, to decline Presidential Assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons include the following: The amendment to the sequence of elections in Section 25 of the principal act, may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of INEC to organize, undertake and supervise elections provided in Section 15(A) of the third statue to the Constitution; “The amendment to Section 138 of the Principal Act to delete two crucial grounds upon which an election may be challenged by candidates, unduly limits the rights of candidate in elections to a free and fair electoral review process; “The amendment to Section 152 Subsection (3)-(5) of the Principal Act may raise Constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.”
The controversy surrounding the amendments to the Electoral Act stems from the insertion of Section 25(1), which now reorders the election sequence different from what INEC has fixed for the 2019 general elections timetable. In the sequence brought out by the INEC in its timetable for 2019, the Presidential and National Assembly elections are to come first, while the governorship and state assembly elections come last.
But in the reordered sequence in the amended Electoral Act, which is now tearing the National Assembly and the Presidency apart, the National Assembly election comes first, followed by governorship and state assemblies, and the Presidential comes last. This has provoked serious agitations within the polity.
The Senate is already factionalized into pro-Buhari and anti- Buhari senators while the executive arm is out to battle the National Assembly over the matter. There are indications that the INEC will be heading for the court to challenge the controversial amendment by the nation’s highest lawmaking institution, just as President Buhari has declined assent to the Bill. New Telegraph learnt that the Presidency has started mobilizing people at the National Assembly to work against the anticipated override from both chambers of the apex parliament.
Meanwhile, New Telegraph investigations reveal that the Senate may override the President Buhari’s veto after due consultations with relevant stakeholders. Our correspondent also learnt that the Senate has resolved to seek legal advice on the decision of Buhari to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
A source close to the Senate said that the apex chamber would be in a better position to take decision on the matter after being properly guided by legal experts. The source, which did not want to be named in print, however, said that there were signals that the lawmakers would summarily override Buhari’s veto because the action of the National Assembly was properly guided. The source said that the essence of seeking legal advice was to get the provisions of the law on the action of the National Assembly and the possible implications if the lawmakers resolved to go against the President.
The source further argued that the amendment to the Electoral Act, which reordered sequence of elections in the country, was done in the best interest of the country and not for any parochial interest.
“We believe that what we have done as a Parliament is in the best interest of the country and not for any selfish reason; and that is why I believe that the Senate will go all out to defend its position. However, the legal advice being sought is to make sure that we do everything within the ambient of the law,” the source stated.
However, spokesman for the Senate, Dr. Aliyu Sabi, at a press briefing after plenary, refused to comment on the letter sent by Buhari, explaining that he would not make any statement on the matter because the Senate had not met to take a decision on it.
The Senate had, on February 14, adopted the report of the conference committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate joint Committee on INEC on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018. In the new amendment, Section 25(1) of the Bill reordered sequence of elections in Nigeria; making the presidential election to come last while the National Assembly elections come first. This angered the pro- Buhari senators, who in their own interpretation, concluded that Buhari was the target of the amendment because of his interest in re-contesting the 2019 presidential elections.
The lawmakers, with this view, made desperate efforts to truncate the passage of the bill or at least, get that section, which they considered unfavourable and offensive to them out of the document, but failed, as the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, used his discretional powers to ensure that the agitators did not have their way.
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