The National Assembly, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over 45 opposition political parties under the aegis of the Coalition of United Political Parties (UPP), and some prominent Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) on Friday kicked as President Muhammadu Buhari finally withheld his assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 passed by the National Assembly.
The President had earlier on Friday announced his decision to withhold his assent to the crucial electoral bill which the National Assembly transmitted to him on November 7.
The controversial bill has been returned to the National Assembly after the President refused to sign it the fourth time.
The President had earlier rejected it for the third time and returned it to the legislature on August 30.
Confirming Buhari’s latest decision in Abuja, his Senior Special Assistant, National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said the President gave his reasons in a letter to the National Assembly.
Enang, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Akwa Ibom State, merely said, “President Muhammadu Buhari has taken decision on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 in accordance with his power under the 1999 Constitution and has communicated that decision to the Senate and the House of Representatives in accordance with the law.”
According to Saturday PUNCH findings, Buhari made the withdrawal known in a letter to the Senate and the House of Representatives, which was addressed to the President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, respectively.
The letter, a copy of which our correspondent obtained by Saturday PUNCH, was dated December 6, 2018.
It read, “Pursuant to Section 58(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), I hereby convey to the Senate/House of Representatives, my decision on 6th December, 2018, to decline presidential assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018, recently passed by the National Assembly.
“I am declining assent to the bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process. Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.
“This leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of the country and our democracy for the National Assembly to specifically state in the bill, that the Electoral Act will come into effect and be applicable to elections commencing after the 2019 general elections.”
Buhari also raise some drafting issues, calling for insertion and deletion of some words.
However, uncertainty may be looming over the conduct of the forthcoming 2019 general elections as the Senate has vowed to veto the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018, following President’s decision to assent to the vital bill.
The Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, told Saturday PUNCH that the upper chamber of the National Assembly would lobby members of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, in the chamber to veto the bill.
He added, “We want credible elections and that was why we hoped the President would sign the (amended) Electoral Act. Now that he has refused to sign it, we will talk to the APC members in the Senate to look at Nigeria and not their party. They should look at Nigeria and not their party.
But the PDP Presidential Campaign Council on Friday urged the National Assembly to immediately override the President’s refusal to assent the bill.
The Director, Media and Publicity of the council, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said overriding Buhari would save the nation’s democracy
He added that the legislative action had become imperative as Buhari’s decision was a calculated attempt to inject crisis into the electoral process.
According to him, Buhari’s refusal to sign the Act could ultimately scuttle the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Meanwhile, the CUPP said Buhari’s decision not to sign the bill was an invitation to electoral anarchy.
The coalition in a statement by its first national spokesperson, Imo Ugochinyere, said Buhari’s latest action portrayed him as a jittery President who was afraid of electoral defeat.
Meanwhile, renowned Senior Advocates of Nigeria have advised the National Assembly to evoke its constitutional powers to override the President’s assent in respect of the electoral act.
The SANs include Olisa Agbakoba, Mike Ozekhome, Femi Falana and Ifedapo Adedipe.
Falana said, “Once the President withholds his assent, the choice the National Assembly has is to override his assent.”
The new bill has provisions to improve on the country’s electoral process ahead of the 2019 general elections, including the use of the card reader as the sole means of accreditation of voters.