Dumped Electoral Act Amendment Bill: Fayemi backs Buhari as senators move to override veto




   

Strong indication emerged Tuesday that the Senate may override President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal of assent to the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 at plenary Wednesday.

At the expiration of the time frame for him to append his signature to the Bill, Buhari wrote the National Assembly of his decision not to sign the document into law, citing a number of reasons.

In a letter forwarded to the Senate and read during plenary, the president cited series of reasons bordering on security, economy, finance and existing constitutional provisions of political parties for refusing assent to the bill.

The reasons were advanced in respect of the contentious area in the Bill-the recommended mandatory direct primary for all political parties in picking their candidates for general elections.

Leading the move, Senator George Sekibo (PDP Rivers East), called for a closed door session in the mid of the plenary which lasted 40 minutes.

 But no categorical decision was taken thereafter by the Senate which hurriedly adjourned to Wednesday.

Expressing his anger to journalists after the plenary, Sekibo  said, about 73 signatures of aggrieved senators had been collected  and  that there was no going back on the decision to override Buhari’s veto.

“By law, we have the power to override him. That’s what section 58 (4 & 5) said. We will use our powers to do it. And they are saying that people must be present at voting. 

“Our rule gives us three methods of voting- voice vote, by signing the document (signature) and electronic voting. So we can use anyone. 

“We have already collected signatures totalling about 73 now in and outside the chamber and it cuts across party lines,” he said.

Confirming the move in a separate interview, Senator  Matthew Urhoghide (PDP Edo South) said the Senate, and by extension the National Assembly, must extricate itself from public odium  slammed on it as rubber stamp by overriding the veto .

He said: “We must be reminded that members of the National Assembly are truly the representatives of the people because every Federal Constituency and Senatorial District seat is allocated to a segment of the Nigerian people who are their constituents. 

“The members of the National Assembly consulted with a cross section of their constituents to reach an informed position on any matter of national interest and development.  

“The issue of direct primaries in our electoral process has been well canvassed, elucidated, and argued by both chambers of the NASS, and inputs were taken at public hearing from across the spectrum of all critical stakeholders. 

“Both chambers passed the bill with some little variations in some sections which consequently necessitated the setting up of a conference committee of five members each from both chambers.  At the end of all the deliberations, direct primary was agreed upon.

“The time has come when only popular candidates within the party should be thrown up for general elections. General elections in this way will become easier and less cumbersome for parties to win since they have truly popular candidates. 

 “As we speak today, the whole world has become a global village.  Nigeria should endeavour to revolutionise its electoral system to avert bickering and unnecessary disputation that come with nominations or party primaries. 

“In Chile, Gabriel Boric, a thirty five-year old former student activist has won the run off in the presidential election because he was truly popular and supported by the people.

“Less than two hours into counting of the ballots, his much older opponent congratulated him and urged all his compatriots to support his incoming government.  

“Nigeria must take a queue by allowing genuine inclusiveness, particularly our young people who are in excess of sixty percent of our population. All the devious designs to exclude them will not help us.

“I urge my colleagues in the National Assembly to do the needful  by overriding the veto and  make the bill law. This is not the first time it is happening in Nigeria.”  

Recalling a similar scenario, the lawmaker said: “The NDDC Bill of 2001 was vetoed by NASS under Obasanjo, who was a PDP president. The NASS should extricate itself from public odium and disrespect by going ahead to override President Buhari who is APC. History stares NASS in the face if indeed it is not a rubber stamp.”

Many other Senators who pleaded anonymity strongly expressed their readiness to override President Buhari on the rejected bill.

Fayemi excited

Meanwhile, Chairman Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti state Governor, Kayode Fayemi, has expressed support for the president’s decision.

Fayemi spoke Tuesday while addressing journalists after his visit to the president at the State House, Abuja.

He said: “Mr. President has not objected to direct primaries, neither has he endorsed indirect primaries, he has only said, be fair to all, let all options apply and what you decide should be determined by your own local and peculiar circumstances; being mindful of questions of security, finances, and internal democracy.

“So, I think we all should commend the courage of Mr. President to stand with the people.”

Adegboruwa faults Buhari

But in another reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, has accused President Buhari of sabotaging efforts to ensure electoral reforms for the benefit of the country’s democracy.

Adegboruwa said this in a statement issued Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by Blueprint.

The SAN asked the National Assembly to invoke the provisions of section 58(5) of the Constitution to pass the Bill into law, through the two-thirds majority of both chambers.

The silk said by declining assent to the bill, the president did not properly exercise his discretion in the national interest.

 Adegboruwa said: “What this means is that the president prefers to retain all the manifest flaws bedeviling our electoral system from which himself and his ruling party are benefiting to the detriment of our democratic advancement.

“Although the President is entitled to the discretion of his assent to any bill presented to him, however, the reason adduced for the exercise of such presidential discretion must be legal and valid.

“It is clear that the discretion has not been properly exercised in the national interest, in this particular case.”

CSOs

Also, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have expressed concern over the non-assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the president.

They said the decision would have serious implication on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the body prepares for the FCT Area Council election, the Ekiti/Osun governorship elections, and ultimately the 2023 General Elections. 

The CSOs stated this Tuesday in a joint statement by Yiaga Africa,  International Press Centre (IPC),  Centre for Citizens with Disability (CCD),The Albino Foundation, CLEEN Foundation, Institute for Media and Society (IMS),Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ).

Withholding of assent by the president to a bill relevant electoral stakeholders spent quality time putting together, they said, undermines public confidence and trust in the electoral system. 

The bodies also said it was even more disappointing  that Buhari  “delayed his response until the efflux ion of time required for assenting to legislation until the date that the National Assembly is proceeding for the Christmas and New Year holiday.”

They further said “the non-conclusion of the electoral amendment process will mean that these elections will be conducted using the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) denying INEC the opportunity to test the efficacy of some of the new innovations introduced in the proposed Electoral Bill 2021.” 

The bodies also noted that “this is apart from the delay the commission will have to contend with in the required effort to review its guidelines, regulations and manuals in accordance with certain provisions of the Bill.” 

The statement said: “Furthermore, based on the revised timelines for specific electoral activities in the Bill, INEC and other stakeholders will have to grapple with logistical, financial, and programmatic difficulties in the run-up to the 2023 General Election. We reckon that this may not bode well for Nigeria’s electoral democracy, hence the clamor for the speedy conclusion of the electoral reform process.

“To avert further complications and logjam in the efforts to strengthen the electoral process, we strongly recommend as follows:The National Assembly as a matter of national emergency should either override the President’s decision or remove the contentious clause (s) from the Bill and transmit the Bill back to the President for assent within the next 30 days.

“The National Assembly should ensure that all clerical, editorial, and cross-referencing gaps in the current Bill are resolved before transference back to the President.

“The president should expeditiously assent to the revised Bill upon receipt from the National Assembly and the Civil society groups, media, and development partners must sustain the effort to protect the will of the people and safeguard the electoral reform process from policy capture and manipulation.”

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