Two eminent lawyers, Professor Awa Kalu and Professor Mohammed M. Akanbi, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, have observed that it’s going to be tough for the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill (2018).
In separate interviews with our reporters, the university dons provided some insight into why it would be difficult for the lawmakers to override the president’s veto.
For the fourth time in quick succession, President Buhari withheld his assent to the bill on the ground that signing it would constitute a setback to the 2019 general elections.
Speaking on the development, Kalu, a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Abia state, noted that there’s time limit to wait for the presidential assent.
He said: “If we have a robust National Assembly, it can pass the bill into law, even though, it is not quite too often that the legislature will override the chief executive, but the provision is there in the constitution. There is time limit for the legislature to wait for the presidential assent. If that assent is not forthcoming, they know what to do at the National Assembly. If they can’t do it, then let us proceed with what we have.
“If there is no amendment to the Electoral Act or further amendment to the Electoral Act, what it means is that the Electoral Act 2010 remains in force. And that implies that failure to accept will make it impossible to hold the 2019 general elections. That is the way I look at it.”
Citing an analogy, the academic said, “if you have a pot of soup in your freezer, and you are expecting to go to the market in order to prepare a fresh pot of soup, and suddenly it starts raining so vigorously that you can’t go to any market, open your deep freezer, open your pot of soup there, defreeze it, and have your meal. That is a very simple approach to life.”
Asked to interpret the president’s decision, the silk said: “There is nothing to interpret. There is always a reason accompanying the refusal of assent. The president will give you reason. And if, as a legislature, you want that amendment to work, you either look at the reason that has been forwarded, and adjust in line with the reasons or you go back, look at the refusal to assent and override it and the bill becomes law automatically. But as I said, overcoming the president’s refusal in whatever country is always an uphill task.”
In a similar comment, Professor Akanbi, a former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, said, by law, the president reserves the right to veto any bill brought before him.
According to him, “the president can refuse to sign a bill or some aspects of it into law. He has a power of veto which he can exercise by withholding his signature.
“However, the refusal and the reason for it must be communicated to the National Assembly within the 30 days. If he National Assembly agrees with the president, the bill can be withdrawn for re-deliberation.
“Being the fourth time that the president is refusing to give his assent, this may not go down with the National Assembly and they may decide to overrule the veto of the president. After 30 days of the refusal of the president to sign the bill, the two Chambers can recall the bill and re-pass it.
“If the bill is passed in the form it was sent to the president by two-third majority votes in both Chambers, the bill automatically becomes a law even without the signature of the president.”
On the implication of the president’s action on the 2019 polls, the silk posited that “the extant law suffices, i.e. the Electoral Act 2010 will continue to regulate national elections in Nigeria until amended.”
On whether Buhari could be overruled, the law teacher said: “Yes by virtue of section 58(5), if the president refuses to give his assent, and the National Assembly feels very strongly about its position on the bill, the law provides that the national parliament can override the president’s objection by a 2/3 majority.
“However the challenge here is that the process may not be completed before the national elections because of the shortness of time,” pointing out that “there’s no logjam because the constitution has adequate provision on what is to be done.”
In a related development, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West), has condemned the call for the National Assembly to override the president’s veto on the bill.
According to him, the proponents of that call do not have the interest of the nation at heart.
In a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, the lawmaker said he would not support such move on the floor of the Senate, as it is counterproductive at this late hour to the crucial 2019 general elections beginning from February next year.
He said: “As a senator and a Nigerian, I cannot be part of any move to override the president’s veto on the electoral bill. The president clearly stated his reasons for the veto and I think they are cogent enough to be accepted by all in the national interest. And good enough the president is not totally foreclosing the need to amend the Act as he clearly stated that such process can take place after the 2019 elections in the 9thNational Assembly.”
Senator Adeola warned that any move to champion the override of the president veto would amount to wasting precious legislative time and overheating the polity in place of other important legislative agenda.
Such an exercise, the lawmaker further argued, will be in futility as the parliament will not have the required constitutional two third to override the president.
“At this point I will stand with all those desirous of peaceful and transparent election as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“With the assurances by INEC that it is ready to conduct a free and fair election with or without the amendment of the electoral law only those with ulterior motives will want to override the president less than three months to the general elections,” he stressed.