John Alechenu, Olusola Fabiyi, John Ameh and Leke Baiyewu
President Muhammadu Buhari has withheld his assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, which seeks to re-order the sequence of polls in 2019.
Buhari, in a March 8, 2018 letter written to both chambers of the National Assembly, said the amendments by the lawmakers were in conflict with existing laws.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, read the letter on the floor of the upper chamber on Tuesday.
At the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, read the letter to lawmakers.
The letter read, “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 Act Amendment Bill 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“Some of my reasons for withholding assent to the bill include the following: the amendment to the sequence of the elections in Section 25 of the principal Act may infringe upon the constitutionally guaranteed discretion of the Independent National Electoral Commission to organise, undertake and supervise all elections provided in Section 15(a) of the Third Schedule of 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 candidates in elections to a free and fair electoral review process.
“The amendment to Section 152 Subsection 325 of the principal Act may raise constitutional issues over the competence of the National Assembly to legislate over local government elections.”
A new Section 25 in the Electoral Bill, which states that the sequence of the elections will commence with National Assembly, to be followed by governorship and State Houses of Assembly, while presidential poll will come last, has polarised the All Progressives Congress Caucus in the Senate.
While the Peoples Democratic Party Caucus and some APC members loyal to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, are supporting the amendment, some APC senators loyal to Buhari are against it.
Briefing journalists after the plenary, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, said the lawmakers would decide on the step to take on the veto later.
“What we have here is a letter coming back to us. It has been read and it is going to be approved tomorrow (Wednesday) in our Votes and Proceedings. And when it is approved, subsequently if there is going to be any action, I am sure we will let you know what the action will be. I will leave it at that,” he said.
The Senate’s spokesman, however, said he did not know what the step would be when he was asked. He stated that the Senate and the House of Representatives would study the issues raised by Buhari and concur on their positions on them.
He said, “If I am speaking on behalf of the Senate and the Senate has not discussed an issue, is it fair for me to speak on it? Things are done through processes and procedures, and there are norms and conventions of the parliament.
“Yes, the letter has been read and, definitely, this is not the first time a letter from Mr. President would be read. It is just the same normal communication from Mr. President. All communications from Mr. President will definitely go through the same legislative process, which means that we have received it now and it is for us to look at it.
“It is going to receive attention. Senators and members of the House of Representatives will begin to look at it because it is a document that is coming back to the National Assembly.”
Reps, Senators consult to decide on Buhari’s veto
The Speaker, Dogara, and other lawmakers did not make any immediate comment on Buhari’s veto on Tuesday.
However, findings by The PUNCH showed that members of the House and senators were consulting on the next line of action.
Lawmakers had hinted before now that they would override the President’s veto.
A member, who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “The President has played his own part.
“He kept to the constitutional provision of within 30 days by writing to the National Assembly.
“On our part, we have to consult. This is not the type of issue you rush to take decisions.
“The consultations will cut across party and zonal caucuses for members to take a position on the next line of action.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, had told The PUNCH earlier that the legislature would override the President’s veto.
Namdas had stated, “For now, the bill has gone to Mr. President and we are waiting for his response. If his response is that he won’t sign, we are ready to override his veto.
“I can assure you that in both chambers of the National Assembly, we will get the required two-thirds majority to override the veto.”
Senate refers bill to legal department
A source, who was privy to the discussions at the 25-minute closed-door session that preceded the plenary in the Senate, said the Buhari’s letter was discussed but the lawmakers did not reach a conclusion.
Saraki was said to have told members that there was the need to review the points raised by Buhari to allow an informed decision on the bill.
The lawmakers were said to have agreed with the Senate President that the bill be referred to the Legal Department of the National Assembly.
It was gathered that all the 43 members of the PDP are supporting the move to override Buhari, in addition to the over 20 APC senators backing the move.
The source, who is in the PDP caucus, said, “We need about 10 more members to join the race so that we can get the 73 votes (the approximate two-thirds of the 109 senators) to override the veto.”
Section 58 of the constitution states, “(1) The power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and, except as otherwise provided by subsection (5) of this section, assented to by the President.
“(2) A bill may originate in either the Senate or the House of Representatives and shall not become law unless it has been passed and, except as otherwise provided by this section and section 59 of this Constitution, assented to in accordance with the provisions of this section.
“(3) Where a bill has been passed by the House in which it originated, it shall be sent to the other House, and it shall be presented to the President for assent when it has been passed by that other House and agreement has been reached between the two Houses on any amendment made on it.
“(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
“(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Buhari is going next year –PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party says the refusal of the President to sign the new electoral bill which re-orders sequence of elections next year will not be enough to keep him in office beyond May 29, 2019.
The party said Buhari must concede to the National Assembly, the power to make new laws and amend existing laws.
It, however, added that the refusal of the President to append his signature to the amended Electoral Amended Bill 2018 did not come to it as a surprise.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, told our correspondent on the telephone that the PDP was not afraid of any elections irrespective of the sequence.
He said, “It is the President and his political party, the All Progressives Congress, that are afraid of elections. Whether we start by the Presidential or National Assembly election, the President is going next year.
“Whether he signs the new bill or not, his time is up. He is leaving office next year because Nigeria and Nigerians can no longer endure his divisive leadership anymore.
“We concede the power to make laws to the National Assembly and we will wait for the lawmakers to take a final decision on the matter.”
He urged the President and his party to be ready for a political fight in 2019 that he said would be won by the opposition party.
‘Buhari on a collision course with lawmakers’
A pro-democracy group, Voters’ Assembly, said Buhari was on a collision course with legislators with his decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018.
President of the Assembly, Mashood Erubami, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Tuesday.
He explained that the President had taken a position based on his understanding of the relevant sections of the constitution he cited in his letter to the Senate.
Erubami said, “What the President has done is that he has drawn the battle line for the authentication of the legality or otherwise of his decision to withhold assent.
“The President has said he has refused to sign the bill because of what he said was the conflict between the provisions of the bill and the Constitution.
“He can take it a step further by going to court to seek interpretation or insist that that his position is in tandem with what the framers of the 1999 Constitution meant in the relevant sections he cited.
“The National Assembly can also go to court and prove that what the President has done is illegal based on what they understand by the provisions of the same sections of the constitution cited.
“The legislators should remember that most of them are also members of the ruling party and that their decisions will contribute to the overall image of the party among Nigerians.”
UPP urges N’ASS to veto electoral bill
The United Progressive Party says it is disappointed at the refusal of the President to sign the amended Electoral Bill submitted to him by the National Assembly.
It said that the President took the action because he was not comfortable with the order of elections which put the presidential election last for the 2019 general elections and beyond.
The National Chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday, asked the National Assembly to veto the President.
Okorie said the President took the action because he feared that he would lose the election.
He said, “His withholding assent to this bill smacks of fear of losing the 2019 presidential election, as well as the fear that his party, the All Progressives Congress, might not benefit from the bandwagon effect of a possible early victory if the presidential election came first.
“The order of elections as contained in the electoral bill will guarantee a sustained mass participation in the elections until the presidential election is conducted.
“It will also ensure that candidates of various political parties will win elections essentially on their personal merit and the popularity of the manifesto of their political parties.
“If the APC and President Buhari are confident that their performance was impressive as they claim, there should be no reason why this fear should be expressed in the manner of withholding assent to a bill that holds very strong promise to deepen and develop our democracy.”
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