Dark clouds over 2019 elections

Less than two months to the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, there are fears as to the success of the event.

The fears were heightened when President Muhammadu Buhari again declined assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 less than six months after he rejected the first one.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, said in a statement titled, ‘Presidential decision to decline assent to Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018’ that the President has already communicated his decision in letters sent to the two chambers of the National Assembly.

Enang said the President was declining assent to the bill due to some “drafting issues that remain unaddressed following the prior revisions to the bill.”

The statement added, “There is a cross-referencing error in the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the Bill. The appropriate amendment is to substitute the existing sub-section (2) with the proposed subsection (1A), while the proposed sub-section (1B) is the new sub-section (2A).”

The President’s aide said there was also an issue with the conduct of primaries by political parties and the dates they should submit names of their candidates to INEC.

Enang said if signed into law as it is, INEC would have only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates in the 91 political parties.

He said, “The proposed amendment to include a new Section 87 (14) which stipulates a specific period within which political party primaries are required to be held has the unintended consequence of leaving INEC with only nine days to collate and compile lists of candidates and political parties as well as manage the primaries of 91 political parties for the various elections.

“This is because the Electoral Amendment bill does not amend sections 31, 34 and 85, which stipulates times for the submission of lists of candidates, publication of lists of candidates and notice of convention, congresses for nominating candidates for elections.’’

He noted that Clause 87 (14) “states that the dates for the primaries shall not be earlier than 120 days and not later than 90 days before the date of elections to the offices” which is at variance with Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2010.

Section 31 of the Electoral Act 2010 states, “Every political party shall not later than 60 days before the date appointed for a general election submit to the commission the list of candidates the party proposes to sponsor at the elections.

Section 34 of the Act adds, “That the commission shall at least 30 days before the day of the election publish a statement of the full names and addresses of all candidates standing nominated.”

Citing Section 85 (1) of the Electoral Act which states that a party shall give the commission at least 21 days’ notice of any convention, congress etc., for electing members of its executive committees or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices, Enang said this was at variance with the bill proposed by the National Assembly.

He said since the constitution did not empower a President or governor to whom a bill was forwarded by the legislature to edit, correct, amend or in any manner alter the provisions of any such bill to reflect appropriate intent before assenting to same, Buhari had no choice but to return it to the National Assembly.

Enang called on the National Assembly to quickly rectify the necessary sections and return the bill to the President for assent.

The President, had in March refused to sign the electoral amendment bill. In a letter to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, he explained why he did not sign the bill.

According to him, the bill usurped the constitutional powers of INEC to decide on election matters, including fixing the dates and the order they would be held.

He also stated that he was complying with the requirements of Section 58 of the 1999 Constitution, particularly sub-section 4, by refusing to sign the bill.

Buhari’s letter in March 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 theINEC 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 Act, which states that the sequence of the elections will commence with the National Assembly, to be followed by governorship and state Houses of Assembly, while presidential poll will come last, had polarised the All Progressives Congress Caucus in the National Assembly.

Following the refusal of the President to sign the bill, the National Assembly removed the controversial section, where the lawmakers fixed dates of elections and resent the bill to Buhari on August 3.

Meanwhile, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have not reacted to Buhari’s withdrawal of presidential assent to the bill.

When contacted, the Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu, said he could not confirm if his boss, Saraki, had received the letter.

For further comments, Olaniyonu referred one of our correspondents to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi; and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, who sponsored the bill and who was Chairman of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Joint Committee on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.

Nazif could not be reached for comments as calls made to his telephone did not connect.

The spokesperson for the Senate could not be reached to react to the assent withdrawal.

At the House of Representatives, the telephone of the spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas, indicated that it had been switched off.

But the PDP, the major opposition party has urged the National Assembly to override the President by vetoing the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill.

The PDP said Buhari’s refusal did not come to the party as a surprise, alleging that his commitment to a free and fair 2019 elections was mere lip service.

The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said in a statement in Abuja on Monday, that it was now manifestly clear to Nigerians that all the reasons adduced by President Buhari for withholding his assent in the past were lame.

He said, “The clerical and drafting arguments put forward by President Buhari could not in any way outweigh the importance of amendments meant to engender free, fair, credible and transparent elections in 2019.

“The PDP therefore charges the National Assembly to stand with Nigerians in the overall quest for credible elections by immediately overriding President Buhari on the bill.”

The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, scolded President Buhari for not signing the amended Electoral Bill into law.

Secondus described the President as an excuse giver, saying that he had yet to shed the toga of a military dictator.

Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Monday, said the President was used to denying Nigerians.

He said it was unfortunate that the President, who he said just gave an assurance that he was committed to free, fair and credible elections, would refuse to sign a law aimed at strengthening democracy.

Secondus asked Nigerians and the international community to hold the President responsible if “the next general elections failed.”

He added ”We have said it on many occasions. This President is not a democrat. He is a pretender. He never believed in democracy. He is a dictator to the core.

“Here is a man who just told the world that he was not afraid of credible elections. Yet, he is busy working openly and secretly against the interest of the nation.

“His renewed rejection of the bill is an indication that he is either myopic about the tenets of democracy or against the workings of the National Assembly.”

Secondus appealed to the National Assembly to either veto the President or “make sure in whatever way, that the law is passed.”

Concerned that the elections may dissolve into anarchy in the absence of an enabling law, a former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar who led other eminent Nigerians to establish “The National Peace Committee” prior to the 2015 elections invited major stakeholders to sign a peace accord.

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Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP at the signing of the peace accord.

President Muhammadu Buhari who is a candidate on the ticket of the APC was one of the first candidates to sign the accord and there was initial apprehension when Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his major opponent failed to attend the signing ceremony. Atiku claimed he was not invited, a claim disputed by General Abubakar who said all presidential candidates were invited.

There was some relief when less than 24 hours later Atiku also signed the document. He said while signing the peace accord that he is committed to free, fair and credible election.

He also commended President Buhari for signing the peace deal and urged him to sign the electoral act amendment bill into law to demonstrate his willingness to ensure free and fair elections.

Those who accompanied Atiku to the signing event include his running mate Peter Obi; the PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus; former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel; among others.

The candidate of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Obiageli Ezekwesili who also did not attend the ceremony has also signed the peace accord.

Ezekwesili while signing the agreement also called on President Buhari to sign the electoral act amendment bill saying that is the only way to assure Nigerians that he is ready for free and fair elections in 2019.

Still, the fear that the elections may end up in a violent upheaval have gone as far as the United States where the Government has expressed fear that the elections are likely to be characterised by violence.

The US, however, said the public disturbance that the elections would cause might not be “large-scale nationwide conflict” but “localised violence.”

The US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, disclosed this in his presentation during the US Congress hearing on Nigeria’s forthcoming elections in Washington DC last Thursday.

The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ben Murray-Bruce; and the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnena Ukeje, were present at the hearing titled, “Nigeria at a Crossroads: The Upcoming Elections.”

Nagy, who is a member of President Donald Trump’s administration and his lead foreign policy adviser for Africa, said, “I can tell you from my impressions during my travels and my previous service in Nigeria that I fear there will be some violence around these elections, as has been the case with previous elections.

“I do not anticipate large-scale nation-wide conflict, but rather localised violence.

“We are already seeing increased tensions and polarisation as the election approaches. We assess that politicians are turning to narratives of identity politics in an attempt to improve their popularity, with potentially serious consequences for national unity.

He listed states that might experience violence during the elections to include Rivers, Borno, Benue, Plateau and Kano.

He added, “In assessing potential ‘hotspots’ for violence, we look at places that are historically volatile around elections such as Rivers and Borno states.

“We look at states that are currently tense, especially if state-level politics are contentious like those in Benue, Plateau, as well as those in high-stakes locations with large populations such as Kano.

He listed the areas of concerns to include potential attacks on the legitimacy of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the electoral process for political gain; intimidation and partisanship by security forces; and heightened insecurity, terrorist attacks on electoral institutions, or violence towards voters, observers, or electoral officials.

Others are inability of large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons or persons with disabilities to vote; voter suppression, the use of armed gangs for voter intimidation as well as wide-spread vote buying that challenges the integrity of the electoral process.

While saying that the US does not support any candidate, he said the government “supports a democratic process that is free, fair, transparent, peaceful, and reflects the will of the Nigerian people.”

The All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Coalition of United Political Parties have reacted to the development.

The first national spokesperson of the CUPP, Imo Ugochinyere said in an interview that the US government was 100 per cent correct in its fear of possible outbreak of violence.

He claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari was the one promoting violence by his actions, inactions and body language.

He said, “President Buhari is the one that laid the foundation for violence by not signing the Electoral Act (Amended) Bill that would have ensured credible elections.

“The President is promoting violence by giving an illegal extension of tenure to a rampaging Inspector-General of Police who has been behaving like an opposition member.

“Buhari is encouraging violence by inviting security chiefs to the inauguration of his re-election document at a time insurgents were killing our soldiers on the battle field.”

Also, the PDP said the ruling APC and Buhari should be held responsible if there is any crisis in the country before, during and after the elections.

The party said that actions, words and attitudes of the ruling party and the President were not indicating that the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission were ready to conduct credible elections.

The party’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who spoke on the matter appealed to Nigerians and the international community to pay attention to happenings in the country ahead of the elections.

Secondus said, “We are aware that the Federal Government and the APC are jittery over the reduced popularity of the President and his acceptability by Nigerians as a result of poor performance of President Buhari.”

The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Isa-Onilu, said the ruling party aligned with the fears expressed by the US government.

But he attributed the possible cause of electoral violence to what he described as the worrisome signals from the opposition PDP.

He claimed that the PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, had attempted to avoid signing the peace agreement designed by the National Peace Committee before he was put under pressure to do so.

Irrespective of the fears expressed in Nigeria and abroad the Independent National Electoral Commission has said it has worked out strategies to deliver a free and fair election even with the veto by President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018. INEC based its promise on the use of enhanced smart card readers.

The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill had incorporated the card reader for the purpose of giving legal backup to the technology adopted in authenticating the Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, of those eligible to vote.

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