Again, for the third time, President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign the amended electoral bill into law on Monday.
According to his Senior Special Assistant on National assembly matters, Ita Enang, the latest refusal to sign the bill is due to some drafting issues that remain unaddressed, among other irregularities.
The President’s decision may signal another tug of war between the Executive and Legislature when the National assembly resumes from recess. However, a close look at the “old” act and the proposed “new” reveals that the amended version falls into three categories: THE GOOD, THE FILLERS and THE SUSPECT.
Here are the highlights of only the good and the suspect, as the fillers will add nothing to the vexed issue.
There is an introduction of subsection (5) to Section 8 (containing four subsections in the old) of the act, which addresses the appointment of secretaries and other staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The proposed amendment seeks to penalise any INEC official who knowingly refuses to disclose his political affiliation before being employed by the commission. The penalty is a fine of N5million, an imprisonment of at least five years or both.
INFERENCE: To enhance the non-partisanship status of the commission.
There is Section 38 in the old, which covers the failure of nomination by a party and mandates the commission to postpone the election dates for this reason. The amended version includes a new subsection (2) which makes postponement of election unnecessary once there is at least one valid nomination by a political party.
INTERFERENCE: This saves time and prevents the electoral processes from dragging unnecessarily.
We also have Section 44, which stipulates that INEC must ensure the ballot papers contain the symbols of the political parties. The amended version inserts of new subsections 3, 4, 5 which, in a nutshell, state that political parties must be invited to inspect their identities and show whether they approve or disapprove of their of how they are represented on the electoral materials after two days of invitation. And any party that fails to honour the invitation shall be deemed to have agreed with symbols of its party as presented.
INFERENCE: To forestall the usual litigation after elections where parties claim their parties’ logos, symbols or names are omitted, or misstated.
There is Section 49, which addresses the issues of ballot paper, confirmation of voters’ names. The amended version seeks the inclusion of Subsections 1 and 2, which recommend the use of card reader and other technological devices in elections.
INFERENCE: Simply to forestall irregularities and inconsistencies that often mark and mar our electoral results.
There is Aection 53, which addresses the question of over-voting and stipulates that the results of a polling unit where the number of votes cast exceeds that of registered voters should be declared null and void. The proposed amendment states that the results should be cancelled when the number of votes cast exceeds that of ACCREDITED voters.
INFERENCE: This reflects the current practice in Nigeria when accreditation precedes voting.
Section 63(4) of the “old” electoral act addresses the issue of counting of votes and forms. This subsection says the presiding officer should count and announce the result at the polling units. The amended version to this subsection strikes out COUNT and simply states that the presiding officer should announce the result.
INFERENCE: This makes the process liable to manipulation.
Section 91 addresses the limitations on election expenses. The following is the list of maximum limit on election expenses that can be incurred by candidates, according to the old and the proposed:
Presidential election N1billion (Old)- N5billion (New)
Governorship election M200m (Old)- N1bn (New)
Senatorial Seat N40m (Old) -100m (New)
Federal House of Representatives N20m (Old) - N70m (New)
State Assembly N10m (Old) - N30m (New)
Chairmanship election N10m - N30m
Councillorship N1m (Old) - N5m (New)
Even 91(9) that prohibits any individual or entity from donating more than N1million has been amended to N10million.
INFERENCE: Is this a ploy to make our political space an exclusive preserve of the money-bags? Or to make the anomaly of vote buying a permanent feature of our elections?
And the most vexed and suspect is Section 25, which addresses the days of election. The proposed version tinkers with the sequence of elections. The elections will now be from the national assembly to the state assembly, then governorship and presidential, and not the other way round.
INFERENCE: The unofficial word out there is that the President would abandon the lawmakers if he contested first. But if his election was the last, he would dance to their tunes till the very end. Knowing how bills are typically driven by personal interests in this part of the world, it's hard not to think the lawmakers' minds are working this way, and even harder not to think Buhari will never sign!