The leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission will, this week, hold a crucial meeting with the leaders of political parties towards the coming 2019 General Elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act (Amended) Bill 2018, it was learnt, would top the agenda of the meeting.

The PUNCH gathered on Sunday that despite threats by some federal lawmakers to override Buhari on the rejected bill, opposition political parties feared that the National Assembly as currently constituted might not get the required number of members to do so.

They have therefore resolved to look beyond the parliament in finding a way out.

The first national spokesperson for the Coalition of United Political Parties, Imo Ugochinyere, confirmed these in an interview with our correspondent on Saturday.

He said, “The leadership of political parties will be meeting with INEC this week and top on the agenda of the meeting is that now that the President has refused to sign, it is now left for the electoral commission.

“There are some powers given to the commission under the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act to ensure free and fair conduct of elections.

“There are some provisions that INEC can amend the election guidelines with or without the President signing the law. Some of them include the use of card readers like the commission did in Ekiti and Osun states. You can see that the number of voters did not skyrocket in those states because INEC did not use incident forms.”

He added, “INEC can also allow agents to have access to electoral materials, verify them and even do video recording of the materials without any law.

“The issue of ensuring that no result is announced without agents of political parties being present at the spot, stopping the police and soldiers from chasing away party agents so that they can doctor the results, the issue of ensuring that results are announced at every polling unit, the issue of collecting electronic results by INEC to compare, issue of serialising ballot papers for each polling unit, all these the INEC can do with or without the President.

“The first thing the INEC chairman must do, or else all political parties will pull out of the election, is that he has to announce to Nigerians that there will be no use of incident forms.”

He claimed the non-use of incident forms was important to avoid a repeat of what allegedly happened in 2015, when “out of the over seven million votes he (Buhari) got from the North-West, over five million came from incident forms.”  He claimed that most of the people that voted for Buhari in the North-West were not accredited.

Ugochinyere added that another area of concern for the opposition parties ahead of the elections was the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.

He said opposition parties were not comfortable with the information that the present administration might extend Idris’ tenure which he said would expire by January.

“Another important aspect is the position of the IG whose tenure is expiring in January. Going by the public service rule, he ought to have proceeded on terminal leave.

“But the two people who have hijacked the President want him re-appointed. Once that happens, what we will be having is no longer an IG but a man who will be willing to deploy security forces to achieve the dastardly act they are planning,” he alleged.

Ugochinyere said one of the steps that would be taken by opposition parties was to mobilise the people to perform the police function of arresting people who had committed electoral offence.

He said such people would be encouraged to resist and disarm political thugs.

That, he said, would be the option left for the opposition.

He said securing two-thirds in the House of Assembly to override the President would be impossible.

“So, we are looking beyond that to engage INEC to make promises and commitments to Nigerians on how the forthcoming elections can be free and fair,” he said.

He said the outcome of the meeting with INEC would go a long way in deciding whether the opposition parties would take part in the elections or not.

‘National Assembly can’t override Buhari’

Also, the National President of the Vanguard for Transparent Leadership and Democracy, Igbini Emmanuel, has said the National Assembly cannot override Buhari on the bill.

In an interview with our correspondent, Emmanuel said the bill was dead on arrival just like the desire of the National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, to have the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, removed.

He said, “The President has withheld his assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 and appealed that if it would be eventually passed, its date of commencement should be after 2019 General Elections.

“Recall I made my position very clear months ago that any proposed amendment to our Electoral Act be suspended till after the 2019 General Elections or be considered dead on arrival the same way the plot to impeach Saraki was dead on arrival.

“The National Assembly cannot override Buhari on this bill for the same reason Oshiomhole cannot mobilise to remove Saraki and recover the ‘crown.’

APC senators will block veto– Ashafa

Meanwhile, the Senator representing Lagos-East, Gbenga Ashafa, has stated that the APC senators in the 8th Assembly will oppose any plan by the National Assembly to veto the President’s refusal to sign the recent amendments to the Electoral Act.

Ashafa stated this in an interview with journalists after a stakeholders’ meeting of the Lagos-East chapter of the All Progressives Congress in Epe on Saturday.

Ashafa stated that he had studied the reasons given by Buhari for not signing the amended act and that he agreed with the President.

He said, “Both the President and the National Assembly have shown good faith in the back and forth caused principally by drafting inconsistencies that have delayed the bill till now. We must all understand that both sides must be dispassionately and painstakingly disposed to ensuring that there is no loophole in the final result of the proposed amendments, considering the sensitive nature of the Electoral Act and overarching effect of same on National security and stability of the polity.

“It cannot be in tandem with any standard democratic ethos to introduce new rules to the field of politics less than two months to general elections, we must be fair to all concerned.”

On the threat by some members to veto the bill, he said, “It is a game of numbers and to conduct a successful veto of the President’s position, the National Assembly would require two-thirds majority of both houses. I am certain that the progressive block of senators who have already seen reason with the President would not be in support of such a veto.”

Buhari’s refusal to sign unpatriotic– IYC

But the Ijaw Youth Council berated Buhari over his refusal to assent to the amended Electoral Act.

IYC, however, charged the National Assembly to immediately override the President’s assent in line with relevant provisions to enact the amended act into law ahead of the 2019 General Elections.

Speaking on Sunday through its National President, Mr Eric Omare, the group observed that the reasons advanced by President Buhari for not signing the bill were self-serving and lacked patriotism.

Omare stated that the President’s action after three attempts by the National Assembly was unpatriotic and amounted to elevating personal interest above national interest.

He said, “The IYC completely rejects the reasons advanced by President Buhari for refusing to assent to the amendment because they are weak and unjustifiable.

“Contrary to President Buhari’s claim that signing the Electoral Act now would cause confusion in the electoral process; in actual fact, it is the refusal to sign the Electoral Act amendment bill into law that has caused confusion and would cause more confusion in the days to come.”

Buhari refused to sign because APC planned to rig– Secondus

The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the ruling All Progressives Congress on Sunday accused each other of nursing different agenda over the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act  (Amendment) Bill.

While the PDP alleged that the President refused to sign the bill because of the plan of his party to rig the election, the ruling party said the PDP also had a hidden agenda over its insistence that the bill must be signed.

The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, also said his party would not accept the outcome of the elections if polls were rigged.

He said the essence of the bill was to deepen the nation’s electoral laws and system, wondering why the President would refuse to sign it.

Secondus said going by the indices before him and the leaders of the PDP, the APC was not planning to win the elections, but only to rig.

He, however, said that Nigerians and the international community would be watching how the President and the APC would rig the elections since he said both had been rejected by majority of Nigerians.

He said, “The new law was made to help us achieve what we couldn’t achieve in 2015 by legalising the use of card readers, transmission of votes.

“But because majority of votes the President had in 2015 came through the backdoors and unusual ways, he wants the trend to continue in 2019. He wants the Independent National Electoral Commission to continue to accredit underage voters manually; he wants a situation where it will be easy for miscreants to hijack ballot boxes and all that.

“We, however, want to say this without any fear: PDP will not accept the outcome of any rigged election anywhere in the country. If they think we will just fold our hands as we did in 2015 when they went away with a stolen mandate, they must be joking.”

He added, “We will insist that things must be done in accordance with the law and the Constitution.  Let Nigerians and the international community know that both the President and his party, with the support of INEC and security agencies, are not ready for free, fair and credible elections.”

PDP seeking to blackmail everybody to submission– APC

The APC, however, disagreed, wondering why the former ruling party was bent on the signing of the new law by the President.

The APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the allegation by Secondus represented the “cry of a confused party seeking to blackmail everybody to submission.”

He claimed the PDP’s position betrayed the hidden agenda it had behind the Electoral Act amendment.

“The President withheld assent and explained that it was because the timing was not in the interest of the nation among other reasons.

“What is the PDP afraid of?  The Electoral Act sought to be amended was enacted under the PDP government, did they use it to rig? Maybe Nigerians should ask them why they think it could be used to rig elections.

“They should stop this cry-baby attitude and tell Nigerians what they had done in the previous 16 years that would make them want to return to government so soon,” he said.

Buhari wants to take Nigeria back to rigging days, Edwin Clark alleges

Meanwhile, a former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, has alleged that the President refused to sign the bill because of his determination “to return us to 2015 and 2007 elections where voters had a field day in rigging the elections.”

Clark said in a statement in Abuja on Sunday that Buhari wanted a situation where underage voters would continue to vote.

He said,”In 2015, underage persons took part in the elections, particularly in many places in Kano, where the card readers were ignored.

“The use of card readers, the proper and careful use of card readers, which is a new innovation of electoral process since 2015, is the most important in the technological innovation in the electoral process in Nigeria and Nigerians are now used to it.

“If this is known to Mr President and to all politicians, then Mr President has the moral and legal duty to assent to the Electoral (amendment), particularly when the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave a strong warning about its legality and that is the very reason why Mr President is under obligation to assent to the amendment of the Electoral Bill since it is in the overall interest of all Nigerians, whom he swore to protect, by providing security and their welfare.

“Another technological improvement which the present INEC provided for is the use of electronic transfer of votes to prevent rigging which takes place during the transfer of votes to the collation centres.”

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