Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on Tuesday read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari informing the National Assembly of his decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The Speaker and the Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, however, blocked the move to debate the rejection.
Shortly after Dogara read the letter in plenary, a member, Mr Aliyu Madaki (PDP, Kano), raised a point of order to criticise the President for not assenting to the bill.
Madaki said, “This has a lot to do with the well-being of this country. What we want is a free, fair and credible election. Mr President refusing to assent to the Electoral Act (amendment bill) shows clearly what he wants to do. The whole world is watching. Everybody is watching…”
Gbajabiamila, who raised another point of order to counter Madaki, asked that the assent withdrawal should not be debated.
He said, “I have been a member of this House for 16 years. We have never, by precedence, custom and tradition, debated a letter which is by way of information. If there is the need to debate the President’s letter, we will table it on the Order Paper for debate.
“Several letters have been written by several presidents to this House. Whether we like it or not, it is a communication to the House. If we want to debate it, we will place it on the Order Paper tomorrow (today), and we are fully ready, willing and able to debate the issues. But it has to be according to our rules and the laws of this House.”
In his ruling, Dogara said, “I agree that this matter should be laid to rest today. There is a provision in our rules that guides this kind of communication and I will advise that we follow the provisions of the rules.”
Shortly after, Gbajabiamila could he heard telling Madaki from his seat, “The constitution allows that we override the veto. We can override him.”
Meanwhile, several members of the House, who spoke to one of our correspondents earlier on Monday, stated that the National Assembly had the option of overriding Buhari’s veto.
The lawmakers, who are members of both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, expressed their disagreement with the President for rejecting the bill.
Mr Johnson Agbonayinma (APC, Edo State) stated that while Buhari had exercised his constitutional right by not assenting to the bill, the National Assembly also had the powers to take a decision in that circumstance.
Agbonayinma added, “The President made three amendments. We will look at them holistically. He has the right to assent to it or not, and we as the National Assembly also have the right to use a two-third to override him. He has performed his constitutional duty and we in the National Assembly will also perform our constitutional duty.”
Another member, Mr Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi State) said it was necessary to override the President on the bill. He, however, expressed doubts about getting the required two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly to veto the bill.
Asked if the National Assembly should override Buhari, the lawmaker said, “Yes. But do we have the figure to override him? I will say no. I am a member of the National Assembly and I know the politics involved. You can see the Senate Leader who is supposed to talk in favour of the President assenting to the bill, he is not saying so.
“If we want to veto him, they will call all the APC lawmakers and tell them not to work with us. This is an election year; if we want to override the President, we will not get the number required. The problem is that with the attitude of the President, are they ready to conduct free and fair elections? No. If they want to conduct free and fair elections, why is he afraid of signing what the entire National Assembly agreed upon?”
New Electoral Act is recipe for chaos, says BMO
Meanwhile, the Buhari Media Organisation has said Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill is in the best interest of Nigeria’s democracy.
The group noted in a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, that the decision had saved the country from a chaotic electoral process.
BMO said, “It is trite that the deployment of a new electoral law only two months to an election is a recipe for chaos. Introducing a new law that redefines fundamentally the processes of our elections is only setting a shaky foundation for the 2019 polls.
“Also, with such fundamental changes such as the introduction of electronic transmission of results, and the compulsion in the use of the card reader without any remedy, among others, INEC staff would have to be trained and re-trained within two months, a period that is certainly not enough for that to happen.”
Noting that an ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance discouraged any forms of amendments or changes to electoral laws six months before any election, BMO hailed the President for complying with democratic best practices.
It added that it was no fault of the President that the leadership of the National Assembly delayed the amendment since mid 2017.