A coalition of Civil Society Groups in Nigeria (CSOs) yesterday protested the delay in signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari, stating that as someone who cried out against electoral fraud for a long time, he is now enjoying the ills.
LEADERSHIP reports that President Buhari has rejected the Electoral Act Amendment Bill five times in the last five years.
If President Buhari rejects the present bill before him, it will be the sixth time he will be rejecting the bill, and puts to question his avowed promise to reform Nigeria’s electoral system.
Hence, worried by the president’s delay which may force the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the 2023 general elections, the CSOs organised what they tagged ‘a National Day of Protest’ to demand President Buhari’s assent to the Electoral Bill, 2022, yesterday.
According to the CSOs, if the president signed the bill yesterday, it would allow INEC to release the Notice of Elections 360 days before the 2023 elections in compliance with the provisions of the bill.
LEADERSHIP had earlier reported that if Buhari did not sign the bill yesterday (February 22, 2022), INEC may have to shift the dates of the 2023 elections.
The protesters, who held placards with inscriptions: #sign the electoral bill now; President Buhari, sign the Electoral Bill now; President Muhammadu Buhari, make history, sign the electoral bill now, prevent electoral rigging; No bill, no electronic transmission of results; #Sign the electoral bill, were gathered at the Unity Fountain in Abuja yesterday.
The protesters were led by the CSOs situation room leader, Amaka Obi; executive director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, and executive director of CISLAC, Awwal Musa Rafsanjani, among several others.
People with disability, women and youths all gathered, calling on the president to sign the electoral bill.
The five times Buhari has declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment bill in the last five years started in 2018.
In March 2018, Buhari rejected the Bill due to some provisions that would usurp the powers of INEC on electoral matters.
In July 2018, Buhari outrightly vetoed the Bill by refraining from making comments on it until the expiration of the 30-day timeline.
In September 2018, Buhari rejected the Bill on the basis of drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps.
In December 2018, Buhari again rejected the Bill because, according to him, it was too close to the 2019 general election.
Also, Buhari rejected the current Bill in December 2021 based on the adoption of direct primaries as the only legally approved procedure for the nomination of candidates. He insisted that the options of indirect mode and consensus should be provided for parties, which the National Assembly has inserted in the bill before him.
But CSOs have said that if the 2022 Electoral Act Amendment Bill suffers the same fate as the previous five, it will amount to the subversion of popular will and national interest.
The CSOs that protested are: Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room; Yiaga Africa; Partners for Electoral Reform (PER); International Press Centre; Institute for Media and Society; Nigerian Women Trust Fund; The Albino Foundation; Centre for Citizens with Disability; Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development; Transition Monitoring Group; CLEEN Foundation; Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC); Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO); Inclusive Friends Association (IFA); Enough is Enough and The Electoral Hub.
Others are: Centre for Liberty; Take Back Nigeria Movement; International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre (IPCRC); 100 Women Lobby Group; Women in Politics Forum; Raising New Voices; Millennials Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa and ReadyToLeadAfrica.
In a communique issued after the protest, the CSOs said that on February 18, 2022, they had called on President Buhari to assent to the Electoral Bill 2022 on or before yesterday to avert any shift in the dates for the 2023 elections already fixed by INEC.
“The demand was informed by the provisions of Clause 28 (1) of the Electoral Bill 2022, which requires INEC to issue Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election.
“In our statement issued on Friday, 18th February 2022, we noted the provision of Section 58(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which gives the President a timeline of 30 days to assent or withhold assent to a Bill. However, a combination of the newly introduced timelines for electoral activities in the bill and imperative for INEC and other stakeholders to commence early preparations for the upcoming elections necessitated the call for immediate assent of the bill.
“We noted that should the President give assent to the bill on or before February 22nd, 2022, INEC will be legally bound to issue Notice of Election, and the dates for the 2023 elections will be maintained. However, if the President acts on the bill after 22nd February 2022, the dates for the 2023 election and other subsequent electoral activities will be affected. It is apparent the President has not met the 22nd February 2022 timeline at the time of the protest. Therefore, if the President does not assent to the bill at the end of the day, INEC may be compelled to shift the date of the 2023 election, assuming the President assents to the bill by 1st March 2022 which is the expiration date of the 30 days’ timeline.
The CSOs remarked that the nation prepares for the off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun and the 2023 general elections, a new legal framework is required to safeguard the integrity of these elections.
“The current Electoral Bill 2022 contains provisions that address electoral manipulation and the intractable problem of poor election logistics. Furthermore, the bill strengthens INEC’s financial independence, and the commission is empowered to reject falsified election results. The newly introduced timelines for key electoral activities such as early primaries and submission of list of candidates will facilitate early electoral preparations and promote issue-based political engagement,” the CSOs said.
They called on President Buhari to sign the Electoral bill into law on or before the expiration of the 30 days’ timeline on the 1st March 2022 to enable INEC to issue Notice of Election and release the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general elections.
They added that further amendments to the Electoral Bill 2022 can be proposed after assent has been granted.
“It is within the President’s prerogative to propose amendments after signing the bill like he did in the case of the Petroleum Industry Bill and 2022 Appropriation bill, an act which attracted commendation,” the CSOs said.
But speaking during the protest, the executive director of CISLAC, Awwal Musa Rafsanjani accused the president of now enjoying the ills of what he railed against.
“As someone who cried against electoral fraud for 12 years, we expected Buhari to reform the electoral process. But it now shows clearly that the president is now enjoying what he cried against,” Rafsanjani said.
On his part, the executive director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, said: “If the bill is signed, it will enable INEC to release the election guidelines. There are laudable provisions in the electoral act that should not be throw out.”
Also, the head of the CSOs situation room, Amaka Obi, said the National Assembly should override President Muhammadu Buhari if he does not sign the bill.
Similarly, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has accused President Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress of deliberately mounting roads blocks to the signing of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
The national publicity secretary of PDP, Hon Debo Ologunagba, who addressed a World Press Conference yesterday in Abuja, also accused the Buhari Presidency and APC of plotting to trigger “serious political crisis that has the capacity to derail our electoral system, truncate our democracy, subvert our corporate existence and turn our nation into another ‘axis of concern’ to the world.”
The party further said some selfish unelected cabinet ministers, advisers and other top government officials with ambitions for presidential, governorship and other elective positions are mounting pressure on President Buhari not to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to enable them remain longer in office.
The PDP spokesman said Buhari had continued to act against the will of Nigerians by withholding assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill re-transmitted to him since Monday, January 31, 2022 (clear 22 days ago) by the National Assembly even after the Legislature had acceded to and incorporated all his requests in the newly transmitted version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
He added that APC was in mortal fear of electronic transmission of results because it cannot survive the inevitable crushing verdict of the ballot box in the 2023 general elections.
Ologunagba said, “Less than a year to the 2023 general elections, President Buhari and the APC are at it again! Expectedly, the current anti-people scheme against the Electoral Act Amendment Bill by the APC administration is heightening apprehensions across the country of furtive plots by APC leaders to orchestrate a constitutional impasse that can railroad our democracy into an emergency tenure elongation, induced election postponement, self-succession or worst still an interim government situation.
“This growing tension calls for concern as it has the capacity to spawn widespread restiveness with consequential violence, bloodletting and attendant humanitarian crises in the country that may affect the entire West Africa subregion, Europe, America and other parts of the world if not addressed.
“This is because Nigerians, especially the youths, have become more politically aware and involved, with well-founded and implacable aversion to injustice, oppression, manipulations and undemocratic tendencies as being witnessed under the APC administration. Evidence of this mood became manifest in the EndSARS protest of October 2020.
“The situation is being worsened by the arrogant utterances of some officials of the Buhari-led APC administration, particularly the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, who is now subjecting the decision of the generality of Nigerians through the National Assembly to personal parochial and partisan whims.”
The PDP advised President Buhari and APC leaders to stop toying with the aspiration of Nigerians to entrench democracy in their country through the process of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in 2023.
He added that it is distressing that President Buhari, who is the biggest beneficiary of credible, free and fair elections conducted by the PDP in 2015, is now in the vanguard to frustrate genuine effort for credible elections in 2023, not minding the huge negative consequences such portends for the nation.
The party called on the international community and friends of Nigeria including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Russia, France, among others; the European Union (EU), African Union (AU), Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations (UN) to put diplomatic and political pressure on President Buhari, APC leaders and senior government officials who are intent on derailing democracy in the country.
The PDP also urged INEC “to stand on the side of democracy, resist the APC and get prepared to use technology that abound to ensure the direct transmission of election results from the polling units in the 2023 elections.”
He added that the current stance of Mr. President further validates the party’s position that the Buhari-led APC government was averse to free, fair, transparent and credible elections in the country, particularly the 2023 general elections.
On his part, former Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, urged Buhari to assent to the bill because Nigeria needs good and strong electoral laws to deepen democracy.
Saraki spoke with newsmen on the sidelines of a PDP women’s meeting in Abuja at the party’s national secretariat.
He said, “I am told that there are still a few more days. Let us give him a few more days to see what happens.
“My appeal has consistently been that the strength of any good governance is its electoral process. If we say we are for good democracy, good governance, you must have a strong, very good Electoral Act.
“My appeal to Mr. President is that it is not about other people’s individual interests, but what is good for the country. No law can ever be perfect. I know it is not possible. From my own experience, this bill is good.