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Continued delay in the assent to the Electoral Act (2010) amendment bill may affect the adoption of the new amendments for the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has said.
The commission said though it operates based on existing legal regime, it was important to have the law that would guide the elections in place at least 12 to 18 months before the exercise.
Already, the Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has announced February 23, 2023 as the date for the presidential election, which is about one year from now.
The amendment, prompted by the compelling need to engender transparency, improve the electoral process and boost the credibility of elections, had generated nationwide debate, especially the need for electronic transmission of results and the contentious direct primary made mandatory for political parties.
The President, Muhammadu Buhari, revealed in his letter to the National Assembly that the direct primary clause, inserted by the lawmakers, was the sole reason he vetoed the bill, noting that parties should have options on the mode of direct primary to adopt. “You can’t dictate to people and say you are practicing democracy,” he added.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Thursday, however, said, “The commission operates on the basis of the existing legal regime. The commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections based on the extant and existing constitutional and electoral legal framework.
“The commission does not operate on the basis of speculation and deductions. Yes, the commission is aware of the pendency of a bill to amend the existing legal regime. That bill is still inchoate and does not become law until it is signed by the President and or the National Assembly determines otherwise.
“Hopefully, issues around the amended law will soon be resolved. It is important to have the legal regime in place at least 12 to 18 months before a major election. It is also important to resolve the issues based on the differential timelines in the existing electoral act and the one that is projected in the bill.”
After the President vetoed the bill, many lawmakers expressed anger over his decision.
The two chambers agreed to revisit the bill after their Christmas and New Year recess.
Meanwhile, there are expectations that the new bill would be signed into law in the next few weeks, given that the President has expressed readiness to sign the bill if the contentious direct primary clause was removed, while on the other hand, the leadership of the National Assembly has also promised to revisit the bill once they resume on January 18.
The President made this commitment during his interview with Channels Television on January 5, 2022.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, had also promised that the National Assembly would consider removing the clause but that if the majority of the lawmakers did not agree for it to be removed, the process prescribed by the constitution would be adopted, which is a veiled reference to the National Assembly voting to override the President’s veto.
Speaking in Lagos while inaugurating some projects in his Surulere constituency on December 30, Gbajabiamila said, “If you follow the history of the amendment of the direct and indirect primary bill, I initiated that amendment bill for a good reason and it was for people to participate in elections. These are the people you see around when you campaign every four years.
“There is a process; when we come back from recess, as I said, the House will look at those amendments. We will sit as the National Assembly, look at the reasons and at that point, consider removing that clause and pass the bill so that we do not throw the baby out with the bath water.
“But then, it is not my decision to make. It is the decision of the National Assembly; if they determine that the reasons are not good enough, then, there is a process prescribed by the constitution.”
Similarly, the Senate President in his New Year message on January 1 said, “We believe that sustainable democratic governance requires a transparent and credible electoral process. Following the decision of President Buhari to withhold assent to the bill, we shall make further consultations on the issues on our resumption of plenary in January.
This post was written by Obiajulu Joel Nwolu.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.