National Assembly should override Buhari’s veto

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A Nigerian lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, has advised the National Assembly to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of “the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, and pass same into law.”

PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday reported how Mr Buhari wrote the lawmakers, telling them he would not be signing the bill into law.

“The amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices of which political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right of freedom of association,” Mr Buhari wrote.

Many Nigerians believe the bill would bring more transparency to Nigeria’s elections as it contains clauses such as that which legalises the electronic transmission of election results. The electoral commission, INEC, had also written in support of the bill.

The bill also contains a controversial clause that mandates all political parties to adopt direct primaries to select their candidates. The clause, opposed by many state governors, is what President Buhari latched on to reject the bill.

Mr Ogunye in his reaction said the president’s reasons are not ‘genuine.’

“It is our view that the alleged impracticability of using only direct primaries as the nomination vehicle of candidates, the high cost of adoption of that mode, security challenges of monitoring elections, violations of citizens’ rights, marginalization of small parties, likely litigations and possible manipulations are lame excuses and sophistries woven to justify the rejection of the direct primaries formula. These “ reasons”, nay excuses, are not genuine,” the human rights activist said while calling on the lawmakers to override the president’s veto.

Read Mr Ogunye’s full reaction below.

THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SHOULD OVERRIDE THE VETO OF THE PRESIDENT ON THE ELECTORAL AMENDMENT BILL

The National Assembly should, as a matter of patriotic duty, override the veto of the President on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, and pass same into law. A president who came into office, tearfully complaining about how the brokenness of the electoral system serially had been used against his candidacy, yet demonstrate this lackadaisical attitude towards electoral reforms, is not a trustworthy agent for democratic consolidation.

By this veto, the President, sadly, is demonstrating to all that whereas he cared so much about political power and office ascendancy, he cared little about the growth of democracy anchored on a free and fair electoral system. We wished the President came across, in the exercise of his discretionary veto power, as a democracy-enthusiast, and not an underminer of democratic values.

The question is, what legacy of electoral reforms will the President bequeath to the Country at the end of his painful two terms in office?

The Electoral Act in use is that enacted in 2010, as amended by the Electoral (Amendment ) Act, 2015. There is obvious necessity for amendment. Before now, on three occasions: March, September and December 2018, the President had refused to sign into law a duly passed Electoral Act Amendment Bill, giving one excuse or another. Now, the President is using, amongst other excuses, the pretext of alleged inappropriateness of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria foisting on political parties and their respective constitutions ( providing for direct and indirect primaries ) the direct primaries candidates nomination mode, to decline assent.

The President has just rebuffed a fourth presented opportunity to give an assent to the electoral act amendment bill. If the political destiny of the president is not to assent to so important a bill in the life of his eight-year tenure, the National Assembly should grant the wish of the President by overriding his veto; and not present to the President, for the fifth time, a further amended electoral act bill that he will be willing to assent to.

It does not need any explanation that the political parties the President is implying by his unfortunate veto should be granted sovereignty of existence and operation, regarding mode of nominations of candidates, are established by, and under the Constitution. They are operationally governed by the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and their respective constitutions.

The Constitution and the Electoral Act, for example, do not allow regional or local political parties to be established or vie for power. The President has never been heard to complain that the prohibition is against the right of Nigerians to freedom of association and political participation.

On candidates nominations, the Constitution and the Electoral Act provide for the qualifications of candidates for nomination, elections and contested offices. The Constitution and the Electoral Act provide also for the establishment, organization, management and reporting obligations of political parties; the time to hold primaries and conduct of primaries; the time to hold elections, and holding of elections; election petitions and the election petitions determination periods. It is, therefore, very dubious for anyone, let alone the President who is charged with the constitutional duty to execute our federal laws, to claim that the Constitution and the Electoral Act that have these far-reaching provisions on the establishment, existence, governance and operations of the political parties, will be violating the untrammelled right of the parties to make rules that they wish for themselves, regarding the mode of primaries in the nomination of their candidates.

Haven’t Nigeria gone too far in prescribing what our political parties should do, for the President to now suddenly realize (mischievously, in our view) that the freedom and democratic rights of the political parties will be imperilled, if one additional step is taken to legislatively prescribe the candidates’ nomination mode of direct primaries? If the President is sincerely concerned about enjoyment of internal liberty in the parties, shouldn’t he sponsor an executive bill for the repeal of many provisions in the Electoral Act and in the Constitution on the establishment, existence, operation and conduct of the affairs of the political parties?

It is our view that the alleged impracticability of using only direct primaries as the nomination vehicle of candidates, the high cost of adoption of that mode, security challenges of monitoring elections, violations of citizens’ rights, marginalization of small parties, likely litigations and possible manipulations are lame excuses and sophistries woven to justify the rejection of the direct primaries formula. These “ reasons”, nay excuses, are not genuine.

The Yoruba characterize a “never do nothing” person as “alaininkannse. ” The National Assembly, hopefully, has something to do now. Only recently, the Senate President reportedly said the National Assembly is not a “ rubber stamp “ assembly. Here comes another true test for the National Assembly to assert its legislative independence.

The veto of the president should be overridden and the Electoral Amendment Bill passed into law.

Jiti Ogunye.
LAGOS
21st of December, 2021

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