The Electoral Act amendment controversy

THE polity has in recent times been heated up by the controversy over the declined presidential assent to the amendment to the Electoral Act by the National Assembly. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari once again declined assent to the proposed amendment and since then, there has been no peace between the legislature and the executive arm of government. This has in turn had adverse effects on the polity. Naturally, some gladiators who are interested in the 2019 elections took time to criticise President Buhari for his reluctance to give the needed assent to the bill for it to become law. His fears that such an amendment could confuse voters did not persuade them that his reluctance could be justifiable.

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Buhari’s major reason for pussyfooting over the assent was the time frame for the amendment and the 2019 elections, although the assent would actually have improved the electoral process with a view to delivering a credible election eventually. But the mutual lack of trust between the executive and the legislature has occasioned suspicion and misinterpretation of intents on both sides.  At a point, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, issued a press release urging the president to rise above petty politics and act without further delay in the best interest of the country and its democracy by signing the Electoral Bill into law. Such was the pressure that the fear became palpable among political observers and the general public that the tension could bode ill for the country.

Yet, by the extant laws, and with the 2019 elections just two months away, there is nothing the amendment can achieve. All forms of amendments are expected to have been legislated six months ahead of the elections that they are expected to govern. The Electoral Bill therefore can only be for elections post-2019. To be sure, all efforts to improve the electoral process  and deliver a credible election must always be pursued vigorously. The goal of electoral reforms is to enable the citizenry to validate their choices through voting. However, the political brickbats which attended the president’s action on the electoral amendment bill essentially amounted to shadow boxing.

As the bill stands today, it can only affect subsequent and off-season elections. The fomented furore was therefore really unnecessary, seeing that the 2019 election is already a done deal. Both the president and his traducers should share the blame. Previously when the president declined assent to the bill, he had some valid reasons since the law forbids him from personally correcting it. There were errors in the draft presented but now that the bill has been worked upon by the NASS, the reason given by the president for not granting assent was too tepid. If he could not grant assent because of the time frame, he could have assented to it for the sake of future elections.

Nonetheless, this was definitely an issue over which the legislature and the executive could easily have reached a consensus without the unpleasant rancour that attended it. If there are no other reasons to delay presidential assent to the bill beyond the time frame, the president should assent to it, at least for future elections that will have to be conducted under better guidelines and regulations. The bill is after all meant to improve the electoral process.

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