Electoral Bill: Agbakoba asks National Assembly to veto Buhari
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN
BY FRANCIS EZEM
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN, has backed the two chambers of the National Assembly; the Senate and House of Representatives on the need to veto President Mohammadu Buhari following his refusal to assent to the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill, which had been presented to him four times.
The new bill among several other innovations seeks to make the use of card readers and electronic transmissipn of election results mandatory to avoid rigging and manipulation of electoral processes. It also criminalises involvement of officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, the electoral umpire in electoral-related fraud, among several others.
President Buhari had in withholding his assent to the bill, cited the fact the elections are two months away and so the new legislation may cause some disruptions, as earlier processes had been done based on existing legislation, among several others insisting that the new legislation should come in the next elections, a position the National Assembly rejected, insisting on vetoing the President to ensure a free and fair 2019 elections
Meanwhile in a letter dated Monday, December 10, 2018 and addressed to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the former NBA President, urged the two chambers to commence in earnest the processes that would culminate in the vetoing of the President in order to save the nation’s democracy, which he argued is at the brink of collapse.
According to him, the decision of the President to withhold assent in respect of a Bill to enact a Law to amend the Electoral Act makes no sense since the final draft Bill considered by the National Assembly was agreed with the President, precisely to avoid challenges, such as now occurred.
He observed that part of the President’s reasons for withholding assent, which include to avoid confusion as to the applicable legal framework for 2019 elections and the administrative capacity of INEC to cope with the new Electoral Act, as it is all too close to 2019 elections cannot be tenable.
The letter reads in part: “Distinguished and Honourable members of the National Assembly, you will recall that the major amendment to 2018 Electoral Act relates to electronic technology for the conduct of the 2019 elections.
“The 2015 elections were partly conducted by INEC, using smart cards (card readers) but the Supreme Court held that smart cards are not allowed, and have not been included in the Electoral Act 2010. The 2015 elections were also partly conducted by INEC using Incident forms; in effect smart cards and Incident Forms were both used to conduct 2015 elections. Distinguished and Honourable members, you will also recall that there was a lot of controversy about the use of Incident Forms as it enabled non accredited persons to vote, questioning the credibility of the elections.
“In order to remove constraints that will impact the credibility of future elections, such as 2019, the Electoral Act 2010, was amended by the 2018 Bill, to formalise the legal basis of the Smart Cards which was already in use for elections by INEC anyway. It will be recalled that the Supreme Court declared use of Smart Cards as contrary to the Electoral Act 2010, so the 2018 amendment is intended to give INEC a legal basis to use smart cards and electronic technology.
“The 2018 Bill also introduced the extremely important procedure of transmitting results of votes from Polling Units by electronic means. Electronic transmission will remove rigging and enhance the credibility of the Vote Count. INEC says it is familiar with the amendments contained in the 2018 Electoral Bill. INEC has used smart cards at all elections from 2015. INEC has submitted an election budget which provides for Smart Cards and transmission equipment. The President claims that part of the reason for withholding assent, is that INEC will not have enough time to become familiar with the 2018 Bill and that a new Act will generate confusion. This is simply incorrect as INEC has announced that it will not use Incident Forms or manual voting in 2019 elections. In other words, INEC is ready to deploy electronic technology for 2019 elections, and only requires that the Electoral Act provides a legal framework”.
Agbakoba also argued that the 2018 amendments will help to improve the credibility of Nigeria’s elections and also give legal basis for INEC to deploy electronic technology in 2019 elections, following doubts cast by the Supreme Court about the legality of the use of card readers because it was not provided in the old Electoral Act of 2010.
He therefore urged the legislative chamber to override Mr. President and enact 2018 Electoral Act in the overall interest of the Nigerian nation.