By Lateef Adegbite
After several weeks of behind the scene maneuvering President Muhammadu Buhari , a retired Army General, has finally bowed to pressure to assent to the 2022, Amended Electoral Act bill into Law, amidst cheers from the Leadership of the National Assembly and other top government Executive who were present at the signing ceremony. The bill which had been delayed for too long from being signed by the Katsina born Nigerian President was finally assented into Law on Friday, February 24, 2022.
There was the initial fear that the signing of the Electoral bill may drag on for weeks when it was postponed from Wednesday, February 22, 20222, earlier set by the President to Friday, February 24, 2022. as Hajia Aisha Buhari, Nigeria ‘S First Lady, who was accompanied by Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Pauline Tallen, a former deputy governor of pPlateau state and now minister of Women Affairs, had visited to the Nation to make a case for more women Parliamentarians in National and state Legislatures on Wednesday, February 22, 2022. Many had had seen the First Lady and the two female ministers visit to the Senate and House of Representatives to attend their respective plenary sessions as another threat to the signing of the Electoral Amendment Act bill, 2022, by the Katsina state born Nigerian President on the new selected date of Friday, February 24, 2022 .
Ahmad Lawan, the Senate President may have have given pundits the ammunition to think so because of the assurance given to them that’’ the National Assembly while voting on the amendments to the 199 Constitution , as contained in the ad-hoc Committee’s report, will ensure that women’s participation in governance is commensurate with their population’’
Indeed, the Opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, were waiting in the wings to fire the first arrow on the retired Army General if he fails to assent the Electoral Act into Law because of the First Lady demand on the National Assembly or any other reason. The Nigerian President may have known that he cannot afford to disappoint the Lawmakers and Nigerians in general, by coming out with another excuse that may delay the signing of the 2022 Electoral Amendment Act bill.
The Pressure on the Nigerian President to sign the Electoral Amendment Act bill that had had been forwarded to him by the National Assembly was so pronounced that Senator Hope Uzodinma, governor of Imo state and political ally of the retired Army General, had called on the PDP to sheath its sword and stop putting undue pressure on the retired Army General but give him time to study the bill and make his input.
Hear him. ‘’ I don’t understand the anxiety and propaganda of the PDP, of trying to force the President into signing the Electoral Act Amendments bill 2022 without following’’ the Constitutional provisions to study the Act and get a good grasp of it to know what he is signing’’.
Femi Adesina, Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, had said that the President may not have been in a hurry to assent to the Electoral amendment Act Bill because he has a ‘’window of 30 days within which to sign the bill or decline assent after it had been submitted to him by the National Assembly’’.
Although, the Nigerian President has every reason to have refused to assent to the bill because of the provisions in section 84(12) of the Electoral Act, 2022, which had ‘’ disfranchised serving political office holder from voting or being voted for at party conventions or congresses for the purpose of the nomination of candidates for any election in cases where it holds earlier than 30 days to the national election’ but he allowed the bill to go in its original form’.
The Nigerian President, who could not hide his feelings, however, why assenting to the Electoral Act bill, 2022, had said that the provisions of section 84 sub section 12 of the Electoral Amendment Act bill had introduced’’ qualification and disqualification criteria that ultra- vires the Constitution by way of importing blanket restrictions to serving political office holders’’ but that was how he could go.
Many believe that he may have listened to wise counsel of the Leadership of the party and the National Assembly including some members of his kitchen Cabinet to assent to the Act to avoid giving room to the Opposition PDP, to use it as Campaign weapon in the forthcoming 2023, general elections, as a party that could not keep its promises.
Tthe Nigerian President may not wanted to spoil the good working relationship that had existed between National Assembly and the Executive arm of government over the years as all his Executive bills, and request to take foreign loans have been approved with little or no debates.
It was therefore no very surprising why he had assented to the bill ahead of the 2023 general elections. In signing the Electoral amendment Act bill into law, a calm looking Nigerian President had said that ‘’the Act would improve and engender clarity, effectiveness, and transparency of the election process, as well as reduce incidences of acrimony arising from dissatisfied candidates and political parties to the barest minimum’’.
The President had further said that ‘’it contains salient provisions that would positively revolutionise the nation’s elections processes with the introduction of the new’’. Technological innovations’’. Giving an insider informations on ‘’the technological innovations, he disclosed that’’ it will guarantee ‘’the Constitutional rights of citizens to vote and to do so effectively’’.
Describing the Electoral Act Amendments Bill 2022 passed by the National Assembly and forwarded for Presidential Assent as an’’ improvement from the previous Electoral Bill of 2021’’, he disclosed that that it will pave the way for ‘’credible and sound electoral process that Nigerians should be proud of’’.
The Leadership of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, had given kudos to Mr. President for signing the 2022, Electoral Act Amendments bill into Law, stressing that ‘’ it will provide an improved legal frameworkin the lead-up to the 2023 electioneering processes and all other future election’’.Senator James Akpanudodehe, the party spokesperson described the signing of the Electoral Act , 20222, bill into Law, as a ‘’big win for the country’s electioneering processes and democracy’’.
But in his apparent reaction to the President’s request to the National Assembly to expunge section 84, subsection 12, from the Electoral Amendment Act bill, which had been assented into Law, on Friday, February 24, 2022, Nyeson Wike, a former minister of Education, during Goodluck’s Administration and now governor of Rivers state had described it as a’’ selfish move aimed at protecting sacred cows within his Cabinet’’.
Appealing to the APC dominated National Assembly not to be seen as, rubber stamp of the President, he urged the Lawmakers to turn down the request of Buhari to amend that particular section of the electoral act.
Wike who could not hide his feelings had called on Mahmood Yakubu, a Professor and Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to take advantage of the of the new Electoral Act Amendment bill, which had been signed into Law the retired Army General ‘’to improve on the Commission’s credibility in ‘’delivering acceptable elections’’.
Given the enormous Law, task before the Electoral umpire in implementing the Electoral Act 2022, Festus Okoye, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Vote Education Committee, of the INEC, had said that the Commission will hold extraordinary meeting, today, Saturday, February 25, 20222, in a bid to proceed with implementing ‘’the provisions guiding the 2023, general elections within the Law’’.
An elated INEC National Commissioner may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he disclosed that the new Electoral Act Law contains many progressive provisions that will ‘’facilitate the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria’’.