President Muhammadu Buhari has formally declined assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill.
In a letter to both chambers of the National Assembly, Mr Buhari said passing a new bill with elections close by could ‘create some uncertainty about the legislation to govern the process.’
He also highlighted some parts of the bill that he said need legislative action.
Many politicians, including leaders of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had called on the president to assent to the bill.
A hint to Mr Buhari’s decision to withhold assent to the bill was first given by his aide, Ita Enang, who said earlier on Friday the president had sent the bill back to parliament.
The president had declined assent to the bill in previous times, citing “drafting issues.”
Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan last week said Mr Buhari should take time to study the bill and take a decision he is comfortable with.
Mr Buhari had first in March withheld assent to the bill with reasons that the proposed law would usurp the constitutional powers of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to decide on election matters, including fixing dates and election order.
However, after a second communication from the National Assembly, the president again in September declined to assent to the bill.
A copy of the new letter sent to the House of Representatives was seen by PREMIUM TIMES later on Friday.
The letter stated among other reasons the legislative encumbrance such new act may pose for the 2019 elections which are a little over two months away.
Such encumbrance Mr Buhari said may create room for ‘disruption’ and ‘confusion’ during the 2019 elections.
“Pursuant to section 58 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, I hereby convey to the House of Representatives my decision on 6th December 2018 to decline presidential assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly.
“I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2018 general elections which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process. Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the elections may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”
Mr Buhari was referring to 2019 General Elections just about 72 days away.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019, while governorship and state assembly elections will hold two weeks after on March 2.
Noting that his decision was taken ‘in the best interest of the country and our democracy,’ President Buhari wants the National Assembly to ‘specifically state in the Bill that the Electoral Act will come into effect commencing after the 2019 General Elections.’
Asides election concerns, Mr Buhari also noted some legislative amendments the bill requires.
“It is also important for the following drafting amendments to be made to the Bill:
a. Section 5 of the Bill, amending section 18 of the Principal Act should indicate the subsection to which the substitution of figure “30” for figure “60” is to be effected.
c. Section 24 of the Bill which amends Section 85 (1) should be drafted in full as the introduction of “electing” to the sentence may be interpreted to mean that political parties may give 21 days’ notice of the intention to merge as opposed to the 90 days provided in Section 84 (2) of the Electoral Act which provides the provision for merger of political parties.
d. The definition of the term “Ward Collection Officer” should be revised to reflect a more descriptive definition than the capitalized and undefined term “Registration Area Collation Officer”
The latest decline makes it the third time Mr Buhari withheld his assent to the electoral bill.
Prior to the decline, opposition and critics of the government have accused him of withholding his assent due to his fear of legalising the use of card readers for elections
INEC has been using the card reader for recent elections but the machine is yet to be incorporated into the country’s electoral law.
The National Assembly is yet to react to this latest development.