DECLINING ASSENT, THE FOURTH TIME, to Nigeria’s 2018 Electoral Amendment Bill by Nigeria’s President Buhari may elicit reaction the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, government may not anticipate. The Bill is simply to formalize the legal basis for the use of smart cards reader already in use by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. It will also enhance credibility of the process by transmitting election results electronically from polling units.
Olisa Agbakoba, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, former president of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and member of Coalition of United Political Parties, in a formal reaction to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to assent to the Bill said the president was incorrect about the reason he gave for declining assent to the amended electoral bill.
“The President claims that part of the reason for withholding assent was 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 and flies in the face of INEC’s announcement that it will not use Incident Forms or manual voting in 2019 elections,” Agbakoba said in a letter to the National Assembly.
“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.”
Agbakoba said the 2018 electoral act if signed will “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,”
“Distinguished and honourable members of NASS, are urged to override Mr President and enact 2018 Electoral Act.”
Agbakoba argued that the decline by President Buhari to assent to the Electoral Act would give way to “a lot of controversy about the use of Incident Forms, as it enabled non-accredited persons to vote, questioning the credibility of the elections.”
He said the president’s claim that the Independent National Electoral Commission was not prepared for the technological innovations proposed by the bill were untrue, as INEC had partly used the card reader in previous elections.
“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.” And added: “The 2015 elections were partly conducted by INEC using smart cards [card readers], but the Supreme Court held that smart cards are not allowed, not being included in the Electoral Act 2010”.
After declining assent on two other occasions; for the third time in September 2019, Ita Enang, Buhari’s Special Assistant on National Assembly matters, informed the nation that the president was returning the Bill to the National Assembly due to ‘clerical errors’. The lawmakers acted swiftly and effected all necessary observations by the president and returned the Bill to the president for assent.
Friday, December 7, Buhari, finally, declined assent to the bill for the fourth time. The reason the president gave for declining assent was that the electoral processes for the 2019 polls may be disrupted if he gives assent to the bill.
Agbakoba’s letter to the National Assembly said the reason is “simply incorrect and flies in the face of INEC’s announcement that it will not use Incident Forms or manual voting in 2019 elections”. More so when “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,”
“Distinguished and honourable members of NASS, are urged to override Mr President and enact 2018 Electoral Act”, Agbakoba stated.