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LEGACY:  From recluse Nigerian state, inherited from a military dictator, General Sani Abacha; Olusegun Obasanjo, left a legacy as a former Nigerian president.  He stabilized the overheated polity and miss-governance of Sani Abacha, with an inclusive and focused governance, and healed wounds of the past. Obasanjo cleared Nigeria’s accumulated foreign debts; opened up the economy to private sector investment; ran a growth and progressive economy; restructured the ailing banking sector through sweeping reforms; vigorously, pursued anti-corruption war – leading to the establishment of EFCC and ICPC; among others; and left a stable polity and a united Nigeria. The country and the citizens benefited.

Umaru Yar’adua, left legacy of bringing an end to the Niger Delta militant agitations, through amnesty programme. He initiated far-reaching electoral reforms; among others, before his death.  Goodluck Jonathan, drove reforms initiated by his predecessors. Grew the country’s economy to be the largest in Africa; revamped the agriculture sector. He progressed with reforms in the aviation and rail sectors; and further consolidated on the banking sector reform; and gave the country an outstanding electoral reform; among others.  Again, the country and the citizens benefited.

Buhari’s legacy? What will Nigerians remember him for….? Which the country and the citizens  benefited from his government?  This SPECIAL REPORT, looks at Buhari’s legacy on electoral reform.

MUHAMMADU BUHARI, three times, previously, gave Nigeria’s presidency a shot, and failed. The journey began in 2003.  On the platform of now defunct All Peoples Party, APP, Buhari contested to be Nigeria’s president. He was defeated by Olusegun Obasanjo, who was seeking a second term, on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Second attempt at the presidency, four years later, in 2007, Buhari changed political party. This time, on the platform of All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP. He contested against Umaru Musa Yar’adua, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.  It was a misadventure.  He lost. He exasperatedly alleged that the electoral body was responsible for his misfortune.

Third attempt, four years later, in 2011, again, ambitious Buhari changed political party. He co-founded Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; the platform on which he took the third shot at Nigeria’s presidency.  Goodluck Jonathan, who completed Yar’adua’s term, as a result of Yar’adua’s death; contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and defeated Buhari.

Buhari experienced three consecutive failures, attempting to be President of Nigeria. He was unsettled and wept, profusely. Vowed never to give further shot at the presidency. Furiously, Buhari alleged that Nigeria’s electoral body and the judiciary scuttled his ambition. He championed the campaign for reforms in the electoral body to enhance free, fair and credible elections in the country.

PRESIDENT BUHARI — WHAT NEXT?

OUT OF POLITICAL woods, in 2015, Buhari took a fourth shot at the presidency, and found his way to Aso Rock, Presidential Villa, as Nigeria’s president.  Again, on a different political party platform, the All Progressives Congress, APC; a fusion of four different political parties. He defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Goodluck Jonathan, nonetheless, paved the way for Buhari’s victory on the 2015 poll. Jonathan sustained the electoral reforms embarked upon by his predecessor, late Musa Yar’adua. Yar’adua had acknowledged that the electoral process that brought him to power in 2007, was flawed by irregularities that needed to be worked on, to ensure free, fair and credible elections in the country.

In the euphoria of Buhari’s victory at the poll in 2015, adjudged by local and international elections monitoring bodies, as free, fair and credible; Buhari promised to improve on the gains of the electoral reforms undertaken by Goodluck Jonathan. Nigerians believed him. Given the perception of Buhari, as a man of integrity, one of the yardsticks for his emergence as president.

Buhari’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, was in the mood with the president to give Nigerians enhanced Electoral Law that will further regulate the electoral body, politicians and the electorates to give Nigeria credible elections.  Nigeria’s eight National Assembly of 2015-2019, under Buhari’s presidency, set in motion extensive electoral reforms in an Electoral Bill.

AHEAD OF 2019, general election, the well packaged Electoral Bill, was unanimously, adopted and passed by both chambers of the National Assembly for Buhari’s assent. In a shocking disbelief, Buhari, on stage-by-stage passage of the bill for his assent – three times, to be specific, Buhari returned the amended Electoral Bill unsigned, giving excuses for not signing the bill.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Eventually, events overtook Buhari’s refusal to assent to the amended Electoral Bill. Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, fall back to the existing 2010 Electoral Act for conducting the 2019 general election. Buhari and the ninth National Assembly, that emerged after the 2019 election, promised Nigerians that a new electoral bill, ahead of the 2023 general election was a “priority”.

Ironically, less than 15 months for President Buhari to exit office, after serving two terms of eight years; Buhari has refused to give Nigeria and Nigerians a clean Electoral Act, that will improve and enhance the electoral process in the country. Rather, electoral process and elections conducted in the country, under Buhari’s watch, degenerated from what he inherited from Goodluck Jonathan, that brought him to power in 2015.

December 2021, after extensive agitations and pressure from well-meaning citizens and civil society groups, the ninth National Assembly, presented amended Electoral Bill 2021, to President Buhari for his assent. Characteristics of the president’s past, he returned the bill unassented, and advanced reasons for refusing to assent to the bill.

Unease and fury engulfed the nation, due to the president’s refusal to sign the Electoral Bill. Reactions and clamour from citizens and civil society groups rented the air, and were deafening. Many asked the National Assembly to override the president and passed the Bill into an Act. Some see it differently. They believe the president raised pertinent issues for refusing to sign the Bill. And should be addressed.

They urged for patience, and urged the National Assembly to rework the amended Electoral Bill and return it to the president for his assent. Nigerians toe the part of patience and understanding.  They waited for the National Assembly to rework the Bill and return it to the president. The National Assembly did.  Little over a week, the Bill was reworked.  On January 31, 2022, the reworked Electoral Bill was returned to Buhari for his assent.  

SENATE PRESIDENT AHMAD LAWAL AND SPEAKER FEMI GBAJABIAMILA

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES, however, bedeviled the Electoral Bill amendment, by the ninth National Assembly.  Nigerian Senate and the House of Representatives in their different versions of the amended bill, inserted controversial clauses, considered to be “self-seeking” – seen to benefit the lawmakers, against the interest of Nigerians. Buhari hinged his refusal to sign the Bill on this.

There were, indeed, unique and sweeping reforms in the Electoral Bill, that will enhance free, fair and credible elections in the country – which included “electronic transmission” of result; and sections in the bill “empowering” the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to review the processes of the elections, and take decisive decisions and actions against electoral fraud, to enhance the process.

Nigerians, analysts and civil society groups became agitated.  Pressure was mounted on Buhari to sign the Electoral Bill, in the interest of the unique provisions embedded in it, without further delay. They argued, that if there is any concern or reservation the president may have, it could be addressed in a future amendment of the Electoral Act.  The appeals seem to be falling on deaf ears. The president remains adamant.

Close to another 30 days – in February 2022, when the reworked Electoral Bill was sent to the president for his assent, it does seem to on lookers, that Buhari may not sign the amended Electoral Bill.  There are opinion and guesses that Buhari may not be interested in be-quitting to Nigerians electoral process that will enhance free, fair and credible elections before he leaves office in 2023.   

NIGERIANS AND COALITION of CSOs, see Buhari’s actions on the Electoral Bill, as an affront, to the nation. About 26 CSOs, have given the president, two days ultimatum, to assent to the reworked Electoral Bill, or stage a protest on Tuesday, February 22, 2023. The coalition requested its partners to converge on Unity Fountain, Abuja, for demonstration.

INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION, INEC

After an emergency meeting, last Saturday, the CSOs statement, by Media Officer, Yiaga Africa, Moshood Isah, asked citizens, across the nation, to call on President Buhari to sign the electoral act, as a “matter of urgent national importance”. The CSOs said the bill provides for electronic transmission of result, strengthened financial independence of INEC, and powered the electoral body to “reject falsified election result”.

In addition, the CSOs said, the bill when signed, “requires INEC to issue Notice of Election not later than 360 days before the day appointed for an election. Therefore, the President has to give assent to the bill on or before February 22, 2022, if the dates announced for the 2023 elections are to be maintained”.

The CSOs said: “We are concerned that the delay in granting presidential assent to the Electoral Bill, 2022 will create legal uncertainties that threaten the integrity of the off-cycle elections in Ekiti, Osun, and the 2023 general election, which is 366 days away”.

Their words: “The civil society community resolves to declare Tuesday February 22, 2022 as the national day of protest to demand immediate assent to the bill. Civil society networks will organise peaceful public direct-action activities to further the demand to assent the bill. We urge citizens across the nation to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to act on this matter of urgent national importance”.

WILL BUHARI succumb to pressure, spring surprise, and signed the Electoral Bill into an Act, at this point? If he does, could Buhari be regarded as a patriot? One, who genuinely, will be regarded to have left a legacy and bequitted electoral reforms to Nigerians? If he does not sign, and return the Electoral Bill to the National Assembly, what next?  These are questions and issues raised by analysts.

PDP AND APC

As elected representatives of Nigerians, who were elected as lawmakers, will the National Assembly muster the courage, remove the tag of “rubber stamp” ninth National Assembly, and override Buhari’s veto; and give Nigerians, enhanced electoral law, that will reform the electoral process, ahead of the 2023 general elections? Analysts say, time will provide the answer to this and other questions.

Among the CSOs preparing for the protest are – Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Yiaga Africa, Partners for Electoral Reform, International Press Centre, Institute for Media and Society, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, The Albino Foundation, Centre for Citizens with Disability, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, Labour Civil Society Coalition, Transition Monitoring Group, CLEEN Foundation and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre.

Others include Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organisations, Inclusive Friends Association, Enough is Enough, The Electoral Hub, Centre for Liberty, Take Back Nigeria Movement, International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre, 100 Women Lobby Group, Women in Politics Forum, Raising New Voices, Millennials Active Citizenship Advocacy Africa and Ready To Lead Africa.

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