By Tony Eluemunor
A noisy but silly debate is on; whether the National Assembly could muster a two-thirds majority vote to override President Mohammadu Buhari’s veto of the latest Electoral Bill which he declined to sign into law.
Question: Why did Buhari refuse to sign the bill? He explained: “I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.
“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process”.
Put differently, Buhari’s guess that “Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process”, a feeling or guess or hunch based on nothing tangible, is the sole reason why he has decided that the greatest service he owes Nigeria on this matter is not to sign the 2018 Electoral Bill into law.
Question: What would the Bill have introduced if it was signed into law? Answer: It would have subjected voting to mechanical validation from beginning to the end and cut off the chance to non-registered voters to thumb-print ballot papers as well as cutting off the stuffing of ballot boxes and the padding of votes at coalition centres as there would have arisen the uphill task of getting all generated number of voters at any polling booth totally with the result from that booth at all times. Also, results would have been electronically transmitted to INEC headquarters just as people would be casting their votes.
So, is electronic voting needed in Nigeria? The answer is yes. Is it terribly new? In the Vanguard newspaper of Wednesday 12/12/2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said no: ‘’The commission assures Nigerians that the smart card reader has become an integral part of the electoral process and will be deployed for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, that INEC had improved on its 2015 experience on the use of smart card readers. The commission has taken onboard the challenges and glitches faced in the use and deployment of smart card readers in 2015 and has made significant improvements and upgrade to the said smart card readers.
‘’The upgraded smart card reader is faster, more robust and has new features that enable it to store additional data and transmit results.”
Question: So, on what was the President’s fear based? Answer: NOTHING! This has given rise to the accusation of his detractors that the ruling party needs a manual as opposed to electronic voting just so that it could be able to rig the election.
This is most unfortunate. Every four years, Nigeria has been placed on the precipice just because of electoral malpractices. The Bill, which the President has just declined to sign into law has sought to enable only electronic voting for Nigeria and to cast aside the much-abused manual voting so as to immunise the system against rampant ballot stuffing and imprecise allocation of votes. This would have reduced the unnecessary tension that weighs down Nigeria during elections and to bring out our electoral process from the jungle.
So, has President Buhari served Nigeria well by his decision, or has he, instead, hurt Nigeria’s chances to improve her electoral values? If Buhari’s position would tie Nigeria to the shameful past instead of helping her banish rigging, would he not have knowingly betrayed Nigeria?
Betrayal seems a strong word. But is it not apt? Is Buhari’s action not akin to a President’s showing infidelity to his country’s search for electoral decency? Now, may we try to approach Buhari’s action from another direction, please. The President has had almost four years to collaborate with the National Assembly to fashion out an electoral bill that would take Nigeria out of the dark ages, but did he do that? This is pertinent because he is now arguing that the time is too short to impose electronic voting on Nigeria.
Twelve months ago, the Blueprint newspaper published an article asking “When will National Assembly dare Buhari on pending bills?” The Electoral Bill was one of those listed in that January 6th article…and it had by then stayed over 30 days waiting for Buhari’s signature. In that same publication, a certain human rights activist lawyer said that “it is incumbent on the President to append his signature in the interest of the country”. The lawyer’s name: Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN). So, why did the Presidency fail to team up with the National Assembly in writing the Electoral Bill, agree with the National Assembly on all the important points before it would ever get to the point of Buhari’s having to append his signature or not? That road was available to Buhari but it was disdained. And Buhari did not take that wholesome road for a reason! That makes this an unmitigated betrayal of a nation that voted him into power.
When Obasanjo wounded Nigeria
Had Chief Olusegun Obasanjo not wounded Nigeria when he was President, President Buhari’s refusal to sign the 2018 Electoral Bill into law, would have been inconsequential; National Assembly would have easily overridden the veto. Remember that Obasanjo was splitting hairs over the NDDC Bill that was to benefit just the oil-bearing states. The then Senate President, Dr Chuba Okadigbo and then-Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba, were from non-oil producing states, yet they showed Obasanjo the wholesome power of a nationalistic NASS.
Obasanjo fought against that First Assembly peopled with Senators like Jonathan Zwingina, Arthur Nzeribe, Khairat Abdulrazaq-Gwadabe, and the Representatives who actually led the charge against Obasanjo’s excesses; Na’Abba himself, Nduka Irabor, Nze Chidi Duru, Sadiq Yar’Adua, late Suru Yari Ghandi, Obetan Obetan, Adamu Bulkachuwa, Wakil Mohammed, Gabriel Suswan, Faruk Lawan, Chibudom Nwuche, Olaitan, Musa Elayo, late Tony Anyanwu, Linda Ikpeazu, Dr. Jerry Igbokwe, Chijoke Edeoga, Celestine Uganze, Emma Anosike, etc. Dr. Austin Uganwa wrote about “Na’Abba: “Obsessed by the principle of powers and independence of the legislature, he pursued the autonomy of the legislature with unparalleled doggedness, tenacity, vigour and intensity”.
That was the sin Na’Abba, Nduka Irabor and other members of that illustrious First Assembly committed against Obasanjo. Aso Rock moved against them. Self-seeking columnists, including many who still write abject nonsense today, teamed up with Aso Rock to destroy the NASS. Sham primaries and sham elections produced a sham NASS. Okadigbo could not return, Na’Abba could not return. Nduka Irabor is even lucky to be alive today; a bullet was shot from his roof right into his bed!
That is why today we are counting the number of PDP and APC members of the NASS as though there is nothing called the national interest. Na’Abba, Irabor, Okadigbo, etc, belonged to the ruling party when they opposed Obasanjo as they sought the national interest. When it really mattered and the national interest was at stake, the National Assembly overrode Obasanjo’s veto – though Obasanjo’s PDP had the majority of NASS members.
• Mr. Eluemunor, an Abuja-based journalist, is a leading authority on the Presidency.