The National Assembly, yesterday, slammed the Presidency, saying that it lied on the allegation that the nation’s highest lawmaking body removed the card reader from the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill) 2018.
This was as the apex parliament, for the fourth time within the year, reviewed and repackaged the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, with a view to strengthening the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), for effective and efficient operations.
The parliament repackaged the controversial INEC bill two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari, for the third time on September 3, 2018, declined assent to the bill, on grounds of what he termed drafting errors.
The Senate, in particular, passed the bill for the third time on July 24, following two previous rejections by the President, who consecutively pointed out inherent constitutional and other technical defects in the amendment proposals.
It also stated that it had, in this fourth version of the amendment bill, jettisoned the contentious Section 25(1), which provided for election sequence in the first version of the bill, which was one of the reasons the President declined assent.
Making this clarifications yesterday in Abuja, the Chairman of the joint National Assembly Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, while addressing journalists, said that the parliament resolved to cut short its recess to work on the bill due to concerns expressed by Nigerians over the fate of the 2019 general elections.
He further explained that the National Assembly and the Executive arm were on the same page on the issue of amending the Electoral Act to make INEC stronger to be able to deliver on its mandate, which among others aims to produce free, fair and credible elections.
Nazif also said that the claim by the Presidency that the lawmakers removed the card reader from the bill, was precipitated by the fact that the third version of the amendment bill, which was an addendum to the second version, did not contain the card reader because it was already contained in the main (second) version of the bill.
The affected sections in the latest review as announced by the chairman of the joint committee, Nazif are: 9(1A), 9(B5), 18(1-4), 19(4), 30(1), 31(1) and 31(7), 36(3), 44(3-4), 67(a-d), 87(2), 87(14) and 1124.
While section 9(1A) deals with voters’ registers in electronic format and manual or hard copy format, section 18(14) deals with process of replacement of voters’ card by the INEC on demand by voters which it states must not be done less than 30 days before election.
Section 36(3) of the adopted bill makes provision for constitutional way out on sudden death of candidate of political party in the course of election as it happened in 2016 Kogi gubernatorial election.
The section states: “If after the commencement of poll and before the announcement of the final result and declaration of a winner, the leading candidate dies, (a), the commission shall, being satisfied of the fact of the death, suspend the election for a period not exceeding 21 days.
“(b) the political party whose candidate died may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh primary within 7 days of the death of its candidate and submit a new candidate to replace the dead candidate
“(c) subject to paragraphs (a) and (b), the commission shall continue with the election, announce the final result and declare a winner.”
The chairman, however, added that section 34(2-4) which deals with added laws on commission of party logo on ballot papers was deleted.
His words: “I want to assure Nigerians that this joint committee is committed to ensuring that it strengthens INEC and, at the same time, the National Assembly is also committed to deepening democracy in Nigeria. I want to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that the National Assembly and indeed the Executive are on the same page with respect to this amendment bill.
“I am sure you must have had different versions, but I will put everything in a clear picture so that Nigerians will know that all of us are working towards strengthening INEC and ensuring that the 2019 general elections and even beyond are conducted in a free, fair and credible electoral process.
“First and foremost, we have gone through three electoral bills this year. The first one has the sequence of election and it was concluded on February 14, 2018. It also has the card reader in it. It addressed section 25(1), which dealt with election sequence.
“It also dealt with section 138(C and D), the two grounds upon which election may be challenged. And the third one is section 152, which the President queried the competence of the National Assembly to legislate for local government. The Executive withheld assent to the bill on these three grounds.
“The withholding of assent to the bill led us to embark on the second amendment bill. The second amendment to the bill was concluded on June 26, 2018. It addressed all the issues raised by the Executive; it addressed the issue of election sequence, which we deleted in the second amendment bill.
“We included section 138(C and D) in this particular one. Again, section 152, which talks about the competence of the National Assembly to legislate for local government, was deleted. The President withheld his assent to this one on the 26th of July. The Senate went on recess on the 24th while the House of Representatives went on recess on the 26th. The second bill addressed the first bill.
“But there were issues with respect to INEC on dates that the second bill did not carry. So, during the presentation of our second bill, we said, “however, there were observations by INEC which are germane in electoral processes in Nigeria, that came late to the committee, and therefore, advised that such observations should be considered in subsequent electoral amendment. INEC is worried that without these amendments, their operations may be impaired.
“So, we wanted to strengthen INEC, and we wanted to make INEC more effective and we wanted to make INEC’s work much easier. So, we now came up with the third bill. And the third bill was an addendum to the second one. The second bill had 41 clauses. The third bill had 14 clauses with a citation. The third bill was to strengthen the second amendment bill. So, the Senate worked on the third one on the 24th of July when the Senate was going on recess while the House of Reps worked on theirs on the 26th of July. The bill was then forwarded to the Executive on the 2nd of August.
“Meanwhile, a third decline of assent to the bill came on the 3rd of September, 2018, while we were on recess. Because this one is just an addition to the second bill, it did not carry the card reader since it is already captured in the second bill.”
On the request of the `said: “Now, what the Executive wanted was a merger between the second one and the third one. Therefore, the Executive and the National Assembly are on the same page, which is to strengthen INEC, to make sure that 2019 elections are free and fair and credible. Therefore, we have come up with the fourth version of the bill after the President withheld assent to the third one.
“The fourth one is a harmonization between the second one and the third one. So, this one has addressed all the issues raised by the Executive. It has addressed all the issues that will make INEC more effective and efficient, which is what Nigerians are expecting. As a committee, we have gone through it section by section and clause by clause.”
A member of the committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, expressed optimism that the bill would be signed by President Buhari, saying that the contentious items had been removed from the document.
He said: “Now that we have removed that poisoning section 25(1) and other concerns that Mr. President has raised, what we have is a very good product; the one that can enhance the performance and activities of INEC as we move towards the 2019 general elections and subsequent elections.”