Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has said that the 9th Assembly will decide the fate of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill in January 2022 on resumption from the Christmas and New Year holiday.
That was in reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari’s refusal to sign the bill into law.
But, the Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), iClement Nwankwo, says the civic group is disappointed at the action of President Buhari in vetoing the Electoral Bill 2021, which was submitted to him for assent since 19th November 2021.
PLAC is concerned that the veto and delays in passing a new Electoral Act to conduct the 2023 General Elections is disruptive of the country’s democracy and electoral reforms, started since the Justice Uwais led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) established by President Musa Yar’Adua in 2007, made reform recommendations.
These reforms began to be implemented by President Goodluck Jonathan and have resulted in the conduct of improved elections in Nigeria, including the election of President Buhari in 2015. It is worrying that rather than seeking to expand and continue to build on the improvements made to the electoral system, present-day political leaders have insisted on pursuing actions that derogate from the progress recorded so far, by refusing to agree to improved laws that seek to enhance Nigeria’s electoral system.
The current Electoral Bill has tried to resolve a number of outstanding issues in the electoral system such as providing legal backing for the use of voting devices and the electronic transmission of election results, as well as improved voting procedure for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).
President Buhari’s veto and any further delays to the enactment of an Electoral law for Nigeria poses a serious threat to the conduct of the forthcoming 2023 Nigerian General Elections.
PLAC is calling on the Nigerian National Assembly to seriously examine and review the communication from President Buhari and the reasons given for the veto, with a view to responding in a manner that saves the key reform provisions contained in the Electoral Bill.
It is our view that while the mode of conduct of political party primaries, whether by direct or indirect primaries, has significant impact on grassroots participation in politics, the National Assembly may need to address the concerns expressed by the President and amend the Electoral Bill to reflect the President’s singular concern with direct primaries, in order to save the other landmark reforms contained in the Electoral Bill 2021, over which the President has expressed no worries.
PLAC is also calling on the National Assembly to treat the issue of passing the new Electoral Bill as a matter of national emergency and convene a special session in the shortest possible time and irrespective of their end of year break, to consider a vote for the passage of the Electoral Bill 2021.
On his part, Speaker gave the assurance while delivering his end of the year speech shortly after reading the President’s letter, Withholding Assent on the Electoral Bill, on the floor of the House on Tuesday.
Gbajabiamila vowed to ensure that the House and indeed the 9th Assembly leaves a credible and enduring and transparent electoral system for Nigerians.
He promised Nigerians that the parliament would not throw away the bill just because President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent because of the direct primary clause.
“This year, despite the differences of opinions, all of us in the House of Representatives and indeed, the entire National Assembly, worked to pass the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill. We included in that bill, provisions we hoped will significantly enhance the conduct of our national elections and improve public confidence in our electoral outcomes.
“As it is now, that bill has not received presidential assent, and it falls to parliament to decide the best way forward. When we return in the new year, we will resume our efforts to reform the electoral system in our country. And we will do it together. That is what the Nigerian people expect of us, and we will do our duty for God and our country.
“Whichever way it pans out, we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater and must deliver a credible and enduring electoral system to Nigerians. Every law is a living document and as long as it has breath, it must survive”, Gbajabiamila said.
The Speaker made it clear that the parliament has a duty to ensure a smooth process, noting that the lawmakers would collectively decide the fate of the Bill.
On the recent covid situation leading to travel restrictions against Nigeria by some European countries and the US, the Speaker condemned what he called unnecessary targeting of Nigeria and Africa, just as he called for measures aimed at ensuring that the country taps into trade and economic opportunities presented by innovative ways of conducting global trade.
“Last year, like the rest of the world, Nigeria was immersed in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year, the pandemic still persists, evolving in ways that portend danger for our people here at home and all over the world.
“Two areas of particular concern are the issue of vaccine hesitancy and the international response to emerging variants in ways that seem to target the African continent. We have seen through years of scientific evidence that vaccines work.
“They have worked to combat yellow fever and measles and to end polio. At the height of the pandemic, we prayed for deliverance from the trap of this deadly disease. Vaccines are the answer to that prayer, and as leaders in our communities, we should encourage people to take advantage of the protection offered by science to prevent illness and death.
“Just as importantly, it is evident that the ability to cross boundaries and participate in global trade in the coming months will depend on proof of vaccination. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves or allow others to cut us off from global civilisation at a time when our national economic indices remain lower than they ought to as a direct consequence of the contraction in international trade due to the continuing pandemic.
“The troubling reality of financial hardship for many Nigerians requires that government continues to invest in infrastructure and education and diversify our economy from a dangerous overreliance on fossil fuels. This is the only real long-term option for addressing the problems of unemployment and economic disenfranchisement in our country.
“Our ability to do these things will be significantly reduced if we cannot participate fully in the international order”, the Speaker added.